Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Literatus, Lebanon, Loyalty and the Law

The literatus writes (actually, wrote a week ago):

When it comes right down to war-gore imagery, I s'pose I could trot out the photo of the bombed Israeli bus from, oh, '99 or thereabouts; believe it was the seventh round of the intifada or so. The contorted, smeared and fractional human remains in that particular argument-ender appeared doubly macabre, because the roof of the bus had been vapourised, and the dead passengers could be seen all... leaning back, it seemed, from the detonation point near the steering wheel, as though the vehicle had suddenly, terrifically accelerated.

Can't remember where I saw this photo; seems to me it was a newspaper. But it may well have been the "rightist" equivalent of the dripping-red-letters website P&S linked to today; perhaps the percussively-repeated caption used was "Land for peace? Land for Peace?! LAND FOR PEACE??" Doesn't matter. Agitators and true believers somewhere deployed those dead civilians, holding the photo of their splattered end to as many pairs of eyes as possible. The aim: to win their war. Well, fair enough; part of the modern arsenal; it's not like images of flayed babies, halved shopkeepers and charred housewives are objectively worse than the events they capture, if you see what I mean. I disagree with those who say we shouldn't look at the real essence of war, on grounds of taste or discretion or respect, or whatever; everyone should look, everyone from every side, in every conflict, from now until the end of vision (which'll arrive before the end of war, mark me.)

The Israelis, in this case, should look at the gore and human wreckage in Lebanon, look hard at the dismembered babies, the dust-blasted, bloated faces of dead innocent grandmothers; and then they should refuel their fighter jets, man every tank, and keep attacking, attacking, attacking in south Lebanon and Gaza too, until every Hezbollah and Hamas man is dead, fled or captured, and every Qassam missile, packet of C4 and AK-47 is broken, buried and unreplaceable.

The literatus is right that pictures of mangled bodies prove nothing, and signify everything. They can mean, "We won't let this be done to us" or "We won't do this." And just wars look as ugly as unjust ones -- the death of a soldier in the Wehrmacht in open combat was the killing of some conscript mother's child. All true.

Before I get to the rational argument in response to "attacking, attacking, attacking ... until every Hezbollah and Hamas man is dead", though, we need to discuss what rationality means in these circumstances. And the literatus has something to say about that:

I don't want to get too political here, [P.], believe it or not; I'm looking to push you a bit on the dead-baby-photo linking --- as to who's "right" or "wrong" here, you know where I stand -- let me just quickly say, some brutality and vehemence in the right places, I believe, some * warnings,* the clarity of blood, may be our only hope of changing enough minds in Tehran, Damascus and Karachi to stop the clash o' civs that could otherwise develop. I know Riyadh and Cairo and Tripoli have got it, chum; I think I've got it; have you got it...? Or are you still relying on dialogue and understanding? I don't think this is the fuse leading to World-Wide-Web-War, Next Chapter, in other words; I think these attacks are stepping on that spark. Here's a thing you can't make an image of: the future lives, families and nations saved by prompt, ruthless, callous, warmaking.

As I said, the literatus wrote this a week ago, when it was still possible to imagine that "Riyadh" and "Cairo" could represent something important, before the entire Arab world -- Sunni, Shi'ite and even Christian -- made it clear which side their dictators had better be on.

The lesson here isn't that the literatus erred in his future-telling -- the Pithlord knows that having even an irregular blog puts too many hostages to fortune to get snooty about that. The lesson is that certain violence now for uncertain benefits of peace in the future is a trade too easily made. The best rhetoric for those who would sacrifice one generation for the one after it comes from Trotsky, particularly in Terrorism and Communism, written at the height of his power two decades before the ice pick.

The leaders of Israel, as with the rest of us, have no way of knowing what the indirect, ultimate consequences of this will be. But they are responsible for the direct, immediate ones.

But here's the thing, [name redacted], God, I have a heart. War is disgusting, on so many more levels than just a picture of a toddler with his spinal column ripped apart by shrapnel, grievous and repellent though that image -- that fact -- is, by itself. Whether it's by sword, artillery shell, suicide attack, tank battle, or atom bomb, war is the devourer of the souls of its victims and perpetrators, the eater of their humanity and individualism; war is the self-perpetuating system of weights that pulls us back down into the muck from which we so recently and partially ascended. It can't be done cleanly, simply, surgically or well, especially in the 21st century. Yeah: war sucks. It's important to hate it. These photos from Lebanon are the latest confirmation of this obvious fact. (What is the size of a hypothetical file, opened at the dawn of photography, that contains all images of all those killed in war? That's a long download, bud.)

Here's a thing that's worse than war, though: pretending it doesn't exist. Closing your eyes and hoping it goes away. Getting on your knees and presenting your throat to be cut. Surrendering your self, your family and your nation to this world's armies of evil, because you can't bear the thought of graveyards filling with the innocents who will die if you retaliate with strength. The only thing more sickening than war, I mean, is pacifism; is meekness and squeamishness; is the infantile, finger-crossing hope that good men will never need recourse to arms; [...]

Sure, some pacifists are undoubtedly meek and squeamish. But the idea as such doesn't strike me that way. A real pacifist is inhumanly ruthless -- prepared to tell parents who have seen their daughters raped that they cannot strike back, prepared to suppress every human emotion of justice and revenge. Quite possibly, they are right -- that nothing in either past or future justifies this present killing.

I can't join the pacifists, though. I suspect real pacifism requires the belief in a pretty bloody and activist God, and I'm not ready for such a fellow. What I do believe in, though, is what the literatus attacks next:

[...]is the even- more babyish notion that war might be conducted in such a way that only soldiers die. (War does not operate that way; never has; and it may be that the men who drafted the Geneva Convention could not conceive of an Islamist enemy who'd make the Nazis look like gentlemen. What's the deal with the Geneva idealists, anyway...? Seems like they could not possibly have been soldiers.)

As per your blog, though, G., I guess what I want to say is that lining up that website full of ghastliness, as though in itself it proved, supported or substantiated your position about "the rape of Lebanon," seems a bit, ah, histrionic, or undignified: it's beneath you. I hasten to reiterate, let's not ban such photos; they do serve a moral purpose. But in this context, we have a disagreement, clearly, should I just respond with .jpegs of the eight IDF corpses the Party of God's unexpected sortie left behind (God -- just last week) or show you the agony on the smashed faces at Haifa railway station? What would be the fucking point? You start swapping pictures of the Horrors The Other Side Has Visited Upon Our Side, you wind up quickly in a corner with the retarded fanatics whose "thinking" on the situation is, basically, just an ever-escalating exchange of exclamation marks ("!" "!!" "Oh yeah? !!!!") That's all war-dead images are, really. They can leave you reeling, Lord knows; but they cannot help nor pardon...

I'm just sick, I guess, of the "well, what about this" moral-equivalency approach to the fearsome puzzle of the Middle East, and its jihadi dimension. Sick of elaborate "root-causes" chatter that goes on and on, till it disappears up its own nuanced, sophisticated asshole, being too cosmopolitan for proximate causes like act-of-war Hamas/Hezbollah attacks on Israeli soil.

I'm not a pacifist, but I am a believer in chatter. Law is just the principle that force must be justified by chatter. (That definition doesn't require a sovereign, so it allows for international law.) Since we don't actually have the activist and bloody-minded God, we can't do without human-applied force. But we can't trust that force, we can't hope for the day when that force ends the endless talk about consociational cabinets, buffer zones and verification procedures. It's really that desire to end the chatter that I distrust. It's really the hope to subordinate the use of force to procedure that I look to.

Ironically, the Bush administration has been using the "root causes" phrase to justify the Israeli attack (the "root cause" being Hezbollah's being armed). That isn't totally mistaken, but once we start talking about root causes, we have to be willing to listen to other versions of what those causes might be. When Israel invaded Lebanon the first time, Hezbollah was nothing -- neither a significant representative of the Lebanese Shi'ites nor a serious military force. Hamas was initially encouraged by Israeli intelligence as a counter to the PLO. Not that that means that Hezbollah or Hamas are Israel's fault. The Arab world has to take responsibility for its own lack of political maturity, for messing its own bed. But how can we be confident about the consequences of this action?

I claim no originality in the observation that everything the US (and now Israel) have done in the last four years has increased the influence of Iran and Hezbollah.


Anonymous said...

Krishnamurti On War:

Question -How can we solve our present political chaos and the crisis in the world? Is there anything an individual can do to stop the impending war?

Krishnamurti: War is the spectacular and bloody projection of our everyday life, is it not?

War is merely an outward expression of our inward state, an enlargement of our daily action. It is more spectacular, more bloody, more destructive, but it is the collective result of our individual activities. Therefore, you and I are responsible for war and what can we do to stop it? Obviously the ever-impending war cannot be stopped by you and me, because it is already in movement; it is already taking place, though at present chiefly on the psychological level. As it is already in movement, it cannot be stopped- the issues are too many, too great, and are already committed. But you and I, seeing that the house is on fire, can understand the causes of that fire, can go away from it and build in a new place with different materials that are not combustible, that will not produce other wars. That is all that we can do. You and I can see what creates wars, and if we are interested in stopping wars, then we can begin to transform ourselves, who are the causes of war.

An American lady came to see me a couple of years ago, during the war. She said she had lost her son in Italy and that she had another son aged sixteen whom she wanted to save; so we talked the thing over. I suggested to her that to save her son she had to cease to be an American; she had to cease to be greedy, cease piling up wealth, seeking power, domination, and be morally simple – not merely simple in clothes, in outward things, but simple in her thoughts and feelings, in her relationships. She said,” That is too much. You are asking far too much. I cannot do it, because circumstances are too powerful for me to alter.” Therefore she was responsible for the destruction of her son.

Circumstances can be controlled by us, because we have created the circumstances. Society is the product of relationship, society changes; merely to rely on legislation, on compulsion, for the transformation of outward society, while remaining inwardly corrupt, while continuing inwardly to seek power, position, domination, is to destroy the outward, however carefully and scientifically built. That which is inward is always overcoming the outward.

What causes war – religious, political or economic? Obviously belief, either in nationalism, in an ideology, or in a particular dogma. If we had no belief but goodwill, love and consideration between us, then there would be no wars. But we are fed on beliefs, ideas and dogmas and therefore we breed discontent. The present crisis is of an exceptional nature and we as human beings must either pursue the path of constant conflict and continuous wars, which are the result of our everyday action, or else see the causes of war and turn our back upon them.

Obviously what causes war is the desire for power, position, prestige, money; also the disease called nationalism, the worship of a flag; and the disease of organized religion, the worship of a dogma. All these are the causes of war; if you as an individual belong to any of the organized religions, if you are greedy for power, if you are envious, you are bound to produce a society which will result in destruction. So again it depends upon you and not on the leaders – not on so-called statesmen and all the rest of them. It depends upon you and me but we do not seem to realize that. If once we really felt the responsibility of our own actions, how quickly we could bring to an end all these wars, this appalling misery! But you see, we are indifferent. We have three meals a day, we have our jobs, we have our bank account, big or little, and we say, “For God’s sake, don’t disturb us, leave us alone”. The higher up we are, the more we want security, permanency, tranquility, the more we want to be left alone, to maintain things fixed as they are; but they cannot be maintained as they are, because there is nothing to maintain. Everything is disintegrating. We do not want to face these things, we do not want to face the fact that you and I are responsible for wars. You and I may talk about peace, have conferences, sit round a table and discuss, but inwardly, psychologically, we want power, position, we are bound by beliefs, by dogmas, for which we are willing to die and destroy each other. Do you think such men, you and I, can have peace in the world? To have peace, we must be peaceful; to live peacefully means not to create antagonism. Peace is not an ideal. To me, an ideal is merely an escape, an avoidance of what is, a contradiction of what is,. An ideal prevents direct action upon what is - which we will go into presently, in another talk. [not on this website] But to have peace, we will have to love, we will have to begin, not to live an ideal life, but to see things as they are and act upon them, transform them. As long as each one of us is seeking psychological security, the physiological security we need – food, clothing and shelter – is destroyed. We are seeking psychological security, which does not exist; and we seek it, if we can, through power, through position, through titles, names – all of which is destroying physical security. This is an obvious fact, if you look at it.

To bring about peace in the world, to stop all wars, there must be a revolution in the individual, in you and me. Economic revolution without this inward revolution is meaningless, for hunger is the result of the maladjustment of economic conditions produced by our psychological states – greed, envy, ill-will and possessiveness. To put an end to sorrow, to hunger, to war, there must be a psychological revolution and few of us are willing to face that. We will discuss peace, plan legislation, create new leagues, the United Nations and so on and on; but we will not win peace because we will not give up our position, our authority, our money, our properties, our stupid lives. To rely on others is utterly futile; others cannot bring us peace. No leader is going to give us peace, no government, no army, no country. What will bring peace is inward transformation which will lead to outward action. Inward transformation is not isolation, is not a withdrawal from outward action. On the contrary, there can be right action only when there is right thinking and there is no right thinking when there is no self-knowledge. Without knowing yourself, there is no peace.

To put an end to outward war, you must begin to put an end to war in yourself. Some of you will nod your heads and say, “ I agree”, and go outside and do exactly the same as you have been doing for the last ten or twenty years. Your agreement is merely verbal and has no significance, for the world miseries and wars are not going to be stopped by your casual assent. They will be stopped only when you realize the danger, when you realize your responsibility, when you do not leave it to somebody else. If you realize the suffering, if you see the urgency of immediate action and do not postpone, then you will transform yourself; peace will come only when you yourself are peaceful, when you yourself are at peace with your neighbour.

Anonymous said...

Lotsa words, bub. But the only real road to peace is to cease all chatting and quickly, overwhelmingly, honourably and brutally put bullets in the foreheads of Talibans, Wahhabi fighters, al-Qaeda shaheed, Hezbollah rocketeers and Hamas gunmen, dontcha think? It's not like any of 'em wanna *negotiate* with us talky Westerners. It really is war, y'know. Your verbose compassion is all... *posted,* but the only thing that's ever resolved human conflict is, erm, one side's victory. I'd ask you to sign up, chum. You can't Mennonite your way out of this. Pacifism 2006 = a totalitarian Mahound world. Please go get your sword and join us. If I say it's time to kill some fascists and cause some suffering, are you gonna book off...?