Not long after Barack Obama began his term as US president, I wrote a piece called The Same Wars, the premise being that the Bush Administration wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were indistinguishable from the Obama Administration wars in those same places. I was writing this in the context of the phony torture debate in the spring of 2009, when there were still people around who would look you in the eye and speak well of Obama. Blind faith is so strange. There are fewer of those people around these days.
I think it's time to re-up this notion of sameness. It is uncontroversial to note that the Obama Administration has surpassed its predecessor in the prosecution of illegal, unjustified warfare. The United States now openly commits naked aggression on the people of six countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya. Prosecutable acts of aggression in each and every case. There is no justification for the drone attacks, the torture dungeons, the sprawling military bases, the checkpoints, the detentions, the home invasions, the daily humiliation, all the continued killing. Do we respond with tears or rage to the spiralling humanitarian crises in many of the places that the US and its NATO allies choose to either target with ammunition or ignore altogether?
Almost daily we hear of entire extended families wiped out by bombs that some rat-bastard US spokesperson claims were mistargeted, or malfunctioning, or anyway it was the victims' fault for living in close proximity to persons designated targets of illegal, extra-judicial killing. We hear of the US economy tanking but the bombs are made by wealthy corporations in the US. We hear of warlords and dictators whipped into a killing frenzy as though this justifies the invasions, occupations and "surgical strikes", even though it happens every goddamn time and you have to be a complete anti-historical moron to think this time will be different. Beyond the mendacious NPR/CNN blather about local folks "on the ground" praising their own victimization at US gunpoint, we hear from people committed to self-determination and forced to struggle not just against their own local oppressors but against the rogue superpower as well.
And then we hear other things, atrocities committed in other fields, the wars fought on other fronts. Acts of war committed in the form of oil spills. Legislative war against poor people and the working class. Propaganda wars, where Loughner and Breivik are lone crazies but any Arab's righteous anger is taken as evidence of impending jihad, and passengers on ships bearing letters of solidarity to the imprisoned people of Gaza are considered terrorists.
I say this over and over again because it never stops being true: the war is against clean air, clean water, clean soil. We are forced to accept bitter terms of defeat as access shrinks to unpoisoned food not grown on mutated farmland. The Fukushima catastrophe - that the reactor was even built in the first place! - was an act of war against the future, and that war extends to multiple fronts as reactors around the world are allowed to remain open, allowed to leak yet more toxins into our beleaguered ecology. (Where does that miserable asshole Obama stand on nukes? Look into it, it's not pretty.)
The global climate has gone utterly haywire and do-nothing politicians sit on their hands and do nothing but talk about how to enrich the rich. It's a war. They say "debt ceiling crisis" and if you don't hear "phony crisis propaganda" then it's working. I used to read and write about creeping fascism but that adjective - creeping - has become too tame. It's marching full stride. Outright racist religious fundamentalists vie for control of the US government, vie for the opportunity to become beneficiaries of corporate incentives to legislate in corporate favor, and the country's first black president continues to bomb black and brown people and their villages to dust. (The next US president might hate African-Americans, it's true, but will she have the blood of as many Africans on her hands as the current president? Time will tell, if we let it.)
The secretary of state is supposed to be a woman but state governments can choose with impunity to restrict women's reproductive rights. Men and women with soft palms and robust bank accounts deny workers the right to advocate for themselves. The government of my home state of New York decides to extend marital rights to same sex couples, provided they are willing to live in a place held hostage by toxic gas drilling corporations.
Earlier this summer, over in The Netherlands, the government waged what the famous Dutch composer Louis Andriessen correctly called a war on the arts. Arts budgets were slashed or erased in that haven for cultural freedom and funding, even while the US secretary of defense was next door in Belgium exhorting NATO countries to spend more money on the alliance's war machine. My friends and colleagues took to the streets of The Hague to oppose these tragically backward policies. It was an impressive show, both by the committed artists and their supporters and by the security forces, who played out their own little Greek street scene by beating down a few non-violent protesters.
Why has the war extended so far as the cultural sector in a place like The Netherlands? Why has it extended as far as a youth camp in Norway, where a footsoldier of white, racist, misogynist fundamentalism massacred scores of children one morning last week?
These are the same wars. When I marched in Amsterdam and London against the assault on Iraq before it began, none of my musician colleagues marched with me. They shrugged it off. Everyone has their own way to politics and so forth, so I write without judgement. But when it came time for them to take to the streets to agitate for their interests I am not sure that the "anti-war" folks rushed to their side. A little solidarity goes a long way. I take the extraordinary, decades-old struggle playing out in Egypt as an example: diverse groups standing up for each other (even after the Western cameras have gone on summer holidays).
When we realize that these offenses and atrocities are the same wars being fought, we can begin to strategize and not be left scratching our heads in confusion and frustration as we lose yet another battle. I don't have to know a soul in Yemen to understand that the bombs exploding there sound the same as the mountaintops of West Virginia being blown to pieces in some sleazy corporation's relentless pursuit of coal. I don't have to be deeply engaged in the day to day politics of Libya to know that when a mother loses her child to NATO bombs her sorrow is as real as the sorrow of a grieving mother in Oslo in the aftermath of Breivik's American ultra-right influenced killing spree. The children near Fukushima and the whales swimming in the Pacific take in the same radioactive toxins. Malnourishment stings as sharply in Detroit as it does in Mogadishu. Apartheid was as wrong in South Africa as it is in Israel. Freedom movements in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia deserve international solidarity as surely as similar movements in Egypt and Tunisia.
We ought to stop acting as though our daily horrors are some new thing cooked up out of nowhere. I think it's delusional to think we can be successful environmentalists without being committed anti-war activists too. We can't fight successfully for gains in education, or the arts, or civil rights, or reproductive rights, without realizing that we are fighting a war that is fought not only on the legislative level, but with guns and tanks and bombs as well. Worker's rights at home won't cut it if we don't pursue freedom for those enslaved in sweatshops abroad.
Our narrow self-interests will not win the day. The men and women in state and national capitols, and those in the corporate boardrooms, and those in the television studios, and those in uniforms at drone command centers, or in tanks, or at checkpoints, are of a piece with the Loughners and Breiviks. They're all of a piece with the energy fundamentalists at Exxon and BP and the rest who are pouring oil into rivers this summer. For fucking profit! You can probably figure out a more subtle way of saying it. But say it, get with it, because it's true: a war is swirling around you and you have agency over how you engage it.
These are the same wars. Enough with the false dichotomies between different actors in the same suits, between corporations and governments who want the same thing, between adversarial countries. You can fight or flee. But the earth is small, and they've got it surrounded, and you can't flee. So fight.