Friday, January 05, 2007

It's not like the movies

Terrorism and explosions and wars make damn good drama. Over the Christmas period, I have seen James Bond's Casino Royale, watched the excellent and thoughtful DVD series of Sleeper Cell and am currently working my way through 24, series 5. All thrilling stuff and makes for a hugely entertaining viewing experience and many late nights. Of course, the 'goodies' always win against the 'baddies', though not without some sacrifices along the way. The security services and Government officials, whilst not omniescent have the resources and gadgets and talent they need to stop the plot at the critical moment. We bite our nails and drop our popcorn in fright and then breathe a sigh of relief at the end.

In real life, it isn't like that. The baddies aren't as glamorous, or charismatic, the goodies aren't as well-briefed and resourced, and to use a Rumsfeldism, stuff happens. It is unrealistic to expect life to be like a thriller. But you don't expect it to be like a black farce.

Just how disimilar to a well-crafted TV series or feature film the 'war on terror' is, was revealed in Bob Woodward's State of Denial, about the Bush administration at war, which I devoured over Christmas. The incompetence, lack of planning, the egos and petty squabbles and airy, idealistic ( being charitable) dependence on ideaology rather than intelligence and facts is staggering. And depressing. And absolutely bloody infuriating; at times I wanted to throw the book across the room and howl with rage.

It is also very telling how little Blair and the UK feature in the book about the Bush administration's foreign policy: it is quite clear from reading it that Iraq was always an American war and we as a country have little or no influence over when it started, why it started, how it is fought and what, if any, strategy was to be implented after the invasion. We rode pillion all the way.

State of Denial ( extracts here) is the story of a spectacularly ill-conceived and badly-executed war based on a false grasp of reality. It is the saga of a group of powerful people's arrogant, wilful refusal to listen to advice or pay attention to the lessons of history. It is a story of a clash of ideas, how a reaction to a wicked atrocity led to an unmeasured and ill-considered response that led to a catastrophic chain reaction. By calling their actions a 'war on terror', Bush and his advisers gifted a group of disparate mass-murdering criminals with little in common apart from a vague Islamic jihad ideology with the status of an army worthy of the full might of US firepower. It practically legitimised them.

The strength and rightness of one idea against another idea, tested through the medium of war is a recipe for disaster; ideas can be argued and taught and debated and engaged with and proved wrong, but they cannot be bombed out of existence. Anyone who has read history - anyone who has studied, for example, the history of the early Christian Church should see that persecution and vicious official stamping on an idealogy simply makes it grow faster and spread more widely. The cruel behaviour of those who oppose the idea becomes de facto justification for why the idea is held to be right in the first instance. If 'they' react that strongly to it, it is must be a threat. It must have something in it.

Wars, involving armies, can never simply be about ideas: they are about territory and resources with real blood and treasure spilled. An idea can motivate people to fight, but if I kill you in combat, does that mean my idea is stronger than your idea? No, it just means that I killed you and I was stronger on the day. Both sides say that God and Good is on their side; and both sides lie.

How can you have a war - with an army and a navy and an airforce and bombs and guns - on 'evil'? A war on 'terror'? A war on 'fear'? A war for peace? That is not war, that is oxymoronic sematics and propoganda. But war has come of this phoney 'war on terror', real war, with hundreds of thousands of real people killed and injured and displaced. And the US and the UK is now fighting not a recognisable war conducted along military campaigning lines, but a hydra-headed asymetric war of its own making with different tactics and a different enemy - which is not a sovereign nation or a lawful combatant under the rules of war. An enemy which is not a person but an ideology that can exploit the anger of non-solidiers and wear the cloak of faith or regional politics or both to convince non-solidiers to join a so-called righteous cause. A war where the rules of engagement thus do not apply on one side and disastrously, increasingly do not seem to apply on our own either. You can call this 'war', but it is not war as we know it.

Such a war is unwinnable, because every time our tactics are heavy-handed, or disproportionate, or cruel, we give credibility to the idea that our Idea is no better or worse than their Idea. Both sides talk of Freedom, and Struggle, and Right, and Justice, and God and Good and Evil. Both sides commit atrocities. And the unforgivable confusion about what this war is about and who the war is against and has led to unimaginable human tragedies. American troops may have mistakenly believed they were fighting hardened 'terrorists'; in many cases they were fighting ordinary Iraqis or Afghanis who were infuriated by heavy-handed tactics used against them by an invading army and who became despairing 'militants'. If you label everyone who disagrees with the Iraq invasion as a 'terrorist sympathiser', or an Unbeliever in the Righteous Cause then I am one, and so are millions of other people. How long will the Great Crusade against the Unbelievers last? Until the end of time?

We've had several decades of Bond films now; at no point in any movie did the Government declare a 'war on SPECTRE' and launch an invasion of the Bahamas or wherever the plot for world domination was hatched in Dr. Evil's lair. That would have been a step too far even for the make-believe gung-ho fantasies of the film-makers and their audiences. I cannot believe that the US Government, shamefully followed by Blair, are carrying on in this stupid way. There were so many ways the world could have turned after 9/11. That we are here, five years later makes me shake my head in disbelief.

Bondwoman sent me this excellent article from the New York Review of Books which I recommend on a rainy Saturday.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was an interesting comment on Any Questions on Radio 4 earlier today to the effect that, given that Bush was one of the main initiators of the invasion of Iraq in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and the removal from power of Saddam, consequently he was responsible for Saddam's execution. Therefore, to say that he wished it had "gone in a more dignified way" is laughable in the extreme.

Mind you, his zombie army could well be unstoppable, I suppose...

January 06, 2007 10:39 pm  
Blogger ejh said...

Being a picky sort, with nothing better to do right now, I think I'll whinge about the word "excellent". Blogs, fanzines and so on are always being described as "excellent", so much so that the term has lost its meaning. It's become sort of a courtesy word.

January 07, 2007 12:05 pm  

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