04 May 2011

When does it end

Right now, I've got 18 tabs open on my Internet browser (I use Firefox in case you're interested). This is a real rarity for me. I never have more than 3, possibly 4, open for any length of time. One is the window in which I'm typing this entry, one is iGoogle, one is Facebook, one is a news story about Timothy Geithner "extending" the deadline by which the U.S. Congress "must" raise the debt ceiling, and the other 13 are news stories devoted to Osama bin Laden. I first found out about bin Laden's death when my wife received a text message from her sister who had apparently been watching the news. I received the same text message a few minutes later. (Good work AT&T, delivering text messages to two phones 5 feet away from each other 5 minutes apart.) I have to admit that my first reaction was: so what?

It was immediately obvious to me that no troops would be coming home. No civil liberties would be restored. We would all continue to be forced to take our shoes off and be molested at the airport. I even commented sarcastically to a friend of mine: "Awesome, so the war on terror is over and we all get our liberties back?" In reality it would seem that just the opposite has turned out to be true. Secretary of State Clinton was quick to "reassure" the public that "battle to stop al-Qaeda and its syndicate of terror will not end with the death of Osama bin Laden." Moreover, major government officials and every major news source and pundit has told us that we are in even more danger now because of the possibility of retaliatory attacks. The NBA took the extra step of mandating metal detectors at playoff games. So, killing bin Laden made us less safe? If that's the case, then logic would dictate that he shouldn't have been killed.

After confirming my sister-in-law's text message, we changed the channel back to our "regularly scheduled programming". Before going to bed, we turned again to the news to see what, if any, additional information might be available. We were treated to clip after clip of video showing people dancing in the streets in places like Times Square and the White House. I was disgusted to see the very same people who denounced people who danced in the streets while burning American flags after the death of one of our soldiers acting in the exact same manner. The news feed on my Facebook account exploded that evening with people cheering on our government and our military for summarily executing another human being.

In dying, Osama bin Laden showed us that we're really not so different from the very people that we deride as war-mongers and who we believe are incapable of a peaceful existence.
He taught this country the consequences of operating an open, free society. Literally, he showed Americans the price of their liberty, how many of their principles they'd be willing to cast aside, and how quickly they would do it.

In other words, bin Laden showed American exceptionalists how unexceptionally they behave when faced with horrors most older nations have endured.
The writer is referring to our weak-kneed acquiescence to government intrusion on liberty here in the U.S., our paranoia at the thought that a terrorist is hiding around every corner, and our rampant xenophobia. His point is equally applicable to our reaction to the news of bin Laden's death, though. The overwhelming reaction, that of proclaiming America's strength and celebrating our actions in the streets, was no different than that of the people you see in other parts of the world dancing upon hearing the news of the killing of American soldiers.

I woke up the next morning to hear people on the radio explaining that it's different when American's celebrate. You see, Osama bin Laden killed innocent civilians on September 11th, 2001. Therefore he is evil, and not only was his killing justified but morally right. On the contrary, our soldiers are overseas doing good work, and when they are killed, that is wrong. Never mind that the "rebels" in Afghanistan see us as an invading and occupying force; never mind that America regularly kills civilians as part of its eternal war on terror; never mind that America locks up and tortures "militants", denying them any sort of access to a justice system to sort out their guilt or innocence; never mind that America has "peacefully" killed hundreds of thousands, if not millions, via sanctions of various kinds. Everyone wants to point to 9/11 as if bin Laden started this fight and America's hands are clean, but it's been going on for much, much longer. All of those American actions I just cited have been and continue to be used as justifications for Al Qaeda's actions. And regardless of how it started, it is only escalating.

But, there are likely those that remain unconvinced that America has any responsibility for the fight in which it now finds itself, but, nevertheless, it must see it through. That is, they believe that "we didn't start the fight, but we're going to finish it." So then, when does it end? If one truly believes that we are going to finish it, then the answer would be "when we've killed or captured all of the terrorists". As I pointed out, though, capturing terrorists and refusing to bring them to justice -- for those that have forgotten, justice means a trial in a court of law, not vigilante killings or indefinite detention -- or killing them, especially when unarmed, tends to drive more people into the fight. This so-called solution actually perpetuates the problem. Yet, it seems to be the solution America is intent on carrying out.

Attorney General Eric Holder sat in front of the U.S. Senate and had this to say about the whole affair:
The operation in which Osama bin Laden was killed was lawful. He was the head of al-Qaida, an organization that had conducted the attacks of September 11th. He admitted his involvement and he indicated that he would not be taken alive. The operation against bin Laden was justified as an act of national self defense.
Ah, national defense. Of course. I wish Mr. Holder would have gone on to explain exactly what our military was defending when it shot and killed an unarmed man. Apparently, bin Laden resisted, but I find it hard to believe that a team of highly trained and very well armed men were unable to subdue a frail, old man in regular need of dialysis, without killing him. Jeffrey Toobin explains that the U.S. had to kill bin Laden because messy details like whether bin Laden would be given a civilian or military trial, who would defend him, and where his trial would be held are just too difficult for us to sort out. That's right; when the government has a "difficult" problem on it's hands, killing people is the only way out. I'm not sure why that same principle didn't apply to Saddam Hussein or Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

But let me return to the idea of national defense brought up by Mr. Holder. Exactly what are we defending with our actions overseas? The knee-jerk answer is always "freedom". It's hard for me to believe that anyone can still respond this way with a straight face; I'm chuckling to myself a bit just writing this. Even if it were true, though, what will be left should we ever finish fighting this war on terror? We've abandoned the idea of innocent until proven guilty. We've abandoned the idea that people are entitled to a trial before being assessed any sort of punishment (including death). We've abandoned the idea that our government is subject to the same laws as the people. If the war on terror, by some miracle, ever does come to an end, we will find that we were busy throwing away our freedom, all the while claiming that our military was overseas fighting for it.

The truth is that we're not fighting for freedom. We're fighting for empire. We're fighting to bring the rest of the world under our control. Osama bin Laden understood this all too well. "We, alongside the mujaheddin, bled Russia for 10 years, until it went bankrupt," he explained.
The campaign taught bin Laden a lot. For one thing, superpowers fall because their economies crumble, not because they’re beaten on the battlefield. For another, superpowers are so allergic to losing that they’ll bankrupt themselves trying to conquer a mass of rocks and sand. This was bin Laden’s plan for the United States, too.
And that returns me to my original question: when does it end? I can't say for sure, but my money's on "soon". As for the "how" question, I'm not so sure that we're not about to follow in the Soviet Union's footsteps and those of every other major empire throughout history. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.


  1. Oceania is at war with Eastasia. Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia. Get it?

  2. I often use 1984 references when talking with people about this kind of thing, but it seems it often goes right over their heads. I doubt many people anymore have read 1984.

    On a related note, I've got a sneaking suspicion that someone in the government is trying to make reality match the book as closely as possible as some kind of cruel joke to see if people are paying attention/will notice. At least, I hope it's only a joke.

  3. "And that returns me to my original question: when does it end?"

    I don't think it does. Historically the number of governments that have willingly given up some power over their populous are almost nonexistent. It usually takes a revolution or a major collapse of the government to make that happen.

    Admittedly our system does allow for things like that, but it would take the election as President of someone dedicated to making government smaller. Which means they would have to be an Independent, because neither of the two main parties have any real interest in pushing back government. I don't think we're likely to see an Independent win the office of President anytime soon.

  4. A single nuclear weapon is far more economical and efficient than a military campaign in a land of sand and rocks. Perhaps the U.S. should just cast aside its veneer of promoting democracy and instead embrace empire, lest someone else do so and lay waste to all that it holds dear...


Please be relevant, civil, and brief... in that order.