Friday, June 04, 2010

Nonviolence in the service of empire?

Anthropologists have long been dragooned and bribed into serving empires. Cultural knowledge is key to capturing local leadership and even the temporary affections of the populace who love the goodies sent by seemingly clumsy and innocuous emissaries from the distant seats of empire. Beads and trinkets become guns and spycams. Propping up the warlords in the name of democracy is much more possible when the anthros help the military understand 'human geography.'

In an article in Military Review, Montgomery McFate writes:

"Winning on the battlefield is irrelevant against an insurgent adversary because the struggle for power and legitimacy among competing factions has no purely military solution. Often, the application of overwhelming force has the negative, unintended effect of strengthening the insurgency by creating martyrs, increasing recruitment, and demonstrating the "brutality" of state forces.

The alternative approach to fighting insurgency, such as the British eventually adopted through trial and error in Northern Ireland, involves the following: A comprehensive plan to alleviate the political conditions behind the insurgency; civil-military cooperation; the application of minimum force; deep intelligence; and an acceptance of the protracted nature of the conflict. Deep cultural knowledge of the adversary is inherent to the British approach."

And now that the Obama administration is much more fully situated in the national security apparatus and has been influencing how it operates, we see in another piece in the Post that intelligence operations involving war on terror, including possible violent attacks (assassinations, etc.) have expanded from Dick Cheney's 60 countries to Obama's 75.

I have been handed recruitment literature by students who have been approached by Homeland Security, especially international students who speak multiple languages and who came to Conflict Resolution because their homelands are so embroiled in conflict that they long to help. How profoundly ironic if we educate them to be able to help the US maintain its corporate advantage in their birthplaces.

Am I ready to teach nonviolence to anyone? Yes, but only on my own terms. I teach that nonviolence is a poor strategy if it's part of a so-called 'diversity' of methods that also include violence, and I teach this from an insurgency standpoint, that is, from the standpoint of the power-down side of an asymmetric conflict pitting grassroots groups against corporado-military rulers. I teach this because when nonviolent activists take the field and do so in collaboration with violent insurgents, they present the easy and tempting target for the frustrated government forces who cannot catch the guerrilla who shoot and fade into the jungle or into their urban warrens. The most extreme examples of this might include the My Lai massacre,(My Lai) the El Mozote massacre, or the annihilation of Fallujah. Civilians stay put and guerrilla are illusive and elusive. This is an obvious dynamic and civilians are right to reject it.

From the flip side, of course, the humanitarian workers of the world know that if you wish to escape the violence of the equally paranoid and brutal insurgents, do not repeat do not accept any help from any military ever. When a humanitarian worker comes in under armed guard they become a logical and clear target. There is a reason Mercy Corps is almost never attacked and the UN is. Mercy Corps

refuses armed protection and the UN has their own armed troops.
So teaching the military how to use conflict resolution or nonviolence to further their aims is a bad idea in most ways. If the US were to actually experiment with only having nonviolent relations with any particular country or in any particular region, as a pilot project toward the utopian notion of transforming all non-domestic US military operations to nonviolent methods, I'd certainly consider participating.

But this is a fantasy, nothing like the reality we see, so in the meanwhile I remain opposed to any collaboration between our professors and the Pentagon. I hope our students have the moral fiber to resist careers that bring them into the intelligence or military of the US empire.

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