Wednesday, August 24, 2011

If I were a Libyan rebel...

There is a moment in Steven Soderbergh's biopic of Guevara, at the beginning of the end for the Batista regime, where the communist guerrilla negotiates with an army officer regarding the latter's surrender. Guevara warns him of the possibility of American invasion and argues that, should this happen, the officer would be guilty of far worse than oppression. He would be guilty of treason.

There is perhaps no greater symbol of oppression, authority, humiliation, and impotence than that of a country invaded by another. It is superior to and replicative of the act of rape. It is a thousand times worse than murder, more traumatic than anything an individual can face.

And yet we care because of the individuals, and in truth there is no consciousness but the personal consciousness. Nations feel nothing. Borders exist nowhere but where men may talk and women walk.

The group, the people, the nation, the society, the congregation... They are all fictional, are they not?

And yet by inviting a foreign aggressor or welcoming them or working with them, is there not some potent rage that wells up in us? Who can deny the scorn and disgust that rises up when one considers the bloody-handed expatriates who have hunted abroad for wealthy and powerful patrons who might help them settle old scores, all under the name of "liberation"? Is there any being so loathsome as a comfortable exile with a DC address and an Italian wife? Far better for a man to be a tyrant than to be a tyrant's rationale, for one is a body and the other an organ to perform a task and be otherwise forgotten.

And yet I think of Prussians and Poles who aided us. But they were weak and their enemies strong. Likewise the Wild Geese. Likewise the Anatolian Greeks who parried between Persia and their so-called ethnoi. But did they not deal between great powers, playing one against the other?

Is this a noble thing or is it ugly?

What kind of man are we to consider Einstein when we consider that his genius aided the new military dictator of the United States against a reprehensible regime that was nightmarish and brutal and horrible and yet--as many argued then and were accurate in arguing--was not responsible for the sins of the world at present, and in fact had much suffered from the rulers of the world, though it probably threatened a greater terror than any before?

What kind of man, what kind of woman, welcomes Napoleons and Robert Clives and Stalins and Trumans and Bushes and Obamas to their lands, sees them put to torch, ensures that they will reign over countries in chains to greater lords than could have ever been locally produced?

And which of us, were we up against the wall, were we tired of seeing our nearest persecutors kill and maim and abduct and torture those dear to us, would refuse at any cost the aid of a foreign power who shared our hatred for the powers that happened to be?

I have no malice toward the Libyan rebels, whoever the hell they are, whatever the hell they are going to do. They have invited rocket attacks on their own people. They have profited from and courted the indulgence of powers that will likely ever exceed the grasp of Gaddafi. And yet... The sin is that of our rulers, and ours for our own indulgence of same, more than that of any pirate or crook or criminal that we have empowered abroad for the sake of freedom and liberty and stuff.

Were I a Libyan rebel, I'd hope to know I was part of an international con. And I'd hope I'd remember how America continued to support the Kurds, the Afghans, and the Bosniaks. For me, I don't have much to say about the wrongness or righteousness of what goes on in Libya. My opinions of American interest, here and elsewhere, are much clearer.


  1. Relax your identity of nationality, fully and completely, and you can ask this question of yourself. No reason to imagine oneself as a Libyan rebel.

    I can say that part of me fears the consequences of refusing to participate in the colonial imperialism of our present age. calling myself an American citizen, enjoying the privileges of that status, and the identity of being a white male within that system, is the same as accepting a foreign power's interference once you stop identifying with the ruling elite of this country. The elite powers of our system are every bit a foreign occupier once you relax your nationalist identity here as they are abroad.

  2. Well, I may be misunderstanding one part of your argument, but I would say that possessing American privilege is not the same "as accepting a foreign power's interference." American citizens may have very little power to influence American politics, but are they really less powerful, or equally powerful, as a foreign elite which serves as a justification for war?

    I'm torn in two pieces, here. On one hand, the international monied elite is like a nation unto itself. I probably do have much less power over US actions than, say, the Talabani clan. Then again, I know that many refugees of Nazi Europe were treated like shit. Then again, that is probably to conflate a very different kind of international emigre.

  3. I am saying that we mute or suppress our objections to the crimes this system commits in return for the privileges it affords us. If you think in terms of nationalist identity, this is easy to miss.

    If you abandon that nationalist identity, and it is a social construct so there is no reason why it cannot be deconstructed, then there is no difference between asking for a foreign power's interference in return for favored status because 'foreign' ceases to be a meaningful qualifier. We accept the interference of power by giving consent, in spite of our grumbling, in return for some amenities. Whatever form that power takes shape in is not irrelevant, I wouldn't go that far, but its a distinction in degree, not in kind. This is partly why modern anarchists see very little difference between corporate and state power.

  4. You are speaking very clearly and wisely, Justin. I suppose I wonder, then, if one can ever deal with a great power in any capacity. Shall we go off the grid (or shudder, go Galt) and refuse to deal with the powerful? That would strangle many a rebellion, and as I argued regarding Viktor Bout, sometimes rebels need to deal with the awful creatures that possess hardware in order to, ultimately, possess something of their own.

    Was Einstein a fool for working against the Nazis? No, we are not fighting such a force again, but we all deal with great evils in order to address other evils. Can this game ever be played or is it to be dismissed, avoided, and rejected in favor of some other route to power?