On Memorial Day, we don't celebrate those who have died, we celebrate the principles worth dying for that keep us alive. This Memorial Day, as the words of President Obama's recent address still echo in our ears, the resonance of Code-Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin's punctuated interruptions echoes even louder. The truth in her voice, reflecting America's awakened conscience, was drowning out the beautifully worded bitter reality of war. Her distanced voice brought us closer to the quiet murmur of the internal dialogue of our collective conscience.
President Obama has moved away from the 'right war' rhetoric to 'the right way of fighting a war,' rhetoric. By claiming that the drone war works, once again he 'sounds' right on the wrong track of history. Obama's misidentification may seem like a great leap forward from the flawed perception of his predecessor, but not if measured by the return of more American soldiers, leaving more battlefields, and leaving countries in ruin behind.
This may have been a prelude to another well-staged and well-choreographed but pre-mature 'mission accomplished' ceremony. Once again, we fail to understand the power of the human will to resist because we put more emphasis on the gun, rather than whom it is pointed at. The last time we 'misunderestimated' the 'collateral damage' in Iraq, it blew up in our face, turning 'the cakewalk' into a bloodbath. We had to turn the Shi'a on the Sunni to get out of that one. This time we have sunk lower than the 'shoot first, ask later' mindset, to one of 'keep shooting and never ask any questions." If we are shooting, there must be an enemy out there. If there isn't one, by golly we will find one and drone him out.
It is in dehumanizing the enemy that we fail to understand them. If we could only see our own humanity through their eyes, we would probably wish for them what we desire for ourselves.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California has introduced a bill requiring the FAA to provide Los Angeles County residents relief from the noise caused by low-flying helicopters. The same congressman, however--along with other legislators--approves of U.S. drones hovering over villages in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia twenty-four seven. These drones are ready to fire rockets at any moment onto any 'suspect' groups, or simply children gathering wood around their mud-hut villages, because thousands of miles away across the cultural-divide of time and space some trigger happy joystick-addicted dazed robot has determined that a moving infra-red 'pixelled' shadow on his computer screen is an 'imminent threat' to the United States of America and must be eliminated.
Obviously, people in Los Angeles don't face the same predicament. But for the people in those villages who are guilty by the circumstance of geography, it is like standing before a firing squad and not knowing when they are going to die. The suspense kills them many times over before they hear 'fire.' Similarly, we deny the Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan the right to carry guns which they do as a sign of chivalry, or the Yemenis who sport short daggers as a statement of fashion, yet we hold our gun ownership rights sacrosanct where our Second Amendment rights always come first, and anyone else's right is simply wrong.
For more than a decade the American public has been told that their sons and daughters are dying for a cause and that the enemy has been defeated. But the enemy cannot be defeated because it is not an actual enemy, but a tactic of war. Since terrorism, as a tactic of war, cannot be defeated, this war will never end until it swallows us in its dark mist. Al-Qaida replaces its 'Number 2s' as fast as we can eliminate them. In the meantime, we continuously lose more of our civil liberties. We are not any safer than before as we have created more enemies in more countries and have launched more wars on more fronts.
Wars are glorified because cultural myths attribute wars to gods. The names of 'our' gods are invoked in battle cries. (Our) god(s) are on our side in every battle between 'good and evil' in which we are always 'the good'--win or lose--and obviously always right. That's why the first and foremost objective of a war is the defense of the ego.
This mythos of war is predicated on the ethos of war: the norms of war ethics, rules of engagement, and codes of chivalry. Violating this ethos derides a battle of heroes and distinguishes an act of valor from cowardice. A battle can have glory only if it had been fought fairly, which happens less and less frequently these days.
We create dysfunctional governments, failed states, and stateless enemies. In such an asymmetrical warfare, when an 'enemy' state is reduced to individuals, we deny them their rights under the Geneva conventions and conveniently call them 'enemy combatants.' We invade their countries, insult their religions, ridicule their cultures, vilify their leaders and install our 'deputies' to parrot our policies. Because these puppet regimes do not have legitimacy in the public eyes, the anger of frustrated popular resistance is re-directed from the puppet to the puppeteer.
It is not only our technological superiority that have rendered the asymmetrical warfare un-winnable for the other side, it is also our political muscle and cultural attitude that pushes them over the edge in desperation. Only when they know that in any encounter with a far superior force their death is certain, they resort to suicide bombing. When the outcome is determined, they have nothing to lose.
In this asymmetrical warfare they lose more lives, but we have lost the warrior's code of honor, our chivalry. A battlefield is an encounter of two souls intensely engaged to test the power of the human will through the endurance of the human mind and body. These days, the harsh reality of a battlefield is slowly giving way to a warrior who is only brave enough to kill from the comfort of an armchair. We win in the killing fields, but we lose the battle of ideas as the triumph of technology prevents us from understanding the enemy.
Drones don't work precisely because they create more enemies, which is why we are there in the first place. In the vicious cycle of this asymmetrical warfare the drones are the cause of more resentment, more enemies, and more wars.
Drone strikes are the most effective way to turn ordinary people into armies of resistance. Arbitrary signature drone strikes in which we act as the judge, the jury, and the executioner thicken the ranks of our sworn enemies. The failure of the dreaded drone war can be measured by the fact that we have fought more wars, but face more resistance. It is also a lose/lose proposition on the home front as we have enacted more regulations, but have less security, more money and less prosperity, more elections and less democracy.
As we try to remember those who have died for our freedom we have to hope that at some point we realize that we cannot discounted the human will to resist. Only then we may realize that the real terror we need to fight, might be our own--nothing to fear, but fear itself.