January 31, 2012
War & What It's Good For.
Terminology has changed. Just think of the terms Protest, Riot, and War. They don't mean the same things they used to- even only 50 years ago. Wars used to be the most serious business. No one went to war until they hated each other and wanted to destroy each other. The greatest war by these standards was perhaps the American Civil War, in which victorious Union General William Tecumseh Sherman said:
"You people of the South don't know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don't know what you're talking about. War is a terrible thing!"
For Contrast, consider what 'wars' we've been 'fighting' this past decade. In 2001 and 2003 we waged war under the titles of 'liberations' and 'occupations,' & under the premise of making people 'free.' As people became more and more disgusted with the impossibility and absurdity of those wars, we've scaled back; and currently commander-in-chief Obama prefers no-fly-zones, small-scale Navy Seal operations , and other things that have been called 'lily pad' operations. There's less risk in this kind of war, if it can even be called war(and extraordinarily less cost,) but the greatest benefit of all is in Public Relations. To put it simply, If there were cell-phone cameras during the course of World War 2, I think we'd be looking back at what occurred very much differently.
On the other side of conflict- riots and protests have begun to blur together. The 2011 Summer riots in Britain were classified by authorities as simple 'lawlessness,' but that lawlessness had a definitive cause, if not a goal(in addition to being curiously sandwiched between the Arab Spring protests and the Occupy movement.) During the 2011 Spanish indignados protests and continuing with the Occupy movement, one could see expressedly 'peaceful' protesters violating the orders of police, breaching property rights, and pushing back against police. Again, the most important conflicts occur today in the realm of Public Relations. You see this clearly when the mainstream media reports on such events- A group of people may be a characterized as peaceful protesters, rebels, freedom-fighters, or an unruly mob depending on perspective.
The successful non-violent protests for civil rights in the United States could only have happened at that point in time. The black minority was so marginalized that they couldn't use violent means.(for fear of being considered insurrectionary) The international media was television-and-radio only; and so it relied very much on reporters personal sympathy. And finally, the police, military and their means of restoring 'order' was remarkably different from today. Local police forces in those days were detectives and beat cops who possessed no kind of riot equipment besides live rounds(which they normally hesitated to use.) If the police were overpowered, the national guard was called in, who didn't always hesitate to use live rounds.
Today, on the other hand, the National Guard is rarely called in(even when it should be, as was the case during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,) while police are equipped with rubber bullets(simply bullets covered in rubber,) tear gas, shields, helmets, and pepper spray. This has led to many people referring to modern police forces possessing 'paramilitary' capability, and I think those people are right on target, so to speak. This militarization of police didn't occur by accident. It started timely enough after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination when the National guard and even military artillerymen were called into some cities to restore order after riots and what some called 'rebellion' erupted [even in Baltimore]. It continued in the decades that followed, particularly after Rodney King's beating and its aftermath(interestingly, several citizen-surveillance measures were also pioneered during this time). The elevation of 'protest' and 'riot' ambiguity + police militarization was probably best exemplified in the so-called Battle of Seattle in 1999.
Today, we live in a precarious time. War is less war-like and peaceful protest is less peaceful, more planned and more focused on direct-action. The terminology of Protest, Riot, and War is so conflated that it's usually simply referred to by more honest and articulate members of the press as 'civil unrest.' I laughed out loud when I saw a flier for a protest action in Oakland as part of the Occupy Movement sending out a call to 'Decolonize' Oakland. The description was vividly apt- & was a representation of the kind of muddy intellectual and physical struggle that's taking place today
Just 3 days ago #OccupyOakland attempted to possess a vacant building, build a 'community center' that would address local social needs, and was met by an extremely prepared and aggressive police blockade. Later that night, Police attempted to trap and capture protesters, only to have protesters trample a fence and march across a vacant lot to their freedom. Concurrently, a group of protesters overtook the flag from city hall, and burned it.
Of course, the latter happening was not supported by all those involved, and the video of it will probably widely be redistributed by those trying to characterize the Occupy movement as dangerous or violent. The truth is, those people are somewhat right. Personally, I love the spectacle of the (stolen) American flag being burned, and indeed look at it as an act of 'Decolonization.' But that spectacle threatens certain people- and it ought to. This is the new 'war,' by any means available, taking place in the age when everything will show up on youtube.