THOLOS OF ATHENA

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

ADMONITIONS AND WARNINGS

Ah, ye admonitions and warnings! why stay ye not when ye come? But rather are ye predictions than warnings, ye shadows! Yet not so much predictions from without, as verifications of the foregoing things within. For with little external to constrain us, the innermost necessities of our being, these still drive us on.

--Herman Melville, Moby Dick, p.163
Ahab is Ahab; and we have not tried hard enough to throw off the fate that is ready to meet us. How many admonitions and warnings have the people received? At Tholos of Athena, we have tried to put all these cautions into perspective, since we began writing about this war, five years ago. If Melville was right in thinking that “depths outlast heights”; he surely must have meant that the depths of the moral life outlast human prowess. The examined life is superior to the obsession that robs us of our humanity. The idea that God will no longer bless a country that repeats its crimes and abuses, is not a new concept. In only seven years, we have begun to follow Ahab onto the high seas of paranoia. The end is fast approaching in the frenzy of Wall Street, in the criminal complicity of Congress, in the outright criminality of the current president. How many people have to be enslaved, occupied, dispossessed, orphaned, widowed, killed and maimed, before the Empire's House of Cards comes crashing down?

We should remember the admonitions and warnings of Martin Luther King Jr. that are found in his famous speech, Beyond Vietnam-A Time to Break Silence:
...There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor--both black and white--through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such. [...]

At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called "enemy," I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor. [...]

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged , cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. [...]

We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says: "Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word" (unquote).
Americans have been admonished and warned for years now, about the losing position the US military is in, as its forces continue the occupation and brutalization of Iraq. In 1966, the Israeli general, Moshe Dayan, was given permission to tour the American frontlines in Vietnam, and his memoirs serve as springboard for the military historian, Martin Van Creveld. And Creveld sums up the US dilemma well, in a 2004 article, Why Iraq Will End as Vietnam Did.
The...most important reason why I think Vietnam is relevant to the situation in Iraq is because the Americans found themselves in the unfortunate position where they were beating down on the weak. To quote Dayan: "any comparison between the two armies...was astonishing. On the one hand there was the American Army, complete with helicopters, an air force, armor, electronic communications, artillery, and mind-boggling riches; to say nothing of ammunition, fuel, spare parts, and equipment of all kinds. On the other there were the [North Vietnamese troops] who had been walking on foot for four months, carrying some artillery rounds on their backs and using a tin spoon to eat a little ground rice from a tin plate."

That, of course, was precisely the problem. In private life, an adult who keeps beating down on a five year old--even such a one as originally attacked him with a knife--will be perceived as committing a crime; therefore he will lose the support of bystanders and end up being arrested, tried and convicted. In international life, an armed force that keeps beating down on a weaker opponent will be seen as committing a series of crimes; therefore it will end up losing the support of its allies, its own people, and its own troops. Depending on the quality of the forces--whether they are draftees or professionals, the effectiveness of the propaganda machine, the nature of the political process, and so on--things may happen quickly or take a long time to mature. However, the outcome is always the same. He (or she) who does not understand this does not understand anything about war; or, indeed, human nature.
The spread of abnormal American aggression is treated as if it were nothing out of the ordinary in the debate of our presidential candidates. Political Kingmakers in the two parties don't hesitate to bring along another Commander-in-Chief who is willing to "obliterate" smaller countries; while we cross our fingers and hope the new president isn't another psychologically damaged individual. "Talk not to me of blasphemy, man;" says Ahab, "I'd strike the sun if it insulted me." This is exactly the America that the rest of the world dreads.

No sooner had General Petraeus told us that recent security gains were fragile and reversible, than there was a reversal. US collaborator, Prime Minister al Maliki, tried to send Iraq's military to disarm part of the militia of nationalist leader, Muqtada al Sadr. The government soldiers (many of them Shia) tore off their uniforms in Sadr City, and ran, and bugged out of their units when they were sent into Basra.

Leila Fadel of McClatchy Newspapers reports from Sadr City, the Shia enclave in Baghdad, where part of Muqtada al Sadr's nationalist militia is faced off against American troops.
"[Abu Youssef] returned one more time [to his little store] and asked to take the cigarettes to sell and support his family until he could come home.

"Tell him to stop coming here," Bowen said.

Bowen said he didn't feel bad for seizing Youssef's home. "They have the power to stop this shit and no one does. The power is in the people: it's always been with the people, but no one wants to stand up."

Spc. Brodie Berkenbile, 20, of Athens, Tenn., said he'd fire a sniper rifle from his rooftop if a foreign army took over. But this is different.

"We're trying to help them," he said.
US forces have now pulled into the outskirts of Sadr City, where they exchange sniper and small arms fire with Muqtada's Shia militia. American troops have been forbidden, for political reasons, to describe the enemy as al Sadr's people. Higher authority insists that they describe the enemy as "insurgents" or "special groups."

Brian Cloughley, a former UK army intelligence officer, writes about an Egyptian peddler whose boat pulled up "too close" to a [US] Navy contracted ship on the Suez Canal, and was clumsily killed--according to the AP report--"by one of the warning shots".
It doesn't matter that some poor Egyptian, trying to make a few cents by selling trinkets to people on passing ships in his country's Canal (a trade that has existed for over 130 years), is murdered by trigger-happy mercenaries. It's all part of the great con-trick, the idiot "war on terror". And it shows that the Bush-Cheney mentality is alive and thriving throughout the armed forces and intelligence agencies and among those responsible for anonymous brutal attacks which take place in Africa, the Middle East and, especially Pakistan. Members of the special forces are accountable to nobody for what they do.
Have we reached that fateful point where we are saturated with admonitions and warnings? What have we done for our soldiers, who are caught by stop-loss in Iraq and Afghanistan? Some of our professional soldiers and National Guard are on their 4th tour. They have once more been shipped back to this war, to meet occupation duties and demoralizing urban combat. If they could put the bad memories and losses behind them; they would. Where then, is the evidence that Americans support their troops?

The gist of it, is that Ahab is not interested in the petty battles of life, but rather in the grand confrontation, in pursuit of the Leviathan; certainly the wars that have come thus far do not meet his criteria of striking at the embodiment of evil, laying hands at last, on the wholeness of revenge, as the rolling sea subsides and the darkness of blood spreads over it.

But whose blood?--whose lungs washed with salt water?
STEERING now south-eastward by Ahab's levelled steel, and her progress solely determined by Ahab's level log and line; the Pequod held on her path toward the Equator. Making so long a passage through such unfrequented waters, descrying no ships, and ere long, sideways impelled by unvarying trade winds, over waves monotonously mild; all these seemed the strange calm things preluding some riotous and desperate scene.

At last, when the ship drew near to the outskirts, as it were, of the Equatorial fishing-ground, and in the deep darkness that goes before the dawn, was sailing by a cluster of rocky islets; the watch--then headed by Flask--was startled by a cry so plaintively wild and unearthly--like half-articulated wailings of the ghosts of all Herod's murdered Innocents--that one and all, they started from their reveries, and for the space of some moments stood, or sat, or leaned all transfixed by listening, like the carved Roman slave, while that wild cry remained within hearing. The Christian or civilized part of the crew said it was mermaids, and shuddered; but the pagan harpooners remained unappalled. Yet the grey Manxman--the oldest mariner of all--declared that the wild thrilling sounds that were heard, were the voices of newly drowned men at sea.


(Melville, p. 514)

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