Saturday, October 22, 2005

Coming up to 2,000; George Packer's book; liberals and war; etc. We are coming up to hearing about the 2,000th US soldier killed in Iraq. People have different plans for what to do about it. I know the pals here at TII have some special posts planned, so y'all should check 'em out. Here is another interesting suggestion. Time was, in our weekly peace demonstrations here in Charlottesville, VA, I had a sign with spaces for the digits, then it said "- - - - US dead in Iraq." We had separate foamcore digits to snap onto velcro fasteners in those spaces there. (The idea was that someone would all stand next to that one with a sign saying "We mourn ALL the dead.") But the whole thing got lost someplace while I was in Europe. Darn. Anyway, our peace vigils here in Charlottesville have been great for the past 4-5 months, without exception... Trolleys clanging in response to our "Honk 4 peace" sign, Vespa-riders giving a squirty little beep-beep, a logging truck once with a humungous great horn that would blast your ears off; bus-drivers, rusty old pickups, soccer moms, LOTS of female African-American drivers honking, cyclists going ching-ching-ching, grandmas and grandpas, Maseratis, good ol' boys, Hispanics in rusty old jalopies, joggers running by saying "Honk, honk!"; once, I kid you not, a police officer honking for us from his cruiser... I've been reading the George Packer book, Assassins' Gate. It is an excellent account of the US war in/on Iraq, starting with a detailed intellectual history of the war's architects, and passing through Packer's initial enchantment with Kenaan Makiya's case for the necessity-- on human rights grounds-- of backing the war effort... Then, soon after the war, both Packer and Makiya go to Iraq; and almost immediately Packer sees that nearly everything he has been told about the country by the Iraqi exiles who fomented the war, including Makiya, doesn't stand up to the light of day, at all. So where I am in the book is at the point where Packer is starting to feel disillusioned with the whole war effort, and a little bit with Makiya too, for having gotten it all so hideously wrong-- that is, basically, for not having understood Iraqi society as it had become, at all... Packer comes across as an excellent, clear-eyed observer with a great knack for getting people to talk. As for me, I want to write something slightly big-- possibly for a dead-tree medium-- about how everyone who backed the war on "human rights" grounds really, fundamentally, did not understand the nature of war. War itself is, by definition, a massive assault on the human rights of members of society in which it is waged... All the generals' talk about their ability to use bombs with "pinpoint accuracy" is so much nonsense. Plus, it is NOT just the bombings and other directly lethal assaults that kill, maim, and radically restrict the "rights" of residents of the war-zone... It is also the massive degradation of the infrastructure, and the sequelae of the prolonged, self-sustaining civil strife that so often ensues. Look at Kosovo six years after the so-called "humanitarian war" there. So many western liberals got sort of lulled by the events of the 1990s-- Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo-- into thinking that the "robust" use of military power could actually serve humanitarian ends... So they were quite primed to see this as a possibility in Iraq, too. (Where of course, the human-rights case against the Saddam Hussein regime was an extremely strong one, indeed.) George Packer was one of those liberals, in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. He writes with great apparent honesty about how, when he got to Baghdad, he was expecting it to be "like Prague in 1989" -- a newly "free" country, experimenting with all sorts of new forms of social organization and artistic expression... So he got to Baghdad, just a few weeks after the invasion, and headed for one of the city's few remaining art galleries, and asked, "So where's the action? Where are the mushrooming new film clubs, the trendy nightspots, the newly formed civic groups" etc etc... And the people there-- who had only recently lived through the shock of the invasion, and the possibly even greater shock of the post-invasion looting and the complete collapse of public security throughout their whole city-- just looked at him in amazement... And pretty soon, he realized it wasn't going to be like Prague 1989 at all, but something very different. ... Anyway, this piece I plan to write will take on a lot of that 1990s-era fuzzy thinking by comfortable, salon-based western liberals... the kind of people who by the end of the 1990s came to talk quite glibly about the need, here or there around the world, for a "humanitarian war"; or even more glibly, for a "humanitarian intervention" (meaning, war). I think that what those of us who have experienced warfare "at ground zero" need to do is to address all those fuzzy-headed liberals and say: Iraq, Kosovo-- that is the nature of war! Get real! It is time for us all to find ways to deal with our political differences using ways other than war. I mean, look at where the biggest improvements in the human-rights situation took place over the past 25 years: East Asia, East and central Europe, South America, South Africa-- add Spain and Portigal to those... In none of those places did that improvement come about as the result of external military intervention... So anyway, that's what I want to write about; and I think now is a good time. I want to try to take the "lessons" of what's been happening in Iraq and broaden them out a lot.


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