Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Secure Dwellings

"Facts need testimony to be remembered and trustworthy witnesses to be established in order to find a secure dwelling place in the domain of human affairs."
Hannah Arendt, Lying in Politics
The blogosphere is getting near to unreadable with the Lamont-Lieberman contest sucking up almost all available column inches. And, yes, I know I'm guilty of it too. My own theory is because it is a much easier issue to deal with than just about any other - an (obscenely rich and privileged) underdog, an unsympathetic "villain", and nothing personally at stake for people blogging from hundreds or thousands of miles away. Better that than the pictures of the butchered children Billmon has posted.

Someone who remains eminently readable, even as he refuses to write about comfortable topics, is LTC Bob Bateman, regular guest poster over on Altercation. He has offered up two provoking posts recently, one deceptively simple, one simply heartbreaking. Both of them put to shame the bloviation going on. In ordinary words spoken without exaggeration, Bob Bateman bears witness to terrible things in the realm of human affairs.

On July 18 (Sorry, the Permalink isn't working) he wrote:
When American humanitarian Marla Ruzicka was killed in Baghdad last year I wrote about her, as did many others, and she was known. When an American or European journalist is killed, the system works and they are known as well. Similarly, when a Soldier or Marine is killed, they merit ink and public eulogy once their names are released. But in this war the news comes in every day, displaying a sameness which confuses. It is “59 Iraqis killed by bomb” today, and on another day, “fourteen bodies discovered in Baghdad.” See here or here for example. Sadly, unless they are high government officials, at most all that is known of these victims is their town and, sometimes, their profession. They are anonymous, and with their anonymity, easier to deal with. Few accounts let you know an average Iraqi.

I cannot change this. I have no magic wand to wave and change the rules of the game of journalism and the market so that the corporations which constitute the news industry forgo some of their (generally double-digit) profit in favor of tripling their coverage in bad places around the world. I cannot remove Adam Smith’s damned-near-visible hand from this process. But I can tell you about one Iraqi, just one, and leave it to you to extrapolate.

Mayada Salihi: Red hair, raised in Baghdad, divorced mother of two adorable kids, herself the daughter of a divorced Shia mother and Sunni father. A scrapper. A Baghdadi through and through. Not always factual, but usually a truthteller. Devout fan of cheesy 1980’s American music, particularly Air Supply. Mayada was my translator through much of last year. You knew her too, albeit indirectly. It was because of May, and through her, that we found the schools which you so generously supplied and supported last year. Those who sent donations usually received a letter and pictures from me of the deliveries. May is in some of those photos. She was my friend.

Please look up the date and read all of his post.

It is possible to quantify the things of Bush's War - the bombs dropped, the vehicles destroyed, the dollars spent, the schools supplied by people like LTC Bateman, Mayada Sahili, and others. Good as well as bad can be added up this way, though good seems in short supply. We can even count the sheer numbers of dead, tortured, maimed. What Bob's account does is make us aware of a miracle that was ended - this woman's life and all that came into being because of her actions. I am left to wonder about Ishtar of Iraqi Screen, who has not posted in nearly a month. Is she all right? Has she simply sickened of documenting the atrocities? I think of how that term is used so blithely by Atrios in relation to Sunday punditry on TV, and then I go to her blog and find no new accounts of true atrocities. Is Ishtar alive? I hope so. It is with women like this in mind that I wrote of our Days of Obligation, a moral charge not to allow women like May and Ishtar to perish in anonymity because we have tired of our excellent imperial adventure. Read all of Bob's post and understand why we are obligated to this woman.

Bob's second post was from today, and it offers up his version of Hannah Arendt's famous injunction to "think what we are doing":

We have a problem in the United States. Well, we have a lot of problems of course, but one in particular I can help alleviate. We have a problem of knowledge. More specifically, we have a problem with a lack of knowledge about one particular topic: War...

So I enjoin you to read. Not just Altercation (though, of course, continue to do that), and not just the news about war, but I think that I must ask you to read about war, become educated in war, so that, in the end, you can discuss war with reason, facts, understanding of theories, and hard-nosed comprehension...

I have realized that almost nobody has actually read Clausewitz, and even fewer have read the thought-pieces which resulted in the idiotic theory of “Shock and Awe.” But you need to read a lot of history, and at least some military theory, to really understand how damned stupid the idea of Shock and Awe really was, and how it has been tried (under different names) over and over again since the late 1920s, and it never works! Perhaps, just perhaps, if some people in the right places had read more military history, well, things might have turned out different. So, here are some recommendations. I am not smart enough to say, “Here is my top 10”…other wiser people have done that aplenty. But you can go here and see one list, here and see another, or if you’re in more of an academic mood, try this list here. (Oh, and I also recommend Professor Grimsley’s blog itself, where thoughts on war run deep. That’s here. These are starting points, only.

I have read Clausewitz, though it was back in my grad school days, and I admit I have no background in the "Shock and Awe" theory of warfare, though I am shocked and sickened by much of its results. I will try to educate myself more about war and give facts another place in the world in which they may be secure. And if they may be secured, perhaps living people can be sheltered, too.


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