The war that the United States is waging — a war, let it be noted, that the United States is waging purely at the behest of its president, who is currently standing for re-election, and a war for which the consent of the governed was never sought — claimed six more people the other day in Pakistan. One of them was a "senior al-Qaeda figure," whatever that means, and we do not know what it means because the president who is waging the war would rather we not know what it means anymore. I am not here to discuss him. I am here to discuss The Others.
According to that story, which is sourced by McClatchy to an anonymous "intelligence official," there were five Others. The stories also calls them "Islamist insurgents," but they have no names that are important enough for the intelligence official to leak, so there is no good reason for a properly skeptical citizen of a self-governing republic to believe that part of the story. They remain The Others.
What if the anonymous official is lying? What if the anonymous official is just, you know, wrong? What if one of the Others was a date farmer, or a cab driver, or someone on his way to prayer? Then we must ask ourselves questions about these Others on whom we are making war, even if we are making war on them accidentally, as if that matters when you've been roasted alive by modern ordnance dropped on you by a flying robot. Do the Others have parents? Do they have grandparents? Do the Others have siblings, who now watch the clear blue skies in terror every day, the way New Yorkers did for a few months after 9/11? Do the Others have spouses who miss them? Do the Others have children who wonder why the Others haven't come home from work yet? Do the Others have circles of friends who talk about the hole that is left in their daily lives, who talk about corny old jokes the Others used to tell, or stories about when one of the Others tripped on a rock or fell in a creek, or offer prayers for the souls of the Others every day? The bell, one presumes, tolls for the Others as much as it tolls for me, or thee, or anybody else anywhere.
What do the people who knew the Others think about their deaths? They were not the Others to the people who knew them. They were fathers and sons, and uncles and aunts, and nephews and nieces. They were the nice guy with the date stand, or the woman who smiled when she sold you some flowers, or the old gentleman who always stopped by the little cafe for tea and conversation. They were the guy who gave you the ride to the airport, or the young man who wanted to be a doctor, or someone who just happened to be going east on the road when the Hellfire came down the road going west. They are the people whose businesses are blasted to rubble, whose lives and homes are shattered, and who have to somehow cobble together the money that it costs to heal the wounds inflicted by modern ordinance. The Others don't know that what we really meant to do was kill the "senior al-Qaeda figure" who was standing at the fruit stand. They don't care, either, because we killed the Others, too, who were only standing around waiting to buy oranges. The fact that you weren't targeted to be killed doesn't make you any less dead. It doesn't salve the grief of your family or placate the rage of your neighbors. Or vice versa, for all that. What do the Others think about us? Because, from their perspective, we are the Others, and the Others are sending machines to kill them.
On Tuesday, a brilliant report, about the effect of the war that we are waging purely at the behest of the president, was released the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic of Stanford Law School and the Global Justice Clinic at the New York University School of Law. You should download it and read it. It is the testimony of the people on whom we are currently waging a war, a war of choice, as much as the war in Iraq was, and a war as unilateral as any we have ever fought, and a war that is more the result of one man's decisions than any other in our history. It doesn't matter a damn what we say we're doing. If we're firing modern ordnance from robot vehicles into villages, it doesn't matter how good we say our targeting is — and history tells us there's always reason to take boasts about that with a couple of tons of salt — because we are still blowing up villages, and the people in them. We are making war on those people because we are firing weapons of war into their midst. We are destroying their local economies, unravelling the fabric of their local societies, engendering existential dread until it becomes a fact of daily living. We are making war upon them because, as the report makes clear, they think we're making war on them, and that makes all the difference:
A drone struck my home.... I [was at] work at that time, so there was nobody in my home and no one killed.... Nothing else was destroyed other than my house. I went back to see the home, but there was nothing to do-I just saw my home wrecked.... I was extremely sad, because normally a house costs around 10 lakh, or 1,000,000 rupees [US $10,593], and I don't even have 5,000 rupees now [US $53]. I spent my whole life in that house... my father had lived there as well. There is a big difference between having your own home and living on rent or mortgage.... [I] belong to a poor family and my home has been destroyed . . . [and] I'm just hoping that I somehow recover financially."
Nothing was destroyed except his house. And all the material elements of the life this man built for himself. War was made on this man, because he lived where he lived. He was an Other. He is not alone.
As it happens, I am at the moment reading Embers of War, Frederik Logevall's brilliant history of how the French colonial war to hang onto its colonies in Indochina became what the Vietnamese now call "the American war." There's a lot to the book, and I'm not sure how much of it translates into what I'm trying to talk about here, but one thing that does translate well is the futility of making war while pretending that you're not, the empty and destructive vaudeville excuses about democracy and pluralism while you're blowing the hell out of the landscape and killing Others, as though your good intentions sanctify what you've done to them. The problem is that nobody realizes how foolish this is until long after it is too late, and the pretense of making war for any other reason than killing a lot of people has fallen away.
Kindly Doc Maddow did a segment at the end of Tuesday night's show in which she expressed a kind of shock at the fact that the rain of anonymous death that the president, acting on his own initiative, has unleashed in southwest Asia is not more a part of our national dialogue. She is right to be concerned. What we are doing strikes at the very heart of constitutional self-government, let alone simple humanity. Thomas Jefferson once said of slavery that, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just," but he kept his slaves anyway. I am reassured constantly by this president, and by his military advisors, that we are waging a clean, precise war against an easily defined enemy. For myself, I fear for my country when the Others decide that they have had enough, that there are too many empty seats at prayer, and too many people who will never come to town any more to buy fruit in the marketplace.
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