Arundhati Roy's latest piece on the war.

October 25, 2001 2:50 PM   Subscribe

Arundhati Roy's latest piece on the war.
This is absolutely devastating. In prose as beautiful as it is powerful, she manages to touch on issues ranging from the definition of terrorism to the inanity of the food drops; from Taliban brutality to the oil cabal. Some will hate it; some (like me) will thank the stars that people like her are in this world.
posted by mapalm (74 comments total)
I just realized that StevenDenBeste posted an excerpt of this article within another thread a few days ago. Still, I believe it deserves a front page post in its entirety.
posted by mapalm at 2:53 PM on October 25, 2001

To be honest, I don't get the thrust of this article. It seems to be saying that our campaign in Afghanistan is wrong, that the American government is bad and led by bad people, that the rest of the world is sick of dealing with the US, the US only cares about oil and that our attempts at humanitarian food drops are bad.

Am I way off base here?
posted by rks404 at 3:11 PM on October 25, 2001

From the article:

Here is a list of the countries that America has been at war with - and bombed - since the second world war: China (1945-46, 1950-53), Korea (1950-53), Guatemala (1954, 1967-69), Indonesia (1958), Cuba (1959-60), the Belgian Congo (1964), Peru (1965), Laos (1964-73), Vietnam (1961-73), Cambodia (1969-70), Grenada (1983), Libya (1986), El Salvador (1980s), Nicaragua (1980s), Panama (1989), Iraq (1991-99), Bosnia (1995), Sudan (1998), Yugoslavia (1999). And now Afghanistan.

Certainly it does not tire - this, the most free nation in the world.

I'm no war expert, but some of these seem a little off, or to be 'reaching'. Can any of MeFi's war scholars fill in some information about these dates and places?
posted by cell divide at 3:15 PM on October 25, 2001

I thought about posting it myself. Decided to mass email the link to friends instead. *We All* find the article disturbing, but oh so invigorating.
posted by crasspastor at 3:19 PM on October 25, 2001

Not too far, rks404.

And celldivide - some of those in her list include covert wars (Nicaragua, Cambodia, Congo, El Salvador, etc.). But to the inhabitants who get bombed, war is war, no matter how it gets characterized, e.g., "freedom fighting contras" in Nicaragua who were prosecuting US-backed and -led aggression.
posted by mapalm at 3:19 PM on October 25, 2001

The description of the food drops is spot on. It is cultural arrogance and naivety of the highest order.
posted by Summer at 3:24 PM on October 25, 2001

Mapalm; similar to everyone of your posts; "Give peace a chance" kind of crap. Get your head out of the stars; we are at war. These people hate us and want us to die.
posted by Oxydude at 3:35 PM on October 25, 2001

Wow, you mean people actually kill one another?

My god, why wasn't I informed about this earlier?!
posted by aramaic at 3:43 PM on October 25, 2001

Roy is a fine writer and polemicist, but her take on this situation grows more simplistic by the day.
posted by Ty Webb at 3:49 PM on October 25, 2001

Actually, "we're only at war" if you want to believe it and define it as such.

We're not at war only because the networks have flashy 3D graphics advertising such either.

By the "We're at war. Fuck the kneejerk peacniks" logic, we've therefore been *at war* for decades. The Drug War. Nobody actually considers that a *real* war, even though it has been referred to as.

We're only at war as long as enough people believe we are. And so far, as Oxydude's sentiments attest, the propaganda, that "We are at war" has been hugely successful. Furthermore, I don't quite know who these people who "hate us are". I know that there are megalomaniacal leaders that leverage nationalism, racism and religionism to stir massive memes--here and "there". I also know that there are people here in America who hate those who advocate peace and level criticism on the objectives of the government.
posted by crasspastor at 3:50 PM on October 25, 2001

The spleen practically spills out from the page, which makes it far too shrill, unfocused, wide-eyed, desparate. The piece is all over the fucking place. It's screed. It's a potted, overwrought summary of Ethel the Blog. Too much of that, and you end up like Anne Coulter. But like Cassandra, it reminds you that her better points have been put forward in greater depth, with greater wisdom. (And oftentimes by dhartung on MeFi.)

More sober correspondents have noted that the children in the refugee camps use the plastic tubs of strawberry jam as toys, having never seen such a thing before, and certainly not in the guise of food. A better sign of mutual incomprehension, you're never likely to find.

The main premise is valid, but not restricted to the US: we demonise the outside -- sometimes passively, sometimes actively -- in order to preserve the cordon of security for the inside. And eventually those efforts themselves become deadly, stultefying, toxic.

I note, in passing, that the Chinese declaration of support for the US was accompanied by a commitment against terrorism that includes subjugating its own Muslim insurgents on the borders of Central Asia; oh, and those pesky Tibetans, with their misguided notions of separatism. Are we to finger the Dalai Lama in the War Against Terrorism?

These people hate us and want us to die.

"These people"? You're going to have to do much, much better than that. Otherwise it's the War Against Bogeymen.
posted by holgate at 3:50 PM on October 25, 2001

For every "terrorist" or his "supporter" that is killed, hundreds of innocent people are being killed too. And for every hundred innocent people killed, there is a good chance that several future terrorists will be created.

This points to what is really on the plate we are eating here. If our govt and culture (she really equivocates about which is which while trying to make her distinction between) is as warlike and worshipful of violence as she thinks it is, then what would you expect that terrorists created on 9-11-01? There's more of us, we're richer and we're better armed than the terrorists we seek. If we breed a few terrorists for every thousand "innocents" that we kill, then they will attack us and breed more anger. So we'll kill them too. I agree that it's an unending cycle, until all who arrogantly decide the fate of America for America are dead. Is that brutal? Yes it is. Can we stop it? I don't think so. The author admits that terrorists are out there, and they want us dead. She's concerned that we're breeding more? Even if we all take her suggestion and cry with one vioce that the "war" must end, terrorists will still attack us, and the cycle will begin all over again. I'm sorry if this offends the more delicate among readers but this story ends in death, period. I don't like it, I don't want it. But if I have to choose between them or us (her argument, not mine, whether she knew she was making it or not) I choose us.

Shall we look away and eat because we're hungry, or shall we stare unblinking at the grim theatre unfolding in Afghanistan until we retch collectively and say, in one voice, that we have had enough?

I think there's a few more options there that Roy isn't giving credence too.

p.s. That list of those we have brutalized never seems to be accompanied by a list of of those that THEY have brutalized. I wonder why? hhhmmmmm
posted by Wulfgar! at 4:00 PM on October 25, 2001

she lost me when she started talking about how the US (this is her logic) "poured" $45B worth of arms and ammunition into Afghanistan thus turning young boys, "many of them orphans," into the taliban by "stripping them of gentleness, inuring them to kindness and human compassion." she concludes this thought by saying that "the never knew the security and comfort of family life, never experienced the company of women. Now, as adults and rulers, the Taliban beat, stone, rape and brutalise women, they don't seem to know what else to do with them."

posted by palegirl at 4:05 PM on October 25, 2001

"This is not to suggest that the terrorists who perpetrated the outrage on September 11 should not be hunted down and brought to book. They must be.

"But is war the best way to track them down? Will burning the haystack find you the needle?"

What an idiot! War is the only way to track them down, since the Taliban won't hand them over or let us search Afghanistan.

(By the way, burning a haystack would actually be a pretty sensible way to find a needle... Just run a magnet through the ashes!)

And is this the "beautiful prose" you're talking about, mapalm?

"Will it be possible ever again to watch the slow, amazed blink of a newborn gecko in the sun, or whisper back to the marmot who has just whispered in your ear - without thinking of the World Trade Centre and Afghanistan?"

Uh... yes?
posted by nicwolff at 4:18 PM on October 25, 2001

Imagine if the Taliban government was to bomb New York City, saying all the while that its real target was the US government and its policies.

Well, duh, they basically did. The Taliban exists at Bin Laden favor. The hijackers killed ~3000 people, mostly civilians, to make a point. Perhaps she should turn her literary skills on describing what NYC doesn't have to imagine.
I hate it when essays advocating peace have no allowances for the fact that this is a horrible DILEMMA for most thinking people. She advocates no other solution besides stopping to think and this is ridiculously shallow.
I am a Buddhist; I abhore violence. However, I also have the ability to weigh the choices. Frankly, I don't see how describing the hideousness of war does anything to enlighten us on what to do about it.
Please, if anyone can ENLIGHTEN me, do!! I would love a viable alternative.
posted by dness2 at 4:23 PM on October 25, 2001

absolutely devastating...beautiful as it is powerful...

For crying out loud - would you people buy a thesaurus? Adjectives are like antibiotics - keep trotting out the big guys, and they lose their impact. What are you going to say when something really does devastate you, you see something truly beautiful, or are awestruck by true power? Damn you and your cult of 'God, look at my outpouring of raw emotion - aren't I a better person than you?' - damn you all to hell.

...friggin Fridays...
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:33 PM on October 25, 2001

palegirl - are you arguing the truthfulness of the U.S. funding training for Afghan males (Think Bin Laden and Arab "freedom fighters" trained by the CIA), of which it would be highly illogical of them *not* to train orphaned young boys...

...Or are you against her logic that harsh military training without female presence/any concept of compassion + power afforded by military training, brute strength and weaponry = military men who beat, stone, rape and brutalize women as if they don't seem to know what else to do with them?
posted by precocious at 4:34 PM on October 25, 2001

I think the argument, precocious, is that these boys were fighting in a brutal war whether or not the US helped them out.
posted by cell divide at 4:43 PM on October 25, 2001

*flags obiwanwasabi*

Ad hominem attack(s). Fifty yard penalty.

cell divide: You can't have a war without money. $45B of it, and one can war for an awful long time, don't you think?
posted by precocious at 4:49 PM on October 25, 2001

Ad hominem attack(s). Fifty yard penalty.

I protest. An ad hominen attack is one against a person in an attempt to refute their argument. I couldn't care less about the argument. Oh, what a gutwrenching, nay, devastatingly powerful injustice ;)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:58 PM on October 25, 2001

What a load of shit. And of course it would appear in the Guardian, that bastion of European snottiness towards the US. This article is yet another example of New Left whining -- bitch a lot, but offer no solutions to the problems at hand.

A total waste of column inches.
posted by mrmanley at 4:59 PM on October 25, 2001

I agree- she's got her head in the sand. This is a just war.
posted by Counselco at 5:07 PM on October 25, 2001

Will it be possible ever again to watch the slow, amazed blink of a newborn gecko in the sun, or whisper back to the marmot who has just whispered in your ear - without thinking of the World Trade Centre and Afghanistan?

Is this "prose as beautiful as it is powerful", mapalm? No, it's probably the worst last paragraph I've ever read.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:09 PM on October 25, 2001


obi: ad hominem has an accepted usage which refers to a personal attack, whether it be part of an argument or not.


Though it's good to know that you don't give a hoot about the current discussion! Your grits shall be penalized.
posted by precocious at 5:10 PM on October 25, 2001

Maybe it's a writer thing.
posted by rushmc at 5:18 PM on October 25, 2001

"After three years of unremitting drought, an air-dropped airline meal in Jalalabad! The level of cultural ineptitude, the failure to understand what months of relentless hunger and grinding poverty really mean, the US government?s attempt to use even this abject misery to boost its self-image, beggars description."

It's amazing the insights people come up with on a full stomach.
posted by lileks at 5:21 PM on October 25, 2001

Fifty yard penalty.

No such critter. 15 yards or a two minute penalty. Ejection as a last result (as if anyone but Matt could).
posted by Wulfgar! at 5:24 PM on October 25, 2001

mrmanley: that "no solutions" line is getting just a little scratchy. Of course, the standard response to proposals such as those from the Quakers is to say "well, they're not real solutions", because the rhetoric has been so well appropriated that the only real solutions involve such enlightened procedures as cluster-bombing, in the inspired belief that a terrorist might, five years on, stumble upon a bomblet and blow off a limb.

I've said it before: you squeeze, you isolate, you discredit. You remove the sources of income, but most of all you discredit the ideological power of the terrorists' call to arms, you undercut the conditions that breed new recruits. It's taken 20 years, but it seems to be making inroads in Northern Ireland. And that's not a matter of "concessions"; it's about altering the climate so that the arguments of those who advocate terrorism are rendered untenable. My problem with the just war theorists is that the objective -- the "rightful intention" -- has already been finessed in the course of a month to the point that it's essentially open-ended: a means without a clear end.

lileks: there's no link I can point towards, but the BBC correspondents in the refugee camps have said that most people simply don't know what to do with the MREs that have been dropped over Afghanistan. The one-portion packs of bean salad, peanut butter and jelly aren't recognised as food; the sacks of rice and wheat donated by the USA are. It's like dropping chicken tikka masala over Nebraska.
posted by holgate at 5:28 PM on October 25, 2001

What do you know about Nebraska asshole? ; )
posted by crasspastor at 5:33 PM on October 25, 2001

Indeed, the prose is lovely, although I don't know any little boys who have "stopped clamoring for new video games." As if. :)
posted by donkeyschlong at 5:42 PM on October 25, 2001

How many times are we going to link to the same identical article on The Guardian? Apologist, appeaser claptrap.
posted by owillis at 5:51 PM on October 25, 2001

Stop clamoring for video games? Why, soon, they'll probably be able to bomb Afghanistan from the comfort of their homes. (seemed somehow apropos; of course, any discussion on the games themselves should head to the appropriate thread.
posted by precocious at 5:53 PM on October 25, 2001

I thought the food drops, done without thought but with heart, is exactly what many on the left - including some now complaining about it here on metafilter - suggested. No diference. Be careful what you wish for, y'know? (Or is a lack of full consideration for cultural differences and land mines, etc., considered OK, if there is no war involved?)
posted by raysmj at 6:20 PM on October 25, 2001

Of course, the standard response to proposals such as those from the Quakers is to say "well, they're not real solutions", because the rhetoric has been so well appropriated that the only real solutions involve such enlightened procedures as cluster-bombing

The Quaker solutions are real solutions and I think that you give us no credit for acknowledging the wisdom of each of the actions. After all, each of the actions in that list either HAVE been done or are currently being done. Most rational Americans (above the age of 14) besides Quakers believe war is only a last resort. Quakers don't accept war as an alternative ever, and I respect that. However, many Americans believe we have hit the point of last resort. We have had sanctions against the Taliban for a while now and it got the world nowhere. When the alternative is waiting them out while their pathological guests orchestrate more massacres of innocents, that strikes me and other peace-loving souls as at the point of last resort.
This point-of-view is hardly advocating cluster-bombing. Such flaming rhetoric is in itself highly confrontational. I daresay that some folk that decry belligerance in others should make sure their own back-yards are tidy.
posted by dness2 at 6:33 PM on October 25, 2001

One significant quibble with the facts of the article (or, lets give the Devil his due)...

The Taliban actually used some rather brutal tactics to end widespread rape. Certainly, they've been absolutely beastly towards women in general but rape has not been one of their crimes.
posted by pandaharma at 7:14 PM on October 25, 2001

pandaharma: let me congratulate you on one of the very few to actually point out what they believed was a fallacy in the article, as opposed to giving it an all-encompassing "load of shit," "claptrap," label with no other explanation.

However, the paragraph in which that comment was offered referred to a time before the Taliban, when the CIA was financing freedom fighters to combat the Soviet occupation and in the years after (before the Taliban came into power). The contingent known as the Northern Alliance did indeed rape "willy-nilly," (for lack of a word that suits the situation better.)

Oh, and re: the Taliban's claim that they put the various restrictions on women to protect them from rape, and yet for those who don't follow said restrictions, it's death... "So my choices are... 'or death'? --Well, I'll have the chicken, please." -- Eddie Izzard

everyone else: please assume that you are the only one who understands the logic behind your argument and take the time to go into detail about why you think the article bites. Sweeping condemnation without anything to back it up is a bit trite.
posted by precocious at 7:54 PM on October 25, 2001

everyone else: please assume that you are the only one who understands the logic behind your argument and take the time to go into detail about why you think the article bites. Sweeping condemnation without anything to back it up is a bit trite.

Nice dodge, but no thank you. I dealt with the article and its short comings, to which the respose of apologists has been ... nothing. I will not genuflect in the face of my sins lest you or any other can give me reason. As it stands, your sweeping (if selective) condemnation of desenters is just so much "claptrap", 'kay?
posted by Wulfgar! at 8:41 PM on October 25, 2001

pretend that I'm a blind idiotic European liberal who reads an article like this and agrees with many of the points raised, and then I realise that I'm wrong and stupid to have reservations about this "war" but no one actually tells me why I'm wrong

can someone explain

a) why bombing of Afghanistan and the execution of bin laden without trial is just

b) what it will achieve in the long term in helping the cause of stabilisation and personal freedom in the middle east

without using any argument that rests on "well they started it"


oh and mrmanley : When the US and other rich nations become angry and whip their people into a blind rage (the UK included) .. I become very frightened about the results .. that's what papers such as "the Guardian, that bastion of European snottiness towards the US" expresses.
posted by mrben at 8:45 PM on October 25, 2001

Nice dodge, but no thank you. I dealt with the article and its short comings, to which the respose of apologists has been ... nothing. I will not genuflect in the face of my sins lest you or any other can give me reason. As it stands, your sweeping (if selective) condemnation of desenters is just so much "claptrap", 'kay?

Did you make any sweeping statements about the article without backing it up? No? Then my "suggestion" obviously wasn't applicable in your case, nor a prompt for your genuflecting in the face of your sins-- whatever that's about.

And with regards to dissenters - I in no way condemned them (or anyone, for that matter, I'm so tired of people using the term ad hominem that I go out of my way to avoid giving folks a reason to throw it at me). I did, however, condemn the useless habit some people have of saying that something is 'stupid' without going into detail about why they feel that way.
posted by precocious at 9:34 PM on October 25, 2001

I thought the article was emotional and it jumped around a lot, but, I kind of see her point. we as Americans cannot presume to know what it's like to have spent over 20 yrs. at war and to be continual bombed today with no end in sight. after the horrible attacks on 09/11/01 (1 day) my thinking was all over the place.
what I did like was her bringing up the continually ignored oil motivations. I discussed this in a previous thread here and I will not be surprised to see a report sometime next year that a large American oil company (halliburton, unocal, etc.) along with the help of defense and construction company Brown and Root Services announces that it will break ground on a new pipeline to run through Afghanistan with the consent of the newly formed Afghan Government.
posted by bas67 at 10:48 PM on October 25, 2001

Some really good comments in this thread, some really not so good, but generally this is almost like a metafilter debate of old.

Thanks, holgate, for the credit, although the way you've written it I'm not 100% sure what you're crediting me for. Agreeing with her? Disagreeing with her? In this case the latter, I hope, though I have certainly agreed with criticism of American foreign policy in the past. The current column, alas, is foolish rhetoric. Peacemongering is morally just when the war is immoral; but this war is just, and it is shameful to lump it in with every other American action of the last fifty years, as if each of them had the same motivation and each had the same outcome. Individual acts of war may themselves be unjust, but it is patently wrong to say that war in and of itself is unjust.

Ty Webb and dness have said things very succinctly, particularly: I hate it when essays advocating peace have no allowances for the fact that this is a horrible DILEMMA for most thinking people. She advocates no other solution besides stopping to think and this is ridiculously shallow. This has absolutely been a dilemma, and it continues to be a dilemma with every new report of civilian casualties. For myself, all it takes is another look at some of the stories and photographs still coming out of the 9/11 attacks, and I think ever so much more clearly.

mrben: I hear you, and I feel your frustration. I will attempt to address your questions as honestly and forthrightly as I can.

a) why bombing of Afghanistan and the execution of bin laden without trial is just

Justice would be arrest, trial, and sentence for bin Laden. Under American law he would be subject to the death penalty. That would be just. This kind of justice, however, is being denied by the de facto government of Afghanistan, who are harboring a known terrorist. The US indicted bin Laden for his role in the 1998 bombing of our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, and subsequently the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed resolution 1267, directing the Taliban to turn over bin Laden "to a place where he could be brought to justice", on 15 October 1999. The Taliban have ignored this resolution in every way for two years. By denying justice to the victims of al-Qaeda crimes, the Taliban have ceased to have any legitimacy as a trustworthy entity in the international community. Note also that the bombing of the embassies in 1998 would be interpreted by many nations as the equivalent of an act of war, and the United States has been unusually patient in waiting for justice on that point.

So bin Laden must be brought to justice, and the Taliban refuse.

Let me further note that there is an urgency to this matter that goes beyond (in A. Roy's quaint phrase) "centuries of jurisprudence". bin Laden's people have killed many persons in many countries over the last decade. They have committed the worst act of mass murder in history. They have made it clear that unless their objectives are met, they will kill again. Since their objections are at their most basic level not negotiable, they will not be satisfied. So we have no reason to believe that they will not kill again. It would be prudent to assume that they will continue to escalate their killing, and since we will never be in a position to meet their demands, this escalation will continue indefinitely. Stopping al-Qaeda is a matter of international public safety.

So stopping bin Laden and al-Qaeda are imperatives. The Taliban are in the way of this imperative, for reasons of their own choosing, reasons which make little rational sense. This makes the Taliban themselves dangerous. For most of the last half-decade they have been viewed as a sick laughingstock of the civilized world, a mock regime of religious fools who ban kites, cruelly execute adulterers, and blow up statues and vandalize museums. In other words, they have been seen as a danger chiefly to their own people; and this has not much concerned the world, which is a shame. Meanwhile their neighbors in Iran, Pakistan, and India have played geopolitical games with Afghanistan, in some ways seeking to achieve strategic objectives, but at some other level entirely simply engaging each other by proxy in order to sap the other's interest and resources. This has, of course, in turn pleased greater powers such as the United States. So the chaos in Afghanistan served its neighbors, and it also served the United States and the West.

With September 11, it became clear that the shelter which the Taliban were giving to al-Qaeda made them a danger to the rest of the world. The Taliban have lived only at the behest of others outside; now the others outside can no longer tolerate their attack dog gone amuck.

Will the bombing of Afghanistan bring bin Laden to justice? It is indeed rather unlikely, however, it is marginally more likely than any other alternative. In the process bin Laden may well be killed, but he will not have been "executed without trial", he will have died resisting arrest -- probably violently, with many of the "police" losing their own lives in the process. Will the bombing of Afghanistan bring justice to Afghanistan? It remains murky to assume so, however, it is clear that the prior state of affairs was not going to bring justice to that land any time soon, and indeed there are many reasons to believe that the Taliban government was merely the best at hand of several bad alternatives in such a war-torn land. American interest in removing the Taliban, and regional interest in stability, with the proxy war no longer available as a playground, means that a stable government in Afghanistan after the Taliban is a moral imperative, and considerably more likely after coalition action than before. A swift and precise war that brings them a real functioning government is the best hope the Afghan people have.

Why bombing? Why not other military alternatives? Because without bombing, without destruction of air power, without destruction of anti-aircraft artillery, without destruction of materiel and mobility, there are no other military alternatives. If we were a nation without resources, we might throw human lives at the enemy -- as Iran did at Iraq during their wars, and have countless other combatants throughout history. We don't have to do that, and there is no moral imperative to do so.

We must root out bin Laden.

We must eliminate the power of the Taliban to protect him.

We must bomb in order to do that.

These are not happy alternatives; they are the only alternatives, and accepted with great reservation by most thinking people.

As to your second question: b) what it will achieve in the long term in helping the cause of stabilisation and personal freedom in the middle east

These are certainly nice long-term goals to have, but they ar e not things that the United States or its coalition partners can achieve in the short term. I, too, would prefer more democracy and better distribution of income throughout the region, not to mention true freedom and peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Nevertheless, this cause -- however important it may be -- is now subordinate to the cause of public safety for the cities of the West, if for no other reason. Ultimately the mere existence of terrorist networks like al-Qaeda is a threat to the stability and personal liberty of everyone in the civilized world, as recent acts of Congress make clear; and their existence is a threat to friendship between Christianity and Islam, and a threat to the stability of the Arab world. The sooner we remove them from the discourse the better. I believe, in fact, you have cause and effect somewhat backwards. Stability breeds a middle class; a middle class breeds democracy; and democracy stifles violent dissent. Right now the autocratic Arab governments are more than happy to redirect their dissidents' anger toward Israel and America, because it takes the heat off of them. Until that is solved, there will indeed be more terrorism. But that time is a long way off; and we have a big, and deadly, problem with us today. We can't wait for a mythical time of peace in the future to hope that a civilized democratic government of Afghanistan will hold an internationally-respected extradition hearing for the accused Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, because that day may never come.
posted by dhartung at 11:11 PM on October 25, 2001

Perhaps a better way of looking at Roy’s article, and at antiwar critiques of American actions in general, is to think of it as a cautionary reminder rather than as a plan of action. Because, honestly, at this point it seems we are committed to this war at least until the Taliban has been removed from power and bin Laden has been dealt with.

When people like Roy remind us that a humanitarian crisis is imminent, maybe a more constructive response is to think about what the American military can really do to keep the Afghani refugees from starving to death when winter comes.

When we are reminded that the deaths of civilians will only foster greater resentment of America in the Muslim world, perhaps we should be moved to consider how we can work to lessen civilian casualities—if maybe the use of antipersonnel weapons like cluster bombs is really necessary.

When it is pointed out that America has had less than a stellar track record in its foreign policy towards the third world, maybe we ought to think about how our foreign policy might be changed to help alieviate anti-American sentiment to help prevent further attacks in the future.

And finally, when we are reminded that al-Quaeda has cells all over the world and not just in Afghanistan, maybe we ought to start thinking preemtively about what peaceable solutions we can come up with, before we are forced into a war of last resort against other countries.

For the people on the other side--when the analogy to Pearl Harbor is made again, as inevitably it will be, perhaps we ought to think about what America did right in its war against Japan. How did we turn Japan from our mortal enemy into one of our strongest allies in east Asia?

Just some things to think about.
posted by shylock at 11:14 PM on October 25, 2001

How did we turn Japan from our mortal enemy into one of our strongest allies in east Asia? — shylock

By kicking its ass! We firebombed the crap out of them and nuked two of their cities; then we occupied the country, wrote them a constitution, gave women the vote, extended compulsory education through high school, redistributed the arable land, unionized the workers, and at the end of six years, gave them back their country and welcomed them to the modern world.

Not a bad model for the present action, and let's include Iran, Iraq, and Arabia while we're at it. And then most of Africa.
posted by nicwolff at 2:31 AM on October 26, 2001

> What a load of shit. And of course it would appear in the
> Guardian, that bastion of European snottiness towards
> the US.

The Guardian, of course, has taken the editorial line of supporting the action against Afghanistan and Al Quaida.
posted by kerplunk at 3:41 AM on October 26, 2001

One of the advantages when it came to reconstructing Japan (and Germany) was that they'd already felt the benefits of industrial revolution: you could replace the ruling structures while preserving the basis of a middle-class.

As for Afghanistan: I believe that just wars can be fought. I'm not a pacifist at all costs. But I have grave misgivings over both the means and the shifting objective: when Rumsfeld raised the possibility of "never finding bin Laden" the other day, only to back-track on that statement, it triggered a remembrance of Orwell's Goldstein. There are too many political gains from sustaining the bogeyman of terrorism; too many vested interests in the region (and yes, I'm talking about oil here); the possibility of too many political compromises in the attempt to justify the current situation in terms of a polar opposition.

So, I've deliberately held back from saying "stop the bombing", because, like dhartung, I don't see a viable alternative to military action. I'm reminded of the Irishman who, when asked for directions, says you should have started somewhere else. We're here now. But I see a campaign that appears increasingly unsophisticated in its sophistication: that's to say, the advanced technology of warfare appears to be badly suited to dealing with a regime of school bullies and their better-travelled houseguests. And I suspect that this hasn't escaped the Pentagon.

How do you guarantee a sequel? Cartoonishly, by saving the day, but letting the villain escape to come up with a more fiendish plan. And that's the feeling I get right now. In short, I support the ends that Tony Blair proposed a few weeks back; I worry about how the military means currently being employed can even satisfy the short-term goals.
posted by holgate at 6:12 AM on October 26, 2001

Why is it so wrong to care about human lives these days?
posted by walrus at 6:55 AM on October 26, 2001

Let me qualify that question: Roy talks a load of shit, but here heart seems to be in the right place. She doesn't want to see more people dying, and she reacts by writing some admittedly terrible rhetoric.

Seems to me I've seen some honest reaction to a bunch of terrible writing on MeFi this last six weeks or so, but at the same time there's a lot of hatred coming out of the woodwork for "pacifists", "lefties" and "hippies".

Is it right that I should feel almost guilty for wanting to see more peace and compassion in the world?
posted by walrus at 7:13 AM on October 26, 2001

maybe it's just less of a consideration when playing the "great game," like under current rules it's possible to forfeit your humanity if you (and the people who harbor you) commit an atrocity. i just hope it's a non-zero sum game.
posted by kliuless at 7:13 AM on October 26, 2001

This is a satire, right? I mean, really, to close with:

Will it be possible ever again to watch the slow, amazed blink of a newborn gecko in the sun, or whisper back to the marmot who has just whispered in your ear - without thinking of the World Trade Centre and Afghanistan?

Large rodents do not normally go around whispering in peoples' ears. I'm a groundhog, so I know about these things.

Anyway, the news is out: the US is the evil empire. But if we weren't the evil empire, somebody else would be the evil empire. Maybe if all the marmot whisperers in the world get together, they can be the evil empire for a while, and give us vacation.
posted by groundhog at 7:20 AM on October 26, 2001

Thanks kliuless, for the sanity-restoring link.
posted by walrus at 7:23 AM on October 26, 2001

"...whisper back to the marmot who has just whispered in your ear..."

Perhaps she means "whistle"? Scroll down to "they even sound unique."
posted by Carol Anne at 7:36 AM on October 26, 2001

walrus: it's naive. It's expressing inability to see the forest for the trees. Some intellectuals (read: people who strip emotion from their reasoning, when something as sacred as human life deserves to be looked at with as much emotion as it takes to sway a person to the 'no unnecessary murder' camp) have made it unfashionable to view the microcosm in any light that will place them above the macro.

Not to mention the fact that it will, perhaps, always be trendy to be cynical. Cynicism lends an air of maturity to a person that naivete doesn't (and naivete, of course, can be applied to any belief that counterbalances the beliefs of the majority). Cynicism is what is often passed off as the "abstract thinking" required to be considered an intellectual.

And well, everyone wants to be one of those. See the cycle?

Personally believing that emotion does not pre- nor exclude intellect,
posted by precocious at 8:48 AM on October 26, 2001

Oh, and since we've had the usual Guardian-bashing here, it's worth linking to today's leader, which asks many of the questions that I think are worth asking, for a very good reason:

Nobody could be expected to answer all these questions now. But the war in Afghanistan and the broader "war on terrorism" are being fought in the name of democracy, which flourishes where there is popular consultation and consent. But consultation is only worthwhile if it is candid, open-minded, and continuous. Consent is only legitimate if it is informed...

The gap between what is certain public knowledge and what are merely assertions and private assumptions made by the government and the military is expanding by the day. This gulf, if it continues to widen, will become too great to bridge. In short, it is becoming more and more difficult for ordinary people to judge whether this conflict is being waged wisely or well, or by the best available means.

posted by holgate at 8:57 AM on October 26, 2001

walrus: it's naive

Hmm. I hope you meant "marked by unaffected simplicity", rather than "deficient in worldly wisdom or informed judgment". I have those in buckets, but at times I feel I would throw them all away for one guileless smile.

For what it's worth, intellectual arguments always lead me to the conclusion that co-operation is more efficient than competition in the functioning of complex systems.

I can't seem to let go of the idea that if we could once see that as a race, we would break out of the zero-sum game.

The problem, as ever, is context: we have all become addicted to the idea of entropy.
posted by walrus at 9:22 AM on October 26, 2001

Walrus, it is completely reasonable to be concerned about human lives.

It is unreasonable to think that one death now is more important than ten deaths next year, though. The people who are fixating on the people being killed in Afghanistan are taking the short view, and ignoring the possibility that by killing now, we can prevent even greater amounts of killings later.

I think that one death is bad. I think that ten deaths are worse. If by using cluster bombs to kill 10,000 Afghans now I can save the lives of 100,000 westerners by preventing their city by being destroyed with a nuke, then that is a bad thing, but a better thing than inaction would be (which would let that city get nuked and those hundred thousand die).

Refusing to make a decision is a decision. Inaction is a form of action.

It's not that being concerned about lives is a problem -- it's the inability to see the larger picture. We'd all love for there to be a way out of this which doesn't involve anyone at all being killed. Unfortunately, that doesn't appear to be an alternative. Pacifism is a marvelous theory that doesn't work in practice.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:24 AM on October 26, 2001

Holgate, have you ever played poker? (A serious question; I don't know how common the game is in the UK.) Poker involves chance but poker is a game of skill, and a good player will win consistently regardless of the cards he's dealt, because poker is really about psyching out your opponent, to make him believe you have something other than you do have. Sometimes you want to convince him that your hand is weaker than it really is, other times that it is stronger than it is. Both can permit you to win. But it's only possible because he can't see your hand.

If you had to play poker with your hand exposed and his hand hidden, you could not win. No-one could win.

Equally, in war it is essential that information be concealed from the enemy. If the enemy knows our strategy, our intentions, our troop movements, where we've concentrated, what we intend to do -- then he can counter them. This completely removes the element of surprise, and surprise is an essential element of a successful military operation. But if all those things are revealed to the electorate so that they can make an informed decision, then there is no way to prevent our enemy learning them as well.

Everything has limits, nothing is absolute. It's true that in general it is desirable for the voters to have a very broad idea of what the government is doing. War is one of the major exceptions to that; it is essential in war for the voters to know less about what the government is doing than at nearly any other time, because it is essential that the enemy not know what the government is doing.

This can lead to abuses, and has -- but the alternative (near certain defeat in the war) is worse.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:31 AM on October 26, 2001

Hi Steven, I am aware of your position, and even agree with it when I have my pragmatists hat on. FWIW I'm not a pacifist, although I would dearly love to be. I am not ashamed of that feeling, be it naive, foolish or downright treasonous.

Pacifism is indeed a marvellous idea that doesn't (appear to) work in practice. The problem for me is that whenever anyone legitimately questions the specific solution now being attempted, they seem to be bludgeoned into silence with that very argument.

See my dilemma? Roy has a point about the UN not mandating the action. She has a point about the hypocrisy in western propaganda. She has a point about 7.5 million Ahghanis potentially starving to death and giving ready martyrs to a new generation of terrorists.

However, no-one is listening. I can understand her increasingly embittered viewpoint to that extent.
posted by walrus at 9:52 AM on October 26, 2001

Is it right that I should feel almost guilty for wanting to see more peace and compassion in the world?

No, it's not right that you should feel that way and the fact that people that support the war (i.e., myself) keep blasting pacifists has nothing to do with their desire for peace and compassion; it's about the indefensibility of their position under the current circumstances, and their utter lack of definable alternative solutions for the short-term problem.

You really don't understand the position of most of the people that support the war, if you think *our* position is built on *not* wanting peace and compassion. It's digustingly faulty logic. We want to see the same end results as the pacifists - a peaceful and stable international system. We just severely disagree about the means.

I believe that certain variables that are preventing peace (i.e., the Taliban, bin Laden) will have to be forcibly removed, and a certain level of violence is acceptable. (On a tactical level, I believe that some degree of bombing is necessary to disable the Taliban.) I also believe that it is possible and sometimes necessary to fight a just war. Over the long-term, changes in foreign policy, diplomatic efforts, and more open dialog with Middle Eastern countries - strategies suggested by pacifists and non-pacifists alike - will systemically mitigate Al-Qaeda's brand of terrorism, but *in the short-term,* there are hundreds of terrorist cells that are prepared to act and and no 'good faith' effort on our part in the interim will stop them. The pacifists have no solution for dealing with the short-term problem or the imminent threats to security.

In addition, many of the terrorist's grievances point to fundamental differences in accepted cultural and political norms that we will never change because they are diametrically opposed to the ideologies upon which this country was founded (i.e., formal seperation of church and state). As a result, there will always be some level of conflict between the U.S. and the repective states and regimes that espouse these ideologies, and as history indicates, these conflicts will intermittently turn violent. I don't the pacifists are realistic about that.
posted by lizs at 9:54 AM on October 26, 2001

I did proofread it, but still missed "Ahganis". Sorry.
posted by walrus at 9:56 AM on October 26, 2001

Steven, you're being a bit naive with the talk of "near certain defeat" as the alternative. The US has aces up its sleeves, and down its trousers. This isn't the Battle of Waterloo here. The disparities in strength are so marked that US could give 14 days' written notice of where it plans to bomb, and still not cede much of its advantage. On the other hand, it is -- like the Gulf War -- an intensely "spectacular" conflict. Which is why I find your repeated insistence that "in war, we do these things" rather troubling. (From experience at university, military historians have a habit of being caught up in the minutiae of warfare: it's a rather enclosed discipline, in which it's easy to not see the wood for the trees.)

And this doesn't address the questions asked in the Guardian leader which refer to political objectives, all of which could be outlined in greater detail without affecting the logistics of military action. And it doesn't address the question of whether the manner in which action takes place can contradict the principles for which it is ostensibly instigated.

In poker, you might not know the hands, but you know the stakes. Right now, the chips are under the table as well.
posted by holgate at 9:58 AM on October 26, 2001

lizs: what I just said.
posted by walrus at 9:58 AM on October 26, 2001

(And to complete the analogy, it'd be good to know if we're playing stud, draw or hold 'em.)
posted by holgate at 10:11 AM on October 26, 2001

I'm actually a bit pleased with how the discussion is progressing. Even essays supporting the war have been forced to acknoledge that many of the objections to warfare are not just knee-jerk anti-American responses but deeply rooted spiritual beliefs and traditions. The peace movement has moved beyind "war is bad to looking at how the war may have unintended consequences that affect our national security.

No, it's not right that you should feel that way and the fact that people that support the war (i.e., myself) keep blasting pacifists has nothing to do with their desire for peace and compassion; it's about the indefensibility of their position under the current circumstances, and their utter lack of definable alternative solutions for the short-term problem.

No, actually the pacifist bashing is pretty much about pacifist bashing. Pacifists have done quite well at both defending their position, and at defining alternative solutions for what certainly is not a short-term problem.

You really don't understand the position of most of the people that support the war, if you think *our* position is built on *not* wanting peace and compassion. It's digustingly faulty logic. We want to see the same end results as the pacifists - a peaceful and stable international system. We just severely disagree about the means.

Certainly, we disagree on the ends-means analysis which claims that because goal of setting up a liberal American-style democracy in Afghanistan suddenly transforms violence from a morally reprehensible act to a morally justified act.

... but *in the short-term,* there are hundreds of terrorist cells that are prepared to act and and no 'good faith' effort on our part in the interim will stop them.

I think this makes a big assumption that the hundreds of terrorist cells that are prepared to act were twiddling their thumbs in the Afghan countryside. At least the NYT has reported on hard intelligence that the terrorist camps we bombed had been abandoned just prior to the September 11 attacks, so in terms of eliminating the terrorist cells I suspect this is a case of closing the gate after the horses ran off.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:02 AM on October 26, 2001

I just wrote an extended response to the Guardian article.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 12:19 PM on October 26, 2001

Write a book and suddenly you are an expert about the most complex subject on the planet...I think not! Roy is a strident,simplistic TROLL,a third-world MILLIONAIRE critic who defines America but cannot define India.
I am impressed by the comments in this thread;I feel we will save more lives by destroying the taliban & binLaden,worldwide & in Afghanistan. People were starving
there before sept 11; Sorry for any 'innocent' people killed
by our bombing, but six years ago the Afghan people were armed to the teeth & gave up their weapons to the taliban...are the people responsible for their government? I think so. Are we 'bullies'? No, and more people and countries want our friendship and help than want us to leave them alone. One thing is true: if the taliban would have given up the criminal binLaden, we would'nt be bombing.Word concepts like "right & wrong' are relative to geography+religion+"fill in the blank'.Will we achieve the desired results? Yes, till we piss off the next group;ONE LAST THING: I was 100% for the Vietnam war at one time, actually hated the anti-war movement...time and knowledge changed that 180 degrees.
posted by Mack Twain at 12:21 PM on October 26, 2001

Sorry, I posted my link in the wrong thread.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 12:59 PM on October 26, 2001

(Oops, actually it was the right thread. My kingdom for a post-deletion.)
posted by Steven Den Beste at 1:00 PM on October 26, 2001

You're still not addressing the section of specifically political questions, Steven. But that's perhaps understandable, because I don't think there are any answers right now. Which underpins my dissatisfaction with the just war argument.

Anyway, for the sake of comparison and contrast, and because it doesn't usually get cited apart from Robert Fisk's columns, I'll throw in a link to the Indy's leader today, which expresses an similar lack of conviction in the specific tactics while remaining supportive of the general strategy:

The question is not simply whether there should be a pause in the bombing, but whether, at this point, night after night of bombing furthers those objectives. We cannot know what information is available to military planners deciding on the targets, but we can guess that the damage now being done to the Taliban military infrastructure does not outweigh the damage being done to the US and its allies in the propaganda war by the daily reports of civilian casualties.
posted by holgate at 1:37 PM on October 26, 2001

I don't know about anyone else, but I've never tried to claim that this is a "just war". I think it's a necessary war, but that's not the same thing.

I didn't try to dodge any of the questions; I just didn't feel like belaboring the point. Which specific issue was it you want an answer to? I'll write an addendum.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 2:36 PM on October 26, 2001

It's not important, but for the record, I'd be happy to see at least an attempt from the US and UK governments to address the first three questions under "diplomacy and aid"; your own response to the other questions, though, is frankly more coherent and honest than anything that's come out of a press conference in recent days. Which is my main point here.

(You can tell that I always wanted to apply for a job in the Foreign Office. I trust others to know the mechanics of war, but with diplomacy, I'm a pig in shit.)
posted by holgate at 3:15 PM on October 26, 2001

Obviously I can't speak for the government, but I'll give those three a try:

Is it envisaged that any eventual diplomatic settlement would involve the Taliban? Colin Powell and Robin Cook suggest it is. If such voices are ignored, will not prolonged instability in Afghanistan and in Pakistan be the certain result? Actually, what Powell said was that it might involve "moderate Taliban". If any can be found. He was trying to give Musharraf some political capital to try to quell unrest in Pakistan. There aren't going to be any members of the Taliban top command in any eventual government, but others who might have collaborated with the Taliban won't necessarily be shut out. There will definitely have to be Pashtun representation in it.

Plans are apparently afoot to place post-war Afghanistan into a sort of UN receivership. Does the UN yet have a blueprint for how that is going to work? And where are the volunteers for the mooted Islamic UN peacekeeping force? That's one of the ideas that's floating around. I don't have much faith in it, myself, and I don't think it's the most likely outcome. There may well be some sort of multi-nation occupation force and it may have some sort of UN seal of approval, but it won't be UN-organized or UN-commanded. Exactly who is represented and what their jobs are remains to be worked out; it may depend a lot on how long the war takes and what becomes necessary in order to win it.

When it comes to a new government, Pakistan is backing the Pashtun "king" and Taliban "moderates". Go-it-alone Pashtun and Hazara tribal warlords are backing themselves. Russia backs the Northern Alliance, which backs "president" Burhanuddin Rabbani. What formula do the US and Britain favour? My best guess is that the US and UK expect there to be a meeting of all powers, meeting run by the King using his prestige to try to get a peaceful conclusion, but that the King won't be a major part in the resulting government. At best he might be a constitutional monarch. I don't see an automatic role for Rabbani in the government; he may be a participant, but his presidency is history. I think the best model for a settlement would be what happened in Lebanon, where there were reserved government roles for each group. It wasn't dramatically successful there but it also wasn't a complete failure, and it does placate different groups and make them feel as if they're not being left out.

If the government was as frank as I am, they'd offend half the governments they deal with. Diplomacy aways involves a great deal of dithering and shaded meanings. I did try to cut through the crap, but what I described wasn't particularly profound, from my point of view.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 3:31 PM on October 26, 2001

By the way, an outside possibility for a political settlement is partition, forming a Pashtun republic which is separate, and perhaps three others. The divisions would be more or less along ethnic lines (though there is some intermixing). There would have to be serious work to prevent it from becoming another Yugoslavia.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 3:34 PM on October 26, 2001

Thanks for that. My nagging concern is that the longer military action takes place without open discussion of What Comes Next, the more likely it is to see either explicit land-grabs or a settling of political debts to neighbouring countries. You don't have to be a cynic to recognise that people are thinking of Afghanistan's strategic position between the oilfields and the ocean, and to be honest, that's perhaps the quickest way to get foreign exchange and infrastructure into the place, but the examples of Colombia or the other Central Asian republics don't really inspire confidence.

Anyway, it's good to see that the State Department's review of foreign media has not just resumed, but expanded to cover the crisis. Well worth reading, to be reminded that the US shouldn't underestimate the amount of trouble that can be caused by a world press that considers its basic journalistic tenets under assault, regardless of religious or political affiliation.
posted by holgate at 4:45 PM on October 26, 2001

People were starving there before sept 11

and aid was getting through to stop them
posted by walrus at 5:30 AM on October 27, 2001

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