Subjective Objectivity – The Blog of The Reasonable Man

July 26, 2010

“War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it”

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 12:04 am

Am I the only one to be utterly unsurprised by the recent Wikileaks… revelations about the war in Afghanistan, as subtly highlighted by the Guardian today?:

We are told that hundreds of civilians have been killed by coalition troops. Apparently Taliban leaders are being hunted on a “kill or capture” basis. And there has been, in probably the most shocking revelation of all, an increase in Taliban bomb attacks on NATO forces. This is the “real war in Afghanistan”. I’d happily applaud the Guardian et al for this, were it not for the fact that not one ounce of this is new information. Perhaps I missed the light-hearted sitcom that depicted Afghanistan as anything other than an acrid hell-hole in which an under-resourced and poorly prosecuted war currently resides. But it seems to me that this is more of an opportunity for this paper, the New York Times, and Der Spiegel.

And then there’s this expression of po-faced naivety:

Reading these logs, many may suspect there is sometimes a casual disregard for the lives of innocents. A bus that fails to slow for a foot patrol is raked with gunfire, killing four passengers and wounding 11 others

Never in the history of journalism has such an incident been recorded or illustrated.

Except for then. Though that’s Iraq. And anyone who read or saw Generation Kill would know that there’s a far greater context to that scene, and that Evan Wright was doing the actual the actual journalism that Wikileaks are purporting to do here by publishing documents passed onto them by whoever. 

One thing I will concede is that the extent of Pakistani involvement is illuminating, but it seems to confirm readily held suspicions, rather than a deep twist about the players in the conflict. But this isn’t a level of information that further public knowledge can really help, other than to compound our sense of doom at the futility of the whole affair. But still nothing really new. It’s basic knowledge that Pakistan are hedging their bets in this regard to placate the core Islamist factions within their midst. 

No, these War Logs do not smell like real journalism at all. They remind me more of a sordid serialisation of something already known, sensationalised to appeal to the core readership. The war equivalent of the Peter Mandelson memoirs. Fine, that’s the job of the newspaper, but this isn’t news in the sense of it being “new”, this editorialising with a few more sources. It’s kind of insulting for anyone at this point to say “this war is terrible” as if we didn’t already know. Show me a person who truly believed that civilians weren’t dying, insurgents weren’t stepping up their successes and I’ll show you someone who didn’t want to know it, and still doesn’t. Now, one can question to justness of the war, and the manner in which it is being prosecuted, and also chalk this one up in the alacrity with which we might pursue future conflicts. But a grim nitpicking of each and every incident in the conflict is closer to rubbernecking than it is to journalism. The story of this leak lies in the fact of its happening, not its substance.

But that’s not all – I don’t understand how anyone, upon finding this information could be remotely surprised or shocked. This is a basic situation where men, trained to kill people, have been put to the task of prosecuting a conflict that a statistically significant number of individuals are committed to thwarting. People will die, including innocents. But that’s always been the case, since time immemorial. Just as these revelations are nothing new, their mere existence is nothing that hasn’t gone before in many conflicts before. It is distinguished only by our involvement and the grim feeling that it is utterly worthless. 

The way they are presented is as red meat to the already ardent anti-war crowd, presented as they are in an “I told you so” tone to condemn the notion of support for this particular conflict. It is packaged in a manner of political point scoring and “oh-dearism“, designed to reflect on our simplistic cruelty, rather than how we might more rationally consider the application of warfare. It is not that I would minimise what happens in relation to civilian causalities and the apparent war crimes. They are significant. But worse things have been pursued by our armed forces, and just because the cause was better in those conflicts doesn’t remove the gravity of actual events. Point is, we should pay more attention to the cause of the war and what keeps it ticking. The political and media culture that entrenches facile notions of “victory” and “defeat” that ultimately sustain the current stalemate by making no strategic option a good one. 

The media are not an honest broker in this exchange. If we were to make the correct decision and leave Afghanistan as soon as possible, it is not as if the Guardian or the NYT would run headlines any different from the pro-war rags touting a defeated foreign policy. You wouldn’t see a single paper carrying the story “A sensible withdrawal”. We’d get only condemnation and recrimination from and to all quarters, varying from “we were right” to “this was wrong” depending on your journalistic drink of choice.  When this is all over, every party will be looking for their respective political scalps, while the victims for which there is so much current concern will receive as much attention as the denizens of Haiti do, only several months after their national catastrophe. Most people don’t give a crap about this beyond the ability to stick it to their ideological nemeses. I know – I used to be one of those people. 

Yet at the end, I am convinced by this sentiment from one of the most able military commanders that ever drew breath:

I confess, without shame, that I am sick and tired of fighting — its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands, and fathers … it is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated … that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.

In other words, we don’t know shit about war and aren’t really inclined to find out.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

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