Bush recently curbed travel to Switzerland due to fear of arrest following criminal complaints lodged in Geneva… And this month Canadian citizens forced Bush to cancel an invitation-only appearance in Toronto.
Colin Powell’s Chief-of-Staff Col. Lawrence Wilkerson surmised on MSNBC earlier this year that soon, Saudi Arabia and Israel will be “the only two countries Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest will travel too.”
When I saw the title of the article linked to here, which includes the phrase “Mr. Rumsfeld, you’re under arrest”, I felt an unexpectedly strong surge of happiness. Upon reading it, of course, I found that such an arrest was merely being speculated about, not reported. But still the thought of it makes me happy. They deserve it if anyone does, and it would be a sort of symbolic execution of the king, and I’m not ashamed to admit how much I love that idea.
But there’s not much point telling you how much I’d like to see those fuckers in court. For one thing, it’s unlikely to happen – what’s exciting here is only that it’s become not-quite-certain to not happen.
For another thing, sharing strong expressions ofanger, hatred, or vengefulness on a blog is rarely edifying or informative. So instead, I want to say something about the war crimes themselves, and my representations of them.
The paradox is that to me, these facts seem both obviously real, and yet only pretend.
I mean, there’s no need for you to click the above link, really, and read all about the deaths and the penis-slicing is that you probaly already know enough. After you’ve read that they killed a bunch of guys, or that warlords arrest random people and give them to the Americans to torture just because it builds their relationship, or seen a video of kids being gunned down from a helicopter, etc. etc. why do you need to know more?
And it’s not like this is speculation, really. I’ll admit I haven’t done in-depth research, but the drip-feed of information, whistleblowers, allegations, etc. doesn’t leave me in that much doubt. There’s official denials, of course, but they’re not persuading anyone.
And yet… and yet it still feels slightly unreal. Like, sure these people had thousands of people abused in various ways, but it’s not as though they’re criminals. I mean, you wouldn’t be scared talking to them. It wouldn’t be like talking to Hannibal Lecter, or that creepy homeless guy who stabbed someone.
At the back of my mind, this all feels like partisan rhetoric, like calling Bush a ‘Nazi’. He’s not a Nazi. He’s a bad, bad, man but that concept just factually doesn’t fit him, or his political role. If we call him a Nazi, it’s a sort of inflated rhetoric, exaggerating things, demonising him because it feels good. Like telling a crowd that they live in the world’s greatest country, or that we should make poverty history. It’s standard politics: you say things that fit the emotional tone you’re going for, even if everyone knows they’re not strictly true.
And when you’re engaged in that sort of rhetoric, you know you are, at some level. You can feel, if you pay attention, that you don’t really believe what you’re saying. You can feel that at bottom you’re pretending, even though it may be the sort of pretence where you tell people you believe it.
The strange thing is that when I say that the US committed war crimes, I still have that feeling. And I don’t think there’s any amount of evidence that would get rid of it. Without actually seeing it first-hand, I will always feel like the authorities of Western countries can’t really be murderers.
It produces a pattern of feelings typical of such pretence. When I read about some horrific thing, I get angry, and I feel frustrated – at my actual powerlessness, but also that I don’t really believe it. I want to believe it, and what do you do when you want to believe something but know you really don’t? You express it more strongly – you search desperately for words you can say that will have enough force to make you believe them. Like, “Bush is Hitler”, or “Bush eats babies.”
Maybe it works at first, but later when you look back at it, it only reinforces the problem, because here you are were just pretending. Bush is not Hitler, and doesn’t eat babies. You picked those words because they were emotive, not because they were true. And that just reinforces the feeling that the whole thing is that kind of rhetorical pretence.
What underlies this phenomenon? I think it’s about social relations. If you think someone is guilty of massive and egregious crimes, you have to act like it – you can’t just meet them and make small talk, shake their hand and make polite eye contact, on pain of implicitly normalising them.
That’s what the ‘moralised’ notion of criminal I’m using here means – not that they broke some specific human law, but that they broke the basic requirements for human interaction. They put themselves outside of the human community. They are a ‘public enemy’, and hence your enemy, so you should treat them like one.
But in the case of Western political leaders, I’m socially required to treat them, not as enemies, but as authorities. Of course I don’t interact with them directly, but I interact with a sort of ‘collective agent’ of which they are an influential part. I interact, for instance, with US border guards, and with US laws, and institutions funded by the US government, etc. I can’t treat them as enemies, and at some level of my mind that behaviour determines what I can genuinely believe.
So even if I try to tell you that I regard all capitalist governments as public enemies and hence my own enemies, no evidence or argument will make me actually believe that – subconsciously I still look at these figures as authorities, and so it seems like a fantasy that I might judge them murderous criminals.
So I end up in the bizarre position of pretending to believe what I honestly believe I ought to believe.
As Marx said “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.”