Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Aporia Ahead

In an interview on NPR, the other day, historian Howard Zinn made the interesting point that war is an impractical and ineffective solution to contemporary political problems. War has become too expensive, too unwieldy, too violent, and too unpredictable to justify the risk of waging it. This is why all of America's wars since the end of World War II have failed not only from a humanitarian perspective but from a practical perspective as well. None of them has achieved their intended effect. Instead, they have only made things worse. I suppose this may be why some have called for a change in strategy, that the war on terror, for instance, should be a smarter, smaller, and more opportunistic kind of war than the full-scale conflicts of previous generations. It seems obvious, however, that this has not been pursued because it simply fails to fulfill the appetite for war which is nearly always war's primary motivation. Small-scale operations to nab foreign terrorists or neutralize plots doesn't conjure the necessary grandeur of, say, shock and awe. If it's a demonstration of military might that we're after, this won't do. Nor does it get the money flowing in the right direction, because along with good old fashioned blood lust there is no drive to war apart from its potential as a business investment. This has been true of all the American wars since the end of WWII. Are we safer or better off for having fought any of them? Were we ever directly threatened by any of these so-called enemy states? War as an economic strategy is indispensable to American-style capitalism. Put differently, it is the foundation of our way of life. Without war, we could not continue to live as we do. (I believe many conservatives would agree with me on this point.) We are a war-making people, and increasingly, war is our business. I believe that the present ruling elite imagine a future in which America has cornered the market, as it were, on war, a future in which our primary export becomes war, in which our entire economic and political life is defined by our capacity to wage war. We are rapidly becoming addicted to war. To that end, much research is currently being devoted into the future of war-making. New types of violence are currently under construction the likes of which we cannot presently imagine. The future promises to contain a great deal of violence inflicted by America on the rest of the world. Unfortunately for us, this future presages an America in a constant state of insecurity, suspicion, and alarm. Extreme violence against Americans is likely to become a commonplace in the near future, and we will all have to live with it as best we can. All of this is being brought about by American policies towards the rest of the world, which is to say, by our way of life. Terrorism is a particularly evil consequence of our actions, as depraved as it is predictable. It is simply the violence we are exporting to the world, being imported back to us. Parts of the world really do look like Manhattan did on that September day five years ago as a direct result of American policy. Each of us support those policies in specific ways. Please do not misunderstand me. Terrorism, in all of its forms, really is the great evil of the modern world, and I am not ignorant of its dangers. It is a fact which I find tremendously difficult to accept, because it is the future of my country, my family, and my own life which I find to be at stake. It is a matter of intense personal concern. This is why I find it to be so ironic that everyone nowadays speaks of war as being not desirable but only necessary. We have no choice but to wage war, I hear all the time. In response I would say that this is not a war we can win. The metrics are all against us. To continue down the path of the Bush Doctrine is to wage a war of America and a handful of allies against the rest of the world. If we fight that war, we will lose our country. Do we have a choice to wage war or not? Of course we do. The matter in which we truly have no choice is to go on living as we are now. This way of life will come to an end in the near future. It cannot be sustained. The choice is between waging an agonizing struggle against the rest of the world with consequences so severe as to be unimaginable, or to begin to change the way we live. We must cease exporting violence to the world. But that means giving up our way of life, capitalism in the way we presently conceive of it. It means giving up our insane quest to monopolize the world's resources, to dominate the world's economic and financial systems, to overwhelm and obliterate local cultures with the influence of mass media and commercialized propaganda. Not only is it not possible for everyone in the world to live like an American, but it is not even possible for Americans to go on living like Americans. It is an unjust, opportunistic, malicious and blindingly short-sighted way of life. It is slow suicide. It means death for many innocents in foreign countries and now, post 9/11, it means death for ourselves as well. I take comfort in the fact that America has such a strong surplus of moral strength, ingenuity, and sheer bravado that our ability to meet the challenge is nowhere near exhaustion. There is so much to love about this country, and that too is reflected in the peoples of the world who have mostly given us the benefit of the doubt (Not even the French really hate America, because come on, who could?) But this is the challenge, and it is enormous, too big for one generation to accomplish. The struggle is not really with outsiders who seek to do us harm as it is with ourselves and our place in the world community. It is nothing less than deciding what kind of country we are going to be. Perhaps America is only now going through something like a national adolescence, and this present challenge will be our coming of age. Then I hope we will grow up wisely and well, so that we can look back in tranquility on these troubled times.

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