Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wars of empire

James Carroll writes in Constantine's Sword about the genesis of the terrible hatred between English and Irish in the last century.

The Irish war with England, begun in 1916, was extremely violent .... Part of England's "draconian reaction" was the unleashing on an unarmed population the criminal-terrorist Black and Tans and the post-1918 deployment of trench veteran tommies, who viewed the Irish war as an extension of the no-holds-barred war against the Hun and fought accordingly.

The Irish population, which in 1916 had been overwhelmingly inclined to favor London ... over the self-appointed, self-aggrandizing liberators of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, by 1920 thought of London as the devil's own. The fierce universal hatred of England, a twentieth century cliche, was in fact born in the twentieth century -- just then. Thus even [an imperial] diehard like Winston Churchill came to recognize that an English victory over this despicable [Irish] people, short of the outright elimination of the native population, was impossible.

Carroll approaches this story through his family history: his great grandfather was one of those Irishmen who had joined up with the English in the Great War and was killed fighting for the king in France. The discovery that survivors in his great grandfather's Irish village thought there was nothing traitorous or less than noble in Jim Morrissey's history put Carroll on to thinking about what makes for apparently ancient festering hatreds. Perhaps they derive from concrete crimes of imperial powers ...

And when I read this passage, I can't avoid thinking of what is now unfolding in the U.S. war/occupation in Afghanistan. If you are an Afghan, you very likely have to worry about being killed by both the U.S. and the Taliban. But it's the United States troops that have the most firepower and they are foreign occupiers. It wouldn't be surprising if you hated them.

Rethink Afghanistan filmed Afghans talking about what the war has done to them. This is not easy to watch.

The new U.S. proconsul, General McChrystal, says his forces will "win" the Afghans by avoiding civilian casualties. But how are they going to do that without getting our own grunts killed? And it has become politically untenable to get our own people killed in an imperial war with no discernible endpoint.
Of course one answer is contractors -- mercenaries -- and we've got lots of those. If you really want to encounter disillusionment, you can read their heartfelt accounts of the Afghan war. I don't think this guy and I share any political sympathies, but his account of moving around southern Afghanistan rings true to me.

...I do not really know what our mission in Afghanistan is. We are engaged in a counterinsurgency war but confine the troops to large FOB’s [fortified Forward Operating Bases] which directly contradicts our counterinsurgency doctrine. Our troops do not have sustained meaningful contact with local Afghans, cannot provide any real security to them, and due to Big Army casualty policies are forced to ride around in large multimillion dollar MRAP’s where they are subject to IED strikes which they cannot prevent because they do not control one meter of ground outside their FOBs.

We also do not have the cooperation of the government of Afghanistan. President Karzai has cobbled together a coalition of Afghan power brokers and will win the upcoming election. The UN and our Department of State can make all the noise they want about a "free and fair" election but they are irrelevant because they stay isolated and unengaged in their high speed compounds. The election was decided in Dubai last month as I reported earlier. Besides Afghans have no idea what a free and fair election is -- they are no more capable of conducting one than the state of Illinois. So we are fighting a counterinsurgency in support of a government who is actively hindering our efforts by not cooperating with our military, our hapless State Department, or any other organization trying to bring peace, hope, modernity and the rule of law to this once proud and beautiful country.

Free Range International
Scroll down for much more.

Read the whole thing for a sympathetic eyewitness account of traveling in that unhappy country.

What was this war for again, President Obama?


SF8 Webster said...

A deep and thoughtful comparison, thank you Jan. And just as the "Free Range International" blog illuminates the Afghan war, Generation Kill" continues to show why the U.S. can never "win" in Iraq. Although based on Marine experience in the initial 2003 invasion, the portrayal is pretty damn convincing that "If you are an [Iraqi], you very likely have to worry about being killed by both the U.S. and [other Iraqi forces]. But it's the United States troops that have the most firepower and they are foreign occupiers." The book is good, but the HBO series now on DVD is not to be missed. No lefty could be so credibly damning as the Marines in their own words.

SF8 Webster said...

Woops, that Generation Kill link should go to

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