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The horror, the horror

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Sep. 30, 2010 at 6:22 pm with 4 Comments »
September 30, 2010 6:22 pm

Hate to get all literary now, but these allegations of murder and dismemberment in Afghanistan and Iraq follow a distinctly familiar script:

Westerner ventures into backward land on civilizing mission (or profiteering mission – take your pick). Westerner progressively loses moral compass. Corrupted by power and dark impulses, Westerner winds up more savage than natives.

The book is Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Or if you prefer the cinematic version, Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.” Or any number of real-world clashes between predatory European colonial powers and dark-skinned people.

The Taliban-enabled 9/11 attacks being still vivid in my mind, my narrative for the Afghanistan war runs something like, “We get attacked. We try to keep attackers from doing it again.” But the competing narrative – very convincing in much of the world – runs, “Amoral Western nation with immense military power again has its way with third world country.”

I suspect we’d have to build 100 schools in Afghanistan to counter the image of depravity created by a single American atrocity. Sociopaths are few and far between in today’s military, but even one is more than we can afford.

Leave a comment Comments → 4
  1. comment_tayter says:

    Patrick, at this point we could build a million schools and not make up for, in the minds of Afghani’s, the fact we are still in their country.

    At some point we are going to learn to leave other people’s countries to the people who live there, no matter how much we disagree with how they choose to run it, or the customs they choose to adhere to, or the economic model they want to establish.

    At some point we are going to learn that thinly-veiled Manifest Destiny by corporate proxy causes more trouble than good.

  2. Patrick O'Callahan says:

    Appreciate the thoughtful response.

    My take is that the “get out of their country” absolutism driving opposition to the Afghanistan war would have had us out of Japan and Germany right after WW2 and South Korea after the Korean War. Sometimes having troops in another country is the lesser evil for both countries.

    I’d love to see us pull out of Afghanistan, but I don’t want to see the Taliban crowing over their defeat of the U.S. and inviting al-Qaida back in to plot new 9/11-style attacks. Figure out some way to keep the place from becoming a safe haven for terrorists again, and U.S. troops should come home the next day.

    I’m not convinced the Afghanis all hate us; I suspect a lot of them don’t want the whip-women-in-the-streets and bury-homosexuals-alive crowd running the show again.

  3. comment_tayter says:

    Once genies are out of the bottle, it is rare they return willingly. And fighting Afghans in their own mountains and villages has proven to be a rather potent genie to shove back into the bottle to more far determined invaders than the US.

    We find whipping women through the streets and piling rocks upon living-but-soon-to-dead homosexuals rightly horrifying. But I am not so sure we have the political will-power (yet again, 30+ years after Viet Nam) to remain in-country even remotely long enough to achieve the objective of eliminating those who would. And in my mind, we don’t have the right to do so, even if we did have the political will. That sounds more like “nation building” than “self-defense” to me.

    Beyond that, isn’t it astonishing in an age of satellite surveillance and phone-call intercept capability, in a time of unmanned drones and cruise missiles, that we cannot identify targets that are, with almost complete certainty, groups or individuals concocting scenarios of terrorist destruction upon our shores?

    Or how about hat in this day and age, with our supposed understanding of guerilla war methodologies and psychology, and the conditions that sustain such an insurgency (the support of the local population is imperative), that we have been sucked into a traditional “combat outpost / boots on the ground” guerilla war?

    We might as well be living in the days of Fort Apache and F Troop. Remember: the only reason we “won the West” on this continent was a result of engaging in a near-genocidal war with the indigenous population. If you reject the argument of a near-genocidal war, then perhaps one could state — a long string of broken promises, seizures of land, and usurpations of autonomy. Are we going to fight that kind of war today, in a foreign, non-Western culture, with over a 2000 year history of repelling invaders? Somehow, I don’t think so.

    I think at the end of the day, sooner or later, we are going to turn away from Afghanistan with not much to show for our efforts. The cameras will not be there to record the carnage and the aftermath, much as they are absent from Iraq, and were absent from Viet Nam and Cambodia. We will be glad to be unburdened, and the rest of the non-Western world, rightly or wrongly, will have the repeated reinforcement that the US is a meddling bully, looking out for its own corporate and economic interests, everyone else be damned.

  4. comment_tayter says:

    Patrick, BTW, I appreciate your response to my comment. I want you to know I support your article’s position that one atrocity is too many. I have taken exception, under other articles, to those who don’t seem to appreciate that fact.

    Sometimes this venue makes for an interesting exchange of viewpoints; it’s not all shouting and trolls, carnage and idiocy. I know you’re a busy man. Thanks again for you time.

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