“Kill/Capture”, “Bhutto”, “Freedom Riders”: outstanding PBS programs

Readers can conclude that I’m in the tank for PBS. It’s not because PBS affiliate WHYY sponsors the site of this blog. It’s because I’m regularly surprised at how good the programs on PBS are.

Listeners to National Public Radio talk about “driveway moments” when compelling radio broadcasts make them sit in their cars listening even after arriving at their destination. PBS viewers have whole evenings like that, and last night was one of them.

“Frontline” presented a compelling program called “Kill/Capture” about current U.S. combat tactics in Afghanistan, using the latest high technology to try to attack insurgents with pinpoint accuracy. The problem is that such attacks can only be as effective as the intelligence they rely on is accurate. If the intelligence is not accurate, civilians get killed, or at best harassed and humiliated, and more enemies for the U.S. are created. While the program tried hard to be even-handed, it reinforced my belief that our war in Afghanistan is like our war in Vietnam, a doomed effort to win hearts and minds in a culture we cannot understand, and whose languages we cannot speak.

That was followed by “Bhutto”, a two-hour uninterrupted examination of the inspiring and tragic life of Benazir Bhutto, the youngest person and the only woman to ever lead an Islamic country, who served two terms as prime minister of Pakistan, and was assassinated in 2007 at the age of 54 when she returned to Pakistan to seek a third term. In retrospect the West missed its best opportunity to support a modern and western-educated role model for the Islamic world, instead of dumping money on Pakistani military dictators viewed as Cold War and then anti-terrorist allies. Ironically, the military dictatorship supported by the U.S. installed fundamentalist madrassas and Sharia law in Pakistan, created the Taliban in Afghanistan, and funneled aid to and cooperated with Osama Bin Laden.

As in Vietnam in the past and Afghanistan today, in Pakistan we are in a war we cannot win, in a country even the most recent history of which is beyond our understanding. The husband who survived Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari, is now the president of Pakistan.

Every American taxpayer should see these programs to see where our tax dollars have been and are still being spent. “Kill/Capture” is available for free on the “Frontline” website here.

Coming Monday, May 16 at 9 p.m. on “American Experience” is the story of the “Freedom Riders”, young Americans who risked and sacrificed their lives to challenge and confront legally protected racial segregation in the American South in the early 1960’s. At a time when American history is no longer systematically taught to American children in American schools, “American Experience” on PBS is like a time capsule of our forgotten past.

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