Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Long Shadow of Spain

And the life, if it answers at all, replied from the heart
And the eyes and the lungs, from the shops and squares of the city
"O no, I am not the mover;
Not to-day; not to you. To you, I'm the

"Yes-man, the bar-companion, the easily-duped;
I am whatever you do. I am your vow to be
Good, your humorous story.
I am your business voice. I am your marriage.

"What's your proposal? To build the just city? I will.
I agree. Or is it the suicide pact, the romantic
Death? Very well, I accept, for
I am your choice, your decision. Yes, I am Spain."

from W.H. Auden, "Spain"

Looked at from the perspective of a pacifist (which I decidedly am not), I think it would be impossible to decide which is worse - the man who shouts "Allah Akbar" as he fires a rocket into a crowd of people standing in line for bread or the man who says nothing as he presses his thumb on a button that signals a drone aircraft a thousand miles away to launch a Hellfire missile on a house in which a suspected terrorist, along with members of his family, is residing.

And yet this is where we stand today. Terrorists can't possibly win a "fair fight" with the United States or any other modern army. So they hijack our commercial jets and fly them into skyscrapers. Or try to blow us up by lining their shoes or their underwear with explosives. Or they create bombs for which we had to invent the term "Improvised Explosive Device" that kill American troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.

By now, we all know that Bashar Al-Assad, dictator of Syria, is a monster to equal previous monsters like Saddam Hussein (death by hanging) and Gaddafi (death by ?). So what are we to do about him? No one appears to have a stomach for another shot at Regime Change. There was another time when no one (except the bad guys) had an appetite for war. It was the Thirties. Most armies were commanded by veterans of The Great War, the war that was supposed to end armed conflicts. Certainly Hitler had to be stopped, but no one in his right mind relished the idea of carrying it out. Certainly enough people remember what that war cost humanity.

Then came Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Shock and Awe, and whatever the ongoing mission in Afghanistan is called. Not to mention the Cold War, which seemed (20 years ago) to end in victory. U.S. and Allied forces are "scheduled" to pull out of Afghanistan next year. Nobody in his right mind could call it a victory. Our leaders' use of the ridiculous term "limited war" is nothing but their resignation to eventual defeat. Despite its coinage in the Boer War, nobody seems to know how to win a "guerrilla war".

In 1942, George Orwell wrote an essay he called "Looking Back On the Spanish War". The Spanish War was, of course, the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), in which the elected government of the Second Spanish Republic was (eventually) overthrown by a military coup led by Fascist General Franco. Fascist Italy and Germany supported - with men and weapons - the Franco side, while people who touted various left-leaning political agendas went to Spain to fight in "International Brigades", as well as with Spanish militias. Orwell fought in one such militia, and was wounded in the throat. Soviet Russia also provided guns and an untold number of unsolicited and often clandestine Communist spies to the Republican side.

What Orwell wrote about the "Spanish war" in 1942 sounds strangely familiar [italics are mine]:

"As far as the mass of the people go, the extraordinary swings of opinion which occur nowadays, the emotions which can be turned on an off like a tap, are the result of newspaper and radio hypnosis. In the intelligentsia I should say they result rather from money and mere physical safety. At a given moment they may be 'pro-war' or 'anti-war', but in either case they have no realistic picture of war in their minds. . . . We have become too civilised to grasp the obvious. For the truth is very simple. To survive you often have to fight, and to fight you have to dirty yourself. War is evil, and it is often the lesser evil. Those who take the sword perish by the sword, and those who don't take the sword perish by smelly diseases."

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