Sunday, October 10, 2010

Losing the plot

This place, Afghanistan, is growing darker and weirder by the week.

The defence minister said Sunday that he is considering authorizing bombings by Italian fighter jets in Afghanistan if Parliament backs the decision following the killing of four soldiers there.
Minister Ignazio La Russa told Sky TG24 TV Sunday that while Italy's participation in the NATO mission in Afghanistan can't change "from one day to the other," its fighter jets must be able to bomb if necessary.
La Russa has withheld permission for aerial bombings in order to avoid mistakenly killing innocent civilians.
Four Italian soldiers died Saturday in a bomb and shooting attack on a convoy...
"It was my decision that the fighter jets use only small cannons aboard, thus Italy has planes without bombs," La Russa said on state TV."I thought they could do without them, because there is the risk of harming civilians. That's why, up to now, I've said no."
But given the "enormous sorrow" over mounting Italian troop deaths, "I no longer feel able to take this responsibility by myself, given what has been happening" he added.
"I want that decision to be either backed or changed by the relevant parliamentary commissions," La Russa said.

A "bombing and shooting attack on a convoy" is called an ambush. If air support was needed for the Italians to defend themselves, it could have come from any of the bombed-up NATO aircraft which patrol Afghanistan's skies. From a practical point of view, whether Italian aircraft could bomb or not would like have made no difference. Unless of course the Italian's preferred their own restricted-use air support over the rest of NATO. Dumber things have happened but I'd find that highly unlikely.

The darker point here is what is implied by the Italian government's new position. If their rationale for restricting their air force to a strafing role was to avoid civilian casualities, authorising it to bomb now implies they no longer care about Afghan civilians. If they no longer care about the non-combatants, what is the point of sticking around and expending more of their own lives? If there is no one there worth fighting for, are the Italians now losing lives and treasure to protect the local dust, rocks and trees from the Afghans?

But this is just the latest incarnation of the weird late-Western hegemony death cult Afghanistan has become for the  countries involved. A couple of times now we've seen Canada bring family members of our dead to Kandahar who then go on to make politically slanted public statements about the need to continue the fight.  Where in the history of modern war has this ever happened? Two world wars and a Korea, many many thousands times more casualties and greater stakes than Afghanistan, and we built cenotaphs and assign a single day to remember them. And now Afghanistan, a small optional war with no clear purpose, and we've renamed highways so that every day millions of drivers can be reminded of the Great Cause of the Noble Dead in an attempt to amplify the war to the symbolic stratum of far greater conflicts.

The politicians may have their cynical reasons for permitting such activities, but the way in which the war has been emotionally amplified in the public discourse is absurd. It's like a bad reality TV show. Real people, but in an environment on the other side of the planet 99 per cent of the country has never seen. We come to know the place through ramp ceremonies for our dead, dusty photos of weathered men and women in local garb, or actions shots of soldiers patrolling a field or standing beside the burning wreckage of some vehicle. Sometimes we see images of the dead. Mostly we read about them: four NATO soldiers killed here,  5 Afghans killed there. A wedding bombed. Often we get reports from knowledgable people who tell us things are growing worse, the enemy growing incrementally stronger. But we can't ever leave because to leave...would mean what? That we'd dishonour OUR dead  (we never talk about what the Afghan dead mean for the Afghans)? So we must keep at it, producing more of our own dead because the alternative, admitting to ourselves that our dead are the price of our mistake, that we've had our first war that did not end in a victory parade, is simply too much for our padded idealism.

Stay tuned for the next season of "Afghanistan" the award winning drama, now entering its 10th season. Join us on the dusty landlocked island on the the far side of the planet where our heroes found themselves stranded after those plane crashes in 2001. Will they finally discover the secret of the Taleban and get off the Island? And what of Pakistan, a friend or otherwise? Who will die this season?

Or will viewers at home finally grow frustrated with looking at the same recycled plot season after season and stop watching so the network finally cancels the series?

Afghanistan isn't about Afghanistan. It's about us. It is our mirror mirror on the wall. As long as we see ourselves as fighting the good fight in honour or vengeance of the glorious dead, for some idealist notion of little girls and democracy, we shall fail to see that fantasy for the ugly reality of what it is.


Randall said...

Didn't we used to mock the Russians for this?

Dana said...

Oh, Boris, you still seem to think there's some kind of rationality surrounding this sequence of choices.

Remember the state of the world at the beginning of the Enlightenment?

We're devolving. Quite quickly as it turns out.

Sometime before my life is over I fully expect some poor academician somewhere in the western world to be burned, perhaps not literally lashed to a wooden stake, but dead nonetheless. It may or may not be sanctioned by a government considered to be democratic. It may be the action of a non-governmental agency of some kind. It will however result in either no charges being laid or charges substantially reduced from homicide.

In other words it will be open season on academicians; and scholars, and philosophers, and teachers, and anyone else who makes the almighty unwashed mass, the people, feel diminished.

Because that's what democracy, the way its understood today, is going to result in pretty fucking soon - mob rule.

Keep an eye.

I've got probably 20 to 25 years left at this point.

Alison said...

Afghanada ... you loved it on CBC ...

Edstock said...

What's old is new again. It's in Afghanistan with monoplanes instead of Eritrea and biplanes, but for the first time in, what, 75 years? — Italian aircraft are strafing tribal types.

Scanner said...

It was a stupid war in 2003, it's still a stupid war. To get real vengance on those who perpetrated 9/11 (supposing that would not involve bombing Washington) a cut in oil consumption by 15 to 20% probably would bankrupt Saudi Arabia and would certainly hamstring big oil. Think what 1,000 billion dollars would do towards alternate fuel research and energy efficiency.
Alison, I think it would be a very interesting exercise to get the DVD of all 5 seasons of Afghanada and do an analysis of the political position of the storyline from 2005 til now. Plots are getting darker all the time.