We Have Always Been At War With The Taliban

We Have Always Been At War With The Taliban September 10, 2019

As of September 11th of this year, Americans freshly entering legal adulthood will have lived their entire lives in the post-9/11 era.

Already we have people in the military too young to remember that that surreal and awful day; soon people who did not even exist at the time will start to join them. (Disproportionately, people from poorer families, it should always be noted.)

And some of them will be sent to Afghanistan, to fight in a war that began before they were born.

A war against a foe who grew out of the US-allied anti-Soviet resistance — the Islamist Mujahideen — that we armed in the 1980s, the glorious Reagan era.

I cannot help being reminded of the passage from 1984,

Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia. The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.

“The US has always been at war with the Taliban.” It’s not literally true, of course, but it will be the lived truth for these young people.

Plumes of smoke billow from the World Trade Center towers
Photo by Michael Foran via Wikimedia commons, CC-BY-2.0.

And as we argue over whether or not our extraordinarily wealthy nation can afford to educate its citizens and provide them with basic medical care, but never question whether there is money for such endless war, another passage from Orwell’s masterwork comes to mind:

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 the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living. Ever since the end of the nineteenth century, the problem of what to do with the surplus of consumption goods has been latent in industrial society….

…For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away.

Consider this: out of the extraordinary 31 people who declared themselves candidates for the nominations of the two major parties this cycle, none of them opposed the illegal invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

To remind you of the circumstances of that invasion: the U.S. suffered a horrendous crime at the hands of Al-Qaeda, a non-state actor. The United States claimed to have evidence that Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden was directly responsible, believed that he was in Afghanistan, and demanded that the Taliban (the de facto government of Afghanistan) hand him over.

Rather than immediately complying, the Taliban asked to see the evidence. Instead the US started bombing. But there is no theory of law under which one nation is permitted to used armed force against another over an extradition dispute.

As law professor Marjorie Cohn, a past president of the National Lawyers Guild, has explained:

The UN Charter is a treaty ratified by the United States and thus part of US law. Under the charter, a country can use armed force against another country only in self-defense or when the Security Council approves. Neither of those conditions was met before the United States invaded Afghanistan. The Taliban did not attack us on 9/11. Nineteen men – 15 from Saudi Arabia – did, and there was no imminent threat that Afghanistan would attack the US or another UN member country. The council did not authorize the United States or any other country to use military force against Afghanistan. The US war in Afghanistan is illegal.

In the sort of national PTSD that gripped us in those days 18 years ago, I could forgive the man-on-the-street for confusing Afghanistan with Al-Qaeda; but national leaders should know better.

Heck, only two of those Presidential candidates, Sanders and Williamson, opposed the even more blatantly illegal invasion of Iraq a few years later.

There is no debate at all in our political process about militarism, no serious discussion about disbanding the huge force of aggression whose very existence goes against the explicit ideas of the Founders of this nation. The Founders believed a citizen militia was sufficient to defend the nation and that large standing armies were temptations for foreign adventures; they emphasized this in the Constitution itself, with Amendment II and with Article I Section 8’s limits on military appropriations. Yet today, questioning militarism is unthinkably unpatriotic for any American politician.

War. What is it good for? Keeping the status quo power structure in place across generations. Poor Americans will join the military, where they consume the productive capacity of our nation in order go kill poor brown people on the other side of the world.

So maybe some years down the road, the children of people who weren’t yet born on 9/11 will get to go kill people in Afghanistan. The Global War On Terror has been great for the ruling class, I’m sure they’d love to have it stretch on for generations to come.

The ancient Greeks recognized two very different deities of war, Athena and Ares. While Athena was not only a warrior but a jurist and a maker; when she fights, it is to protect that which has been created. Ares, on the other hand, was a thoughtless destroyer who brings death not only in war but in famine and pestilence.

And our society is too much Aresian and too little Athenian. We are too ready to give in to the easy mindless rage that ends in defeat and humiliation for the aggressor and destruction for their victims, rather than the difficult, judicious, creative — but still valiant and strong — way of wisdom. The problem is not merely political: it reaches to the deep spiritual level of how we see our relation with ourselves and the world.

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