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April 03, 2003

Over the top?

In this piece Tony Parkinson, the international editor of The Age, warns about the oppositon to the war going one step too far. He says:

"Principled opposition to the war in Iraq is one thing. Wishing defeat and humiliation on the United States and its allies is another."

The incident upon which his comments are based on a statement made by Nicholas de Genova, an assistant professor of anthropology at Columbia University, who told a campus protest meeting/ teach in last week that, "The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the US military...I personally would like to see a million Mogadishus."

At Mogadishu in 1993 there was a firefight between US intervention forces and the Somali militia. The enduring image that Mogadishu now stands for is the corpses of two American soldiers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu after their helicopter was brought down by rebel rocket fire. It is an image of barbarism.

For one response to this from the left, see the post, Moral Idiocy by Invisible Adjunct:

"What concerns me is something far more serious than mere intellectual stupidity: namely, the moral idiocy of his stance. There's no need to belabour the point, which is simply this: To call for the slaughter of the young men and women who are currently serving as American soldiers is to speak from a position of utter and absolute moral bankruptcy."

Is Parkinson seriously saying that the broad response by the anti-war left is one of desiring, or calling for, Australian soldiers to be dragged through the streets of an Iraqi city? I have come across no such public statements. We can redescribe the image of Mogadishu. It could be an example of urban warfare along with Belfast, Beruit and Grozny another. it is a style of warfare the Americans are not comfortable with, and do not have a good track record in.

Parkinson says that this stance by de Genova represents an extreme variant of a broader phenomenon that is at work in the Iraq debate. What is this broad phenomena? He says:

"...this atrocity has become not only a triumphant symbol for Third World gangsterism - but also a new mantra for those in the ganglands of the Western intelligentsia who seem anxious for the superpower to get its comeuppance whenever it engages with the outside world."

Ganglands of the Western intelligenstia? That's a neo-con fantasy. Gangland implies that the academic left is ethically vacuous or morally bankrupt as distinct from just raising questions about Anglo-American patriotism. Is this the case?

In response to criticism Nicholas de Genova puts his remarks in historical context here. The context is one in which:

"...Iraqi liberation can only be effected by the Iraqi people themselves, both by resisting and defeating the U.S. invasion as well as overthrowing a regime whose brutality was long sustained by none other than the U.S. it is an anti-colonial struggle for self-determination might involve a million Mogadishus now but would ultimately have to become something more like another Vietnam. Vietnam was a stunning defeat for U.S. imperialism; as such, it was also a victory for the cause of human self-determination."

The bit about freedom is what Parkinson ignored when he said that the opposition to war translates into something more insidious a desire, subconscious or otherwise, to see US, British and Australian forces falter in their mission. What is not addressed by Parkinson is the clear distinction made between the brutal Iraqi state and the Iraqi people; the determination of freedom being placed in the hands of the Iraqi people; and seeing the US as constraining positive freedom.

That's hardly ethically vacuous or bankrupt. Isn't freedom what the Anglo-American coalition is fighting the war for? To free the Iraqi people?

The left reads that goal in terms of both freedom for the Iraqi people from the tyranny of totalitarianism and freedom for Iraqi's self-determining their own democratic nation-state. A question mark is placed over the Anglo-Americans because it is feared that the technocratic Enlightenment will falter in terms of achieving these democratic goals. It is more a case of the the military methods undercutting the stated political goals of freedom, than desiring that a superpower gets its comeuppance through military defeat.

If we read the events in Iraq in tragic terms then we can interpret the current actions of the militarized Enlightenment in terms of a hubris or arrogance that will have disastrous long-term consequences in the Middle East and in Indonesia. That's very different perspective from the wishful thinking of the comeuppance perspective attributed to the academic left by Parkinson.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at April 3, 2003 08:50 AM

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I see that the ethnic Italian voice of Wogblog (Friday, April 4) has had another go at Public Opinion along with Gianna. Wogblog, who proudly looks at the world from a ethnic perspective, rejects the view that Public Opinion is keeping the public discu... [Read More]

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Comments

This post is quite lengthy. Didn't you pause at any stage while writing it to think about why you are defending this guy?

Posted by: Yobbo at April 3, 2003 11:00 AM

Nicholas is out there with his rhetoric that's for sure, but the substance underlying it is hardly shocking. Self-determination as the guiding principle. This is traditional liberation politics (I see he's an assistant of latino studies). If his assertion that the USA is imposing an imperial agenda in the ME is correct then he has every right to reject it. But we'll all have to wait and see how the USA handles the post-war period I guess. Nicholas prefres to judge the USA on its track record. I will try to to remain the naive optimist. I reckon the neocons have been sprung and will be forced to back off a bit.

Posted by: william burroughs baboon at April 3, 2003 11:28 AM

btw I still oppose the USA means to this undefined as yet end. If liberation is what they are about then there they should have said so and then adapted the military process to fit in with the objective. They are engaged in an old-fashioned invasion just shy of total war - noone counts the iraqi conscripts dying in their droves for someone we are all assured they hate. How the USA can feel sanguine about this result I don't understand. Those soldiers all come from and have familes etc.

Posted by: william burroughs baboon at April 3, 2003 11:37 AM

Yobbo. I did pause. I am not defending the guy. I am rejecting the way his remarks have been used by Parkinson to attack the broad left without any mention of the principle of self-determination by a people.

Self-determination is okay for the American people but not for the Iraqi people is the implied judgement in what Parkinson is saying in his attack on the left.

The Kurdish people for one will be prevented from exercising the positive freedom to determine their own lives as a people.

This will be done in the name of regional stability.

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson at April 3, 2003 06:05 PM

I wonder how we would define imperialism such that the invasion in train could be excluded? I wonder how we would define murder such that the deliberate slaughter of blameless defenders and inevitable killing of civilians could be excluded? Self-determination for the peoples of Iraq was never Rummy's objective and I haven't the imagination to see how it might be a consequence of this invasion. This is a war of naked aggression and I'm firmly of the conviction nothing good will come of it. Personally, I'm not of de Genovai's persuasion only because I see NO good coming of any foreseeable result. A victory for Iraq will effectively be a decisive victory for Saddam, his ilk, and the likes of al Qa'ida. A coalition victory will be a (fleeting, unaffordable, unsustainable and tragically pyrrhic) victory for aggressive militaristic imperialism. It'd be nice to be a Yobbo or a de Genova - witnessing this obscenity might be easier if one could persuade oneself that something good might come of it - to the rest of us, it's all just totally pointless death and suffering.

Posted by: Rob Schaap at April 3, 2003 09:28 PM

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