Perhaps I’m feeling particularly cynical this morning. I’ll chalk it down to general grumpiness.
Somehow, I was not surprised to read the triumphant headline on SF Gate this morning declaring that the United States Military had killed Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi in a bombing raid over Iraq. The military claims this bombing was the culmination of two weeks of strenuous searching for Al-Zarqawi.
It’s interesting, because the Chronicle isn’t particularly hawkish, to note the air of childish pleasure and victory in the article and accompanying photo gallery (note–these images include dead people and politicians, so if either of these things disturb you please don’t click this link). I especially like the caption accompanying an image of some of his mourners: “Two Jordanian veiled women, reportedly Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s sisters,” as though it may be in question whether Al-Zarqawi had family or not.
But I’m also interested to note that Mr. Bush’s approval rate has been slipping, and in the image of him included in the photo gallery he has a naked, unabashed smile. He’s stoked, and well he should be–if the American public accepts this is a profound blow in the war on terrorism, his approval rating will go up.
I suppose my questions are this: is it really Al-Zarqawi dead in these images? Does it matter? Did we really need to search for him or did we already know where he was? Is this a strike at the heart of the terrorists? Or is this something more elemental, and therefore more sinister?
Al-Qaida has shown itself to be an immensely well organized, resourceful organization. I suspect that Al-Zarqawi’s death won’t have much of an effect on Al-Qaida because there’s someone to take his place, and there probably always will be. This is the way that organizations like Al-Qaida work–there are cells, there are backups, and it’s impossible to cut off the head because there is no head. Therefore, I have a difficult time accepting the murder of this man by precision bombing as an effective strike in the war on terror. Of course, I also have a difficult time swallowing the war on terror, so maybe I’m not the best authority.
Certainly Al-Zarqawi doesn’t sound like a terribly nice man, and the bombing may have saved someone, somewhere some suffering–but other people still suffer, and will continue to do so.
I’ve been pondering the war on terror a lot lately because I just re-read 1984, and Orwell made some excellent points about wars without end. He inserts a little diatribe into the book in the form of Goldstein’s manifesto (and at this point it hardly matters whether it was written by Goldstein or O’Brien, or if O’Brien is Goldstein). The manifesto has this to say on page 188 of my Signet Classic Edition: “The primary aim of modern warfare (in accordance with the principles of doublethink, this aim is simultaneously recognized and not recognized by the directing brains of the Inner Party) is to use up all the products of the machine without ever raising the general standard of living.” The essay goes on to explain the inevitable post-war boom that should by all rights have occurred, elevating the standard of living for all of society. When one is trying to keep a population in hand, “it was also clear that an all-round increase in wealth threatened the destruction–indeed, in some sense was the destruction–of a hierarchical society.” The war keeps the masses at work, and gives them a solid reason to love their country and hate the enemy. (We are war with Eastasia. We have always been at war with Eastasia.) To abolish the heirarchy is to destablize society, and it is therefore crucial that the classes remain in place, and at war with each other.
Orwell cuts right to the heart of the matter when he says that “it is also necessary that he should be a credulous and ignorant fanatic whose prevailing moods are fear, hatred, adulation, and orgiastic triumph. In other words, it is necessary that he have the mentality appropriate to a state of war. It does not matter whether the war is actually happening, and, since no decisive victory is possible, is does not matter whether the war is going well or badly.” He goes on to talk about how continuous war “also ceases to be dangerous,” and that nations must make war on their own citizens (through things like the Thought Police) in order to keep them in a state of fear. From the perspective of a citizen, the Thought Police exist because of the war, to protect citizens from infiltrators in their midst. From a governmental view, the Thought Police exists to keep the populace in check. The war, Orwell explains, eats up the surplus of excess goods while keeping the people in a state of fear–an ideal mixture to maintain a hierarchical society–“the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact.”
I’m not an immense subscriber to conspiracy theories or the belief that our government is in league against us. But I think anyone with a brain can see some obvious parallels between the world Orwell envisioned and the world we live in now. We are in a state of perpetual war, and we do experience resource shortages. The proles do accept incursion by the Thought Police as part of the inevitable war effort, and the intellectuals are vanished, marginalized, or subsumed into the Party. The government and its shady hands are given free reign to “do as they must to protect us,” and rabid fanatics do support “the war” in all its abstract glory. The victims of war are, of course, hidden, with the exception of a few token patriots to enhance our war fever. Our telescreens blare out daily updates on the war, and society continues much as it always has–deeply stratified between the rich, who do nothing, and the poor, who do everything with no hope of advancement. Part of the problem is that most people don’t educate themselves, seek alternate opinions, or attempt to understand information on an in-depth level. Most Americans accept things at face value, instead of wisely delving behind the face to see who is speaking, and what their motives may be. I firmly believe that information is freedom, and I am deeply disturbed by the chokehold the government has on our access to information.
Our existence as a free society is under threat due to the war on terror–the question is, who is threatening us–the terrorists, or ourselves?
[war on terror]