The Scavenging Eagle and the Placid Owl
The Scavenging Eagle and the Placid Owl
Marcus Aurelius, an emperor presiding over a state with slavery and bloodsports, considered himself a Stoic. The American Enlightenment thought themselves the forefront of freedom precisely when that freedom was extended exclusively to white male landowners. In St. Augustine's City of God, a story is recounted of Alexander the Great capturing the pirate, who told Alexander, "Because I do it with one small ship, I am called a terrorist. You do it with a whole fleet and are called an emperor." Intellectual classes have had a long and ignoble history of ignoring or apologizing for power. Their very position is based on resources and institutional roles that are contingent upon power. Recent intellectuals in many traditions (postmodern, 60's peace including Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, etc.) have departed from this history, to much chest-thumping by state apologists. As America enters into an imperial role (a fact agreed upon by both the right and the left), the debate in the international relations communities between owls, hawks and doves will be vital. From Afghanistan to Iraq, the imperial lines are being drawn, and neutrality will be an impossibility. Through its actions, the United States commits, supports, and propagates terror; it is the responsibility of intellectuals, particularly those in the institutions of learning, to commit their expertise and skill to peace in lieu of terror.
Hawks, Doves and Owls: Definitions and Institution
In international relations, three avian analogies are used. Hawks are generally conservative or right-leaning advocates who believe that war or violent resolution is generally right and effective and who argue for it earlier and more frequently than others. Doves are generally liberal or left-leaning advocates who believe that war or violent resolution is generally immoral and/or ineffective and who propose a variety of diplomatic and economic tactics in lieu of conflict, generally believing war to be an obtuse last resort at best. Roughly at the time of the Vietnam War, a "third way" was introduced. Owls are ostensibly neutral parties making no political arguments about the morality and few about the efficacy of any particular war or strategy, watching from the sidelines and offering information to those in the fray. They are found within the whole apparatus of war and peripheral institutions, including the military, associated departments with military or security spending (the FBI, CIA, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, NASA), international relations, security planners, scientists who design the infrastructure and requisite technology for warfare, and similar. Many proponents argued that owls were somehow superior; for example, Alistair Cooke says in his "Letter from America", "Senator Aikin of Vermont, who coined it [the term owl], also coined the simplest, bitterest, truth about the Vietnam War. In the furore [sic] of hawks bombing everything and saying the war was winnable, and the moaning of the doves who said it was barbaric and wrong, Senator Aiken - the owl - said: 'Why doesn't the president just say we won, and fetch the men home?' Which eventually is exactly what we did."
Terror is an ideological construction. Originally, it was used to refer to the crimes of states used to pacify their populations; in particular, the Jacobin regime in the Reign of Terror in France. There are many scholars who precisely reverse the eighteenth century sense by excluding terrorism to non-state actors; indeed, a primary U.S. Code definition proposes, "[T]he term "terrorism" means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents". The alteration in the formulation makes the crimes of states, particularly favored ones, a definitional phantom. For this paper, neutral ground shall be used. Terror will be defined as any political, diplomatic, economic or military tactic used to incite fear, create apathy or similarly force generalized emotional states, generally with the intent of altering policy or changing regimes. Important questions arise. Where is the space between terror and legitimate resistance or legitimate military activity; alternately, is terror always necessarily bad? Similarly, to what extent do terror and genocide breach each other? Can one legitimately declare a war against a tactic, especially when using that tactic? Is every act of terrorism or even most acts of terrorism dangerous to the US?
What relationship do owls and terror have? Owls would undoubtedly claim little to none. They may study terrorist groups and history and propose ways of dealing with them. They may develop munitions to counter those hiding in deep caves. They may develop a new generation of space weaponry to destroy the nuclear arsenals of opposing "rogue states". But aside from this, owls claim to be neutral, saying nothing about political matters. Two primary objections come to mind.
The first is that, to borrow the perennial Howard Zinn's phrase, "You can't be neutral on a moving train". Contribution to the American war machine is not neutrality. The entire institutional structure is oriented to make sure that one's efforts will produce anti-social results unless one takes concrete efforts to stop it. We do not refer to Eichmann as neutral, because any ideologically clear-headed human being can recognize that he was not simply a bureaucrat making sure the trains ran on time, he was insuring that the trains filled with Jews would reach the concentration camps. Exactly how culpable he was is up for debate, but it is clear that closing one's eyes to what is inside the trains one runs is not neutrality, it is blatant immorality.
But even if one's contributions are morally or practically negligible, that is also no excuse. Lifton and Markusen's groundbreaking work, The Genocidal Mentality, developed a concept of "nuclearism" that we can easily apply to any complex military institution. Nuclearism is the complex wherein every individual does morally negligible or even affirmedly positive things and yet the net result is nuclear insanity. Thus, even international relations specialists whose work can help foster understanding can be complicit in massive terror if their work is used as a justification for violence.
Terror in Pre-WWII American History
America has had a long and ignoble history of domestic terror. Though each of these topics can be discussed at far greater length than available here, three should be sufficient to drive home the point: the Native Americans, victims of revolutionary terror, and colonial actions against Filipinos.
The FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs performed substantial terrorist acts against Native Americans (Wa-Bunini). The entire genocidal project that killed tens of millions of human beings was predicated on the hope that Native American resistance could be crushed by forced internment in "reservations". Intellectuals like Thomas Jefferson and inventors of the railroad helped facilitate this murder by providing the justification and infrastructure for it.
During the Revolutionary War, to combat British terror, Americans used reprisal tactics against not only British soldiers but people who considered themselves British civilians (Zinn). Tories were tarred and feathered, hung or worse. The terror was so pervasive that numerous loyalists escaped to Canada, rich individuals fleeing privilege and facing deadly cold and death in their migration. The lesson to draw here is that very inspiring and justified resistance can include substantial elements of cruel terror, including fratricidal punishment of those considered less loyal to the cause. What better analogy can one draw to the Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation?
During the Spanish-American War, Filipinos stood to a consistent and legitimate position: that both Spanish and American external colonial rule was intolerable. They began an uprising to establish their own nation and government. The United States responded by slaughtering 600,000 Filipinos, using mass aggression and terror in the hope of crushing the resistance (Abu-Jamal). This may be the most essential example, for it demonstrates a point not lost on the Third World: the main unique aspect of 9/11 was the direction the guns were pointed in. Colonial terror has been orders of magnitude more deadly in the past than the atrocities of September 11th.
U.S. Terror Post-WWII
U.S. terror is not exclusively a thing of the past. In fact, noted anarchist Noam Chomsky has argued that, under the rules of Nuremberg, every post-war American President could be sent to the gallows for crimes against humanity. Direct US terror has been inflicted against (as a cursory list) Italy, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Sudan, Grenada, Libya, Afghanistan (at least twice), and Iraq (at least twice). Three topics are worth the time to investigate: the general colonial pattern, the range of terror inflicted against Iraq and American aggression in Indochina.
America's status as a hegemon is not a controversial fact. Everyone from Ann Coulter to Zalmay Khalilzad recognizes that America is the premiere political and economic force of the globe. The methodology of the rule is somewhat more controversial. National Security Council documents declassified by the Freedom of Information Act as well as numerous geopolitical authorities (see especially the excellent interview with Vasilis Fouskas, a Leverhulme Fellow at Kingston University) show that American rule is based on a "Grand Area" of corporate, cultural and political domination. America is willing to tolerate democracy and peace as long as that democracy and peace serves the purpose of advancing and stabilizing the Grand Area. If it does not, then CIA coups, strangling economic sanctions, usage of massive US diplomatic force to create total isolation, interference in elections and withholding of aid, support of dictatorships and rightist paramilitaries and direct terror and aggression are used wholesale to insure continued US dominance. To be sure, this is little different from any other colonial power in history (the British, the Romans, the Persians, Alexander the Great, the Mongols, the Muslim Empires, and a long list of others), except that outlying territories retain far more nominal independence and far less practical independence. The key is that disobedience is not allowed. The war in Kosovo against ostensible Serbian ethnic cleansing actually caused the ethnic cleansing, according to uncontroversial OSCE reports and other accounts on the ground. The real motive was NATO credibility (Chomsky 1999).
An honest history of Iraq-US relations is equally revealing. CIA lists provided to the Ba'ath Party in 1963 helped facilitate the rise of the brutal regime (Batatu). American assistance continued until Saddam came into power; it then escalated. Support for Saddam was predicated on a few goals: "stability" (meaning US control) in Iraq and a counterweight to the growing power of Iran (National Security Archives). Far from being a competent military machine, Saddam's army at its strongest failed to defeat post-revolutionary Iran in nearly a decade of constant fighting with massive support by Western powers. To replenish Saddam's devastated reserves and to raise the price of owl, Saddam invaded Kuwait, receiving a greenlight from Ambassador April Glaspie (Standridge, Bowen). The United States, for reasons ranging from attempting to force a solution to Israel's long-standing Palestinian problem to keeping oil prices under US control, launched Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield. Estimated casualties ran to 40,000 Iraqi soldiers and 83,000 civilians from both direct and indirect harm due to the bombing campaign (Daponte). Worse, the ecological damage wreaked by the conflict continued to kill and cause massive property damage, and the Depleted Uranium munitions used in combat that create clouds of radiological gas when striking heavy armor left enough radiological material passing through flora and fauna through successive generations of humans to kill a million people over time (Green, Scherrer). After the war, a potentially successful resistance to Saddam's regime was aborted by US support. The sanctions put into place by the United Nations killed at least 500,000 children and strengthened Saddam's hold by allowing him to appeal to nationalism (Halliday). All of these were massive terrorist atrocities designed to destroy the will of the Iraqi people, alternately committed by the United States and the UN shackled by US power.
The war in Indochina was a similar case. In an attempt to prevent an example of independent development from US might, the United States bombed South Vietnam, then progressed to attacking North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Millions were killed in the aftermath of the war (Petersen, Fall); Pol Pot was energized by the ensuing destruction; and Agent Orange, landmines and "bombies" still do residual damage more than thirty years later. Americans have never faced human rights tribunals for what they did to Vietnam.
Supporting and Aggrandizing Terror
Also important, though more peripheral from a moral perspective, is America's role in either funding and supporting terror or spreading it through phenomena like "blowback".
The special relationship between Israel and the United States is no secret. Israel is a primary tool of US power in the Middle East. However, Israel's existence depends on the Palestinians remaining passive and quiet. The unfortunate irony is that, as Merom Gil and Ze'ev Moaz among others have pointed out, the collective punishment tactics of Israel are not only definitional terrorist acts, they also fail to insure long-term peace and in fact escalate violence.
Even in the case of Osama bin Laden, the new American boogie-man, the history is rather complex. The moujahideen, including Osama, were largely created and formed in the Russian invasion of Afghanistan (East). They formed into the Northern Alliance and the Taliban, both of whom inflicted horrible atrocities upon the Afghan people with continued US support. Worse, it is highly likely that the moujahideen in fact slowed the Russian withdrawal and increased the cost both to Russia and Afghanistan.
Even the very term "terror" can be incredibly polarizing and dangerous. Calling an opposing force "terrorist" is a guaranteed way to fulfill that prophecy as political options run thin and military options become increasingly tempting. Add in the role of massive violence against Muslims in increasing recruitment for extremist groups and "blowback" from American-made terrorist groups and one has a potent combination. The role of "owls" in identifying (or misidentifying) and constituting (or mis-constituting and ignoring) terror is again important, as their decisions help constrain possibilities.
What are Americans to do? So many important issues, not just terror, face their communities. Confronting the genocidal machinery carries deep personal costs, and asking ordinary people with families to support to bear those costs is difficult. Any number of tactics can be adopted: direct action, protest, teach-ins, marches, letters to Congressmen, selective boycotts, and so on.
The most important thing to remember is that those of us in the university can either stay silent and contribute to the continuing violence, using our intellect and expertise to deliver weapons and methodologies of warfare; or we can conscientiously resist, using our public obligation for ethical goals. The choice is ours, and the future of humanity depends on it.
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