Monday, August 07, 2006

Dinosaur Wars

So, Israel and Lebanon, eh? Now, where have we heard that before? Oh, yeah, back in the 1980s.

And what are they saying now? That they're going to "win" this time?

Yeah, I see. And what did they say last time? That they were going to "win"?

And so then why is there a Round 2?

We desperately over-educated Westerners can't help thinking about war when every newscast is regaling us with the surreal details about the conflict between Israel and Lebanon.

Oh, and Palestine. And Iraq. And for Canadians, mustn''t forgets the daily tally of our soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

Even the newscasters are having a hard time finding the required justifications for these conflicts and strategies. But even though they come across as uncomfortable about finding support for the party line, I sense that they aren't entirely aware why they aren't comfortable with the stories they are covering.

There's a certain disconnect going on here, a big one. This disconnect has to do with words and their meanings, past meanings and present meanings, cultural change, and our ability to think two simultaneous but perfectly contradictory thoughts at the same time. War is a very weird concept in postmodern times.

But in case you don't have a foggy notion what I'm talking about, then start by deconstructing some of the "lines" used in the present conflict.

For example, Bush says the Israeli attack on Lebanon is okay because "Every nation has the right to defend itself." Never mind that "defend" usually means protecting oneself from attack, whereas this conflict looks more like "attack" than like "defend." The whole notion of self- defence is really: "But Mooommmm! He started it!" It's a childish irresponsibility to take ownership of one's own side of a conflict. After all, it takes two people to fight.

Also imbedded in the idea of self-defence is the underlying notion that we (whoever the "we" is in that case) have a greater right to life than this other group, either because of a religious doctrine or because of a sense of civil superiority. Think about it: by the logic of self-defence, the other side has the right to defend themselves too. How can both sides in a conflict have the "right" to kill the other?

Once deconstructed, the notion of self-defence reveals itself to be empty of everything except self-righteousness.

Deconstructing the concept of war is a little harder than deconstructing a claim about a war, since war is actions and concepts, rather than words. But since the Vietnam War, war itself has changed. People learned in Vietnam that to win against a large power, you have to play a different game. So they played a different game. Did they win? Not really, because the concept of winning isn't part of the new concept of war. But the Americans certainly didn't win either. Nobody won. Lots of people died. Lots of weapons were fired. Huge environmental damage ensued. People lost their minds. But nobody "won".

And it's this notion of "winning" that is central to the disconnect about the postmodern response to war. Up until this last century, there was perhaps a connection between the killing/bombing and the "winning". But there isn't anymore.

In other centuries, the most powerful armies with the most technologically advanced weapons would normally "win" a war. But is this the case now? Do the super armaments of the United States give it an advantage or a disadvantage in Iraq? Has military "superiority" allowed them to "win"? Or has it worked against them in a thousand subtle ways? Are they, in fact, playing the wrong game?

In the same way, is Israel's aggression into Lebanon going to allow them to "win"? What are they hoping to "win" -- peace? demilitarization of Hezbollah? destruction of Lebanon?

What are they likely to "win" -- the world's fury? the long-term hatred of the Lebanese people and their allies? a regional environmental disaster?

Should we call this a war, or should we call it a Hezbollah Recruitment Fair, since for each Hezbollah soldier who dies, more are inspired to join to ensure that Israel does not "win"?

The United States and Israel have the most technologically advanced weaponry in the world. They are also the most highly militarized countries in the world. Yet because of the sheer weight of their military might, they have proved themselves inflexible, heavy, mired down. When military "superiority" won't "win" a war, big armies don't know what else to do. They can't change tactics. Big is not powerful anymore: nimble is powerful; networked is powerful. These superpower rail against their enemies for hiding in residential areas and lobbing rockets from far away. They believe this gives them the right to flatten villages and destroy countless lives to take out one rocket launcher. They don't realize that the game has changed.

Wars are not winnable anymore, if they ever were. The invention of the atomic bomb ushered in the age of the unwinnable war. Nobody can push that button and expect to win. Guerrilla warfare and suicide bombers have ensured that war would remain unwinnable. War exists now for the sake of war. There is no winning.

War is a dinosaur.

Newscasters are feeling uncomfortable reporting on the Isreali aggression because it seems so, well, dumb after reporting on the four years of failure of the US invasion of Iraq. If the US can't "win" a war against an at-that-time non-existent resistence movement in a despot's country, then how is Israel hoping to "win" against a clever and resilient army like Hezbollah? Don't they know it's futile? Don't they know there's no point?

Weary--that's how the reporters look.

And that's how so many of us feel.


At 2:56 PM, Blogger Joe G. said...

It is terrible what is happening in the Middle East between Hezbollah and Israel. It feels as if this sort of conflict - principally between Jews and Muslims - is never ending. "They started it first" seems always to be the justification. For example, while Hezbollah might have lobbed the first bomb, they, in turn, will claim that they would not have done that if Israel had not done something else a few days/weeks/months/years/generations ago. And then, of course, some Israelis will use the same sort of argument. We, in the U.S., have contributed to this endless culture of war, strife, rumors of war.

I try to keep my focus and support on groups that truly desire peace and good will in the midst of the death, trauma, and distruction. My sense, this is what most people want.

It is fatiguing, however. When I think about my own "compassion fatigue" - minimal as that actually is given everything else I focus my time and energy on, I can only imagine what the common citizen feels in Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, etc...

At 2:23 PM, Blogger Liz Opp said...

This is a great perspective you offer, Nancy. Thank you for it.

Liz, The Good Raised Up


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