Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cowboys and Indians: Thoughts on War

War & Education, Good Guys vs. Bad Guys, & the Myth of Redemptive Violence in 3 Parts:

Part 1. "Political Awakenings: An Unpublished Howard Zinn Inerview"

from The Nation (Feb. 8, 2010)

Harry Kreisler: Before you were in college, you were working on the docks and you were involved in a demonstration at Times Square, and the police attacked. That is an example of a kind of event that changed your thinking, and that's an argument that you make in a lot of your history, that people can be changed by things that happen to them and act accordingly.

Howard Zinn: That's right. Sometimes it's one very vivid experience. Of course, it's never just one vivid experience, but it's that one experience coming on top of a kind of only semiconscious understanding that's been developed, and then it becomes crystallized by an event. I think that's what happened to me at the age of seventeen, when I was hit by a policeman and knocked unconscious. I woke up and said, my God, this is America, where, yes, there are bad guys and there are good guys, but the government is neutral. And when I saw that, no, the police are not neutral, the government is not neutral, that was a radical insight.

HK: Your involvement in the antiwar movement was informed, in part, by your experience as a soldier. In one of the last bombing missions of the war, you were a bombardier on a plane that was responsible for one of the first uses of napalm, on an innocent French village called Royan. Tell us about that experience and what you learned from it, and how it affected your activism in the antiwar movement and your view of war in general.

HZ: I enlisted in the Air Force. I volunteered. I was an enthusiastic bombardier. To me it was very simple: it was a war against fascism. They were the bad guys; we were the good guys. One of the things I learned from that experience was that when you start off with them being the bad guys and you being the good guys, once you've made that one decision, you don't have to think anymore, if you're in the military. From that point on, anything goes. From that point on, you're capable of anything, even atrocities. Because you've made a decision a long time ago that you're on the right side. You don't keep questioning, questioning, questioning. You're not Yossarian, who questions.

And so, I was an enthusiastic bombardier, as I say. The war was over, presumably--a few weeks from the end. Everybody knew the war was about to end in Europe. We didn't think we were flying missions anymore. No reason to fly. We were all through France, into Germany. The Russians and Americans had met on the Elbe. It was just a matter of a few weeks. And then we were awakened in the wee hours of the morning and told we were going on a mission. The so-called intelligence people, who brief us before we go into a plane, tell us we are going to bomb this tiny town on the Atlantic coast of France called Royan, near Bordeaux, and we are doing it because there are several thousand German soldiers there. They are not doing anything. They are not bothering anyone. They are waiting for the war to end. They've just been bypassed. And we are going to bomb them.

What's interesting to me later, in thinking about it, is that it didn't occur to me to stand up in the briefing room and say, "What are we doing? Why are we doing this? The war is almost over, there is no need." It didn't occur to me. To this day, I understand how atrocities are committed. How the military mind works. You are taught to just mechanically go through the procedures that you have been taught, you see. So, we went over Royan, and they told us in the briefing that we were going to drop a different kind of bomb this time. Instead of the usual demolition bombs, we are going to drop thirty hundred-pound canisters of what they called jellied gasoline, which was napalm. It was the first use of napalm in the European war. We went over. We destroyed the German troops and also destroyed the French town of Royan. "Friendly fire." That's what bombing does.

To this day, when I hear the leaders of the country say, "Well, this is precision bombing and we are being very careful, and we are only bombing military"--that's nonsense. No matter how sophisticated the bombing technology, there is no way you can avoid killing nonmilitary people when you drop bombs. It wasn't until after the war that I looked back on that. In fact, it wasn't until after Hiroshima and Nagasaki that I looked back on that. Because after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which at first I had welcomed like everybody at that time did--"Oh yes, the war is going to be over"--then I read John Hershey's bookHiroshima, and for the first time the human consequences of dropping the bomb were brought home to me in a way I hadn't thought of. When you are dropping bombs from 30,000 feet you don't hear screams. You don't see blood.

I suddenly saw what the bomb in Hiroshima did. I began to rethink the whole question of a "good war." I came to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a good war. They may start off with good intentions, at least on the part of the people who fight in them. Generally not on the part of the people who make the decision; I doubt they have good intentions. But there may be good intentions on the part of the GIs who believe, yes, we are doing this for a good cause. But those good intentions are quickly corrupted. The good guys become the bad guys. So I became convinced that war is not a solution, fundamentally, for any serious problem. It may seem like a solution, like a quick fix, a drug. You get rid of this dictator, that dictator, as we did Hitler, Mussolini. But you don't solve fundamental problems. In the meantime, you've killed tens of millions of people.

...continue reading the rest of the interview HERE

Part 2. "No Exit" by Andrew Bacevich

from The American Conservative (Feb. 1, 2010)

America has an impressive record of starting wars but a dismal one of ending them well...

What are we to make of this record? For Krauthammer, Boot, and Barnes, the lessons are clear: dial up the rhetoric, increase military spending, send in more troops, and give the generals a free hand. The important thing, writes William Kristol in his own assessment of Obama’s Afghanistan decision, is to have a commander in chief who embraces “the use of military force as a key instrument of national power.” If we just keep trying, one of these times things will surely turn out all right.

An alternative reading of our recent military past might suggest the following: first, that the political utility of force—the range of political problems where force possesses real relevance—is actually quite narrow; second, that definitive victory of the sort that yields a formal surrender ceremony at Appomattox or on the deck of an American warship tends to be a rarity; third, that ambiguous outcomes are much more probable, with those achieved at a cost far greater than even the most conscientious war planner is likely to anticipate; and fourth, that the prudent statesman therefore turns to force only as a last resort and only when the most vital national interests are at stake. Contra Kristol, force is an “instrument” in the same sense that a slot machine or a roulette wheel qualifies as an instrument.

To consider the long bloody chronicle of modern history, big wars and small ones alike, is to affirm the validity of these conclusions. Bellicose ideologues will pretend otherwise. Such are the vagaries of American politics that within the Beltway the views expressed by these ideologues—few of whom have experienced war—will continue to be treated as worthy of consideration. One sees the hand of God at work: the Lord obviously has an acute appreciation for irony.

...continue reading the rest of the article HERE

Part 3. "Facing the Myth of Redemptive Violence" by Walter Wink

essay hosted by Ekklesia (2007) - full publication in The Powers That Be (1999)

The belief that violence “saves” is so successful because it doesn’t seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It’s what works. It seems inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts. If a god is what you turn to when all else fails, violence certainly functions as a god. What people overlook, then, is the religious character of violence. It demands from its devotees an absolute obedience- unto-death.

This Myth of Redemptive Violence is the real myth of the modern world. It, and not Judaism or Christianity or Islam, is the dominant religion in our society today...

When the good guy finally wins, viewers are then able to reassert control over their own inner tendencies, repress them, and re-establish a sense of goodness without coming to any insight about their own inner evil. The villain’s punishment provides catharsis; one forswears the villain’s ways and heaps condemnation on him in a guilt-free orgy of aggression. Salvation is found through identification with the hero.

The Myth of Redemptive Violence is the simplest, laziest, most exciting, uncomplicated, irrational, and primitive depiction of evil the world has even known...

...continue reading the full essay HERE

images from Global Issues: "World Military Spending"

P.S.(a) An effective little ad:

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