Thursday, April 14, 2011

Critical Rhetoric Failure

I'm one of those people who likes to paw through the merchandise at Barnes & Noble without ever buying anything. I'm okay with that, as otherwise I'd end up spending money on trash like this -- Histories Greatest Lies by William Weir. Now I like a good deconstruction of popular history as much as the next guy but that's not what Weir is apparently going for. Take his thesis on Afghanistan:
"Afghanistan has been conquered many times throughout history, but foreign invaders have not been able to unify or control the country for long."

Let that sink in for a minute... See the problem? Like Marx, Weir's argument defeats itself -- and ruins an otherwise okay book (I have to give him credit for defending Nero who, despite his many flaws, responded quite nobly to the Great Fire). The fact that Alexander, the Brits, the Soviets, and now the US can't exert proper imperial control over the country is solid evidence that yes, the notion that Afghanistan is unconquerable (or if you're being serious, that it's the graveyard of Empires) is absolutely true.

It's hard to tell how much of this is apologetics for the DoD's decade-long failure and how much is Weir being sincere (if sloppy). Americans who spend as much time obsessing over the military as Weir does -- at least as indicated by his previous output -- tend to be a reflexively conservative bunch. Not in a strictly partisan sense, but more in a comfortably traditional way, where military service is regarded as the height of virtue, leading to such suck jobs on the Pentagon's misadventures. War is less a subject to be studied and more of an escapist fantasy, full of good guys (Americans) and bad guys (Muslims, formerly Commies) dukeing it out in clear, conventional battles with no political goals in mind.

That's the key here. Weir's reasoning, whatever its cause, is symptomatic of a larger American disconnect with the reality of warfare. We view it as existing in a vacuum devoid of ugly political realities, where victory on the battlefield -- often defined as raw attrition -- is the one and only measure of success. As Stan Goff said, regarding his superiors' view of the '94 Somalia mission, "We killed more people so we fucking won!"

Things haven't changed since Somalia. At all. This same disconnect extends beyond the commentariat, all the way to the politicians and generals who conduct these imperial adventures. Their myopic focus on killing the bad guys blinds them to the reality that blowing apart a neighborhood to get one guy with an RPG is a tactical and strategic failure unless your only goal is to exterminate the native population. All the happy talk about "winning hearts and minds" is just that -- talk. Except the clowns in the Pentagon believe it, without a shred of cognitive dissonance, because American culture at large encourages a fantastical -- and self-serving -- hallucination in place of the surrounding world.

1 comment:

  1. Is it more sad that Weir would say something like that, or that many of his readers would not see the discrepancy in his statement at all?