Apr 11, 2017

Why Do We Focus on the Gleaming Bombs, Not the Aftermath?

"Perhaps our whole fucked up attitude to war comes from only ever seeing our missiles taking off, only ever seeing our soldiers setting out."
By Frankie Boyle / facebook.com
Why Do We Focus on the Gleaming Bombs, Not the Aftermath?

Nothing more perfectly embodies White America than a 70 year old golfer firing missiles at the Middle East from his country club. Some sticks in the mud probably expect a host of formalities to be gone through before attacking another country: a UN investigation, or congressional approval perhaps, but personally I'm just glad to see a guy with the temperament of a mistreated circus animal launching ballistic missiles on a hunch. It seems statesmanlike and decisive. It's difficult to tell what Syria's moderate rebels are really like, as journalists can't really be embedded with them, because they'd be beheaded. But I refuse to be cynical: there's every chance that Assad's end will see a peaceful, pastoral period for Syria once groups like Allah's Flamethrower and Infidel Abattoir get round the table and good-naturedly sort out their deep seated differences on the finer points of Islamic Law. Perhaps this is a period which Syrians will one day look back on and laugh, if laughter is still allowed.

Not only will Democrats support any war Trump chooses to start, they'll be outraged by any voters who hold it against them at the next election. Hillary Clinton called for the airstrikes immediately before they happened. We'd do well to listen to the woman who is the architect of modern Libya, where her neoliberal intervention introduced the principals of the free market with such clarity that the country now has several different governments competing for the right to kill everybody. Clinton was criticised for running a tone-deaf, aloof campaign but Democrats have rallied, pointing out that many people didn't vote for Hilary because Trump is a Russian spy, and people who didn't vote for Hillary are Russian stooges, and people who voted for Hillary but not very enthusiastically are also Russian stooges, and slowly but surely the goodwill has begun to return.

Personally, I think it would be great if Putin was controlling Trump. I'd love to think there was a rational, malevolent actor directing him rather than just a combination of his own blood sugar levels and the concept of vengeance. I honestly think we'd be in less trouble if he was being controlled by the dark wizard Thoth Amon, or if his body had been taken over by a sentient bacterial civilisation that was using him as a kind of Lifeship. I'm not saying it's impossible that Trump was moved by the plight of Syria's children, perhaps in the same way that Tony Soprano got really upset when that guy killed his horse, it's just that the balance of probabilities is that he doesn't care about them, even enough not to ban them from entering his country.

The Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said that the UK government had close discussions with the US over the few days running up to the attack and had been given "advance notice of the President's final decision". Odd then, that immediately after the chemical attack the Guardian cites Downing Street officials (on a tour of despots with the prime minister in the Middle East) who, when asked about military reprisals, said “nobody is talking about that”. Sort of makes you wonder if there's any contempt that can be shown by the US that will stop us drooling about our "special relationship" like we're some kind of stalker. I doubt the Americans see us as a valued ally. We're just somewhere that they stick a few missiles. My best guess is that they think of us in the way that we would think of a shed.

At the prospect of a war, the media reacted with the exuberant joy that I remember fights bringing to a school playground. War copy sells well, and is easier to write. A good way to get a handle on the media's attitude to conflict is to try to write a thousand words on a United Nations sponsored bilateral negotiation, then the same on a missile cutting a hospital in half. The Guardian exuberantly described the "pinpoint accuracy" of Tomahawks. I'm not sure accuracy is strictly relevant when you're delivering high explosives, the ultimate variable. In the West, we've never needed the military spectaculars favoured by Soviets and dictators; the news has always been our missile parade. On MSNBC the launch of the Tomahawks was repeatedly described as "beautiful". And there is a certain beauty at that point in their trajectory. Perhaps we should focus on some other point. It would be nice to see a shot of them ten seconds before they drop on their screaming victims. Or two days later when bodies are being pulled from the rubble. Maybe a shot from ten years down the line when the shell casings form part of a makeshift gallows, reflected in the glass eye of an implacable amputee warlord. Perhaps our whole fucked up attitude to war comes from only ever seeing our missiles taking off, only ever seeing our soldiers setting out.

Ignoring international law is bad for all sorts of reasons, not least because it's the same position as Assad's. Knowing that our own resolve is only strengthened when people attack us and expecting other people's to be weakened is suggestive of a kind of racism. Pouring arms and bombs into an intractable conflict means that you are happy for it to be prolonged and worsen. Britain's activities in the Middle East historically mean we almost can't imagine what a moral position might look like. We have a huge navy that we could use to pick up the thousands of Syrians, Libyans and others scheduled to drown in the Mediterranean this year, for a fraction of the cost of the bombs we've dropped on them. I wonder if those people know, clambering onto boats with their frightened children, many of whom have never seen the sea before and will never see land again, that we aggressively tune out images like this, should they ever reach us at all. That we see all these lives we could save as part of a chaotic, insoluble mess, better not thought about; we who focus so intently on the sleek, clear lines of bombs.

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