Wednesday, January 19, 2005

An American With No Sense Of History

(a resurrected draft post from the summer. The Indie piece is now here. Most anti-US stuff published in the Guardian or Indie ends up on Common Dreams)

Who the hell is James C. Moore ? Is the famously Americanophobic Independent using him as living proof of the 'Stupid Yank' syndrome which it espouses ?

I fear not. As far as the Indie's concerned, a Yank who doesn't like GWB is its friend.

Let's start with the title, "When morality vanishes from the battlefield, the war is lost". Now there's a case for that argument, depending on the kind of war you're fighting. If you don't give a monkey's about hearts and minds, morality can go by the boards without affecting your chances of victory one iota. There wasn't much morality about the Eastern Front from 1941-45 - do you want to argue that the Soviet Union lost ? But if you want the people with you, morality's important. Most commentators would assume that we'd like the Iraqis with us. So we need to be moral. A pity Mr Moore never explores this argument.

Instead, he embarks on a history lesson as told by someone whose entire learning comes from a few PBS documentaries. And bad ones at that.

Of Julius Caesar "As grand a general as Caesar was, though, he fought with no more moral purpose than to expand the glory of the empire ... Caesar's and, ultimately, even Rome's undoing was that their armies drew blood without a righteous cause. A soldier must fight for something more eternal than the emperor's reputation."

Ultimately, eh ? Well, in the long run we're all dead. But the Roman Empire lasted another 400 years after Caesar. Most political leaders would settle for their work lasting 40 years.

I can just hear them in 350 AD.

"The barbarians are coming !" "I blame that Julius Caesar. Drew blood without a righteous cause, his armies did." "Never !" "Aaargh !"

He continues "The notion of empire is still as misguided today as it was when the legions of Rome were marching the earth. " Maybe so. Any argument to support that ? Sorry. We just have to take it on trust that (omong others) the Incas, Mayans, Brits, Ethiopians, Ottomans, Mamelukes, Vikings, Persians, Russians, Moghuls, Zulus, Sikhs, Mongols (and lots of Chinese, Japanese and Koreans about whose history I know as little as, well, as James C. Moore knows about any history) were misguided. As they may have been. After all, what did the Romans ever do for us ?

"America and Great Britain, however, have always been able to rationalise their presence in foreign lands with intellectual constructs. We may have been extracting natural resources and other treasure to sustain our own homelands, but we were educating and civilising the natives whose countries we were occupying. We gave them our governmental institutions and our religion and were convinced that we had improved the backward colonies. We were wrong, of course, and the deadly lesson, whether it was learned by Her Majesty's armies in Africa or American troops in Vietnam, is that the occupied never want to be occupied. "

Let's leave aside the story of the British Empire and the question of whether America has in fact got any colonies at all. Just a couple of obvious points - that Her Majesty's Armies in Africa stuffed absolutely all military opposition, to the point where the 'deadly lesson' meant in practice the torture and slaughter of farmers and their families, or nuns and priests - anything else being outside rebel capabilities. The truth is that in two hundred years the stiffest opposition the British faced in Africa were the Boers and the Afrika Korps (though respect to Cetawayo and the Fuzzy-Wuzzies in Sudan).

The second point is that in both Africa and Vietnam, the 'occupied' were the ones who started the vanishing morality process, not the occupiers. It was the 'anti-imperialist' movement that specialised in torture, arbitrary killing, the deaths of whole communities deemed unreliable. (In Africa these things have continued even without the imperialist presence).

Yet the wars were 'won' by the occupied in both cases (the imperialists got out), despite military defeats.

"Caesar slowly came to understand that the further his armies were from Rome the more difficult it was for them to retain power. Geography may be less of a challenge to the modern military, but the battle still offers the same teachings."

Wrong again. "Shorten your weapons and extend your frontiers" was a Roman maxim quoted by Churchill.

"Both Bush and Blair have tried to convince the world that Iraq had to be invaded as the first front in the war on terrorism."

Afghanistan ?

"Stopping al- Qa'ida and ridding Iraq of Saddam and his torture chambers provided the moral justification for rolling our armies across those ancient plains".

WMDs ? Where are they ? It's remarkable how no anti-war voice would accept the moral case for toppling Saddam - until the Abu Ghraib revelations enabled them to juxtapose the case against evil-creature-of-the-West Saddam (those Rumsfeld photos !) with the case against only-obeying-orders (those Rumsfeld orders !) Lyddie England.

"The war in Iraq began with a lie and it has spiralled into an even greater immorality, which is where all lies eventually lead". You can believe that the leaders of the two great democracies deliberately started a war on false pretences. I don't. It's nearly always cock-up rather than conspiracy.

"Our bombs and bullets cannot tell the difference between the innocent and the enemy" ..' whereas the enemy's can ? ... "and in our effort to learn the distinctions we have resorted to immoral tactics". I think this means that we're mistreating people to try and sort the bad guys from the good - if it means anything at all.

Towards the end, after the obligatory swipe at Bush and Blair's Christianity, he displays something a bit more sinister than ignorance.

"A beheading is repositioned as an independent act of evil rather than retribution for our own moral collapse. Everything is opinion; nothing is fact. This is the most insidious form of immorality."

"Nothing is fact" could describe most of this piece. But the beheadings of Ken Bigley and others were acts of evil. To call them 'retribution for our own moral collapse' is disgraceful. It's also exactly what Zarqawi claims. In reality our 'moral collapse' consists of bringing to justice people who do bad things - on our side or theirs.

Our enemy glories in doing bad things . James C. Moore is happy to justify this evil to score a few points from George W. Bush. And the Indie is happy to follow.

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