Old Patriot's Pen

Personal pontifications of an old geezer born 200 years too late.

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Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States

I've been everywhere That was the title of a hit country-and-western song from the late 1950's, originally sung by Hank Snow, and made famous by Johnny Cash. I resemble that! My 26-year career in the Air Force took me to more than sixty nations on five continents - sometimes only for a few minutes, other times for as long as four years at a time. In all that travel, I also managed to find the perfect partner, help rear three children, earn more than 200 hours of college credit, write more than 3000 reports, papers, documents, pamphlets, and even a handful of novels, take about 10,000 photographs, and met a huge crowd of interesting people. I use this weblog and my personal website here to document my life, and discuss my views on subjects I find interesting.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Postage stamps tell the tale.

I started collecting stamps when I was 10. I sent away for some stamps from an advertisement in the back of a comic book, back when comics were a dime, and more fun to read than recent ones. My interests waxed and waned with all the other things I was doing, and on several occasions I did nothing at all! About halfway through my first enlistment in the Air Force, I discovered that stamps were pretty good at representing a nation's view of itself and its government. As someone working in the photo intelligence field, that was good knowledge to have. My interest in postage stamps grew stronger as I used that knowledge to good advantage on many occasions.

Postal systems tend to have a hard time during periods of great stress within a nation. This was especially true during World War II. Stamps of former regimes were replaced by occupation issues, some of which were stamps from the former national post overprinted to reflect the "new owners". Dozens of local postal systems started up, worked for a short period (some only for days, others for years), then were replaced by national government issues. Some of these local postal authorities were recognized as "provisional" postal authorities, and their stamps were avidly sought by collectors - after more was known about them. Civil wars around the globe also added to the wealth of "provisional" issues.

This brings us to two areas where there's little known in the western world about what took place as far as postal authorities are concerned - Afghanistan from the period when the Russians withdrew until the present, and Iraq from the end of the first Gulf War until now.

One of the tests of the legitimacy of a government is how well it supplies basic services, including communication. The postal system and the telegraph and telephone services are run by the government in most nations, and how well the government runs these services is a legitimate means of evaluating how stable the government is.

There's a warning in my stamp catalogue for Afghanistan states that "the stamps which have been printed after 1989 are false stamps". There are no stamps listed for Afghanistan from near the end of 1989 until 1996. The stamps issued from 1996 through the end of the listing in my catalogue (before the US ousted the Taliban government) show stamps that appear to be the work of professional printers outside the country, and may not have been government-sanctioned. That makes one wonder how well the Taliban ran the government post, telephone and telegraph bureau - or if they did at all.

Another question that arose in my mind is just how independent were the Kurds during the period 1991-2001? Did they operate their own internal postal system? If they did, did they use stamps of the Hussein regime, or use a substitute of their own making? The stamps of Iraq for that period can best be described as propaganda labels aimed at boosting support for Saddam Hussein and his al-Baath party. Would the Kurds have willingly used those stamps? What about their mail system itself? Did they go through the Iraqi postal system for mail outside the nation, or did they smuggle their mail into Turkey or Iran, to keep it from being censored - or destroyed - by the Mukbarrat? These are little things, but they provide an inside glimpse of history in the making.

I don't subscribe to newspapers (except the local paper, the Gazette, which has the best political cartoonist I've read in decades) or magazines, and most of what I keep up with, I do through the Internet. I've seen virtually no comment on what's taking place inside Afghanistan and Iraq philatically (relating to stamps and stamp collecting). It would be very interesting to see what's going on inside these two countries, as far as stamps are concerned. Stamps have always been used as propaganda devices, beginning with the first postage stamp, a profile view of Queen Victoria. They serve as representatives of the nation that issued them. Russian stamps heavily propagandized in support of the Soviet state and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. What's going on as far as stamp printing and production inside Iraq and Afghanistan today, and what do those stamps reflect? Kuwait's stamp issues honored the coalition that ousted Saddam from that nation for more than a year - almost nothing else was printed. Will Afghanistan issue stamps honoring the role of the US and NATO in helping that nation establish an elected government? Will other local nations issue stamps depicting their interpretation of the role of Coalition forces in the region? Will members of the Coalition issue stamps honoring those that served? The answer to these questions will be an important insight into the stability of those nations, and how they truly feel about the role the "coalition of the willing" played in the region.


Blogger Jerry McClellan said...

That was fascinating! I never would have thought about stamps having so much meaning to a country. My dad collected stamps up until the day he died. He had stamps from all over the world, yet he never traveled outside of the U.S. He would ask military friends and family to send him letters with extra stamps included whenever they were stationed abroad. After he died, he left me his coin, stamp, and money collections. I never understood or appreciated them up to this point, other than collectibles to cash in on someday. After reading your post on the significance of stamps, I think I will pull out the old dusty trunk and take a look at that stamp collection. You've peaked my interests, especially in regards to what you stated about how stamps are used as propaganda pieces. I am an artist/graphic designer and I know from my art history in college that art in general has always been used as propaganda, I just never thought of stamps as part of that use. Very interesting indeed.

Keep blogging, good stuff!

7:23 PM  

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