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<nettime> Why war means peace
Are Flagan on Sat, 29 Mar 2003 07:10:23 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Why war means peace


Why war means peace

In scattered pieces...

I have spent a lot of time in front of the TV lately. It all started a week
ago with the boy emperor proudly proclaiming his intent to militarily
enforce an agenda that has in terms of its underlying reasons constantly
shifted over the last months. The bewildered pauses that usually punctuate
his stuttering rhetoric had taken another, not unexpected, turn toward war.
Those privy to the BBC (and later the Internet) picked up the feed 90
seconds or so earlier than the rest of us and got a preview of a man
squirming in his seat and sending shifty glances left and right. An
assistant was combing the Presidential hair and spraying it into a suitably
rigid style. When the red light flicked on, we got the usual mix of John
Wayne snarls and biblical phrasings to announce that judgment day had
arrived at the 48-hour mark of high noon. There was unmistakably a
swaggering anticipation of superior "shock and awe" in his demeanor, like he
had already triumphantly entered Baghdad to execute the (overheard in Rice's
office) remark he so eloquently proffered back in March 2002: "Fuck Saddam.
We'll take him out." With us or against us had entered its most decisive and
predictable phase.

A few days and thousands upon thousands of dead later, the quiver in his
voice is arguably slight but certainly audible. It is positively there in
the preposterous and feverishly repeated pretext of liberation that means
absolutely nothing and stands in for deliverance only in his embarrassing
delivery. Instead of flowers, there were bullets greeting his doctrinal
presumptions, and the immense tragedy of his reckless action is starting to
assert itself with visceral force. For a week, the lip-service media has
been trying to capture the entry of the savior, but this Biblical scene
among the palms, announced long before arrival, jumped straight to the
orange glow of Armageddon instead. All we have seen so far is a man taking
off his shoe and demonstratively banging the head of Saddam in a painted
mural being torn down by a US Marine. The action was symbolically rich and
ideologically rewarding -- yet left a lot to be desired in terms of the
actual popularity of an uprising. Still, one is better than none of course.
(Footage of soldiers hoisting the Old Glory in place of Iraqi colors was
quickly suppressed.) People have even been lured before the cameras with
food to capture some liberated excitement; yet all we got was a starved riot
and shouts of "Down Bush" followed by "America Go Away." Maybe the outbursts
stem, as the media blandly speculates, from the previous betrayal in 1991,
but it is perhaps equally due to the long decade of birth defects and
cancers that have plagued this part of the world since the depleted uranium
(used in American armor-penetrating shells) blew in across the desert after
the last visit. Regardless, the obvious introductory scenario of good, the
ludicrous "coalition," versus evil, the tyranny of Hussein, has turned into
a violently imposed rule of the lesser evil for now and clearly a wish for
none of the above. What now liberation?

The decisive battle for the "hearts and minds" of the people is ongoing, and
the term has become somewhat of a revived catchphrase for the cable giants
Fox, MSNBC and CNN, with frequent feel-good stories about totally absurd
victories. Just an hour ago CNN ran a story entitled "Easing the Pain" that
showed a compassionate army doctor putting a "band-aid" on the leg of a man
who had just lost his entire family due to allied shrapnel. Likewise, I am
quite sure the brain splattered across the Baghdad pavement yesterday after
two missiles hit a marketplace are, along with the thousands of broken
hearts that have so far stopped beating, glorious triumphs of this fracas.
These scenes along with the accompanying commentary epitomize the blind
idiocy of what is going on: the downright repression of affairs, coupled
with the deliberate manufacture of clean presumptions that are very
obviously nowhere to be found amidst the grotesque rubble of war. Instead of
listening to Saddam's televised speeches that urgently appeal to Iraq's
anti-colonial past to make sense of what those fighting hearts and minds may
feel and think about liberation, we delve into nonsensical speculations
about his whereabouts and dead-or-alive authenticity, as if the voice of
history depends solely on the tangibility of its specter. (It does not: the
Russians joined Stalin to fight the Germans in 1941; the Iranians joined
their fundamentalist Islamic revolutionaries to ward off the
American-sponsored Hussein in the 1980s, and so on.)

But let us leave this particular charade and join the parade of commentary
that explains why all this will be a calamity in peace, as it is in war. It
is not hard to notice the explicit lack of a broader human empathy in this
conflict. A reporter at the Q & A at the Pentagon asked if we would get
another _show_ like "shock and awe." Later an embedded CNN press warrior,
Walter Rodgers, likened the blitz in Baghdad to the fireworks of
Independence Day -- a stunning celebration of liberation indeed, the grand
pyrotechnic orgasm of the military-industrial complex. Tell me: was it good
for you, too? Enemy dead and captured are triumphantly announced as welcome
hits and points are added on a news ticker scorecard. The ragtag and
ill-equipped army of "thugs" and "death squads" and, of course, "terrorists"
are anonymously falling like flies under the technologically superior might
of the US, ironically because they allegedly and most likely harbor
antiquated yet potent "weapons of mass destruction" that were state of the
art back in World War I. Coverage of this mismatch actually laments that
Iraqis do not line up for the shoot and practice unfair tactics to prolong
the inevitable. Come on people, be nice, line up neatly for the massacre.
Supporters of the troops across America then bring home this Superbowl
mentality with cheerleading, spelling out the familiar national acronym of
U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A repeatedly. Each number added to mounting tally of
destruction and death has thus become an uplifting integer for a superiority
about to break the high score with the most impressive military campaign
ever conducted. Check out, while you wait for the final quarter, the really
cool 3D models of weaponry at cnn.com. Victory is thus considered a ratio,
where the lightest losses weigh heaviest, and war terminally tips the scales
of with us or against us in favor of a misleadingly conclusive without you.

Take, briefly, the recent POW controversy. America is up in propaganda arms
about the Geneva Convention when five US servicemen and women are paraded on
TV. Here even the image of the citizen is profaned when it is mistreated.
Contrast this with the 660 anonymous people that have slipped away at Camp
X-Ray, 19 of which have committed suicide. Add, if you are American and
obviously like to keep scores, the two people beaten to death under
interrogation at the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. Or read Alan
Dershowitz's or Pat Buchanan's recent advocacies for torture. No comparison
there the media mouthpieces lull, implying of course that these people are
fundamentally different, so called "enemy combatants," due to the sole
circumstance of them being against us on other terms than we prescribe.
Please play by the rules we define to defeat you, accept the double standard
to allow your demise as destiny, and abide by the conditions that work in
our favor to crush you. This troubling litany of the same
exclusion/inclusion principle saturates not only the sickening massacre that
presently seeks to fulfill the twofaced Bush doctrine; it is arguably the
modus operandi of a distribution scheme that has beset most facets of the
US.

It is getting late here; let me finish this quickly. What will become of the
proposed peace after the war? On the very simple grounds that the US will
perpetuate this familiar logic through its program of liberation under
military rule and retired US diplomats, it will inevitably serve to breed
further disenchantment and conflict. The US, as we have so tragically seen,
is unable to empathically and humanely account for the consequences of its
own actions, to judiciously bring its unchecked arrogance into line with the
mere possibility of any wrongdoing against others. There is no acceptable or
comparative standard of judgment in its mindset -- like an International
Criminal Court or a United Nations -- that may, if nothing else, suggest
that there is possibly another best interest of compromise and cooperation,
a share and share alike consideration to balance this all or nothing, this
with us or against us. Any doubt, any questioning, is simply replaced by the
hollow and hypocritical arrogance that tells self-serving lies -- or fixes
accounts -- until they are common enough to reiterate with conviction (seen
daily in the coverage, addresses and press conferences of this war). The
attitude that brought on the war is thus sadly the very same approach, the
very same line of attack, that works to secure the peace. Hence the strange
equivalence of war and peace that Bush keeps stumbling over actually makes
perverse sense, but it leads immediately to fighting, and only secures
deeply isolated pockets of prosperity constantly threatened by even more
violence.

Why? What is almost entirely missing here is an understanding of why the
world has effectively erupted into a plethora of smaller and larger
battlefields. One shorthand rationale is very broadly that this "with us or
against us" way of life perpetuated by the US, and others, has deprived too
many of too much and desperation has set in almost everywhere. Societies are
deeply pent up with anger, and racial, ethnical and national divides used to
exclude and include groups via this logic are more frequently striking a
violent spark across their polarities. People across the globe move away
from environmentally degraded rural areas to seek a livelihood in the urban
settlements, and often they are, in large numbers, unable to sustain
themselves, creating slums, ghettos and derelict estates without any hope.
As a result of such and many similar changes, the tensions that breed
violence are growing stronger to carve a dignified and sustainable living
for more and more oppressed people. Liberation and its struggle is thus, as
always, an argument for the just division of land and property, plus the
control over various regulatory social, economical and political entities;
it is never the imposition of dominant divides for a largely one-sided
benefit, which is on the contrary the conquest associated with colonialism.
This raises some very real questions, which differ fundamentally from the
incestuous siding with good or evil haunting this conflict, that must
urgently be asked and answered, as the absolutely terrible and, in my view,
totally inexcusable massacre in Iraq continues. Taking responsibility for
this senseless murder, the US must, like the terrorized Iraqis spared when
the fog of war has lifted no doubt will do, openly and vehemently reject
Bush and start a new project that may actually lead toward sustainable
peace.


-af

PS: The rhetorical identification with "us" above is a deeply troublesome
convenience.

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