An blog by a member of the Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi, to explore the nexus between contemplation and resistance. "The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Is That All You've Done?
“I was angry that there was all this money - the planes, bombs, guns, the contracts that were given to Halliburton - going to people who didn’t need it. There were these children dying for lack of blankets and basic medicine and shelter,” says Wilding, her voice rising with fury. “They were living around open sewers, without anything. How could you not be angry? They was always so much need and so little you could do that I was never thinking, ‘I’m so clever, look what I’ve done.’ It was always, ‘Is that all you did?’ People were always asking me to help on a more material level, for cooling fans, money for operations, all sorts of things. A woman at the camp asked for clean knickers and sanitary towels.” Even with the £10,000 Wilding had raised for the trip, she could not meet every need, although she did help pay for the installation of drains and pipes in the camp." - Iraq: Send in the Clown, Guardian/UK, May 17, 2007.
The CNNs of the world want us to believe that the important story is the race for President. As long as our attention can be kept on events such as that, we can be maintained in the appropriate psychological posture. That posture is small, powerless, awestruck at the feet of great realities that we have no control over, and submissive to those in power. If you spend a few minutes reflecting on your feelings while watching these shows, the feeling can be identified. It is the sense of being in a tiny part in a swirl of massive forces utterly beyond your control. Perhaps a great man or woman will arise and point these forces in a new direction and we will cheer, but our powerlessness will be as complete as ever. Maintaining that sense of loss of control, of surrender to the great political and economic forces that rule the planet is one of the major goals of the current news media.
Presidential campaign coverage also allows the media to concentrate on personalities, which benefits the empire in two ways. It allows the mechanisms of power to be hidden behind the soap opera of personalities and their petty conflicts, giving viewers a sense of participation and, in most cases, superiority. The point is to keep the public attention away from the actual operations of power and on entertaining personal foibles. In this both conservative and progressive news outlets are at fault. Rather than highlight the fact that the Attorney General of the United States has become an enthusiastic instrument for spying on Americans and prosecuting political enemies, the entertainment possibilities of memory loss are milked to their limit. As long as the drama is seen as personal rather than involving the fundamental loss of democratic power, the media can criticize safely.
This leads to the second advantage, which is to serve as an outlet for the massive public dissatisfaction with the oppressive reality they face daily. By allowing what appears to be vigorous criticism of the powers that be, the media both gains credibility and channels off dissatisfaction that might be applied to liberating action. Such criticism helps engender the sense that relief is on the way, the tide is finally turning, the massive injustices will soon be recognized and redressed. This is used to extend the public's patience with the reality of injustice and the theft of their resources. When later they find their hopes betrayed, it will be time to induce more terror about inevitable attacks by the enemies of prosperity.
The reality that is to be hidden is this: "Iraq, once among the most advanced countries of the region, has been reduced, in terms of basic economic and social indices, to the level of the poorest countries of sub-Saharan Africa. What is involved is the systematic destruction of an entire society through the unleashing of violence and criminality on a scale not seen since Hitler’s armies ravaged Europe in the Second World War." - "The US war and occupation of Iraq—the murder of a society", Bill Van Auken, wsws.org, May 19, 2007
In fact, history will very likely see the majority of Americans today on the same moral level as the Germans of Hitler's Germany. They might judge us even more harshly because we had the advantage of the German example. The main mitigating factor is the current news media, which operates as a prime feature of one of the most sophisticated and effective mechanisms of social control ever devised.
What this social control mechanism needs to obscure is that "US operations in Iraq have amounted to sociocide—the deliberate and systematic murder of an entire society." - "The US war and occupation of Iraq—the murder of a society", Bill Van Auken, wsws.org, May 19, 2007. Iraqi society needed to be destroyed so that it's oil resources could be more easily harvested. As long as a reasonably healthy society existed in Iraq, it was clear that external control of its oil resources would not be tolerated. Though the strength of the resistance was somewhat surprising to the empire, they do not doubt that their strategy of sociocide will ultimately prevail. Iraq will be reduced to a social desert of warring clans dotted with enclaves maintained by oil companies and protected by the military. The alternative of building a society ruled by a compliant dictator has been discredited by the failure to control Saddam, whose rebellion would be a continuing threat no matter how well-controlled the dictator might be. Better to destroy the society, the technique pioneered by the Israelis in Palestine. The resulting tribal chaos is far more easily controlled than a central government with a unitary military, a possibility that was eliminated by the dissolution of the Iraqi army after the initial conquest.
Halliburton has already moved to location of its new triumph. Once the work of destruction is complete, corporations will be free to move into the social vacuum and establish their spheres of dominance.
The genius of this operation has been to use the violence of the Iraqis against themselves. Of course, it's one of the oldest and most effective strategies of empire: divide and conquer. By splitting the society into warring factions and exacerbating latent conflicts, the empire reaped a number of benefits. First, it justifies its presence. The troops are needed to protect the "good, peace-loving" Iraqis from those who would harm the country. Secondly, it accelerates social disintegration without requiring much direct effort on their part.
The systematic extermination and exile of the natural leaders of Iraqi society such as college professors, students, doctors, and politicians has been noted in the progressive press, but without an attempt at explanation. However, it is clear that the attempt to destroy an entire society can only be accomplished if the possibility of sane leadership is eliminated and the most fanatical and ignorant elements are elevated to positions of control. The vast displacement of the Iraqi population both internally and to nearby countries (currently this amounts to 15% of the entire population and is increasing at 50,000 per week) also effectively eliminates centers of social cooperation. The attempt to wall off Baghdad into sectarian enclaves further hardens these divisions.
From the corporate viewpoint, the Iraq occupation has been a win-win situation. They are allowed to extract trillions from U.S. taxpayers and at the end of process will be in control of one of the largest oil reserves in the world. Halliburton will not be paying the taxes from Dubai, but will be reaping the profits.
Now the systematic dehumanization of Iraqis by American soldiers can be understood. The instinct for fellow-feeling must be eliminated in an operation of this kind. Abu Ghraib and the continuing torture policy is part of a psy-ops strategy aimed not at undermining Iraqi resistance, but American compassion. By undermining the foundations of human solidarity, the forces of social dissolution can be most effectively aided. The torture policy has the dual benefit of increasing the resistance, thus further justifying the presence of troops, while eliminating any possibility of collusion between the soldiers and the local population. In addition, by inuring the American conscience to torture, the possibility for compassion is diminished in the public at large. The criticism of the Iraqi government which politicians and media are currently encouraging also contributes to this lack of fellow feeling. The constant emphasis is on how different the Iraqis are from us, how violent, how uncaring about their society, how lacking in human worth.
"With the US war in Iraq in its fifth year, more than a third of the American soldiers deployed there condone the torture of captured Iraqis. When torture could result in coerced information, 36 percent of army soldiers and 39 percent of marines support it. These numbers rise when torture is seen as preventing the death of a fellow soldier—44 percent for marines and 41 percent for soldiers.
Asked whether “all non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect,” less than half of soldiers agreed. Close to a third of all soldiers reported they had insulted or cursed at non-combatants in their presence. Twelve percent of marines and 9 percent of army soldiers said they had unnecessarily damaged or destroyed Iraqi property; 7 percent of marines and 9 percent of soldiers said they had physically hit or kicked civilians." - "Support for torture, routine abuse of Iraqi civilians", Kate Randall, wsws.org, May 9, 2007.
The elimination of compassion has its price: "The MHAT cites 72 confirmed US soldier suicides in Iraq since the beginning of the war. The majority of these deaths involved single, white, male, junior enlisted soldiers, and all those documented showed the cause of death as a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Statistics from the US Army indicate that a total of 84 active, reserve and National Guard soldiers killed themselves in 2005 (the latest year from which data is available), up from 50 deaths in 2001. Those figures do not include suicides of recently discharged veterans." - "Support for torture, routine abuse of Iraqi civilians", Kate Randall, wsws.org, May 9, 2007.
The point to be emphasized is that sadism is not a problematic aberration that the military intends to eliminate through better counseling, but an inherent aspect of the dominance required to execute this occupation.
The consequence for those who believe compassion is at the heart of our Lord's mission are clear. First, we must become ever more compassionate people. Only the witness of our love for our brothers can hold an image before the eyes of our nation that has the power to recall us to true humanity. As Christians, it is our faith that that power is greater than all the machinations of this world, with its never-ending urge toward "full spectrum dominance". Secondly, it is the duty of all Christians to join the antiwar movement and obey our Master's voice.