Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Mouth of Hell has Many Doors

I'm still mulling over my feelings about the Libya attack. I would love to be able to claim a purity of thought about war; I know it's evil, and I know that evil is committed when it's waged, even if the reason for the war has the most humane of intent. War is one of those human endeavors that can take even the purest of motives and twist them into thousands of acts of horror. Apologists minimize these brutalities with the exonerating concepts of "collateral damage", and "troubled soldiers" and "Zimbardo effects",and even though we know every fresh invasion will unleash the same predictably terrific results, we behave as if, each time, we are being presented with a fresh enigma to solve, and we keep repeating the same old pantomime. The attack on Libya, whatever the motive, will rain down horror into the lives of innocents, who will have to live with the results for the rest of their lives, if they live at all---we can always make that bet with confidence.

I also know that the motives that have impelled my country to war have never been humanitarian, although that hasn't stopped us from claiming the high road when it served our purposes. Even World War II, the so-called "good war", was entered into for reasons having nothing to do with the Holocaust or the predations of the Axis powers; Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and right after that Germany and Italy declared war on us. As for the rest? None of them were necessary, except Bosnia, which the usual war hawks fought tooth and nail. All across the world, over a hundred years, the victims of genocide and nameless horrors have suffered and vanished from the earth while we ignored their misery and did business with their tormentors. Cambodia. Rwanda. Congo. Zimbabwe. Kenya. Algeria. Peru. Argentina. Guatemala. Nicaragua. The Philippines. Haiti. Franco's Spain. Chechnya. Palestine. Egypt. Cote D'Ivoire. South Africa. Burma. Tibet. Sudan. Sierra Leone. Uzbekistan. Too many more to name...and none of them were of interest to us, even when they cried out to us for help.

Now we have a pretty clear case of rebels fighting for freedom against a totalitarian dictator, known murderer, and true terrorist. And they have continuously called for help from us and the rest of the world, in the form of a no-fly zone. The Arab League has given its blessing to this, and European nations are willing to take the lead. We have nothing particular to gain materially, since the oil Libya produces makes up a miniscule amount of what we use. Unlike in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are being begged for help, and we have no plutocrats waiting in the wings to descend on a new colony, ready to make billions by raping the infrastructures and the national Treasury.

For me, the answers are elusive. I'm still on the fence, even as the New York Times reports that the air strikes have begun. Mike Mullin says “operations yesterday went very well.” But Stratfor's analysis considers the costs of civilian deaths on the ultimate outcome:
If (Gadhafi’s troops) perceive that surrender is unacceptable or personally catastrophic, they may continue to fight. At that point the coalition must decide if it intends to engage and destroy Gadhafi’s ground forces from the air. This can be done, but it is never a foregone conclusion that it will work. Moreover, this is the phase at which civilian casualties begin to mount. It is a paradox of warfare instigated to end human suffering that the means of achieving this can sometimes impose substantial human suffering itself. This is not merely a theoretical statement. It is at this point at which supporters of the war who want to end suffering may turn on the political leaders for not ending suffering without cost. It should be remembered that Saddam Hussein was loathed universally but those who loathed him were frequently not willing to impose the price of overthrowing him.
We may have hated Bush, but would we have thrown our support behind a foreign army invading to "liberate" us from him? I doubt it, and it was that inability to put ourselves in the shoes of the Iraqis that resulted in the horrors that eventually played out.

But then, we never cried out to the world to come and save us from him in the first place.