Sunday, 20 March 2011

War, Peace and Bullies

Now that Gaddafi's forces are being met with rockets and bombs from coalition forces to disable his air capabilities and drive back those in violation of the call for a ceasefire you would be forgiven for thinking that the war in Iraq is repeating itself. Indeed, as there is pro-war rhetoric that is driven by its own self-interested objectives there is also anti-war rhetoric that is driven exclusively by its own motives. Both do not frame their positions on the basis of contextual events. Rather, they are preformed positions - often due to deeply held beliefs and values. These inform what apriori positions people take on the subject of war, and must be respected in that light. But what practical use are these positions when looking down the barrel of a gun, or in confronting disproportionate use of force? When dealing with bullies, who do not have a position on anything but rather choose the convenience of whatever works to keep them in power over others, what options are available to the downtrodden?

Well for one - the downtrodden and oppressed can allow themselves to become cannon fodder, or they can resist the inevitable. When faced with real violence survival is the instinctive response. From a young age I have made careful observation of how this instinct drives people towards different responses - it is truly a binary; a fight or flight instinct that overcomes people under these circumstances. Most prefer flight, and choose to get out of violent conflict through whatever means are available for self-preservation. Bullies also respond in the same way, but they tend to employ whatever tactics they can - from guilt and pity to temper tantrums - to maintain a foothold over those under their spell. Bullies use whatever means they can to stay in power, and are often deeply convinced of their own right to leadership. In my experience, bullies need to be cornered and all options for escape need to be shut down on all sides. It is very rare that bullies actually fight to the death - dying nobly and martyring themselves is never high on a bullies agenda. For them, it is about survival first and foremost, despite the dramatic and theatrical performances they may put on for the public. Most dictators, for example, choose a comfortable life in exile rather than to die at home fighting on principle. Self-sacrifice is not their ultimate aim; their ultimate aim is maintaining power-relationships in their favour.

In personal confrontations with bullies I found that they break when they realise that the game is up - that is, when they are confronted by those who are willing to sacrifice themselves to see the end of a bullies reign. Bullies don't trust 'crazy guys' who don't care what happens to them and are bent on destroying them at all costs - in fact, they can scarcely relate to that level of commitment as they don't have a core that they can turn to; they are changelings, shapeshifters that adapt to emerging context. That is often why they are so difficult to break. They are wily, and will attempt to coerce those around them using any and all means that are available. Another thing about bullies is that they evade themselves and have limited ability to conduct any kind of self-analysis, except to emphasize their own merits or misfortunes - often retelling stories that reinforce the self-image they seek so desperately to create for the benefit of others. Indeed, they often have personal mythologies that they employ to justify whatever action they may choose to pursue, to the exclusion of other points of view. Bullies are not consensus leaders, they choose threat, coercion and manipulation as their instruments of power.

The  key argument put forward by anti-war lobbies is that Gaddafi should have been given the option to step down, like other leaders in the region, and that threatening Gaddafi with action from the International Criminal Court was a mistake as it has forced him into a no-way-out situation. Yet all indications of that are to the contrary - he thwarted every chance he was given. At no point did he show any respect for human rights, and used direct force against innocent civilians. In my view, Gaddafi will use any lifeline he can to delay action, build support and consensus around his own position, and entrench himself further. He may give the appearance of backing down, but all this is, is the strategic employment of delay tactics. After the UN announced the positive result of the vote for a no-fly zone, he quickly announced his own ceasefire, only to intensify his attacks against Misurata and Benghazi. Bullies are expert liars, and Gaddafi is a paramount exponent of misinformation and lies. Bullies are also experts at brinkmanship. They can go to the edge again and again, and perhaps derive a narcotic thrill from the experience.

Whenever you negotiate with a bully, you immediately assume a lower position in the power hierarchy. Bullies love negotiations, as that is where you become their audience. You are never an equal in a negotiation with a bully - you are a spectator to their drama and will always remain exactly that. They don't expect to negotiate - they expect a tactical engagement where tactics are employed to gain positional advantage. In this respect, brinkmanship is their main tactical ally. Bullies know how to wait you out and have supreme belief that in the end they will get their way. Chaimberlains biggest mistake was trusting Hitler, shying away from direct confrontation with Hitler. The result was the horrors of the second world war. Aggression, whether directed against another nation or against ones own people, when administered by a bully - must be met with direct and concerted force. If you don't set the boundaries for bullies then they establish them for themselves.

So where do the warmongers and the peaceniks feature in all of this? Being in favour of peace is not the same as being anti-war, and conversely, being in favour of war does not mean you are pro-war. Each situation must be judged on its particular context if an appropriate and adequate solution is to be found. Achieving peace sometimes requires violence - that is an unfortunate fact of life which nobody can avoid despite our deepest held beliefs. In this respect, rhetoric - whether pro-war or anti-war - is hardly useful, as it seeks to generalise war and conflict as an abstraction, independent of the context in which it operates. When dealing with dictators who have turned to violence, pleading with them to stop and providing multiple exit points from which they can escape responsibility hardly ever works as it plays into their own sense of vindication; that they have legitimacy. Where the peaceniks are correct, is that violence - once started - can often spiral out of control, or can result in cycles of violence that have no end.

Yet to pretend that the violence only started when coalition planes flew into attack on Libya is disingenous in the extreme. Massacres were already underway and Gaddafi was proceeding unhindered and unchallenged down the path of a bloody and absolute purge of the opposition. Indeed, he still refuses to even acknowledge that the opposition is anything more than a conspiracy contrived from outside Libya (i.e. Al Qaeda, America, Egyptians, Tunisians, ecstacy consuming youth, etc.) and is serious about conducting a door-to-door purge. My simple question is - is that peace? Is that the 'peace' that the anti-war rhetoriticians seek to preserve. Maybe if you've never had a gun to your face, or never had a knife to your neck then you can afford to dither about in disneyland, but if you have, then you know how quickly you can be reduced to absolutely nothing by a gun or knife toting moron, and how dangerous that can be.

A case in point is that Greenpeace itself uses force - althought not deadly force - to thwart Japanese whaling ships. They, in effect, do everything they can to declare a 'no-hunt' zone around the whales and put themselves in harms way to achieve this, yet their actions are seen as courageous and necessary by the very same people who seem happy to watch Libyans get bombed, dragged out of their homes, and mowed down in the streets by sniper rifles that South Africa sold to Libya in December. I am as flabbergasted by the knee-jerk reactions of peaceniks as I am by warmongers. They appropriate situations to champion their own deeply held beliefs, despite the realities of what the people facing the bullets are confronted with.

When people ask for your help, and when they can only survive a situation with your help, it is a humanitarian act to stand up for them, risk yourself for them, and to take action to help save them. It is not simply an act of war. Indeed, it can be an act of deep love itself. I am not philosophizing about this - I am drawing on my own subjective experience of violent confrontation, and I have never regretted using violence with good reason. I have regretted using violence inappopriately though, and I know the difference. It is far too simplistic in my view, to cast all violent efforts as fundamentally bad and all peaceful efforts as fundamentally good. It is a duality, and not a dualism or binarity of metaphysical opposites that peace and violence ascribes.

The same people who purportedly hate physical violence often have absolutely no problems with employing psychological and emotional violence. Perhaps because they are so afraid of recognizing the violence within them that it creeps out through other avenues. The soapboxing of rhetoric serves no purpose other than to elevate the one on the soapbox above others, and is often driven by that precise need. It is a violence of its own - the violence of utopia - which yields messianic visions and messiahs alike and tramples reality (and those caught within it) underfoot. Make no mistake, principle is a powerful tool for achieving humanitarian ends, but it can also suffocate and destroy the very humanity it seeks to protect. Principle, like violence, is a double edged sword and the idea that idealized, utopian positions taken on general principle are somehow noble is severely  misplaced and often destructive in itself.

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