The institution that helped mold the world view of generals with last names like Eisenhower, Patton and Schwarzkopf has called on the expertise of a Springfield resident.
Yu Bin, a longtime political science professor at Wittenberg University, will begin a one-year assignment in August as a visiting research professor at the U.S. Army War College, where his task will be to analyze a post-NATO Afghanistan and Central Asia using his steep knowledge of the region’s history, culture and politics.
Yu — traditional Chinese names place the family name first — might be the only Springfield resident to also serve as a regular commentator on world politics for the BBC.
The highly published expert on China and Russia whose resume runs 30 pages single-spaced — a scholar whom David Halberstam spent an entire day with in order to write his final book, “The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War” — has, in fact, lived in Springfield ever since coming to teach at Wittenberg in 1991.
At first, he expressed reservations about talking about the four years he spent in the infantry of the People’s Liberation Army of China for fear that fellow Springfielders will get the wrong idea about him.
But, it was 1968, and he, too, was drafted. His native country, however, just happened to be fighting a border war at the time with Russia.
Now in his early 60s, Yu has gone on to do research on behalf of the United States, lending his insight to the Army War College in Pennsylvania, the U.S. Naval War College in Rhode Island and the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, among others.
They’re graduate-level schools that also double as think tanks for the military.
This time, Yu will assess the situation in Central Asia as the U.S. prepares to pull ground troops from a place that likely will make news again at some point in future history.
“Afghanistan is a historical playground for empires,” Yu said, “but none of them stay very long.”
Even plans to withdraw forces, as the U.S. soon will do, is rife with danger.
Yu chillingly described the British withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1842 at the end of the First Anglo-Afghan War. After several years of fighting an insurgency that had formed after the British invaded and installed a head of state, withdrawal terms were negotiated.
But, as the British were leaving, they were ambushed, he said. Out of thousands of troops, he explained, only one British army doctor survived.
“Afghanistan has been the so-called empire trap,” Yu said. “No empire has ever fully occupied the country.”
He chalked it up to the country’s challenging terrain and a populace of fierce fighters who are wary of foreign meddling.
The Soviet Union’s 10-year war in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, in which about 15,000 Soviets died, contributed to its collapse, Yu said.
The U.S. so far has lost more than 2,200 men and women in Afghanistan since Oct. 7, 2001, including three from Clark County. More than 18,500 Americans have been wounded in action.
In his research, Yu will look at the role that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, or SCO, might play in that region once NATO and the West leaves.
“I don’t think people know what to do,” he said. “The chemistry in Afghanistan is still unknown.”
“The legitimacy of the government is in serious question,” he added.
The SCO is a Beijing-based security alliance established in 2001 to stabilize post-Soviet Central Asia.
Along with China and Russia, the SCO is made up of “the Stans,” as Yu put it — Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Afghanistan and Pakistan are considered observer states in the SCO, as are Iran and India.
Individually, the SCO has varied interests in Afghanistan.
China, Yu said, has had a $3 billion copper mine there since 2008, and has oil exploration sites. India, he said, wants to establish military bases of its own in Afghanistan. Russia still exerts influence in the country.
While the SCO and NATO have a common interest in ending terrorism, Yu also will assess the possibility of NATO forces clashing with the SCO.
The bulk of Yu’s research will go beyond military what-ifs.
“There’s no military solution to the Afghan problem,” Yu said.