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This Content From 2003 (or earlier) see index

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Why war

I've been taking the pulse of the hawkish community, reading a lot of stuff and trying to get people to debate with me, and I think it's highly worthwhile to outline the reasons that people use to rationalize the need to go to war with Iraq. It might help a person clarify their own thinking on the issue. It's certainly helped me.

While there are a few people who relish in war, in the myths, the technicalities, the bravado, this is not most Americans. Most Americans have direct or second-hand experience with war, and understand that war is not in any way shape or form a desirable state of affairs. Why then, do so many people -- seemingly more than half of all Americans -- support military action in Iraq?

The number one reason is fear. This is almost always the reason why "the people" support a war. Fear fear fear. Fear of another 9-11. Fear of an atomic strike on American soil. Fear of laboratory-bread diseases. Fears that are nameless and innumerable.

Most who are motivated by fear feel afraid because the President and the news anchors -- all the sources of information they put their trust in -- all these sources tell them to be afraid. They say, "be afraid," and then they say going to war with Iraq will make us safe. The President speaks of dealing with the threat of Iraq and a refusal to live in fear in the same breath; the connection is hardly lost on the common citizen.

Most people who support military action don't think much beyond this point, beyond the point of getting rid of the boogyman. This is the nature of fear; it blinds. Speaking purely biologically, it is an animal reaction designed to help escape from immediate harm, narrowing our focus, quickening our pulse, tensing our muscles. Fear prevents us from thinking ahead, from considering more than a handful of variables. Fear rushes to judgement.

However, there are some people who have very well thought out and developed rationales for going to war. They still have security at their core reason, "we can't afford not to," but they've thought through the thing and aren't moving blindly. They've thought all the way through the air raids and the bloody march of occupation, all the way through reconstruction, and all the way through a more or less permanent military presence in Iraq and they're still for it. This is almost more scary to me. They've thought through all of this, and they see this course of action as our only possible avenue to safety.

These are people like Paul Wolfowitz, who honestly believes we can set up a flourishing democracy in Iraq over the next 20 years. If we end up going to war I hope against hope he's right, but the mantle of history would seem to indicate otherwise.

These are people like Steven C. Den Beste, who's been kind enough to exchange some emails with me, who came out and boldly said we need to be imperial for our own safety. "A Pax Americana is our only hope."

Steven tells me he hates war, but at the same time devotes more than 4,500 words to stories of brutality, sacrifice and heroism. He revels in it, I daresay. I don't think he loves seeing people killed any more than I do, though I doubt neither of us has witnessed such an event up close and personal. I don't think he sees war as a great football contest. However, it seens clear that duty and honor are quite romantic notions to him, and that this romanticism plays a part in his rationale for war.

Steven is a prolific and talented writer who is strongly committed to his point of view, but I believe he is wrong. He knows an awful lot about the recent history of warfare, but seems to understand considerably less about this history of nations. He seems to think an American Empire would be different from other empires in the past, that our colonialism would be better than the rest of the world's, that our power is above corruption. I disagree. When I think about this conflict, I see it setting a course for the next 100 years. How these events play out will in large part determine the course of the 21st Century.

Steven says he's not pro-war. He says, "Nobody sane is pro-war. I'm anti-passivity. I'm anti-let-them-kill-us-with-impunity. I'm anti-American-city-being-nuked." This reveals a dangerous characterization, a misunderstanding that people who are for peace are advocating a do-nothing stance. If this characterization of the anti-war faction takes hold, then there is truly little hope for peace.

As an alternative to "doing nothing," talk is put forth of empire, empire which will surely crumble, empire which will surely become corrupt, and empire which will surely be the bearer of some misery around the world. This is what all empires throughout history have done. People talk of building this empire to avenge the deaths of 2,800 civilians and to prevent similar attacks (though even the CIA admits that war will likely provoke more terrorism), and I say, "it's not worth it." It's not worth destroying our nation in some vain pursuit of complete and total safety.

In the end, it is this pursuit of this safety which underlies the drumbeat of war. Fear is the backbone of this new jingoism. Stephen's argument, for all its permutations and rationales, still hinges on fear. To be fair, he believes we can do in Iraq what we did in Japan and Germany following WWII (I'm skpetical), and isn't proposing a new American empire in the style of Rome. Yet he sees no other way to be safe than to anihalate those who bear us ill will, and so invasion and occupation is justified. I fear that empire is a slippery slope, slick with oil, with blood and power -- especially with the current people in charge. Steven can imagine no peace without conquest, and he's willing to risk it. He is, like the rest of us, deeply afraid.

And pardon me for being cynical for a moment, but I can't help feeling like the people with the power in this situation are using fear, are using the grief and terror of 9-11, to manipulate the masses. I'll buy that GWB is concerned about another terrorist attack, but I don't believe he's reacting out of simple fear (and if he is then why is he in charge). Yet he seems to have no compunction about using fear as a goad to move us towards war. In his most recent address (on Monday the 7th from Ohio) it was crystal clear: "he's bad, we're afraid, we don't want to be afraid, so let's go get that bad man."

Global power structures and international politics are not that simple. I trust that the folks in charge understand this, but it angers me that they're trying to sell a saturday morning cartoon script for war. To believe in such a storybook script is delusional. War will not make us safe. War begets war. Empire exposes us to risk and cannot fail to turn the world against us. We must resist the fearmongering. We must see through the rhetoric of "helping the Iraqi people" by dropping bombs on them. Most of all, we must put forth powerful and persuasive alternative courses of action.

More on that soon.

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Trips in Space and Time 8/02/03

Big Wheels in Berkeley
I scored a set of west-coast wheels today at the Ashby BART station flea market. It's a very tall schwinn road bike, black, deceptively heavy but smooth-riding. Thirty-five dollars to boot. I oiled and cleaned the works, dialed in the bakes and took it out for a shake-down cruise immediately. Nice riding on a beautiful saturday, realizing how out of shape I am as I wheezed my way though the hilly area behind the Berkeley campus.

After about an hour I started to get the swing of it. Made some minor mechanical adjustments (including a free wheel truing at the bike collective on Shattuck), drank a few liters of water and started finding my groove, cruising up and around and ending up with a beautiful view of the whole bay. The roads here are not kind to the speed inclined -- too many stop signs and crosswalks and lights -- but it was good to get out and proj for a while. This changes my summer dramatically.

...older trips...


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