Thursday, September 5, 2013

Pick Your Wartimes Well


The largest invisible minority here in Calgary is US citizens. And everyone’s 2013 day-timer has September 11 as Patriot Day. Go ahead: Walk into the bar on that day, notice a US American wearing his flag lapel pin, or perhaps a pin for his favorite sports team, and say, “Hi! How ’bout that War on Terror?...”

Of course he’d smile, as we North Americans are friendly folks, but I’m sure it would be a sheepish smile. Perhaps he would immediately change the topic: “Hey, how ’bout them Calgary Flames?” (Hockey) When it comes to “the war,” no one can give an answer to “How’s it going?”

What sort of war has such a lack of information, lack of energy level, lack of peer support—and, most important of all, such a lack of commitment? Strange. In a traditional short-term war people line up like iron filings to a magnet, everyone feeling quiet sure of what the next man feels. Such certainty comes from actions: songs with a strong beat, people putting up flags, and artists propagating posters and cartoons to show how horrible the enemy are. The bad guys may be shown as comical, but they must be shown as sinister. And all these actions are embedded in a magnetic field of commitment.

This new war effort, if indeed we are still at war, is different. No one has said “commitment.” Some people were saying right from 2001, remembering Nam, that the US people lacked “the right stuff” for a long drawn out war. You may recall how the North Vietnamese, besides saying Americans are all na├»ve, said Americans had no patience, and so all the Viet Cong had to do was keep not-losing until the Yankees went home. In fairness to the Yanks, they had merely designated the show as a non-war, as “a conflict,” where the People’s Republic of North Vietnam was not to be invaded, and South Vietnam was not to be occupied. Of the South: “It is their war and they have to win it.” If Nam been a “declared” war, with commitment unleashed, then the exit strategy, “victory” would have been clear and easy-to-agree-on. A “war” would have meant an easy to coordinate-and-work-towards goal. But of course it was the South’s war, and the US continually had to be careful not to help too much, and not to undermine the self-esteem and effectiveness of the Vietnamese. Well. Maybe winning a non-war is not possible; maybe trying to win one is as crazy and useless as trying to prove a negative.

I suppose President Bush knew about unclear non-wars. At least he tried for some focus, some clarity, by saying the US was only at war against “global reach” terror, as in crossing international borders, and, it logically follows, not against traditional civil war terror, such as the hill tribes all over the world, or the IRA just across the border of Ireland. Warring all over the world would be too much for a lonely super power.

Clearly, Bush was useless at rousing any war fever. Even more than during the “non-war” of Vietnam, at the end of the day, a homeland of free citizens bravely surrendered the “war” to the clumsy care of their civil servants. The people felt little need for a public “war effort.” As Joe Biden put it, “How urgent can this be if I tell you there is a great crises and, at the time we’re marching to war, I give the single largest tax cut in the history of the United States of America?”

And so I am only dimly surprised that hawk eyed journalists keep reporting that President Obama, as seasons merge into years, never utters the phrase, “War on Terror.” Hence my phrase above, “…if we are indeed still at war…” It’s as if our man in Washington doesn’t want to win. I can only speculate as to why. Here’s a mind-boggler: Perhaps former President Bush is not surprised by President Obama at all?

As for Obama, maybe, as a character in a Doonesbury cartoon once retorted, “The president is smarter than you think.” After all, in this world, anything we do, even if it is true and good and beautiful like mom’s apple pie, has effects both good and bad. (Love and calories)

Sometimes, in our history, declaring an “enemy,” at least in a non-war, can be more good than bad. Our puritan ancestors strived to keep busy and never surrender during their harsh struggle to survive on the frontier by saying, “The devil finds work for idle hands.” They’d ascribe any bad impulses to him. “Get thee behind me, Satan.” During my cold war childhood—we said “cold” because we all knew it was a competition, not a war—we rejoiced in our tendencies to be religious, free and creative because we didn’t want to be like the godless, gray and smothered communists, a people without modern art or jazz or modern dance.

Sometimes, during today’s war, we could rejoice in, say, our human rights, our common sense and our freedom from ancient hatreds, “let the dead bury the dead.” On the other hand, thinking of my friends in the bar, I’m sure it could be difficult for everyday people to grasp how the terrorists are embedded in lands where people less functional than the Soviets “don’t get” stuff like scientific evidence, “boundaries,” taking responsibility and a few other things that I would raise any child of mine to understand. And hey, —they don’t get rock’n roll, either. (Maybe the youth do, but their religious and secular leaders surely “don’t rock”)

The sheer hatred of those guys in the near east is so striking. For us, “…because the past is just a goodbye,” humanity is sanity. I have written before of how hatred, for us, is like a sober judge’s warrant for wiretapping: to be done only with a time limitation. (See Hatred and Canadian Muslims, archived October 2012) During my grandpa’s Great War a local German tailor found himself losing business; back then hatred meant renaming of the Canadian city of Berlin after a general: Kitchener. Shall I hate my local Arab tailor and dry cleaner? For the sake of victory? Maybe that would be more bad than good, and maybe racial profiling would be more good that bad. Or maybe we just don’t need this non-war.

During my father’s World War we referred to sauerkraut as liberty cabbage. This was as a means to the end of that war. But after more than a decade of War on Terror—more than a decade—I would not feel good—merely disgusted—about hating any relative of Bin Laden; nor, when I picture a sparkling oasis with palm trees in the Sahara desert, could I speak of “democracy dates” and “freedom figs.” Perhaps, then, the best reason for agreeing with President Obama never saying “war” is to shelter our children from never-ending hatred. Just look at how hatred has stained the shabby terror-exporting countries: There they teach permanent hatred to their children at an incredibly young age, smothering all future critical thinking. I'm sure this impacts their art and science. No wonder folks emigrate from Arabia and come over here.

Censoring your mind, keeping your world unclear, whether to protect and preserve your hatred or for any other reason, is like putting your arm in a sling: It just gets weaker. Recently on the CBC I heard a Canadian member of parliament. The MP said he understands the events in Syria and Egypt merit strong emotions, but still he deplores how his Arab-born friends and relatives are unclear thinkers, unable to clearly separate dear relatives from their opinions and stated positions. This has resulted in awfully bizarre accusations and hard feelings. Some relatives here in Canada, he said, are no longer speaking to each other.

The CBC recently ran an interview with a man, Ziad Doueiri, who had unconsciously lived with daily hatred all through his life. Finally, in just a short time, he shrugged hatred off his shoulders and knew the lightness of liberation. (Like some students do every year at western universities) Now he knows how debilitating hatred had been for him.

It turns out Doueiri was the director of a major motion picture, The Attack. Born in Lebanon, living in Paris, his film company needed to film in Israel, including in his film some Israeli-Jewish actors. He learned something: The actors, although Israeli, weren’t monsters. (Just as the actors of Shakespeare’s time, sympathetically making The Merchant of Venice, weren’t anti-Semitic) The director learned first hand that “people are people.” How nice.

Meanwhile, hatred in Lebanon had been permanently embedded since 1954 when they passed an obscure law against any such commercial intercourse with Israel. Such a convenient excuse, allowing hateful outraged Lebanese to reject the movie. How unfortunate. The Attack is tailor made for people of the east, a film that dramatically deals with the issue of having a marriage partner who… believes… in suicide bombing. But it will not be shown in Lebanon, nor, probably, anywhere in the east except for Israel. How sad—at least we over here can rejoice in our democratic belief that censorship is wrong, but still—how sad.

I like an excuse for rejoicing as much as any man; nevertheless, surely Obama is correct: Let’s treat terrorism as a capital offense, but let’s not ask all the public to all commit to all engage in a long and hate filled war. No asking, “What can I do for my country? ...” No war effort, such as efforts to learn about foreign countries, “for the duration” (of the war). The next step, it logically follows, would mean having the guts to formally call for transforming this not-so-great effort from wartime to peacetime. Not to be quitters or losers, but to formalize our “let the civil servants do it” reality.

One day, a few years from now, my friends will be drinking in the bar with the television news on. They won’t be surprised, nor will I, and neither will a former president Obama, to see a new president calling off the war.

Sean Crawford
August 2013
~ …Like some students do every year at western universities… Physicist Lawrence Krauss, during a talk at the University of Calgary said, “I hope that there’s some fundamental belief that you hold, and I hope that during your time at university you will realize that that fundamental belief is wrong.” (The Gauntlet, April 12, 2012, p. 17)

~For the Joe Biden quote see my essay Citizenship After 9/11, archived Sept 2012.

~I am humbly aware that taking responsibility to dream and teach is not easy. (I won't blame Arabs for failing) Here is the song, on Youtube, with lyrics, that inspired my title, called Teach Your Children.

~I wonder if US Americans realize how very lucky they are, compared to countries of the old world, not to have hatred, like radioactive fallout lingering on the land, after their civil war? Here are thoughts about a song by a Canadian, a song that reminds me of The Iliad because both sides are viewed without malice. (Joan Baez had the lyrics wrong in her recording, but she sings correctly now when she sings live)

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