Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Pigs of War

The Pigs of War


By Vince R. Ditrich

There can be no grey areas when you wish to gird a nation for war. Affairs must be black and white, crystal clear, with the virtuous guardians of absolute Good facing the gluttonous gangsters of pure Evil, capitalized for metaphor’s sake, starkly defined, and copiously illustrated with anecdotes, attributions and historical analogues, whether or not they are apropos, accurate, graceful or even believable.

Interestingly, a politician’s lifeblood is his capacity to subtly shade and manipulate connotations and meanings of words and catch phrases; his sophistication comes from an ability to introduce new grey areas, where before we saw none, in order to re-brand flaccid old pissing contests and make them shiny, new, and winnable again. The politician splits hairs and makes a big scene dog-fighting over the tiniest detail. He usually chooses the battles that are tilted in his favour, no matter how picayune, but he generally publicizes his victories as if they were hard won and rooted in the very bedrock of his principles. In peacetime he makes much ado about nothing.

But it is the singular politician who can make the case for war.

The wartime politician has no grey-scale, and he thinks much the same no matter where he hails from, whether he is an MP, a Senator, an Ayatollah, a King or a General. When the time for war comes he looks only to information that supports the grand purpose of steering his nation towards it. He intones in flag-draped, patriotic generalities. He speaks of ‘family values’ as if his land alone values its families. He lumps together nations, concepts, events, causes and effects indiscriminately and throws them all into the same sack, like a huge garbage bag boldly emblazoned with the label “Evil”. Disparate events become linked in new-found conspiracies. Long-standing enmities can be turned on their head, spun around and re-named ‘secret alliances’, ‘cabals’, ‘encirclement’, ‘the work of provocateurs’, ‘covert groups’, perhaps even ‘Axis of -- Add Your Demonizing Abstract Noun Here --’. Nations, corporations, conglomerates, and opposition leaders capitalizing on geopolitical instability get labelled as part of a monolithic enemy hegemony and are thrown into the sack. After all, capitalization on a situation is only fair if the GOOD GUYS do it. Dictators, be they the tinpot variety or cagey old experts too savvy to any longer be kept onside get chucked into the sack, too. Suspicious connections are trumpeted loudly or manufactured quietly if necessary, co-incidence is dismissed as impossible, self-defence as a provocation. The sack bulges with all manner of things, taken from every quarter, that might be interpreted as resistance to the wartime politician’s cause, an impediment to his country’s progress, an insult to his national honour, a blasphemy upon what he holds holy, a threat to his safety. He ties the bag shut and tosses it at your feet. Task complete! Here is your proof. Believe or be suspected of giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

Sadly, these ratcheted-up, aggressively unbalanced methods, in former times let slip only in times of chaos & true crisis, are now nothing more than a technique; garden variety, business-as-usual politics. Practically everyone partakes in knee-jerk demonization. The bar is now set so low that those who are the most hysterical, shrill or combative in how they present their case are -- like a camera-ready Pop singer who sells a million CDs is suddenly a ‘superstar’-- blithely dubbed ‘Statesmen’.

There was a time when ‘Statesman’ was an honorific ascribed to only the most experienced, skilled, and subtle diplomatists and parliamentarians. Statesmen were the brightest, most able and best connected politicians of their times. Their word was an iron-clad bond by or for their countries, and they sometimes did not require elected office to make their influence felt. Though war has perennially been on the horizon, the real Statesman could often manoeuvre around it and still let his country’s interests still be served. He did not greedily grab for authority; it was his and he wielded it comfortably. His confidence buttressed well chosen words which illuminated his intellect, and gave continuity to the traditions that propelled his thinking. His statements were truly his, conceived by him, penned by him, and endorsed by the highest authority; he coined phrases that crystallized, encapsulated, or perhaps inspired: “Blood & Iron”, “Their Finest Hour”, "Walk Softly & Carry a Big Stick". He authored Plans, Doctrines, Agreements, Treaties, Policies. His words had weight and he delivered them knowing this. He had a breadth of vision and experience unknown by all but a few of his contemporaries. A true Statesman couldn’t get away with rudderless windbaggery like that of John Kerry or provocative, rash button pushing like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The British had Disraeli, Lloyd George, the mighty Churchill; the French had “The Tiger” Clemenceau -- even the intractable De Gaulle acted statesmanlike when it suited him. The German Empire had the very shrewd and careful von Bismarck. The USA has put forth wise, capable and sometimes even idealistic men such as Franklin, Wilson, Hopkins, Acheson, Marshall, men more of substance and intellect than botox and focus groups; even the highly controversial Henry Kissinger couldn’t be accused of lacking depth.

But something has shifted.

Nowadays Americans must look to people like Newt Gingrich for Statesman-like leadership. Gingrich, a retired conservative politician, former Speaker of the House (who by the US Constitution was once third in line to the Presidency) and Harvard Professor, would very much like to run an elegant thematic thread through any number of recent hostile acts; he tries mightily to do so. He is busy these day, on-camera, touring the e-hustings so to speak, trying to employ his verbal and intellectual skills to force an entire county towards the epiphany that, Wow!... It’s suddenly World War Three! Honest! – based purely on his word alone. More like a small town District Attorney trying a case filled with circumstantial evidence than a famous figure with national influence & geopolitical foresight, he reads-off his desultory list of accusations, links events, and sounds not ‘visionary’, ‘presidential’ or ‘statesmanlike’ but partisan and preachy, chucking rocks sullenly from the sideline. At least he doesn’t ululate and whack things with his sandal. His Harvard students will do well to jump to his dire conclusions, but the rest of us can look before we leap. Unfortunately most of the world’s leaders get their education at Harvard. But no matter what he claims, his all-inclusive survey of current events leaves him filling his metaphorical sack with oddments, like a JFK conspiracy nut run amok, dramatically proclaiming this bill of goods ‘the beginning of World War III’, thereby linking every bomb in every country with every ‘terrorist cell’, making them all a part of a huge, presumably organized Islamic umbrella group that is on its way to reaching critical mass. But the only critical mass that could possibly be achieved is the point where the American public is finally beaten down by endless scary prognostications and becomes willing to lash out and quiet all the disparate, anarchic voices at once.

During the Kennedy era “SIOP-62” (Single Integrated Operational Plan) for nuclear force retaliation was for a massive strike of USA’s ICBMs to be launched toward pre-selected targets throughout the Communist world. These targets were in the Soviet Union, Red China, North Korea, elsewhere…Regardless of who the aggressor was, or where the real enemy lay, no matter what the grievance or assault; the policy of the US government was to retaliate by wiping the entire Communist bloc off the face of the Earth. For obvious reasons John Kennedy changed this policy.

Given that World Wars I & II were huge, consciousness-altering conflagrations it’s hard to see how sporadic terrorist bombings, however shocking and infuriating, or yet another sortie by the Israeli Air Force could qualify to be ‘the beginning of WWIII’. We face serious trials ahead, but let's be realistic about what is actually going on. Cassandra-like warnings ring false and should beg the question why does Newt want all of us to think this is the beginning of the end?

I suppose WWIII would be a great television event if scripted properly, and heaven knows most of the western world receives its geopolitical education from CNN or the like. Mainstream TV’s watered down, absurdly over-simplified analysis, maudlin tone, colourful graphics and dramatic theme stingers, combined with the very nature of television – a medium gawked at endlessly by detached, disengaged and hypnotised viewers -- practically ensures big ratings and pseudo-intellectual parroting of Wolf Blitzer at the water cooler. That there wasn’t an outright, instant and total boycott of all frontline televised war news by the entire American nation when reporters were ‘embedded’ with US troops during the invasion of Iraq says it all. How could the coverage possibly have been anything other than sis-boom-bah? But the propagandized generally don’t realize they’re being had. The average far-removed & unthreatened citizen has to make a strenuous effort to break out of his or her daily pattern to give a shit about distant military adventures, and frankly, the isolated childlike news reports they are spoon-fed are meant mostly for morale; heartening shots of dusty, camouflaged homeboys sitting on a tank and waving at the camera or huge, impressive explosions from a safe distance, after which a reporter with an exotic accent and a fishing vest interprets the days events. The anchor tuts & clucks editorially and then throws to commercial. At any rate, balanced, researched and nuanced reportage would be completely meaningless to a viewer vague on historical background & context. But TV is not the culprit.

Critical thinking is what is missing. We need only look around to see that, as human beings, our inner world and much we base our lives upon is open to wide interpretation and is for all intents & purposes, fabricated by us, for our own comfort. Why, then, shouldn’t they simply bill terrorism as WWIII, give the people focus, motivate them, and make them believe? Many of them hold fast less believable and less tangible things. There are thousands (perhaps millions) who truly believe they’ve been abducted by UFOs. There are many more who can’t function without having their horoscope analyzed by ‘skilled professionals’; some of these very people have led great nations through trying times. Most of the world’s people believe in magical religious tenets that can never be proven, that go against all logic, common-sense, and the laws of science & nature; often-times these people admit as much, live with the conundrum, and still believe; and yet other people hold their beliefs so dear that they will murder and slaughter over slight interpretive differences in one or another holy scripture. And that brings us back to WWIII.

It’d certainly be a way to sell things, be they the boogieman, products, services, heretofore unacceptably parochial social policies, reactionary theocratic political philosophies, or a new generation of holier than thou fire & brimstone ‘Statesmen’. One of the greatest economic booms in history happened to the U.S.A. during, and as a result of World War Two. Re-branding the 'product' to be an apocalyptic battle between religious systems could really be a marketing home run, with Newt and company there to rise like the elect to the Executive Pulpit. Bully for them. WWIII, especially if it were that in name only, might turn out to be the most useful of them all.

When you really think about it…If you can sell them ‘Restless Leg Syndrome’, surely you can put lipstick on the pig of war.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A poignant and stimulating read. This puppy has meat, substance. Substrate, even. Hope the Sasketchewan trip is doing good things. Now, how can we front-row this blog cabin...

12:32 am  

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