Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Earth Liberation Front used explosive devices to torch three unoccupied mansions in a new rural development Monday night, with damage estimated to be worth $7 million.

Arson and bombs are terrifying, but ELF goes out of its way not to harm people. So far, they have succeeded. Obviously, they run a calculated risk, and I am glad that they have succeeded in this aspect of their intention.

People have been calling their act “terrorism,” but ELF’s action is not the equivalent of bombing a mall during lunch hour -- not even close.` To equate property destruction with terrorism trivializes murder. I do not defend ELF. The risk they run is too great, and the property destruction in itself is sickening. (I would feel sickened if an arsonist destroyed my property. Maybe you wouldn’t; if so, you’re a rare breed.) But no matter how psychologically violent, and no matter how risky, an action that intends no physical harm against persons, and succeeds in that intention, is not terrorism -- even if arson is terrifying, which it is.

While mulling this over on Tuesday, I heard Tim McGraw’s song “If You’re Reading This” for the first time on the car radio. The song’s protagonist is a soldier who has died, who sings of the letter that he has written to his wife “to be opened in the event of my death.” It’s a heart-tugger -- stoic -- and it makes a claim for nobility. But the current war is not noble.

American culture rallies around the men and women who have volunteered for the military. I understand the urge to root for the home team. My country, right or wrong -- yes, but I would emphasize the my, where the slogan seems to celebrate the wrong. When my country is wrong it’s my duty -- not my right, my duty -- to say so. Because it is my country.

More than 4,000 Americans and an estimated 150,000 Iraqis have died in consequence of the American invasion of Iraq. I honestly do not understand what principle the protagonist of Tim McGraw’s song died for. Not to defend me or anybody else in America. Not to promote democracy. Not to liberate anybody. Why?

The U.S.’s invasion of Iraq was based on the doctrine of preemptive war. Even if Iraq had been found to have had mass-casualty weapons, the U.S. invasion still would have violated international law. It still would have been illegal and immoral -- and it still would have been nonsense. Even with the most catastrophic weapons available, Iraq would have posed no threat to the U.S.

The reply to this line of argument usually goes, “Remember 9/11.” I do remember it. I remember how unfathomably ghastly it was that nearly 3,000 Americans were murdered on one day -- the atrocity has not lost its shock.

Our invasion of Iraq has unleashed fifty 9/11s on a much smaller country. It was guaranteed -- from the beginning -- to kill at least as many people as died on 9/11.

And for what? To prevent another 9/11 here by making one somewhere else? That scenario presupposes not a suicide bomber, but a suicide dictator. If any third world leader were to launch an attack on the United States, they would sign their own death warrant. The threat posed to the U.S. by Iraq was minuscule. Tiny. Almost nonexistent -- theoretical at best.

American popular usage calls its warriors “heroes.” Maybe it is heroic to die or risk death for what you believe in. But if what you believe in makes no sense; if the only principle involved is blind loyalty to a murderous, lying commander; if enacting that loyalty implicates you in a war crime, where is the heroism?

Yesterday the juxtaposition of terrorism and heroism made American English feel like a foreign language.

-- photo by Mike Siegel, Seattle Times

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