In western media and politics, Afghanistan is usually depicted as a place of scarcity and hardship. This article attends to a different western representation of the country, that is, Afghanistan, as a site of self-fulfilment and growth. In doing so, I outline a mode of soldiering that emerged from my ethnographic interviews with Norwegian Afghanistan veterans: the self-realising soldier seeking combat, adventure and personal development in a distant and failing war. While not entirely new, this mode of soldiering challenges dominant representations of western soldiers in the post-9/11 wars as driven by humanitarian values or socio-economic mobility. However, the soldiers’ narratives are not merely fragments of lived and embodied experience. Nor do I read them as duped by military recruitment campaigns or neoliberal discourses idealising self-investment. Instead, this article interprets their post-war reflections as confessional speech acts that constitute the Norwegian Afghanistan veterans as realistic and sincere vis-à-vis “dishonest” politicians and “naïve” civilians far removed from the battlefield. The self-realisation discourse has ambiguous political effects, as it both exposes and obscures the military’s core functions and simultaneously unsettles and reinforces imperialist images of Afghanistan. Moreover, the self-realising soldiers challenge us to consider alternative moralities of war and raise important questions about the ethics of contemporary western expeditionary warfare.

Heidi Mogstad

Post Doctoral Researcher

Recent CMI publications: