December 22, 2006
Noel Gallagher @ the Perth Concert Hall
The vulgarity of Oasis' demographic is no secret. The bad smell's been around for years. In my time I've found it to be true that the curious, spiky displays of loyalty the band ignite in their audiences may well move you to crave the fantastically implausible: that all of Mother England's Lads (MELs) might acquire a fatally pronounced bout of scurvy.
It's called "lad culture", or sumfin', and it was born in relation to Oasis during Blair's honeymoon years (how far away they seem now). Had Oasis been born in Thatcher's furnace, I may well view these mass movements of obnoxiousness as brave defiance, but as it stands, it's bloody well not.
Of course, loutishness is not unique to British Oasis fans (although my observations of Oasis chat-rooms have led me to believe that Japanese fans are very well-balanced), nor is it unique to Britain. But certainly, the almost all-English crowd at the concert hall tonight presented something peculiarly British--an Oasis fandom, exquisitely unaware, or uncaring, of the unspoken rules of acoustic gigs.
One may have thought that the overwhelming British-ness of the audience was due to the fact that it's only the Brits that give a toss about these guys anymore, but another reason became evident at my pre-gig quaff at Fenian's pub: The Ashes were in town. It all clicked into place. The day's play (the penultimate one) ended an hour or so before Noel came on-stage. I figured on the geography--the WACA was just a few kilometres from the venue, and covering the space between the two points was a hospitable cluster of pubs and hotels. Of course--on this day it was a British wonderland. Sure, the cricket was going miserably, but the weather was fine and, hell, everyone was pissed anyway. What a day--cricket, Noel Gallagher, the pub. It was home, but with better weather. As I stood at the bar at the bottom of the concert hall, and admired a wonderful sunset over the Swan river with hundreds of English travellers, I suspected a few would be privately weighing the costs and benefits of illegal alien-hood. G'day from WA.
And so it was--the Barmy Army was dislocated from the WACA, all bloated and giddy from a day's sun and heroic levels of mid-strength beer, and transferred to the velvet-y splendour of Perth's concert hall. When the lights went out, suggesting the imminent arrival of our Noel, the crowd beat itself up into a frenzy--a deafening roar of competing football chants and wilder, individual cries. This was not Oasis, mind you, but just Noel and an acoustic guitar, humbly supported by a percussionist and Gem, who sometimes played keys or backing guitar.
Yes--everyone was drunk and sunburnt, and had translated the day's cricketing humiliation into a parochial seizure. One heckler, curiously, kept screaming out "Scunthorpe!" between songs, without any helpful supporting context, and Noel, who had not managed to shut him up with threats, resorted to embarrassing the man: "'Scunthorpe'? That's nothing to boast about, young man". It worked.
There was a fine gentleman behind me who roared and wailed almost entirely incoherently, but he was polite enough to reserve lucidity in order to advertise his football club--Derby County. This man was so wild and aggressive in the sounds he made--so alien--that thoughts of telling him to shutup were abandoned for fear the good Derbyshirian would hurl me fatally off the top tier. The Today Tonight promos ran through my head: "Looking Back in Anger: How not Heeding a Lyrics Sentiment Killed a Man" and "Wonderbrawl!: MELs Kill Respectful Listener". I clenched my teeth and waited for the next song, confident that if I died, the Today Tonight poll asking whether the Barmy Army should be deported en masse would overwhelmingly be agreed upon.
You may have detected a whiff of snobbishness here, and you'd be right to--but there's a point to my rant that's irreducible: drunk fuck-nuts are drunk fuck-nuts, and that goes for Liam Gallagher, too.
Sitting through the performance--slightly re-arranged versions of the great old b-sides and classics--I got the horrible feeling that I had grown up too much to enjoy Noel (not grown up enough, no, but enough to feel uneasy in that den of wild chatter and pop anthems). I got to thinking how nice it would be if Noel's self-perceived gift of wittiness could find a place in his lyrics, and I twitched uncomfortably when he sung the chorus to "Fade Away" (while we're living/the dreams we have as children fade away) and got to thinking how incongruous that piece of whimsy was with its author. No, it's not really a problem when the songs are this good (and I was really nodding my head to this version), but the fact was I was thinking--a sure sign you're missing the thrill of pop.
After the gig the three of us piled out as quickly as possible, and searched for something to eat. We needed to get away from the swaying hordes of hyper maked-up girls and polo shirts. After some time we found a kebab store and sat down outside. It was then I remarked on the significance of what we had been talking about since leaving the gig, a space of 25 minutes. We had been talking about Alan Partridge. The significance was that there was no post-gig post-mortem, but the thing is, there was nothing to say. Our deflation eclipsed Noel's presence. More, listening to Noel idly churn out the classics (it was the last stage of a world-wide tour) had an end-of-an-era feel to it. It just seemed right to be there, to pay homage to nostalgia, and to do so away from those crowds, in those festivals. A night of acoustic intimacy, I thought, might nicely round off my time with Oasis; a last, intimate conversation with my childhood. That sense of intimacy was exploded, however, and I could not be moved to appreciate the gig in the ways of everyone else. This was one last, selfish desire I had of Oasis--to appreciate their legacy as a solipsist--and I thought a small acoustic set at the concert hall would do it. Of course, it didn't.
Oasis remain for our good MELs what they were over ten years ago--a lofty, swaggering testament to hedonism and thuggery. It's a shame, and perhaps one sensed by Noel too, if his response to some particularly inane and ribald commentary made from the front of the audience is any measure: "that might have been funny 8 years ago, my friend, but as it stands, it's fucking mind numbing".
I would like to think that Noel's humbled these days by contemplating the culture he's helped create. Well, perhaps not so much as "created" but unleashed or titillated. If he is, and he may never admit it, he's right to be embarrassed.
Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 4:24 PM
December 14, 2006
The House is a Desert
Wanting dearly to add to this "love" dialogue, I pulled down both volumes of Peter Watson's history of ideas, climbed onto my bed, and turned to the indices, looking for "love". I found nothing. I tried "passion" and "sex" and sub-headings of "Christianity". "Sex" was offered in the latter volume (1900-present), and treated Kinsey, pornography, equality--matters for the psychologist or anthropologist or activist, but nothing for the aspiring metaphysician. Desperate, I turned to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Again, nothing. Distracted, I read about Martin Luther and his theological dilemma (he solved it), and thumbed lazily through the voluminous "mammalian" section.
Aggrieved, I pulled down Josef Goebbels diaries (a mild act of perversion) and turned to the back--unsurprisingly the index listed places and names, and had no space for abstractions, and so I re-read Magda Goebbels' final dispatch, an exercise in delusion and half-veiled doom, penned to her eldest son Harald, the only Goebbels' child who had not spent his last days in Hitler's bunker. It is written on the day Hitler married Eva Braun, and who then took their honeymoon in death, and terrifyingly, the missive makes tender reference to Harald's four young siblings who would die by their mother's hand later that day: "The children are wonderful. They make do in these primitive circumstances without any help".
But in signing off, Magda does make reference to "love", and in doing so makes a half useful distinction:
I embrace you with my warmest, most heartfelt and most maternal love.
My beloved son
Live for Germany!
Or die. And thus ended my ridiculous search for easily discoverable, objective treatises on love. Well... not quite.
My literalness not wholly abandoned, I turned to the OED, and noted multiple definitions of "love". This one caught my eye:
1. a. That disposition or state of feeling with regard to a person which (arising from recognition of attractive qualities, from instincts of natural relationship, or from sympathy) manifests itself in solicitude for the welfare of the object, and usually also in delight in his or her presence and desire for his or her approval; warm affection, attachment.
This recalled for me Thomas Aquinas' writings on the matter, when, in considering that "there is love in God" declared:
But love wills something for someone. For we are said to love that for which we will some good, as said above. Hence, those things which we want, we are, properly and absolutely, said to desire, but not love--rather to love ourselves for whom we want these things. And for this reason--accidentally and not properly--these things are said to be loved.
Aquinas' declaration may touch on the OED's consideration of welfare, and its implication of selflessness, but it conflicts with the OED's reference to the pleasure the lover receives in loving. If we love someone, do we not want them? Do we not want to be pleased by love? Surely to do so is to desire the source of this pleasure? Yes, of course, and Aquinas is thrown from the tracks as our modern adventurer searches for that most difficult and pleasing of equilibriums: to will genuine good for someone, but to receive enormous profit for doing so.
This acknowledgment has been made in modern theology, most recently by Pope Benedict in his first encyclical delivered last year. The Pope moved to distinguish "Eros"--the erotic love between a man and a woman, and "agape"--unconditional love. Benedict says that "Eros" is fine, as long as it is contained within "agape"--basically an extension of marriage.
So where does this get us? Well, if our intellectual and moral movements are chained to the Church, then it seems you can have your erotic cake and eat it too. But I'm no closer to understanding just what "love" is.
Naturally, love is not amenable to one definition. We may ask religion to help us practice love, and science to instruct us of its chemistries. If we turn to literature we are introduced, with great intimacy, to others' experience of it, but it is, of course, our own experience that proves the most instructive. If we accept the philosopher Bertrand Russell's opinion, that love is an absolute value, not a relative one, then it cannot be articulated, rather only experienced, and so we have something like Wikipedia's description: "...an ineffable feeling of affinity".
This does not mean we cannot speak of love per se, but rather discuss what we recognise as being symptoms of love. In other words, how does this sense of affinity manifest itself? The answer is in every conceivable way.
For Nabokov, love was imprisonment, and unrequited love a nightmare, as felt in his great novel Lolita. Carson McCullers noted the resemblance of those in love with zombies, and John Fante's hero Arturo Bandini experiences love as a ruinous pathology. Shakespeare wrote characters who, profoundly piqued by love, shuffle towards death, and "Othello syndrome" is now the popularised description of what psychologists call "pathological jealousy".
But there are other rounder, kinder manifestations of love. HL Mencken, editor, journalist, and satirical attack-dog, a man who once described love as "the delusion that one woman differs from another" and said of his inclination to wed "if I ever marry, it will be on sudden impulse, as a man shoots himself" was himself married. In 1930 he wedded Sara Powell Hardt after a seven year courtship which yielded over 700 tender letters. 12 years after meeting the marriage ended when Hardt succumbed to tuberculosis. Sara received her last letter from Mencken whilst in hospital (her death was unexpected), and accompanying it was a record player he had sent to cheer her up. The letter, a tender instruction to the use of it, is as follows:
This needs no special adjustment. Simply hook the end of the thin wire into the valve of the radiator, or to the radiator itself, and plug the power wire in on your light. You will then bathe in art.
The house is a desert.
Eleven years before, in 1925, Mencken had written this to his new sweet-heart:
I suspect that you were trying to flirt with me this afternoon; hence the hollowness of my conversation, against which you justly complained. Well, if you would have discourses worthy the ear of a lady savant, then you must not look so charming...
Marion Elizabeth Rodgers edited their correspondences, and concluded in the book's lengthy introduction: "The sheer volume of letters and the repeated confidences they contain support the notion that Mencken had fallen deeply, irrevocably in love". And so it seems.
Whilst aforementioned writers believed love was at best capricious, and at worst demonic, there is no doubt that love (maternal, romantic, platonic, whatever) can sponsor some of the nobler flourishes of human existence--courage, compassion, patience, tenderness. I'm reminded of the dangers invited by the people who secretly housed Anne Frank's family, and I like to think that love played a part in that sad drama, but I also recall, with great fondness, the unspeakable details of assistance shown to a friend of mine by his girlfriend after a particularly violent bug tore through his digestive tract. It was a long night for both, and, while the details of the acts themselves will be censored, the good humouredness and compassion with which they were undertaken should be celebrated for as long as students study Romeo and Juliet.
Love, like laughter, can assuage sadness, lighten darkness. It may do this profoundly, by inviting a grand act of courage, or it may favour you subtly--a rub, a look, a smile. Even the subtle acts are much too important, and much too wise, to be caught by writers. Love most usually transcends the word, escaping the writer's outflung net, leaving triteness and cliché in its wake. So be it.
There is another point to be made, and it is not popular. It is this: love may very well not be enough for us. I think of a number of marriages I know of that ended in sad disintegration after the sudden death of a child. In those cases, pain trumped love, and each went their own way, paler, uneasier, but half-grateful for leaving their mirror of anguish behind. Australian author Richard Flanagan writes:
The idea that love is not enough is a particularly painful one. In the face of truth, humanity has for centuries tried to discover in itself evidence that love is the greatest force on earth.
Jesus is an especially sad example of this unequal struggle. The innocent heart of Jesus could never have enough of human love. He demanded it, as Nietzsche observed, with hardness, with madness, and had to invent hell as punishment for those who withheld their love from him. In the end he created a god who was "wholly love" in order to excuse the hopelessness and failure of human love.
If you have read this far, you will not have learnt anything. The topic is too difficult, too chameleon, and this writer is not disciplined to meaningfully tackle it. But I would like, as way of a corrective farewell, to say this:
When The Beatles sung "All You Need is Love" it is unsure if they meant it. Beatles scholar Ian McDonald attributes the song's birth to "drug-sodden laziness" and it's hard to argue with him. Regardless, the ideal of the title is a stretch.
Love, if it is anything, is a catalyst for the greatest, noblest acts of humanity (Jesus) and also of the worst (Othello). It can cure and conquer deep darkness, but it can also excite its own--spite, jealousy, possessiveness, giddiness. In love's unrequited form the shapes of psychological distress are grand and multiple.
To be sure, "All You Need is Love" is an oversimplification, but it also appears that my arrival at this platitude may be my only lucid thoughts on the matter. Except, perhaps, to say this: I am in love, and I am better for it. My love encourages me to look inwards, but with a better, braver light, and it encourages me to trace my movements to her heart, as so I become a little better at navigating cause and effect. I am also happier, braver, cleaner, and softer. I hate a little less, and I eat a little more. And more and more am I falling in love with the little things.
Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 7:24 PM
December 6, 2006
The Worst Crime of All
A rather shameful example of re-heating up old work & selling it as new, but it's been so long between posts. This piece was originally published here.
A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide
by Samantha Power
According to the Bureau of Meteorology, Perth reached a maximum of 32 degrees on February 15, 2003. There was high humidity, no rain, and some cloud cover. I checked this because on this date Western Australia's capital accommodated its largest public protest since Vietnam. 10,000 citizens marched and moped through the CBD's streets, waving anti-war banners and speaking to each other in hurried, heated tones. I checked the above statistics because I was one of those 10,000 people, and time and trauma will make it that memory is rarely accountable.
I checked some other things: an estimated 300,000 people joined anti-war rallies across the country that weekend, but Howard said that public opinion could not be fairly measured by the numbers. Then Opposition leader Simon Crean, citing these numbers, said Howard was "out of touch" on the impending war, but no-one listened and in November that same year Crean announced he would abandon the leadership.
There are other details from that day that I can not check--they have not been recorded in any online news archive. But they are the details that stuck.
In Perth's CBD on February 15, 2003 there was no mention of Saddam Hussein. Nor was there mention of his Anfal campaign, an Iraqi design to kill Kurds with bureaucratic precision. In these streets, on this day, there was no mention of genocide. The American myth of Lincolnian intervention had been replaced with the myth of malevolent empire: "No Blood for Oil!", and history had been skewed and condensed so we could protest.
Joan Didion once wrote that we tell ourselves stories to live, but the stories we tell ourselves to protest are slim indeed. On that day protestations rhymed in red paint on cardboard--US history had been condensed to pithy lessons in evil.
Certainly there were genuine concerns about our increasing subservience to Bush; certainly there were concerns about US and British intelligence. But if there was nuance, and I suspect there must have been--deep down, in the pockets of the protesters--there was no sign of it, and rationale played second to the rules of public protest. The rules are much the same as the rules which govern the 6 o'clock news bulletin, or the world's fish-wraps: condense and colour. The protest body did just this, and moved and marched itself colourfully against the Howard government. It did this with slogans and papier-mâché dolls of the PM, his features cruelly distorted, his hands covered in mock-blood. A protest must move in unison, on the grounds of consensus, and it finds this by divining the lowest common denominator. By its very definition this march had to defy calm questioning of the post-invasion plan (the seeming absence of which was the reason behind my attendance). It had to defy questions on the general justifications for intervention, and on the grim history of Hussein's rule. In short, it had to defy sense, and the 10,000 yelled and ached with the passion found in contemplating what Christopher Hitchens once described as the US' "unlovely interests" in the region.
Durability is a precious thing, rarely found in our 'papers or news bulletins, and it certainly is not found in the slogans we use for protest. Perhaps the rallies over that weekend can boast a durability, but it is within their numbers, not with their actions. Certainly, Samantha Power's important work--A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide--is a durable blessing, and perhaps, just perhaps, it may have assisted with our public discourse on these matters. But more on this later....
A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide
A dim knowledge of the 20th century will still afford you this one fact: never before had so many been victim to mass killings. The 20th century is marked by two world wars, but also by at last six major examples of genocide: The Turkish slaughter of Armenians in 1915; Hitler's extermination of Jews, and other minorities during the Second World War; the Khmer Rouge's crimes against the Cambodian people; the gassing of Kurds by Saddam Hussein in Northern Iraq; the destruction of the Tutsi of Rwanda by the Hutu, and, finally, the genocidal treatment of Croats, Muslims and Albanians by the Serbs. As astonishing as these acts are (and Power's gift for research and methodology amply provide the ghastly scope of these crimes), what rivals the acts themselves is Power's central thesis: that the West, and the US in particular, had sufficient intelligence about these crimes, not only while they occurred, but often before. The horror of Power's book is her persuasive argument that nothing was done to prevent these acts of genocide, and that "no US president has ever suffered politically for its indifference to its occurrence. It is thus no coincidence that genocide rages on".
Needless to say there are few heroes in this book, but if there is one, it is Raphael Lemkin, a figure who represents the impassioned goodness capable in individuals, but not often permitted by political machinery. This month will mark the 47th anniversary of Raphael Lemkin's death, and you may be forgiven for believing that the man who saw that the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was presented to, and adopted by, the UN General Assembly, and who had been nominated seven times for the Nobel Peace prize (he never won it), died in salubrious conditions. Not so. On August 28, 1959, the man who had spent a quarter-century trying to ban genocide collapsed in his law office in Manhattan with a fatal heart attack. Power writes: "Lemkin had coined the word 'genocide'. He had helped draft a treaty designed to outlaw it. And he had seen the law rejected by the world's most powerful nation. Seven people attended Lemkin's funeral".
In the year of Hitler's appointment as chancellor, the League of Nations sat to discuss international criminal law. Lemkin, at the time a public prosecutor in Warsaw, and piqued by the Turkish atrocities against the Armenians, addressed the League of Nations Legal Council arguing that the crime of barbarity (a crime that would later linguistically evolve into "genocide") be considered as a crime against international law. Lemkin was not only sensitive to the Ottoman slaughter, but presciently wary of Hitler, and he argued that if mass slaughter had happened before, it could happen again. For his comments, the Polish foreign minister forced Lemkin to resign, and Lemkin became a private prosecutor.
Lemkin's remaining 26 years were remarkable. When his fears about Hitler materialised in 1939, Lemkin joined the Polish army and fought to defend Warsaw. Six years later, when Europe lay in ruins and Hitler's body was smouldering in a ditch, Lemkin had lost nearly 50 family members in the Holocaust, caught a bullet in the hip, and had become a special foreign affairs advisor in the US War Department. He had also, before war's end, coined "genocide" and its first printed appearance came in the widely read Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. An impressive litany then, and on December 9, 1948, Lemkin's moment arrived--the vote in the UN General Assembly to ban genocide: 55 votes for, none against. Just four years before had Lemkin introduced the term to the world. But sadness and disappointment were never far from Lemkin, and Power registers a note of grief when she writes: "Unfortunately, though Lemkin could not know it, the most difficult struggles lay ahead. Nearly four decades would pass before the United States would ratify the treaty, and fifty years would elapse before the international community would convict anyone for genocide".
Lemkin's presence in this book is a sombre one. His heroic story, and his sad, final days preface Power's painstaking accounts of genocide in the last century, and as she deputises vast and persuasive evidence that the US government consciously chose not to intervene in each act, Lemkin's legacy hovers somewhere strong, sermonising on the power of a driven individual, but also upon powerful political antipathy.
Whilst Lemkin's legacy can be debated, Power's painstakingly researched thesis is difficult to argue against: it has never been in any US president's political interest to intervene in genocidal activity. What's more, the startlingly banal reasons for inactivity are astonishing. During the Ottoman slaughter, the US ambassador to Turkey Henry Morgenthau Sr. dispatched this cable back to Washington:
I earnestly beg the Department to give this matter urgent and exhaustive consideration with a view to reaching a conclusion which may possibly have the effect of checking [Turkey's] government and certainly provide opportunity for efficient relief which now is not permitted. It is difficult for me to restrain myself from doing something to stop this attempt to exterminate a race, but I realize that I am here as Ambassador and must abide by the principles of non-interference with the internal affairs of another country.
Power writes: "Morgenthau had to remind himself that one of the prerogatives of sovereignty was that states and statesmen could do as they please within their own borders". It is here that we reach the nut of Lemkin's concern: that infrastructure, welfare, culture--they were a nation's responsibility, but sovereignty should not be extended to conceal, or even encourage, genocide.
What of the Allies' knowledge of the Holocaust? Power writes: "The Allies' suppression of Hitler's Final Solution has been the the subject of a great deal of historical scholarship. Intelligence on Hitler's extermination was plentiful in both classified and open sources. The United States maintained embassies in Berlin until December 1941, in Budapest and Bucharest until January 1942, and in Vichy France until late 1942". Power continues: "In November 1942, Rabbi Wise, who knew President Roosevelt personally, told a Washington press conference that he and the State Department had reliable information that some 2 million Jews had already been murdered".
If it appeared that the Nazis had left little room for expanding the scope of barbarity, the Khmer Rouge found a way during the 1970s. Here Power explains the proximity of the rise of the Khmer Rouge to the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam--the US, quite simply, would not countenance re-deploying troops to the same region, not after the nightmare years of Vietnam. But when a few senior officials voiced concerns about the Khmer Rouge, they were shot down for crying wolf--the sad result of the dubious circumstances that Johnson conceived to place America in Vietnam, and the rotten methods deployed by Nixon and Kissinger to keep them there. In short, the re-deployment of troops to the region would have been political suicide, and Nixon's visit to China in 1972 all but nailed inactivity in the face of genocide. The Khmer Rouge, finally forcibly removed from power by the Vietnamese, enjoyed the patronage of the Chinese--arms and money--on the outskirts of Cambodia, and so the US, in favouring its freshly minted relationship with the Chinese, became de facto supporters of the Khmer Rouge, and the Russian-backed Vietnamese were left to pick up the pieces.
Power forcefully demonstrates the various geopolitical concerns which conspire to political lethargy. But what of the US public? Power is just as convincing in arguing that newspapers have known, and published, plenty of horror stories, but it does little in fermenting public outcry. Power argues that the magnitude of the atrocities is difficult to report (a regime's reclusiveness; hostility to foreign journalists; a reliance upon questionable sources etc.), but that further still, the ghastly scale of genocide is impossible to fathom appreciably. Power tells the story of Jan Karski, a Polish diplomat and Roman Catholic who disguised himself as a Jew and smuggled himself into the Warsaw ghetto, before smuggling himself back out and to London. When Karski travelled to the United States he met with Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter, who heard Karski's stories before telling him: "I don't believe you". Karski protested, before Frankfurter interrupted him and explained, "I do not mean that you are lying. I simply said that I cannot believe you". Here was a difficulty of conception, and I'll leave the last thought on that not with Power but rather with British comedian Eddie Izzard:
Pol Pot killed 1.7 million people. We can't even deal with that! You know, we think if somebody kills someone, that's murder, you go to prison. You kill 10 people, you go to Texas, they hit you with a brick, that's what they do. 20 people, you go to a hospital, they look through a small window at you forever. And over that, we can't deal with it, you know? Someone's killed 100,000 people. We're almost going, "Well done! You killed 100,000 people? You must get up very early in the morning..."
It is disingenuous to isolate the Iraqi chapter here, because it suggests that it holds a unique significance. It doesn't. Power's strength is deep research, an avoidance of polemic, and a consistent and persuasively held argument. I isolate this chapter, not because it is any different from the others, but because it should have had, and perhaps still should have, an influence upon public discussions of military intervention.
When we marched, back then, back before 2, 790 coalition deaths, and an estimated (and highly disputed) 40, 000 civilian deaths, well, back then, it was the drive of distrust that put bodies on streets. And why not? The intelligence seemed dubious even then, and when our own leader played deputy to the child president, well... But the anti-war drive never really got out of first gear, publicly melted as it was to crude understandings of geopolitics. Oil. Empire.
While the endemic failings of public protest can not be measured against the gross failings of this war, it may be useful to hear what Power says on Iraq, when operation Anfal enjoyed its perverse zenith:
Hussein did not set out to exterminate every last Kurd in Iraq, as Hitler had tried against the Jews. Nor did he order all the educated to be murdered, as Pol Pot had done. In fact, Kurds in Iraq's cities were terrorized no more than the rest of Iraq's petrified citizenry. Genocide was probably not even Hussein's primary objective. His main aim was to eliminate the Kurdish insurgency. But it was clear at the time and has become even clearer since that the destruction of Iraq's rural Kurdish population was the means that he chose to end that rebellion. Kurdish civilians were rounded up and executed or gassed not because of anything they as individuals did but because they were Kurds.
With the Congo bloody, and Kim Jung Il posturing madly over a hopelessly sick country, the question "why Iraq?" is fair. But Power's firm explication of the devils of Iraq should leave us not postulating whether war is wrong, but rather when it is justified. Arrogant, dangerous adventurism is this US administration's disease--but it does not alter the fact that Saddam Hussein committed genocide. If the bloody quagmire of Iraq only serves to support theories of rabid empiricism gone wrong, then I believe we move from an appreciation of the US as benevolent intervener. History certainly proves me wrong, but Power has left me convinced that genocide needs the world's strongest nation to assist in its prevention. Decades of "unlovely interests" have certainly deeply undermined the US' reputation, but what happens if it folds?
If we establish genocide as the worst case scenario, and Power would argue that there is nothing worse (we'll exclude a nuclear apocalypse and natural disasters), then perhaps we can still breathe life into Lincoln's Last Great Hope: pleading and begging and believing that the US can assume a position of practical moral leadership. Power's despair, however, seems to be that of Lemkin's: that the banal sum of Realpolitik and conceptual frailties denies a public and political appreciation of the worst crime of all. Perhaps then we need another individual like Lemkin; a man preternaturally in-tune with what is right, and who would sacrifice his nervous system for it. It is a great deal to ask of anyone.
Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 4:52 PM