Friday, March 16, 2007

Failure in Iraq?

Our multi-headed National Strategy for Victory in Iraq is organized around "Eight Pillars." These "Eight Pillars" represent distinct strategic objectives, each with a "corresponding interagency working group."

Considering that Islam is defined in large part by a doctrine called "The Five Pillars," I fear it may be difficult to underestimate the negative impact of this verbiage in our battle to win the "hearts and minds" of the Muslim world. Islam, according to Huston Smith, "joins faith to politics, religion to society, inseparably."

Are "The Eight Pillars" of our National Strategy some bit of cultural insensitivity, or worse yet, a sick joke by the planners of this occupation? It would seem, if nothing else, the use of such religiously-loaded language is profoundly unhelpful in the context of a religio-political people under military occupation, as the Qur'an states: "Let there be no compulsion in religion" (2:256).

Imagine how you would feel if a foreign occupation of our country was guided by "The Thirteen Commandments."

Paul Wolfowitz has asserted that our mission in Iraq is "not a crusade," although we can perhaps forgive those in the Middle East who may believe otherwise: our President has himself used that very term, and the Administration consistently frames the violence as religiously-motivated, even as we push our "Eight Pillars" on these people. Our strategy to "isolate enemy elements from those who can be won over to the political process by countering false propaganda" would seem to amount to imposing a heretical doctrine on a subjugated people, while marketing this heresy as salvation.

Although we undoubtedly possess the raw military strength to "bomb Iraq back into the stone age," such a move would be politically suicidal for much of Washington. As General David Patraeus put it, "there is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq." At present, we would seem also to lack a viable diplomatic or political approach.

Among the top goals of the National Strategy is the reform of Iraq's economy, "which in the past has been shaped by war, dictatorship, and sanctions." The United States of America is in no small part responsible for the war, dictatorship, and sanctions that shaped Iraq's economy in the past, and we have done almost nothing to bring about meaningful reform. We have only brought more war, caused more damage to Iraq's infrastructure, and propped up a puppet government in a fortress far removed from Iraq's citizenry.

While the politicians in Washington warn us against the risk of failure in Iraq, it is important to recognize that our present conflict is itself an acknowledgment of our previous Iraq policy's failure. This acknowledgment compounds the failure of our previous policy by failing to rectify our previous mistakes.

We need to dramatically alter our direction if we are to stop compounding our own mistakes. Our current policy is simply to add fuel to the fire and stir the pot.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Poem for Lulabell, Sweet Petunia

green to the cripple’s wilderness,
a newcomer sees ash as soil...

where abominations of
animate stone lie senseless
before the sea, far beyond the
deep worn grooves tread into
the earth by the sleepwalkers
muttering in their sleep, as if
to their sleeping brethren,
following one another endlessly
past the same dark horizon...

were the moon to rise, they
would follow its light away
from the sun, if only to prove
what others before them
have proved perfectly well.

just one could stop and hold
up an eternity, cause endless
marchers to climb up out of
their trenches, bring them

to stand at the threshold of the
mechanical hall of mirrors, to
listen casually as the crack
of doom shocks the airwaves.

when the wise man blames
the fool, and the fool does
blame the wise man, leaving
each to babble oath below
the burning rivers,

as many living souls as leaves
on trees shall yield their hold
on boughs and through the
early frost of autumn fall,

blind prey unto the blue-eyed
terror between the framers
of meanings, formless
yet everywhere, animate
amidst the static emblems
of a virus creed...

until some of the morning, when
broken records of phantom
histories might yield a strange
light falling, symmetries of the devil
and the emergent efficiencies
of flame...

weaving silence and discourse
while white snow flies in midsummer,
and the moon ablaze in the water
at noon sows discord from the
only sounds after prayer.

for only sound remains, a melody
amidst the machine and my
heartbeat, a shock of thunder
to disturb the haunted church
music infused with a pious fury

at the inarticulate dementia
that is salvation for the blind,

who demand that time shall
yield to the sufficient and convenient
brutalities of our profane sciences
of need...

leaving a trail of puberties and
constellations across surrendered
visions of extroverted rodents,

all their conscientious fascinations
and inhuman suppositions, weather
forecasts, divinations, and salient
tenderness abandoned for an
abyss that dissipates gradually...

enduring in silence or ignorance
the midnight bloom of the saintly
mathematician’s treatise on the soul,

a concrete echo set free from
the ghostly image of the builder,
slain by the architect’s hand.

once more these vacant dreams
abide beside the grotesque adornments
of perverse determinations, delights in
slights and envies, indulgent to no end...

such that only those overcome by the
opaque terrors of conviction remain,
befriended to the tangled mountains,
like sculptures, when toppled by the wind.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

What Are We Really Doing in Iraq?

The Admministration has given the Citizenry of the United States of America varied and malleable rationale for our invasion and occupation of Iraq, ranging from false pretenses to revisionist propaganda.

While the Executive refuses to relinquish its ideological crusade, and the Legislature squabbles over the political ramifications of sparing thousands upon thousands of soldiers and civilians unnecessary suffering, We Citizens, strong-armed into funding this war, are deprived by Our Federal Government of all but the most basic figures regarding the true human and economic costs of this man-made disaster.

The Administration and its Neocon allies have played the Press like a fiddle, and the Press has obediently followed along.

Who really benefits from this war? Is it really right to view the Iraq conflict as "a war" in the singular sense of the word?

Are We an occupying force confronting a nationalist insurgency?

Are We fighting terrorists in the Global War on Terror?

Are We fighting a proxy war in an ideological standoff with Iraq's neighbors?

Are We peacekeepers working to quell sectarian violence?

Are We a police force suppressing opportunist criminals?

Are We liberators there to cast off Sunni fascists?

Are We a scapegoat for Shi'ite bitterness after the 1991 uprising?

Are We in the middle of a pan-national conflagration of Anti-American Arabs upset about the situation in Palestine?

What We are doing in Iraq?

When Our Government fails to give Us clear answers, We often turn to the free Press. Yet We must be wary that, if the fallout from the recent Walter Reed scandal is to serve as an indication of a free Press's power, it must also serve to warn Us of the power of a manipulated Press.

As so many of Us watch in horror and dismay while the Administration discusses open war with Iran, We, as Citizens, must take it upon ourselves to write Our Press, Our Senators, and Our Congressional Representatives; it is not enough to vote periodically. We must clearly express Our feelings about the current state of affairs, demand forthright governance, and prompt action. And as We find Ourselves in the midst of a psychological war waged against Us by the Administration, We must seek out alternative sources of information with which to arm Ourselves against that most potent weapon, ignorance.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

On the Importance of Media Literacy

We teach our children to spell, we teach them to take tests, we teach them about the imperceptible atoms and molecules that make up the material of our world, and yet we teach them next to nothing about the media that saturates their daily lives.

Who has Tom Cruise married most recently? How many children does Britney Spears have? Why do we know these things and how does this knowledge affect us?

What does it mean to see, every evening, all the conflicting interests of television programs and commercial advertisements juxtaposed one against the other for hours on end?

I firmly believe that, even as we teach our children the language of daily discourse, it is equally important to teach them the language of motion pictures.

Much of our cultural discourse is carried out in this second language, and given the number of television outlets in our country -- in homes, in bars, in storefronts, on busses, and now on telephones and computer screens -- literacy in this second language is more important than ever to appreciate the responsibilities of citizenship and informed consumer behavior.

The basic language of the motion picture dates to Soviet times: the montage theory of Sergei Eisenstein is the foundation of almost every edited motion picture sequence. His theory was built upon the work of Lev Kuleshov, who was in turn deeply influenced by Ivan Pavlov's view of Behaviorist psychology.

These names are a part of history, but they also live with us every day. These names are as important to understanding our culture as the names of Plato, Aristotle, Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglas, Malcolm X, and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These names have shaped our civilization in dramatic ways.

We now live in an age when multinational corporations, who pledge no national allegiances whatsoever, depend on Eisenstein, Kuleshov, and Pavlov for their revenue as much as they depend on Henry Sheffer and Alan Turing for the ability to manufacture consumer electronics. As citizens and consumers, we must ensure that all of our children share an equal entitlement to the heritage of these names, that these names do not remain the sole purview of the profiteers behind the curtain of our collective televised understanding.

As much as we depend on John Locke for our concept of liberty, and as much as we depend on Mahatma Gandhi to inspire us to struggle for peace, we depend on our educational institutions to provide our children with the means to succeed in this world. While we concern ourselves that no child be left behind in our schools, we must concern ourselves with a literacy of media, lest we leave behind a whole generation. As it stands, there are few teachers who understand the language of the media, and this is to the great detriment of our nation.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Hidden Costs of the Iraq War

Advancements in battlefield medical care have reduced the number of deaths suffered by wounded U.S. soldiers relative to previous military conflicts. As a result, large numbers of soldiers are returning home with debilitating medical conditions.

Official U.S. Government figures list the number of severe battlefield injuries at 10,535 soldiers. This number, however, does not reflect the full extent of severe injuries suffered by soldiers. Some 18,704 soldiers suffering from infectious disease have thus far required evacuation by air transport. This is in keeping with figures from past wars, which often see greater numbers of soldiers succumb to disease than combat injuries.

Furthermore, these figures do not reflect the casualties suffered by the 100,000 civilian contractors currently serving in Iraq. Some 800 contractors have been killed in Iraq and 3,300 wounded. It is probably safe to assume that a large number of contractors have also suffered from infectious disease.

We are often asked to support our troops in Iraq, an assertion that plays off the good nature of citizens, who don't want to see fellow citizens hurt or killed. This assertion, which really equates to a plea to support our continued military presence, is dishonest: the same politicians who ask us to support our troops have themselves failed to do so in their vainglorious pursuit of a war predicated on a lie. This war demands an enormous investment in future medical care, and if we are to consider our troops to be fellow citizens and human beings, we must carefully consider what it means to support them.

It has become quite clear to me that the best way to support our troops is to ensure they have access to adequate medical care, and for our politicians seek a diplomatic victory in this conflict.