Don't get me wrong, I support the troops.
No one denies that the Estonians in the Middle East have served their country honorably and well, impressing other members of the coalition.
In one of the many moral quandaries that the war effort has produced, they also showed they have a human heart. When Omar the translator sought asylum in Estonia, the Estonian military was unofficially among their former employee's biggest backers. Several officers went on the record without clearance from upstairs, off script. No one was reprimanded or muzzled.
Considering that the whole Middle East "crusade" of the past 12 years has been founded on flimsy and juvenile premises (we will bring freedom and democracy by combating violence with violence, while maintaining at all times that it is worth the losses), it has gone rather well. The war in Afghanistan is winding down, control is being handed over, the biggest problem is finding enough training assignments for the last Estonian infantry stationed there.
As we think ahead to pullout in 2014, we should reflect on a very mixed conflict. The questions run the gamut: in my birth country, my friends in Barstow, CA wonder whether the coalition troops are leaving too early, while my friends in Marin County feel they shouldn't have been in the conflict in the first place. As the troops come home - certainly not in ignominy as in the case of US troops heading back from Vietnam, yet with question marks - there are many ways to support them. Veterans and their families must be at the forefront of these efforts.
The fact that Comedy Estonia, the popular, potty-mouthed English-language entertainers of Raadio 2, has chosen to support the troops by traveling to Afghanistan on the military's ticket to play shows on a sealed base leaves me with a queasy feeling, on the other hand.
When members of "Stew and Louis" pose with automatic weapons on social media with self-celebratory hoo-ha, it's cute, but they are really playing to their own largely early 20s fan base. The "Look ma, I'm in Afghanistan" antics are more reminscent of George W. Bush's triumphant aircraft carrier landing back when the war for Iraq had long been lost in people's hearts and minds. Whether meant ironically or not, it glorifies weapons, legitimizes occupations, makes everyone feel better about precisely the things that they should be critical about.
It matters because Comedy Estonia is influential. Even the Estonian Language Act has been stretched a little at the corners to allow them to continue performing taped segments in English on the air.
Comedy Estonia sometimes suggests its own influences run to such comedians like Bill Hicks. Well, I hate to break it to them, but Bill Hicks would never have accepted a junket from any military, just like you never saw George Carlin performing at too many church conventions.
And no matter how free the comedians supposedly are on stage, it's still a scripted trip, almost completely isolated from actual goings-on in local society. The most ironic aspect of Stew and Louis (and Andy)'s Excellent Adventure might just be the fact that Afghanistan, believe it or not, actually has its own comedy scene, which might be called edgy even in less oppressive places. The Christian Science Monitor wrote a while back about comics who mock the Taliban, and a whole town, Khost, that is a comedy hotspot. That's not on their itinerary, though. As far as being able to interface with locals, Stew and Louis would have had as good a shot on a trip to North Korea.
The troops are coming home anyway very soon. Instead of going all Vanilla Ninja on us and participating in a phony spectacle in 50 C heat, maybe Comedy Estonia should have stayed home and thrown, as one of their many private gigs, an old-fashioned sauna party for veterans and their families.