Monday, March 5, 2007

Guerrillas in the Fog of War

"You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. 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!" - Ned Beatty's monologue from Paddy Chayefsky's Network.

For anyone who has watched the movie Network, it would do little good for me to remark on how prescient the film remains, and how strangely deaf we have been to its warnings. I, myself, often catch....myself thinking in the context of nations and peoples -- a mode of thinking now obsolete since the Cold War.

With the war in Iraq as it is, with our current administration continuously proving their inept world-view and many of our potential candidates still deliberating a plan for this prolonged struggle, it appears as though I am not the only one who has difficulty contextualizing the threat of terrorism and the quagmire of Iraq. How can we even think of Iraq as a nation or its people a people? The borders of what is now Iraq were drawn not by its inhabitants, but by the Western powers of England and France after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire(which as we know was based entirely on putting your feet up).

As is painfully clear today, the people of Iraq were never fellow citizens, but sects of Muslims each harboring an animosity towards one another that predates the founding of their "nation". Since the partitioning of the Middle East, Western powers have fallen prey to their own misunderstanding of the region, its religious past, and its peoples' wants. To compound our present predicament, we have begun our war in the pretext of an ideological battle, our War on Terror. While this has lead many to draw analogies to our failed war in Vietnam, the comparison remains scant at best; at least the ideological battle against Communism was drawn with borders.

If you want to compare this war with any, I suggest we take a look at some more movies. Let's take it back to Summer 1996, when we as a nation got our first glimpse of Will Smith battling (not yet getting jiggy with) aliens in the uber-patriotic blockbuster, Independence Day. The people of earth were outmatched, outgunned, and taken by surprise by the alien occupiers. How did we defeat these insurmountable odds, reclaim our planet, not go gentle into that goodnight? We did the same damn thing that the terrorists today are doing. Hell, we even sent Randy Quaid on a suicide bombing mission, remember. Let's not forget that this is how we defeat aliens, because we come up with a plan that they could not possibly foresee with their vastly superior technology and telepathy (see Signs, when it turns out that the "primitive means" we use to defeat the aliens is nothing more than splashing water on them).

So how come we understand the basic drive of guerrilla warfare on summer movie screens, but fail to comprehend its use against our vastly superior technology? I can guarantee that President Bush has seen and enjoyed Independence Day, yet how does he believe that sending in more troops will do the job? This isn't the Western Front, the DMZ, or the 39th Parallel; there are no landmarks to define victory, and there appears to be no end in sight to this conflict.

After the terrorist attacks on September 11th, French (who would have guessed?) cultural theorist, Jean Baudrillard commented that the suicide bombings were a "definitive act that is also unanswerable". Think of your own personal shock and speechlessness while watching the events of that Tuesday morning. Now imagine being in charge of our catatonic nation. Baudrillard continues: "the global superpower totally disarmed. Fighting itself, it can only founder in its own logic of power relations, without being able to play in the field of symbolic challenge and death, as it has eliminated the latter from its own culture."

As many have commented, the attacks in 2001 resembled a high-budget movie, which we watched endlessly repeat for months sitting glued to our televisions for news on the latest threat. So if the attacks seemed like a movie, then all I'm saying is that maybe we should take a look at a few movies in order to comprehend them, for only in high-budget movies do we seem to understand the type of war that is being fought.

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