Fall 2010: The War Issue

Fall 2010: The War Issue

PDF version: 

For A World Without War 

By: John Duda

It’s been nearly nine years since the United States began its attack and occupation of Afghanistan, and over seven years since the start of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Despite Barack Obama’s claims to have brought an end to the latter, nearly 50,000 American soldiers—and thousands of private military contractors answering to US authorities—remain in Iraq. Meanwhile the war in Afghanistan has spilled over into neighboring Pakistan. The infamous prison camp at Guantánamo remains open, as does the similar camp at Bagram Airfield base in Afghanistan, along with countless other detention centers even less exposed to public scrutiny.

While the term “enemy combatant” may have been excised from the official lexicon, the principle according to which the American state can, outside of any juridical norm whatsoever, indefinitely detain or sum- marily eliminate those it perceives as threats has been retained. This officially sanctioned dehumanization of the enemy will no doubt continue to be accompanied by the kind of “excesses” we have witnessed in places like Abu Ghraib—and the full extent of the sav- age depravity that took place behind the walls of the infamous prison remains hidden, but documented in thousands of unseen photographs, whose release would, according to Barack Obama, only “inflame anti-American public opinion.”

Or as in Afghanistan, where reports are now emerging of a “kill team” of US soldiers that engaged in the murder of civilians for entertainment, removing the fingers of the dead as souvenirs. One can only surmise that these “exceptions” prove the rule, with the most reprehensible acts merely symptoms of the larger official policy of dehumanization. Here the “Collateral Murder” video released thanks to Wikileaks comes to mind, with the eager voice of the helicopter gunner, his finger poised over the trigger, talking to no one in particular as he watches the man he has just shot crawl on the ground: “Come on, buddy. All you gotta do is pick up a weapon,” assiduously keeping the barrage of 30 mm shells with which he is about to rip his victim apart within the limits of brutality established by the rules of engagement.

In the midst of economic and environmental catastrophe, the United States continues to spend over half a trillion dollars a year on “defense.” The 21st century has opened onto a seemingly endless horizon of armed conflict and imperial policing, accompanied by a global suspension of civil liberties and the rule of international law, and facilitated by an increasingly cynical and demoralized population, especially in the United States, where neither the unprecedented popular anti-war mobilization of 2001 nor the historic victory of Barack Obama in 2008 have managed to significantly alter the direction of American foreign policy.

Indeed, the nebulous “war on terror” Obama inherited and has claimed as his own continues to expand, with very little visible opposition. Where were the protests, or even the public objections, when the US began military operations in Yemen? Were we even aware that this was happening? This demobilization of voices for peace is not just a consequence of despair, however. The nature of war is changing—unlike the high profile staging of the initial military actions against Afghanistan and Iraq, which were able to ride the wave of patriotic fervor un- leashed by the declaration of the “war on terror” to sidestep and ignore widespread popular opposition, this new decade seems to be characterized by a war which hides itself, a perpetually shifting global regime of low and high intensity conflict, carried out by proxy or in the name of humanitarian imperatives. A coup in Honduras, weakly condemned by the White House, a militarized aid operation in Haiti, a mandate for “special operations” in at least 75 countries across the world: to be against “the war” is not sufficient.

Ours is also an age in which war has been profoundly delocalized and dematerialized: for instance, consider the increasing trend towards drone warfare. Here an operator may commute to a suburban control facility in Las Vegas or upstate NY, where they settle in for a comfortable day of video-gaming, while halfway around the world their actions are translated to the missile that blows apart the bodies of a civilian convoy suspected of somehow being connected to the “enemy.” It’s unclear who this new kind of conflict de- humanizes more—the victims of the attacks who have been reduced to specks on a screen, the remote operators behind the consoles, or the civilian population here which quietly continues to fund the whole machine. And now we hear that these same drones are to be deployed on the already militarized Mexican border....

It’s within and against this bleak picture that we are releasing this issue of the Indypendent Reader—to make war and the struggles against it visible, to remind ourselves and our readers that a stand for peace is, more than ever, not only possible, but necessary. Some of the articles here trace out the contours of the current American war machine, from its recent operations in well-known theaters like Iraq and less evident maneuverings in Africa and Haiti, to the way in which this military- industrial complex is tightly coupled to the economy of the greater Baltimore region. The other articles highlight the possibilities of resistance—celebrating the prospects for a renewed American anti-war movement, looking historically at the ability of soldiers to “break rank” and choose to fight war and not wars, and examining Baltimore’s long legacy of uncompromising pacifist struggle against the US war machine. We offer this issue as a small contribution to a conversation that needs to happen and a movement that needs to prevail, and hope you’ll join us in both.