Friday, April 19, 2013

Whither Countries?

When Al Qaeda attacked us on 9/11, the immediate response was to mourn and attack.  The second response was to ask questions.  Why were we attacked, and what should we now do about it?

The "why", it was said, had to do with our military presence in places deemed sacred by Islamic extremists, like Saudi Arabia, and our strong alliance with Israel.  The "what to do" was pretty much a split between "we need to be stronger and fight back" and "we need to remove their motivation to attack us in the first place."

I was pretty much in the latter camp; not because I am overly dove-ish, but because it seemed to me that it would be difficult if not impossible to defeat an enemy that was diffuse, hidden, and motivated so strongly that its members are willing to die in order to harm us.  How, I thought, do you fight an enemy with tanks and bombs when that enemy is embedded in the civilian population?  If they are willing to die, then you can neither break their morale nor cause them to run in fear.  You would have to kill every single one of them, and they will be busy recruiting new members all the time.  In fact if you attack them where they are, in the midst of the innocent, then you will  simply create more hatred toward you, and inspire more terrorists.  You would be creating the enemy as you destroyed it, and you cannot win that way.

No, I thought, you have to remove their desire to act against you.

The recent bombings at the Boston Marathon have disturbed and sobered us all, but they have also called into question the notion that we can somehow become better actors in the world, and in so doing will remove the threat of terrorist attack.  Our best information is that these two terrorists came from Chechnya, and actually fled here due to religious and political persecution in their own country.

We have no bases in Chechnya.  As far as I know we have not done anything there, have not insulted any holy ground, nor buzzed them with drones, nor exploited their natural resources.  Their traditional beef is with Russia, and with forces within their own borders who are guilty of ethnic cleansing and other horrible atrocities.

I would not wish a terrorist attack on anyone, but why did these young men attack Boston?  Had they bombed Moscow or Grozny it would have been equally tragic, but it also would have a potentially logical link to the actions of the country whose citizens they attacked.  One could say "this is horrible."  One could also say "this is what motivated them."  Here, unless something we don't know about right now comes to light about the U.S.'s involvement in some kind of covert acts of oppression, we cannot say that.

I suspect they chose the Boston Marathon because it is very visible, very public, and a lot of people would be there in the open, and vulnerable.  I suspect they chose it because it was convenient; they were living there, had the resources to make the bombs locally, and did not have to infiltrate to plant them.

If this is true, then what does it mean?  We live in a world where you can tour Venice on your laptop in real time.  You can skype video chat with someone in the Sudan for free, as much and as long as you want.  You can enter a city you've never seen before, with no map, and be guided to anything with with your GPS at no charge.  The notion of "I am here and you are not" is gradually and inexorably fading away, and it may be that soon the notion of the country or nation state will be as antiquated as morse code.  Maybe it already is.

I suspect that writer Paddy Chaefsky was prescient when, in "Network", his character Arthur Jensen says:

"There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians.  There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds.  There is no West... There is no America.  There is no democracy.  There is only IBM and ITT and A T and T and Dupont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon.  Those are the nations of the world today."

Maybe this was already true in 1976 when that film was made.  It seems to me that it is increasingly true as history marches forward and soon we may realize that the ineffectual, paralyzed government that now fails us at almost every turn is simply the logical consequence of the fact that our country, that all countries are becoming irrelevant to our safety, prosperity, happiness, and freedom.

People who fight for their second amendment rights are patsies, as the whole argument, on both sides, is intended to sell guns and ammunition and make corporations rich.  Which it is doing.  People who want us in the middle east to secure our energy freedom are likewise patsies, as the price of oil causes gasoline prices to go up when it rises, and also when it falls, and the whole point is to enrich the Koch brothers with petro-dollars.  Which it does.  People who fight for immigration reform, or against it, are simply doing the work that the multinational corporations want, and whatever adds to their bottom line will be the eventual outcome of that legislation.

And the two young men who slaughtered the innocents in Boston?  We may never know the true details even if some seeming "motivation" arises, because the truth is it really does not matter where they came from, or what ills plagued them, and it would not matter what the country we call the United States of American did or did not do.  The chain of cause and effect that led them to the state of anger, or despair, or madness, or whatever their motivation was did not proceed from the plans of any government, be it eastern or western, because governments control those causes less and less every day.

If we ever hope to find an answer to international and domestic terrorism, I suspect it we be after we re-think how the people of this planet are arranged and organized, about what constitutes, as Roger Waters wrote, "Us and Them."  We may have to realize that we are citizens of an organizing system that we neither understand nor control, that we don't even really see.