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How Invisible History Was Made Visible – Our Story

We are Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, a husband and wife team who began working together in 1979 co-producing a documentary for Paul’s television show, Watchworks. Called, The Arms Race and the Economy, A Delicate Balance, we found ourselves in the midst of a swirling controversy that was to boil over a few months later with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Our acquisition of the first visas to enter Afghanistan granted to an American TV crew in the spring of 1981, brought us into the middle of the most heated Cold War controversy since Vietnam. But the pictures and the people inside Soviet occupied Afghanistan told a very different story from the one being broadcast on the evening news.

Following our exclusive news story for the CBS Evening News, we produced a documentary (Afghanistan Between Three Worlds) for PBS and in 1983 we returned to Kabul for ABC Nightline with Harvard Negotiation project director Roger Fisher. Arriving in Kabul that spring we told that the Russians wanted to go home and negotiate their way out. Peace in Afghanistan was more than a possibility. It was a desired option. But the story that President Carter called, “the greatest threat to peace since the second World War” had already been written by America’s policy makers and America’s pundits were not about to change the script.

As the first American journalists to get behind the U.S. government’s propaganda on the war, we not only got a view of an unseen Afghan life, but a revelatory look at how the US defined itself against the rest of the world under the veil of superpower confrontation. Once the Soviets had crossed the border into Afghanistan, the fate of both nations was sealed. But as we pursued the reasons behind the facade of propaganda that shielded the truth, we found ourselves drawn into a story that was growing into mythic dimensions. Big things were brewing in Afghanistan. Old empires were being undone and new ones, hatched. America had launched a Medieval Crusade against the modern world and the ten year war against the Soviet Union was only the first chapter.

It was at the time of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 when we were working on the film version of our experience under contract to Oliver Stone, that we began to piece together the mythic implications of the story. During the research for the screenplay a crucial document known as the Team B report (which preceded the Afghan crisis) was declassified. Over the next decade we trailed a labyrinth of clues only to find a profound likeness in Washington’s official policy towards Afghanistan – in the ancient Zoroastrian war of the light against the dark – whose origins began in the region now known as Afghanistan. It was a likeness that grows more visible as America’s involvement deepens.

The Soviets withdrew their forces in 1989 and the Cold War ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. But as civil war followed in Afghanistan, Washington walked away. In 1994, a new strain of religious holy warrior called the Taliban arose, sweeping into Afghanistan from Pakistan, but no one in American government seemed concerned. By 1998, as the horrors of the Taliban regime began to grab headlines, we began collaborating with Afghan human rights expert Sima Wali. Along with Wali, we contributed to the Women for Afghan Women: Shattering Myths and Claiming the Future book project. In 2002 we filmed Wali’s first return to Kabul since her exile in 1978. The film we produced about Wali’s journey home, The Woman in Exile Returns, gave audiences the chance to discover the message of one of Afghanistan’s most articulate voices and her hopes for her people.

In the years since 9/11 much has happened to bring our story into sharp focus. Our experience at combining personal diplomacy with activist journalism has led us to believe it could become a model for restoring a healthy and vibrant dialogue to American democracy. Ultimately  Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story lays bare why it was inevitable that the Soviet Union and the U.S. should end up in Afghanistan and what that means to the future of the American empire.  Crossing Zero The AfPak War at the Turning Point of American Empire lays out the bizarre and often paralyzing contradictions of America’s AfPak strategy by clarifying the complex web of interests and individuals surrounding the AfPak war and focusing on the little understood importance of the Durand Line to any resolution to the Afghan conflict.

Click here for “Bits of Personal History“.

Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould

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