I heard an interview with an American master of war on the radio just now, describing America’s muscular new military posture. Maybe it’s because I’ve been worrying about health issues recently, my own and our well-loved pet’s, that I find myself thinking about the endless war America has been engaged in since Islamist fanatics brought down the World Trade Towers in 2001. Our current president has a new vision of how to deal with those violent fanatics who hate America. The military man entrusted with spearheading his new strategy was interviewed at length, though I tuned in midway through.
America will no longer fight a war of attrition, driving ISIS back, allowing them to regroup, fighting a smaller, more determined force in the next place. We will now surround ISIS and destroy all their fighters wherever we encounter them. It will still be, admittedly, a long fight, but we will cleanse the entire area of ISIS. “Clean the area” of ISIS fighters, in that familiar jargon of people cleansers. The military frontman spoke of humiliating ISIS, degrading their image, their brand. ISIS may indiscriminately kill civilians, women and children, he said, because they have no concern for human life in spite of their religious pretensions, but America is always concerned with the safety of civilians and will only, regrettably, kill them when military necessity dictates it. The war will be long, he admitted, and once ISIS is done we will be fighting other groups, new organizations founded on that flawed ideology of hatred of America, and we will teach the armies of the region to fight them to the death.
It was the phrase ‘humiliate ISIS’ that struck me. He used it several times. We will humiliate ISIS. Who is this mad dog, I wondered? After discussing the imminent threat to the United States posed by North Korea, the interviewer thanked moderate Secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis. Mattis has been called the adult in the room and the most respected member of the Trump administration.
We will humiliate our enemies. It has a familiar ring.
A psychiatrist whose name escapes me, though I wrote about him briefly here at one time (James Gilligan, here’s the link) spent a long time in a prison for violent criminals studying what made them violent criminals. He discovered one common denominator: unbearable shame. Every violent criminal had done unspeakable things driven by this perhaps most terrible emotion. They had been humiliated, subjected to shaming cruelty, and at some point something in them snapped and they became violent sociopaths. So, just on a basic philosophical level, a stated policy of humiliating those who hate us seems about as sound as the old fucking for chastity strategy.
George Grosz noted that in order to understand how a man can hate and brutalize his fellow men you must study the humiliation he underwent. Grosz was talking about members of Nazi goon squads. The archetype for dictatorial hatred and brutality, Mr. Hitler, was raised by a violent, brutal, autocratic abuser, a complete “piece of shit” in common parlance. Not everyone can become the Fuhrer of Germany, but anyone raised by a humiliating abuser has the potential. Not to make idle comparisons, but Tony Schwartz, ghostwriter of TRUMP: The Art of the Deal, recounts the brutality of Fred, father of our current president. Which kind of makes sense, if you consider the son’s now familiar petulant, bullying behavior.
Sekhnet often reminds me that I need to get out in the world among like-minded people and interact, rather than just brooding and writing for the handful of people who may read these words. She’s right. I need to find others who are as passionate about the things I care about as I am. Perhaps I will join Codepink. They describe themselves as “a women-led organization working to end U.S. wars and militarism, support peace and human rights initiatives, and redirect tax dollars into health care, education, green jobs, and other life-affirming programs.”
Codepink co-founder Medea Benjamin publicly confronted President Obama about the secret policy of indiscriminate murder by remotely piloted aircraft. To his credit, he did not have her arrested when she interrupted his speech repeatedly. He went off script to chide her mildly for her criticisms, “obviously she wasn’t listening to me in much of what I said” but acknowledged “but these are tough questions and the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong.”
OK, so we’re wrong. So fucking what? We continue to gloss over them. Nobody is perfect. We gloss over them, because, with all the troubles in the world now, a few random sixteen year-olds in Pakistan or Yemen, or a beloved sixty-seven year-old midwife, or whoever the hell else our secret signature strikes sometimes kill over there don’t amount to Humphrey Bogart’s hill of beans.
We are on overload, constant, relentless. The wheel is turning faster and faster, accelerated by addictive technology that splits our focus into tiny units, forcing this fragmented consciousness to constantly shove aside distractions, while being constantly marketed to, and connected to virtual communities, and polled, our preferences collected, reduced to data for sale. What we need as human beings is exploited for demographic and sales purposes. It comes to us as a blur of overwhelming, often maddening bullshit. The things that are most important, fundamental human values like fairness, decency and mercy, are often lost in the noisy clutter.
Without personal contact, we are left in virtual echo chambers, looking for the avatars of likeminded souls. Those who like reading things like this will read them, nod, find much of it beyond dispute. On the other hand, I am chattering into the darkness of cyberspace. How much different our lives and values are here, in the capital of steroid-enhanced materialism, than in some remote village in North Waziristan.
The midwife in that village who brings babies into the world, sometimes saving the life of the mother, along with the new, tiny life, does what midwives have done for thousands of years. It is no wonder this grandmother is loved in the village, she brings calm, comfort, expertise, and wisdom into the homes of anxious families. The children in the village love her. I am thinking of a midwife I read about in Amy Goodman’s new Democracy Now!, Mamana Bibi, blown to shreds by a drone-launched missile on October 24, 2012 in a “signature strike”. (page 39) There was indication of suspicious activity in that remote village that may have indicated terrorist activity. Turned out to be a false alarm. Shit happens in war.
So, yeah, by all means, let’s humiliate anyone who fucks with us. Why the fuck not? What are you going to do about it anyway, asshole?