May 06, 2003

I am increasingly out of synch with this world.

I do not think I was alone on September 11, 2001, in not instantly hating with a vicious, vengeful passion those who by their actions and their planning killed over 3000 people. Certainly I had never had any wish to personally go out and lynch with my bare hands whoever was behind that multipronged attack. This should not be taken to read that I support that attack in any way whatsoever. Whether or not those who commandeered the airplanes themselves believed that they were sacrificing themselves to address or revenge grievances, whether or not those who commanded and organised the operation cared at all about those grievances except insofar as they could be used to increase recruitment: there existed and exist and will continue to exist valid grievances which by no means uniquely or even primarily affect those who have resorted to terror as a negotiating tactic. No grievance has yet been resolved by invoking death upon another.

Nor have I any opposition to some types of mythology, whether or not rooted in truth. Even if it does turn out that United Airlines Flight 93 was in fact shot down before being retaken from within: what purpose that knowledge? An armed and aimed and fired missile, left to itself, can only ever have a single outcome. What harm if Todd Beamer and the rest of the passengers on that flight are given the credit for a resistance they almost certainly did put up? Give them the credit for their actions by all means: but know, also, what a nation was unanimously willing to do, that morning, to keep yet another guided missile from impacting. With that same generosity of spirit, respect also those who had taken over the airplanes with items so common, so basic, many of us had long since ceased to consider as holding the potential of weapons: and recognise that, whatever else, they believed in their cause to the extent that they were willing to give up their lives to it. That, too, is a part of the greater mythology.

There is nothing inherently moral or immoral about any use of power. Power is, physical superiority is. It can be used to multiple ends -- but its existence, in and of itself, grants no more insight into morality than its lack.

If international law exists and one country's leadership is claimed to have broken it, the method of enforcement cannot itself require the breaking of international law. If international law does not exist, then breaking of international law is not a valid reason for killing an existing leadership. To suggest that any system of law, at any level, requires for its implementation and enforcement a higher body (than the agreement of those who will be subject to it to appoint some of their own number in order to enforce it), logically suggests also that the higher body (and consequently its members) is not itself subject to that law. Are not the members of a police department themselves members of the society they police? Are they to be above the law? And the members of a national government and a national police organisation: are they above the laws they respectively legislate and police, or are they to be subject to them also? To suggest that any system of international law should be differently structured is to throw out everything we currently assume of what the structure of law ought to be. In that case, why not replace it officially with what effectively exists in any case: that might makes right, because God is on the side of the victor?

As with any cited quote, who speaks tells at least as much as what was said: but a who framed not by a label of name alone, but by a context of belief and creed and perhaps most importantly deed. Are our conclusions and our actions consistent with what our stated beliefs say they should be? Or is it a case of do as I say, not as I do?

In the heart of the power which has spearheaded the latest chess move in a long and drawn-out and bloody manipulation, the overriding popular sentiment, beyond the anti-war protests, beyond the pro-patriotism rallies of support, beyond the expectations of being greeted by cheering in the streets or resentment in the alleys: there may exist primarily a sense of resignation (dulling a still sharp sense of personal and irrational fear: not in all, certainly, but in enough to enable continued spread of the contagion through the mass airwaves). The job of toppling a statue was started, we might as well get it done, and so long as it retains its moral tinge we may as well see it through. It is, of course, an efficiency argument: but even more perhaps it is an argument of sheer inertia – and as such, it can be used to justify any number of actions, so long as someone has dodged the initial naysayers sufficiently to get the desired project started. (After 9/11 and the alleged association of al-Qaeda with the Iraqi leadership, relatively speaking, there were not many. Half a nation is all: but half a nation by and large caught up in that same inertia once the war was well and truly established, and half a nation which must at all costs continue to support the pride of its military.) Occasionally such inertia can be a positive thing: how many projects beneficial to a community have been sidetracked by their inability to attract the grassroots support necessary to overcome the sheer degree of initiating red tape friction in order to get an idea off the ground? But: we are human. And as isolated human individuals, it is perhaps inevitable that most ideas we are willing to throw our support behind will also be those which personally and immediately benefit us the most. Given a choice, we will tend to support those projects which benefit us more, as individuals. Sometimes it happens that what optimally benefits the individual also optimally benefits the community ... but not usually. The devastated, the injured, the crippled: these will never benefit an economic bottom line in any positive manner.

What use stated rights, when they are abrogated for others as soon as they become inconvenient? What value the most dearly held of beliefs?

Now is when the true measure of the Iraq conflict begins. Some 40,000 United States military police are only now being trained in tactics of non-lethal crowd control -- after the first incidents polarising local popular opinion. (Who had considered that the sudden vacuum of civil law enforcement would have such an anarchical result? After all, it is not as though loss of local law enforcement infrastructure due to results of judicial cases or loss of electrical power have ever resulted in looting within the United States homeland.) Will that action prove sufficient to contain the rising emotions on both sides? Perhaps there was a need for self defense during that demonstration, perhaps not. Soldiers are trained to defend themselves. Faced with any possibility or possible identification of opposing gunfire, their trained instinct is to neutralise the threat in its earliest stages, preferably before it becomes an active threat and results in a soldier's loss of life. Every country teaches their soldiers in that same way. Some sort of catalysing incident was perhaps inevitable. Having occurred, it can only trigger more protests -- which in turn cannot but increasingly fray the nerves of the soldiers there present, making another such incident that much more likely. It is something we have seen a hundred times before: at Pol Pot, at Warsaw, at Dharasana, at Jerusalem. At which point does it become self defense in truth -- by both sides? Defending against threat to life? Defense against -- ideas?

Mutual perception of betrayal.

'Victory' was granted from the deck of an aircraft carrier. 'Peace' cannot be officially declared in Iraq because to do so would invoke the Geneva conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war. There are maybe a dozen, maybe a score of people who are about to be freed from Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, joining some 23 people already released: minors (ages 13-16), at least one due to age (70 years old) and health problems -- but not one, we are told, who has yet to be adequately 'questioned'. Some 660 people are still being held.

Irrelevant, now, whether or not this war was a 'just' war. It happened. Non-combatants died. It was apparently going to happen regardless of how many Americans protested against their own government. (Half a nation alienated from itself.) Perhaps it was necessary that it happen: show the world the real current ability of the United Nations to enforce its country-democratic choices against a hegemonic will to power, what is moral being Nietzsche-defined by those willing and able to exert that power. (Which suggests we are in for some extremely brutal years ahead.) I could wish for a current mutual understanding and appreciation which would take no more lives, too many already having been taken: but both the citizens of Iraq and the soldiers of the United States and Britain have suffered losses for which they increasingly must blame each other. Can the active arising of civilian resistance groups be far away?

And now Damascus, one of the current foci of -- non-'pro'-American sentiment? -- has been given its 'final warning.'

Twenty months ago, much of the world, even most of the region comprised by the Islamic Organisation of Countries, almost unconditionally threw its support behind the United States in the shadow of its loss. Today, the polarity is almost entirely opposite.

Where lies the balance between structure and possibility?

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