Pictures of Afghanistan in the Fifties and Sixties Are Totally Depressing


As Ross Perot once said, Do you know what his dream is? To someday have an outhouse.

"Given the images people see on TV, many conclude Afghanistan never made it out of the Middle Ages," writes Mohammad Qayoumi at Retronaut. "But that is not the Afghanistan I remember. I grew up in Kabul in the 1950s and '60s. Stirred by the fact that news portrayals of the country's history didn't mesh with my own memories, I wanted to discover the truth."

Qayoumi's gallery of what the Graveyard of Empires looked like before it was brought into contemporary civilization by the Hippie Trail, Soviet modernization, Taliban discipline and American nation-building is at once endearing, heartbreaking and disturbing. Because it turns out pre-modern Afghanistan looked pretty, well, modern. 

There are Afghans of the Mad Men era going to the movies: 

Kabul movie theater

…taking kids to the playground:

Kabul playground

…shopping for decadent clothing: 

Kabul storefronts

…getting around town using state-of-the-art transit systems:

Kabul bus

…and even attending college classes in sensible skirts: 

Kabul University


The degrading of fashion is bad, but it's not the worst thing. (Even in America, where mayors can't even be bothered to wear neckties when greeting schoolchildren, people think nothing of dressing like slobs for every occasion.) What's disturbing is that actual civilzational retrograde is so rare in the modern world that you can almost believe it never happens. Even a few years after World War II, most Western Europeans had a higher standard of living than they had had before the war. Yet here you have a country that was apparently not in the dark ages, but got there as fast as it could. 

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  1. Then came Communism, after that Islamism.

    Ideology matters.

  2. That place fell apart faster than an Obama debating a Romney.

  3. What a tragedy.

  4. America, where mayors can’t even be bothered to wear neckties when greeting schoolchildren, people think nothing of dressing like slobs for every occasion.)


    The link: Phoebe Cavanaugh greets the mayor…

    Concidence? I think not.

  5. I don’t know what’s more depressing, the pictures proving that Afghanistan was once a civilized place, or Timmeh’s sad delusion that neckties are anything but an outdated 20th century affectation.

    1. Hugh, the way I look at it, how you dress indicates the degree to which you respect yourself and those you encounter.

      Schlepping around like a slob, and even going to meetings in jeans and t-shirts (yeah, I’m looking at you, Zuck), tells me that you either (a) don’t respect yourself (b) have no regard for others or (c) both.

      Depending on the setting, refusing to wear a necktie signals that you don’t really give a shit. Call me shallow, but if I’m interviewing an attorney for a job and he shows up without a tie, he has put himself in a deep hole.

      1. Depending on the setting, refusing to wear a necktie signals that you don’t really give a shit.

        If you’re my lawyer and I’m paying you by the hour, I can wear a goddamn tutu and you wont complain.

        1. I think Mr. Dean was referring to another lawyer, who’s begging for a job… not a client.

          1. Sorry, I guess you had to read between the lines:

            interviewing an attorney for a job


      2. Sorry RC, but unless you’re wearing a frilly lace cravat of the sort worn by Enlightenment-era dandies, I can’t really take anything you say seriously.

        So why don’t you go beg for change elsewhere, you soot-besmirched wastrel, lest I give you a taste of my walking stick.

        1. Well, then its a good thing I am wearing my frilly lace cravat today, isn’t it?

          1. I heard those were big in Texas.

        2. I think barristers should go back to wearing the little wigs.

          1. Me, too.

            Of course, I wouldn’t be a barrister, I’d be a solicitor.

            1. So if I get busted, I can’t call you?

      3. As a software engineer I wouldn’t ever imagine showing up to an interview with a tie unless I wanted to be perceived as a pretentious ass.

        1. Ah, but see, that’s why I said Depending on the setting,

          Nobody expects software engineers, who are renowned for their social ineptitude, to dress well, or even understand that how they dress matters.

          1. Hey now! I resemble that remark!

          2. As a fellow software engineer, I realize there is such a thing as overdressing.

            However, I’ve found that 90% of my fellows who dress like shit also code like shit, debug like shit, design like shit, analyze like shit, and treat the customers like shit.

            1. You let software engineers talk to customers!?

              1. It happens. I’ve done it while helping out support with customer bug escalations.

          3. At Microsoft they argue that you can put a chimpanzee in a suit, but can it do the job?

        2. I’m a software engineer. Only once have I interviewed for a software engineer position without a wearing a tie. Strangely enough, I got that position.

          When I interview someone for a software engineer position, I expect the candidate to be well dressed. I appreciate a candidate that wears a tie, but I realize I’m a bit old fashioned about my expectations. If you’re sloppily dressed, I wonder what else you are sloppy about.

          I have similar expectations about a resume. Incorrect spelling and poor grammar incline me towards a thumbs down and I’ll wonder how the candidate got as far as getting an interview.

          No matter how perfect your resume looks or how well dressed you are, if you can’t answer my technical questions you get a thumbs down.

      4. My bus driver wears a tie. City bus, young black driver, MTC uniform, TIE! I think it shows class and a desire to rise up in the public transit system. I started wearing a tie nearly 30-years ago working in shipping and receiving. Got promoted to an office job within a few months. So I look at that bus driver and think, he has a plan to better himself and he is going to succeed.

        1. A week into my first software job I was told to take off my tie with “What do you think you are, a manager?”

        2. How nice for your bus driver. I don’t care whether they wear ties or not, but only how they drive the bus.

          In my experience, the more emphasis on bullshit like dress equates to no-talent people doing bullshit jobs.

          Sorry, RC.


        3. If he gets paid the same as King County bus drivers, he’s already succeeded.

        4. What’s so magical about a strip of cloth that you tie around your neck?

          1. You know how big libertarians are on tradition.

      5. RC Dean’s new childrens-wear lineup…..buw250#i=8

        1. Blarg… cocked up me own joke


      6. I like to wear my tuxedo to job interviews. Mostly because I own a custom tailored tuxedo, and don’t get to wear it often.

        1. Hello, Miss Lady!

    2. I believe that all managers should double point when they greet someone. That way we can tell them apart from people who actually get shit done.

      1. in large organizations it’s actually very difficult to tell people apart from those who actually get shit done.

        Volunteering the info could help but then you’d still have all the worthless idiots who actually think they are getting shit done.

        it’s a difficult problem

        1. in large organizations it’s actually very difficult to tell people apart from those who actually get shit done.

          I guess it depends on how large. I work for a large organization and everyone here knows who gets shit done. Snark aside, there are great managers who get tons done. There are a few I work with I respect deeply. But the damage a bad manager can do stands out so dramatically, that I tend to focus my energies there.

          A co-worker of mine recently said (of our previous manager– now ‘fired’), “He could single-handedly impede all progress on a project with a single, vaguely worded line in an email which he then refuse to clarify”

  6. Religious Islam was dying in the 1950s. The post war generation of Muslims looked at things like head scarfs as something old bitties wore. Things started to go horribly wrong sometime in the 1970s.

    1. In my opinion, it is the fault of the fucking Wilsonians and their vision to end colonialism. WARNING! ONE OF TARRAN’S PATENTED GROSS OVERSIMPLIFICATIONS FOLLOW!

      All of these areas (many of which were british colonies btw) had fascist republics or monarchies installed to rule over them. These rulers had no legitimacy and were replaced by totalitarian dictators who allied with Russia or the U.S. and ran kleptocracies that masqueraded as modern social-welfare states on the French model.

      When these dictatorships started to collapse, the only alternative to the kleptocracies that people really knew about were the Islamists who had a track record, a legal code, a moral code, etc. The islamists were also getting lots of money from the Saudi crown (I think half the Taliban operating budget came from donations within the Saudi aristocracy in the late 90’s). The U.S. of course initially liked this because islamists would be reliably anti-communist.

      One huge problem is that almost nothing written in the west during the enlightenment has been translated in Arabic and widely promulgated.

      1. Pan Arabism and socialism did a lot of damage to those societies. Look at Russia right now. It is emerging from communism and turning towards a religious dictatorship in Putin and the Orthodox Church. The Arabs have kind of done the same.

    2. Re: John,

      Religious Islam was dying in the 1950s. The post war generation of Muslims looked at things like head scarfs as something old bitties wore. Things started to go horribly wrong sometime in the 1970s.

      They found out that communism wasn’t really the great shit they thought would improve their chances to regain their sovereignity and so they threw their lot towards religiosity.

    3. Things started to go horribly wrong sometime in the 1970s.

      Massive petrodollar influx to Saudi and other Gulf states. Massive Wahabbi proselytizing funded by said petrodollars. Add phenomenal birth rate in SW Asian countries, despite said influx of wealth. Pinch of primogeniture, so N+1 sons don’t have prospects, and stir.

      Not sure what explains the rise of the crazy branch of Shiite Islam, basically, “Where the fuck did Khomenei come from and why did people start listening to him?” Were they the only people crazy and militant enough to be able to oppose the Shah?

      But, IMHO, the 1st paragraph explains a lot of the U.S.’s troubles in the MidEast. Too bad. I have an acquaintance and old hippy who used to talk to us about backpacking throughout Afghanistan in the early 1970s. Mazar-i-sharif, Kandahar, etc… Probably smoked a football field’s worth of grass while doing it too. Said it was a beautiful country.

      1. Being left with only the religious fighters in Afghanistan (the secular ones were either working for Kabul or killed) and funding them lavishly, probably didn’t help either. IIRC, didn’t the CIA in the 80s feel that the more secular of the Muj (thinking of Massoud’s guys) were too unwilling to fight, and therefore unworthy of support?

  7. Pictures of Iran pre-1979 are even more depressing.…..ution.html

    What happen is that Islam had a Reformation. Like the Protestant Reformation in Christianity, they went back to the scriptures and tried to live according to the Word. Unfortunately, contemporary Iran and Afghanistan is what a reformed Islamic society looks like.

    1. All those smoking hot women.

      1. The greatest crime any religion has ever committed was covering up all that ass.

      2. They all moved to Houston and Orange County. Funny thing is, the stills in that link are nowhere near as hot as some of the Persian women I’ve known.

        Hybrid vigor; how the fuck does it work?

    2. Oooooooooooorrrrrrr they fell under the sway of violent, willfully ignorant tribalist fundamentalists of the ilk that every religion breeds.

      Iranian girls though, man. Not bad.

      1. And they are in bad 70s clothes and hair and still look good.

      2. Iranian girls though, man. Not bad.

        I gots me a half persian, half italian wife. She’s gorgeous, but damn are they feisty.

        1. I know several divorced men with Persian ex wives. I am told they are quite demanding.

          1. It takes a rare breed of true wit and wisdom to navigate the currents of such a Westernized Persian tempest.

            I just happen to be one of the few possessing such rare brilliance.

            1. Either that or you are very good at doing exactly what you are told.

              1. For fuck’s sake, John, I’m a libertarian. I’ve never been obedient and never will be. I just know where to stand my ground and where to make little things that appear as concessions (eventhough I couldn’t give a fuck) in order to earn capital for my firm positions.

                All marriage is a balancing act, and to be honest, I think it’s easier to balance with a bombastic and fiery woman than a more cunning and insidious one. Some men divorce fiery women they can’t handle while others live the passion it brings. But all men who marry less animated women (women who still are SWMBOs I might add) live long lives of misery as the damage is all misdirection and treachery.

                1. What is a SWMBO? And for the record I married an Italian.

                  1. SWMBO: “She Who Must Be Obeyed”

                  2. She Who Must Be Obeyed

                  3. Barrister fail.

                  4. Sounds like a dog-whistle to me.

                2. All marriage is a balancing act,

                  It is that. Imagine, if you will, walking along a tightrope. If you fall off, you lose half your stuff. Step lightly!

              2. And, as testimony to how awesome having a persian wife is, I’m about to eat some leftover gormeh sabzi.

                1. I’m about to eat some leftover gormeh sabzi.

                  Is that what they call it over there?

          2. So maybe that worked against them in their own damn country.

      3. Iranian girls though, man. Not bad.

        Egyptian girls.

        1. It’s all good.

          1. Did you see the way she bounces when she trots down the hill? I think I’m having an aneurysm when I watch that.

      4. Spent some time in Sadr City. Persian women are the hottest women. At least until 30ish.

    3. Community High School in Tehran in the 1970s (closed down in 1979). Nothing particularly notable about the building itself but former Georgia Congressman and Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr graduated from high school here in 1966.


      1. We should send him back for the next reunion.

    4. Of course pre-1979 Iran was infamous for this:
      SAVAK (Persian: ?????, short for ???????? ??????? ?? ??????? ?????? S?zem?n-e Ettel?’?t va Amniyat-e Keshvar, Organisation of Intelligence and National Security) was the secret police, domestic security and intelligence service established by Iran’s Mohammad Reza Shah with the help of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (the CIA).[1] SAVAK operated from 1957 to 1979, when the Pahlavi dynasty was overthrown. SAVAK has been described as Iran’s “most hated and feared institution” prior to the revolution of 1979 because of its practice of torturing and executing opponents of the Pahlavi regime.[2][3] At its peak, the organization had as many as 60,000 agents serving in its ranks according to one source,[4] although Gholam Reza Afkhami, whose work on the Shah has been described as a “sympathetic biography”,[5] estimates SAVAK staffing at between 4,000 and 6,000.[6]

  8. In Afghanistan, culture degrades YOU.

  9. I saw these same photos on Tom Ricks Best Defense blog, maybe a year or two ago. I guess they’re floating around somewhere and maybe the source has been lost.

    The commentary by Tom was roughly the same if I recall. he actually lived in Kabul in 1968-1970. I think his dad was a spook. or a diplomat. dont know.

    1. I knew a girl in high school whose father was a diplomat. She had lived in Afghanistan in the 1970s. They liked it. She said it was a nice place.

      I am told Baghdad was fucking awesome in the 1960s before Saddam and Bathism sunk their fangs into it.

      1. This is true. Back in the fifties, San Francisco was known as “Baghdad by the Bay.”

        (See Herb Caen)

  10. Wow, that is depressing as all hell.

  11. I once listened to an interview with Salman Rushdie, where he talked about driving from England to India in the 60s. When they were in Afghanistan, they paid a call to the king, because you could do that, and bought a nice brick of hashish with the king’s seal of purity stamped on it. How depressing.

    1. I bet the drive across the Channel was interesting.

      1. the secret is to drive really fast…

  12. It wasn’t born retarded, it suffered a traumatic brain injury following the commies invasion and teetered from one bankrupt ideology (communism) to the next (islamism) and ended up with the final worst one (us defense welfare dependency).

  13. “people think nothing of dressing like slobs for every occasion.)”

    Tim Cavanaugh, clutching pearls since 2004. You know what Tim? I bet were he watching, Reagan wouldn’t have minded at all.

    1. Wrong thread.

  14. My uncle married the daughter of British diploma at the palace in Kabul in the late 1950s. My aunt said the country was certainly backward in the rural areas, but the cities were advancing and the place was peaceful. Sure, it was under the rule of a king, but it wasn’t a huge mess.

    1. That would be “diplomat.”
      *annoyed grunt*

  15. I met a local area warlord/militiacommander/bigshot at the remains of a quai-country club like facility that was for the German and Swiss managers who helped run an enormous textile factory, in the northeast corner of Afghanistan – right by the Ozymandias like shell of the factory. Depressing was one word for it.

    My interpreter (a ex-pat florist from San Francisco) had grown up near there and told me about the discrete local brandy making and other civilized traits.

    The ruins of a decent irrigation system are everywhere (ironically, a fair amount was built with Chinese assistance in the 1960s) while the 5,000 year old mud karez still function.

    1. The ruins of a decent irrigation system are everywhere (ironically, a fair amount was built with Chinese assistance in the 1960s) while the 5,000 year old mud karez still function

      They just don’t build ’em like they used to.

      1. That, and nobody bothers blowing up a mudhole, but if you try to hide in a cement lined irrigation canal, then the MiGs drop bombs on ’em.

  16. If you want to see a picture of one of the last remnants of the Hippie Trail, check here:

  17. Two of my cousins-in-some-degree were in the Peace Corps in Afghanistan in the early sixties. They loved the place. They had an opportunity to return at some point in the recent past, and they decided not to go, probably because (in addition to the danger) it would have been a huge bummer to see what the place has become.

  18. how you dress indicates the degree to which you respect yourself and those you encounter.

    In my case, it’s definitely the latter.

  19. …and even attending college classes in sensible skirts:

    Classes? Sensible skirts? What reading does a woman need to do that can’t be done in the kitchen with a male relative supervising her? And you dare to condone these immoral trollops showing their calves and ankles to men who aren’t their husbands?

    Damn your Western decadence!

    1. I wonder if a woman’s hair being covered causes erections in men the way baring breasts does for many in the world.

      1. covered when revealed

  20. I have a sad. This would be a good time for somebody *cough Warty* to link to kitties.

  21. The same is true for pretty much all the Muslim world. Islamism has taken over.

    Unfortunately, it’s something we’re all headed for. First Europe, then the US.

  22. The worst part is, the most militant 20-somethings that have been convinced to murder and die for a superstition probably don’t even know that their land was once civilized.

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