“The late, great Kurt Vonnegut once wrote in the Nation that world leaders were addicted to war preparations in the same way that alcoholics are addicted to alcohol. He recommended: ‘From now on, when a national leader, or even just a neighbor, starts talking about some new weapons system which is going to cost us a mere $29 billion, we should speak up. We should say something on the order of, ‘Honest to God, I couldn’t be sorrier for you if I’d seen you wash down a fistful of black, beauties with a pint of Southern Comfort.’” Reichel, Matt. (2008, August 22). Cold War 2008: The madness continues. Dissident Voice, www.dissidentvoice.org.

Two things in the Twin Cities these days make me think of the appropriateness of this quotation. First and obviously, the presidential campaign. The hubbub over Obama’s supposed lack of experience, as though the great legislator McCain actually has some, demonstrates the addictive nature of this discourse. Palin has none and yet the debate has turned to her as the guardian of Alaskan territory from Russia. There was never a threat. If there had been a threat then that would only prove the inadequacy of a militaristic approach to world affairs. It has become an addiction to speak of military experience in a time of hostility which is completely self-fabricated.

The second thing that is happening is the militarization of our streets. Meeting kids after a concert with full riot gear is sure to provoke a response. And yet it is that very response that is used to justify the deployment of riot geared cops. People no longer see the fallacy because of the addictive nature of military engagements. We want so badly to speak of ass-kicking Americans that we are willing to create the very tensions that cause such ass-kicking. For proof we can see the pictures of police after these engagements. They beat up young kids that have no training, no discipline and no weapons of any comparable worth to the arms carried by the police. Even if these kids were hooligans why is there so much happiness at the inevitable police triumphs?

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The masculinity of war depends, therefore, on the myth that women are being protected. Spike Peterson has argued that rethinking the meaning of protection is a crucial component of efforts to address problems of world security. By exposing the protector/protected myth we can deepen our understanding of the real victims of direct violence. The National Organization for Women has estimated that up to 90 percent of total casualties in conflicts since 1945 have been civilians, the majority of them women and children. Moreover, as Judith Stiehm points out, if we are to think of men as protectors we must remember they are usually protecting women from other men.
Feminist theory also draws our attention to the issue of domestic violence, which is prevalent but generally underreported and not legislated against in most societies. By pointing to the high incidence of domestic violence in military families and in militarized societies, feminist perspectives can deepen our understanding of the connection between militarism and sexism. Peterson also asserts that the way notions of protection have traditionally been constructed by the state contributes to the reproduction of hierarchies, including gender hierarchies, and hence to the structural violence against which states say they offer protection. Tickner, Anne. 1994. Peace and world security studies: A curriculum guide. 47-8.

This passage needs little work to serve as an explanation for what is happening in Iraq. While some may see Tickner arguing for a conspiracy against women, I see her argument differently. Women tend to bear the brunt of war because military planners unintentionally overlook some of the horrors of war. The main way this overlooking is done is by the militaries assessments of damage. The military is understandably concerned with attrition rates to enemy combatants and less so to the damage done to noncombatants. I will not say the military is callous, however, as I do think they give some concern to non-combatants, but the damage they measure is the damage done by bombs and ammunition. The damage measured is not the damage caused by, for example, the destruction of a dam and the concomitant loss of running water, electricity and the industries powered by the dam – hospitals, pharmaceutical firms, food preparation firms and other essential firms.

Because the military – even the engaged, shocked and awed military – has rations and drugs, it seems the men of that very military are less affected by the disruptions caused by a war. It is also understandable how a military actuary would overlook the cost of these disruptions, since they are not dependent upon such services in their own respect. For example, when ascertaining the cost of destroying a dam in southern Iraq it is understandable that Captain Moore overlooks some things because those aspects of living are not within his realm of experience. I do not know if Tickner goes so far as to claim all war is bad. If she does then I will diverge from her there, as it seems there are times when maybe things can be improved. The problem though is in those assessments of cost and benefit. If history is indicator though, it seems we as a species need some improvement in our calculations.

We can easily see Tickner’s second paragraph at work in Iraq. The US argument all along was to protect the oppressed in Iraq and to liberate them. That message is now being used against us as the insurgents are targeting civilians. While these civilian killings undermine support for the occupation in Iraq, it also damages US credibility abroad as a capable protection force. The occupation in Iraq has ended up hurting, some would say more than Hussein’s Baath Party, those whose original protection was a justification for invasion.

What about Pan Am flight 103? Was it also the result of terrorism rhetorics? The tragic incident over Lockerbie epitomizes, for the American public, the ultimate proof of terrorism’s extreme danger. What is altogether missing is a public appreciation of the extent to which terrorism discourse itself might have contributed decisively to the tragedy. Pan Am flight 103 was preceded by the downing, “by mistake,” of an Iranian passanger [sic.] airliner by the American warship Vincennes. Most experts and family members of the Pan Am victims remained skeptical with the official version that blamed two Libyan officers; the clues pointing to Iran were simply too obvious to ignore. In any case, what made the crew of the Vincennes commit so grave a mistake as to sacrifice with impunity the lives of 290 airline passengers? Isn’t this the reality-making force of a discourse that allows itself to act as it assumes the enemy will? In doing so it provokes as well the self-fulfilling reaction from the enemy that proves that it was the feared monster after all. Nevertheless, the incident that has turned into the paradigm of terrorism for the American public has been viewed by some terrorism experts as a type of “blood feud.” It is by forgetting the symmetry between the Iranian airliner and Pan Am flight 103, and by erasing the assumptions and justifications surrounding the Vincennes’ “error,” that terrorism discourse conceals its own self-generating logic. (J. Zulaika & W. Douglas. 1996. Terror and taboo: The follies, fable sand faces of terrorism. NY: Routledge.)

I know I have cited and discussed from this Zulaika & Douglas book before, but I try to choose these nuggets at random. Besides, I really liked this book. It was fascinating to read and that was before September 11 and our current (pre)occupation in the War on Terror (hereafter called WoT.) Some dismiss the writings before September 11 as anachronistic, but these writings are now timelier than ever as they address the exact same problem but do not reflect the trauma we are so fixated on trying to suture. The same reason doctors should not operate on their children is a reason why these writings are so valuable: we are too emotionally involved to see clearly.

There is a clear parallel to draw between the cover-up Zulaika & Douglas reference to the current WoT. This is not to say it was the US government’s doing, I do believe the al Qaeda story we are told, but there is a government dismissal of why al Qaeda did what it did. Some will dismiss, they have when others said it, what I am about to say as sympathy for the evil-doers but it is not sympathy. No matter how cruel al Qaeda thinks we have been to them and their cause it does not justify what they have done, but we should take some time to at least understand why they did what they did. Unfortunately, Bush is happy to dismiss this as hatred of America and as sympathy for them.

I contend al Qaeda is in the midst of a civil war within Islam. Unable to gain ground in this war because of the riches of it’s enemy, al Qaeda has sought out the source of it’s enemy’s wealth: the US. We prop up the Islamic modernists with our patronage of oil and our military assistance. Thus al Qaeda, like the IRA, needed one of two things to happen. If al Qaeda could convince us to remove our patronage or to get us more involved so other Muslims would then see just how involved we are then they would gain ground in this internal conflict.

Al Qaeda’s plan then needed a way to catalyze us into action. They did what we have done, attacked non-military religious targets. Fundamentalists see our western mechanism of development and trade and commerce as a direct attack upon traditional Muslim values. Al Qaeda thinks our religion is money and so they struck at what seemed to the ultimate symbol of that religion, the World Trade Center. There is a reason the only 2 foreign-born terrorist attacks on US soil targeted the same place. The towers (still) hold symbolic value and we reacted exactly in a manner they wanted. Bush says those of us that disagree with him are giving in to what they want by conceding the fight. While conceding the fight was a desirable outcome of the attack, so is what Bush is doing. His binary black/white world fails to see the world is at least tertiary (black/grey/white.) A third way should have been sought out.

I digress from Zulaika and Douglas. We can see this pattern of war fought in Saudi Arabia against the very people that become al Qaeda. Modern forces there terrorize the conservative Muslims. They do this terrorism with US made thumbscrews, with US made tanks, with US soldiers looking on, with US led sanctions against infrastructure development in Iraq. Even if we do not do all the things al Qaeda claims we do, the material conditions in those places are such that those claims have credibility. Why is that? It is this credibility, not the actual truth of the claims, that needs to be fought and countered. Yet Bush seems to have fallen the al Qaeda trick.

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To-day’s passage from the backfiles is one of the better arguments I have stumbled across in quite some time. Not only is a well-structured argument, but also I find the writing to be good: it is concise and yet the language is not too lofty and obscure. Peter Tatchell is a British human rights activist and I am also assuming he is gay, proud and pissed off. After reading this passage his anger seems not only understandable but also justified, I especially liked the portion that talks about how our society does not protect queers:

Such a statement sums up the way the just demand for an end to homophobic discrimination by the armed forces increasingly has become an unjustifiable endorsement of militarism and war. The experience of being marginalized by society as “abnormal” and “deviant” ought to give us queers a more critical attitude towards all social institutions, including the military. Instead of blithely assuming that everything straight is wonderful, we should have a healthy skepticism towards straight culture. No hetero institution is more deserving of our skepticism than the armed forces. It denies democratic rights to its own members, tolerates bullying, lacks mechanisms for public scrutiny and accountability, discriminates against lesbians and gay men (and women and black people), and has a been used frequently to suppress popular movements for social justice and national liberation in countries like Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, Aden and Ireland. Above all else, the military is a straight institution. It is organized and dominated by the hetero majority. Part of the function of the military is the defence of a society ruled by straights (as well as big business). It serves straight interests and upholds the macho straight values of violence and homophobia. Everything about the military is inimical to queer freedom: hierarchy, domination, prejudice, aggression, conformity and authoritarianism. Moreover, the military is an instrument of State power. The State is homophobic, enforcing legal discrimination against lesbian and gay people. As a part of the repressive apparatus of the State, the armed forces embody this anti-gay discrimination, banning queers from joining the military and forcing out those it discovers within its ranks. In defending the State, the military also implicitly defends the anti-queer repression of the State, including the unequal age of consent, the arrest of gay men for victimless cruising, the ban on the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities, the denial of legal recognition to queer partnerships, and the lack of redress against homophobic discrimination in housing and employment. Lesbians and gay men have a right, and even a responsibility, to refuse allegiance to a homophobic government and its homophobic military apparatus. Faced with unjust laws that discriminate against homosexuals, queers are duty-bound to deny legitimacy to the straight governing elite and to withdraw all consent and co-operation from governmental institutions such as armed forces. According to liberal theory, rights carry with them responsibilities. But in the absence of civil and human rights, the duty of reciprocal responsibilities ceases to exist. This means that we queers are under no obligation to join the military to protect those who refuse to protect us. Instead, there is an onus on us to withhold our loyalty from the institutions of a homophobic State, such as the armed forces, and to do everything in our power to sabotage the straight system which treats us as second class citizens. You don’t have to be a queer revolutionary to realize this, just a homo with a bit of common sense and self-respect. The idea of queer non-compliance with homophobic institutions like the military is rooted in the civil disobedience tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. They argued: unjust laws must be broken, not obeyed. When governments deny human rights, those excluded from full citizenship have a moral right to rebel against tyrannical rulers. These principles are just as relevant for lesbians and gay men today as in Britain as they were in the past for the Indian independence movement and the US black civil rights struggle. The armed forces do not respect gay rights. Why, then, should we enlist and serve? Is there any reason for queers to give a damn about the fate of the straight State? We homos (and our straight allies) have no obligation to defend the fraudulent democratic system that denies us equality. On the contrary, the queer self-defence requires that we subvert and destroy the hetero institutions that hold us down. Collusion with a homophobic State and a homophobic military is collusion with anti-gay discrimination. To do the bidding of those who victimize us betrays the cause of queer freedom. That’s why all queers everywhere have a responsibility to refuse collaboration with the oppressive military system. By so doing, we can help strike a blow for lesbian and gay emancipation, and against oppressive militarism and war. (1997, Why we shouldn’t’ march straight. Queer Words, issue 3)

The problem I have with this argument is its reductionism. Tatchell seems to believe homosexuals are fundamentally democratic and neither bullies nor aggressive. The military, in his world, is only used to repress progressive movements. These reductions place the military/homosexual pair as automatically opposed and impossible to coexist. I contend, however, that they are opposed in their manifestation and not in some basic kernel of their selves. Everything he says may be accurate, but that does not mean the military must be used to quash progressive movements. Was the Taliban a progressive movement? While there are some problems surrounding the crushing of the Taliban, the quashing of a movement concerned with social justice is not be one of them.

I am also curious how people in the Netherlands would view this passage since the military there allows homosexuals to serve openly. This passage seems uniquely British. An indictment of the British state, even though Tatchell attributes it to the State fundamentally, would be read differently in a different country.

I am also concerned that the bodies in Tatchell’s argument are not marked. I was told in graduate school to do the following test: whenever an unmarked body is presented (in this case the soldier and also the civilian) I should assume the body is white. Do bodies of color change the calculus of this passage? Tatchell would probably argue that does not change his call to resistance. That is the very functioning of whiteness. The military may provide a way out of certain situations, a liberatory way out. Michael Moore highlights the US military recruiting methods, targeting black neighborhoods, but we have to ask why do so many black people sign up? Even though it pains us to point out the truth (the real reason John Kerry came under such scrutiny) it is still the truth: the military can provide a better life for people on the margins of our society. Tatchell does not address these people. He has an interpretation, one which is valid, but there are other interpretations. It this essentializing of reading the military that is the problem in Tatchell’s argument.

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