Let me say — or rather, reiterate — up front that it is my personal view that the form of vigorous activism known as non-violence is the only way, or the best way, that we can hope to even begin to address the inherent and intractable conflicts of human existence in a genuinely effective profound, sustainable and humane manner. That is the ideal I strive toward.
Of course, I also recognize that being what I am — a white man of Christian heritage living safely and comfortably under the penumbra of empire — it is easy for me to espouse this ideal. No drone fired in the distant black sky is going to kill my children tonight as they sleep warmly in their beds. No raiding party of assassins is going to tear down the door of my parents’ house tonight and shoot them at the dinner table. No one with a grudge against me — or simply in need of quick cash — is going to sell me into the captivity of a worldwide gulag. I’m not going to be caught in the crossfire of marauding mercenaries on my way to work. I’m not going to wake tomorrow in a refugee camp, my home and livelihood abandoned in the wake of a ravaging “counterterrorism” operation. No foreign soldier is going to shoot me, or abuse me, or humiliate me, or simply refuse to let me pass down the street of my own city. I’m not going to be stopped, “profiled,” or regarded with suspicion or hatred simply because of my skin color or the cultural or religious etymology of my name.
If I lived under the bootheel of such forces, I don’t how I would react, how firmly I could hold to my ideal. I don’t know if I would have the strength of mind and will, or the fortitude and wisdom it would take to resist our primal pull to violence — especially if I grew up in a culture that exalted certain forms of violence as cardinal virtues. (Of course, as an American, I did grow up in such a culture — and so has almost every other human being in history. To take the non-violent way is to appear — and yes, often feel – unnatural, deracinated, alien.)
Nonetheless, despite all these caveats and complexities, the ideal abides. I decry, denounce and mourn for the use of violence. Each act of violence — however understandable it might be in context — is a vast, ruinous defeat for our common humanity.
And of course many acts of violence are not “understandable” in any context, save that of our bestial desire to dominate others in one form or another. Here the defeat is even greater, its reverberations deeper, wider, longer-lasting: a degradation and degeneration that further brutalizes both the dispenser and victim of violence — especially the former, and especially when the dispensing culture comes to countenance an ever-widening array of violent acts as worthy, necessary, laudable, even honorable.
Each such act perpetuates the cycle of violence, the horrific dynamic of blowback: a self-perpetuating feedback loop that uses itself to engender more violence, in new and expanding forms. We are living today in the midst of a particularly virulent form of this dynamic, the so-called “War on Terror,” which I think has been designed — more or less deliberately so, although the obscene ignorance and arrogance of the powerful have also played their fateful part in unwittingly exacerbating these evils — to rage on without chronological end, without geographical, limits, and without any moral, social, legal or financial restraints. In his book X Films (reviewed here), Alex Cox uses an apt term borrowed from systems analysis — POSIWID: The Purpose of a System is What It Does.
The Terror War is not an event, or a campaign, or even a crusade; it is a system. Its purpose is not to eliminate “terrorism” (however this infinitely elastic term is defined) but to perpetuate itself, to do what it does: make war. This system can be immensely rewarding, in many different ways, for those who operate or assist it, whether in government, media, academia, or business. This too is a self-sustaining dynamic, a feedback loop that gives money, power and attention to those who serve the system; this elevated position then allows them to accrue even more money, power and attention, until in the end — as we can plainly see today — any alternative voices and viewpoints are relegated to the margins. They are “unserious.” They are unimportant. They are not allowed to penetrate or alter the operations of the system.
These reflections were prompted by last week’s attack on the CIA base near Khost, Afghanistan, and by the reaction to the attack among the operators and servants of the Terror War system. As the world knows, seven CIA officers were killed by a suicide bomber. (Two of the dead were actually Blackwater mercenaries, but as CNN solemnly informs us, the Agency considers such hired guns to be part of the family.) The officers were at a “forward operating base” near the Pakistan border. From this redoubt, they plotted and directed attacks by drone missiles and, if they were similar to other CIA teams, which seems likely, also helped run assassination squads, with bombs and ground raids launched against villages, private homes and other locations which allegedly contain alleged terrorists, both in Afghanistan, which American forces are now openly occupying, and in Pakistan, a sovereign, allied country where American military and security forces are carrying out a more and more open “secret war.”
The officers were killed when a suicide bomber — apparently a ‘native’ whom the CIA was grooming as a potential agent — walked into a gym and set off his hidden belt of explosives. Again, as noted above, I decry all deaths by violence, although I direct most of my attention to the violent deaths caused by the gargantuanly disproportionate infliction of state terrorism that characterizes our age, as opposed to the piecemeal pinpricks of small bands of extremists and isolated individuals — incidents which themselves often betray strong indications of the fomenting or facilitating hand of various operators in the Terror War system.
So it gave me no pleasure to note the grim truth that was confirmed, yet again, by the attack at Khost: Those who live by dirty war, die by dirty war. The CIA-mercenary squad at the base was a key part of what the New York Times rightly describes as the CIA’s evolution into a “paramilitary organization.” Like all terrorists, they operate outside the law, claiming moral superiority as their justification. And for this particular band, what they have dealt out to others — sudden death in a surprise attack with no possibility of defense — they have now been dealt in turn.
Of course, the NYT seems to find no moral problem with the United States of America operating “paramilitary” squads of spies and mercenaries carrying out “extrajudicial assassinations” — or “murders,” as they once would have been called — in foreign lands occupied by American military forces slaughtering civilians on a regular basis. (We noted one such slaughter in Afghanistan last week; now yet another one is being reported.) The story which carried this description is concerned largely with describing the struggle of these noble bands as they struggle manfully on distant borders to keep us safe.
In this, the tone of the story strongly echoes the genuinely sick-making words of Barack Obama after the incident. From CNN:
“These brave Americans were part of a long line of patriots who have made great sacrifices for their fellow citizens, and for our way of life,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in a written statement Thursday.
“The United States would not be able to maintain the freedom and security that we cherish without decades of service from the dedicated men and women of the CIA.”
The CIA’s decades-long record of sickening crime, outright atrocity, constitutional subversion, bungling, near-unbelievable incompetence, and unrelenting exacerbation of hatred for and violence toward the United States is indisputable. (For just one egregious example, see “The Secret Sharers.”) Few government organizations in world history have been so inimical to the national interests of the state they purport to serve. It was with very good reason that John F. Kennedy — to whom Obama’s sycophants often liken their hero — once declared his intention to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.” (Nor can it be entirely coincidental that Kennedy was later murdered in a case that had innumerable ties to the security apparat.)
There is nothing further from the truth — nothing further from the established historical record — than Obama’s statement that the CIA has been absolutely indispensable in “maintaining the freedom and security” of the United States. On the contrary; the historical record clearly shows that the activities of the CIA have, time and again, reduced both the freedom and security of the people of the United States.
Yet here we have Obama, once again, groveling to this renegade, retrograde, criminal organization — much as he did early on in his presidency, when he cravenly guaranteed the Agency’s thuggish torturers that they need never fear prosecution from his administration for the KGB-like, Stasi-like, Gestapo-like atrocities they had inflicted on their victims.
Instead of shattering the CIA, or even curtailing it, the NYT story confirms, yet again, that Obama is accelerating the militarization of the agency, and giving it broad new scope to deceive and murder. What’s more, as we noted here a few days ago, Obama’s handpicked “special envoy” for the “Af-Pak front,” Richard Holbrooke, admitted, in a little-noticed story last month, that the United States is carrying out covert operations in “every country in the world.” And all of this is accepted without debate, without demur, as a just, honorable and natural state of affairs.
And while Obama is praising the murderers, torturers and incompetents of the CIA, the Agency itself is plotting its revenge for the blowback against its own dirty war, as CNN reports, with an obvious frisson of titillation at the tough talk:
“This attack will be avenged through successful, aggressive counterterrorism operations,” [an anonymous] intelligence official vowed. “There are some very bad people who eventually are going to have a very bad day,” the official promised Friday.
And so, as I wrote the day after 9/11 (and quoted again recently, in this piece about Obama’s surging Terror War): “Blood will have blood; that’s certain. But blood will not end it. For murder is fertile: it breeds more death, like a spider laden with a thousand eggs. And who now can break this cycle, which has been going on for generations?”
The cycle will go on — because that is what is wanted. The purpose of the system is what it does.