[Reader-list] FW: John Le Carre on the war
octave at vsnl.com
Wed Oct 24 10:09:10 IST 2001
> The Globe and Mail
> Toronto, Canada
> Saturday, October 13, 2001
> We have already lost
> By John Le Carre
> The Bombing Begins! screams today's headline of the normally restrained
> Guardian. Battle joined, echoes the equally cautious International Herald
> Tribune, quoting George W. Bush. But with whom is it joined? And how will
> it end? How about with Osama bin Laden in chains, looking more serene and
> Christ-like than ever, arranged before a tribune of his vanquishers with
> Johnny Cochran to defend him? The fees won't be a problem, that's for
> Or how about with Osama bin Laden blown to smithereens by one of those
> clever bombs we keep reading about that kill terrorists in caves but don't
> break the crockery? Or is there a solution I haven't thought of that will
> prevent us from turning our archenemy into an arch martyr in the eyes of
> those for whom he is already semi-divine?
> Yet we must punish him. We must bring him to justice. Like any sane
> person, I see no other way. Send in the food and medicines, provide the
> aid, sweep up the starving refugees, maimed orphans and body parts -
> sorry, "collateral damage" - but Osama bin Laden and his awful men, we
> have no choice, must be hunted down.
> Unfortunately, what America longs for at this moment, even above
> retribution, is more friends and fewer enemies. And what America is
> storing up for herself, and so are we Brits; is yet more enemies. Because
> after all the bribes, threats and promises that have patched together this
> rickety coalition, we cannot prevent another suicide bomber being born
> each time a misdirected missile wipes out an innocent village, and. nobody
> can tell us how to dodge this devil's cycle, of despair, hatred and - yet
> The stylized television footage and photographs of this bin Laden suggest
> a man of homoerotic narcissism, and maybe we can draw a grain of hope from
> that. Posing with a Kalashnikov, attending a wedding or consulting a
> sacred text, he radiates with every self-adoring gesture an actor's
> awareness of the lens. He has height, beauty, grace, intelligence and
> magnetism, all great attributes, unless you're the world's hottest
> fugitive and on the run, in which case they're liabilities hard to
> But greater than all of them, to my jaded eye, is his barely containable
> male vanity, his appetite for self-drama and his closet passion for the
> limelight. And, just possibly, this trait will be his downfall, seducing
> him into a final dramatic act of self-destruction, produced, directed,
> scripted and acted to death by Osama Bin Laden himself.
> By the accepted rules of terrorist engagement, of course, the war is long
> lost. By us. What victory can we possibly achieve that matches the defeats
> we have already suffered, let alone the defeats that lie ahead? "Terror is
> theatre," a soft-spoken Palestinian firebrand told me in Beirut in 1982.
> He was talking about the murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics
> 10 years before, but he might as well have been talking about the Twin
> Towers and the Pentagon. The late Mikhail Bakunin, evangelist of
> anarchism, liked to speak of the Propaganda of the Act. It's hard to
> imagine more theatrical, more potent acts of propaganda than these.
> Now Mr. Bakunin in his grave and Mr. bin Laden in his cave must be rubbing
> their hands in glee as we embark on the very process that terrorists of
> their stamp so relish: as we hastily double up our police and intelligence
> forces and award them greater powers, as we put basic civil liberties on
> hold and curtail press freedom, impose news blackouts and secret
> censorship, spy on ourselves and, at our worst, violate mosques and hound
> luckless citizens in our streets because we are afraid of the colour of
> their skin.
> All the fears that we share - Dare I fly? Ought I to tell the police about
> the weird couple upstairs? Would it be safer not to drive down Whitehall
> this morning? Is my child safely back from school? Have my life's savings
> plummeted? - are precisely the fears our attackers want us to have.
> Until Sept. 11, the United States was only too happy to plug away at
> Vladimir Putin about his butchery in Chechnya. Russia's abuse of human
> rights in the North Caucasus, he was told - we are speaking of wholesale
> torture, and murder amounting to genocide - was an obstruction to closer
> relations with NATO and the United States. There were even voices - mine
> was one - that suggested Mr. Putin join Slobodan Milosevic on trial in The
> Hague: Let's do them both together. Well, goodbye to all that. In the
> making of the great new coalition, Mr. Putin looks a saint by comparison
> with some of his bedfellows.
> Does anyone remember any more the outcry against the perceived economic
> colonialism of the G8? Against the plundering of the Third World by
> uncontrollable multinational companies? Seattle, Prague and Genoa
> presented us with disturbing scenes of broken heads, broken glass, mob
> violence and police brutality. Tony Blair was deeply shocked. Yet the
> debate was a valid one, until it was drowned in a wave of patriotic
> sentiment, deftly exploited by corporate America.
> Drag up Kyoto these days, you risk the charge of being "anti-American."
> It's as if we have entered a new Orwellian world where our personal
> reliability as comrades in the struggle is measured by the degree to which
> we invoke the past to explain the present. Suggesting there is a
> historical context for the recent atrocities is, by implication, to make
> excuses for them: Anyone who is with us doesn't do that; anyone who does,
> is against us.
> Ten years ago, I was making an idealistic bore of myself by telling anyone
> who would listen, that with the Cold War behind us, we were missing a
> never-to-be repeated chance to transform the global the global community.
> Where was the Marshall Plan? I pleaded. Why weren't young men and women
> from the U.S. Peace Corps, Britain's Voluntary Service Overseas and their
> continental European equivalents pouring into the former Soviet Union by
> the thousands?
> Were was the world-class statesman and the man of the hour, with the voice
> and vision to define for us the real; if unglamorous, enemies of mankind:
> poverty, famine, slavery, tyranny, drugs, bush-fire wars racial and
> religious ,intolerance, greed?
> Now thanks to Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, all our leaders are
> world-class statement, , proclaiming distant their voices and visions in
> distant airports while they feather their electoral nests..
> There has been unfortunate talk - and not only from Silvio Berlusconi - of
> a "crusade." Crusade, of course, implies a delicious ignorance of history.
> Was Mr. Berlusconi really proposing to set free the holy places of
> Christendom and smite the heathen? Was George W. Bush? And am I out of
> order in recalling that we (Christians) actually lost the Crusades? But
> all is well: Signor Berlusconi was misquoted and the presidential
> reference is no longer operative.
> Meanwhile, Mr. Blair's new role as America's fearless spokesman continues
> apace. Mr. Blair speaks well because Mr. Bush speaks badly. Seen from
> abroad, Mr. Blair in this partnership is the inspired elder statesman with
> an unassailable domestic power base, whereas Mr. Bush - dare one say it
> these days? - was barely elected at all.
> But what exactly does Mr. Blair, the elder statesman, represent? Both he
> and the U.S. President at this moment are riding high in their respective
> approval ratings, but both are aware, if they know their history books,
> that riding high on Day One of a perilous overseas military operation
> doesn't guarantee you victory come election day.
> How many American body bags can Mr. Bush sustain without losing popular
> support? After the horrors of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the
> American people may want revenge, but they're on a very short fuse about
> shedding more American blood.
> Mr. Blair - with the whole Western world to tell him so, except for a few
> sour voices back home - is America's eloquent white knight, the fearless,
> trusty champion of that ever-delicate child of the mid-Atlantic, the
> "Special Relationship."
> Whether that will win Mr. Blair favour with his electorate is another
> matter because the Prime Minister was elected to save the country from
> decay, and not from Osama bin Laden. The Britain he is leading to war is a
> monument to 60 years of administrative incompetence. Our health, education
> and transport systems are on the rocks. The fashionable phrase these days
> describes them as "Third World," but there are places in the Third World
> that are far better off than Britain.
> The country Mr. Blair governs is blighted by institutionalized racism,
> white male dominance, chaotically administered police forces, a
> constipated judicial system, obscene private wealth and shameful and
> unnecessary public poverty. At the time of his re-election, which was
> characterized by a dismal turnout, Mr. Blair acknowledged these ills and
> humbly admitted that he was on notice to put them right.
> So when you catch the noble throb in his voice as he leads us reluctantly
> to war, and your heart lifts to his undoubted flourishes of rhetoric, it's
> worth remembering that he may also be warning you, sotto voce, that his
> mission to mankind is so important that you will have to wait another
> year for your urgent medical operation and a lot longer before you can
> ride in a safe and punctual train. I am not sure that this is the stuff of
> electoral victory three years from now. Watching Tony Blair, and listening
> to him, I can't resist the impression that he is in a bit of a dream,
> walking his own dangerous plank.
> Did I say "war"? Has either Mr. Blair or Mr. Bush, I wonder, ever seen a
> child blown to bits, or witnessed the effect of a single cluster bomb
> dropped on an unprotected refugee camp? It isn't necessarily a
> qualification for generalship to have seen such dread things- and I don't
> wish either of them the experience - but it scares me all the: same when
> I'll watch uncut, political faces shining with the light of combat, and
> hear preppy political vices steeling my heart for battle.
> And please, Mr. Bush - on my knees, Mr. Blair - keep God out of this. To
> imagine God fights wars is to credit Him with he worst follies of mankind.
> God, if we now anything about Him, which I don't profess to, prefers
> effective food drops, dedicated medical teams, comfort and good tents for
> the homeless and bereaved, and without strings, a decent acceptance of our
> past sins and a readiness to put hem right. He prefers us less greedy,
> less arrogant, less evangelical, and less dismissive of life's losers.
> It's not a new world order, not yet, and is not God's war. It's a
> horrible, necessary, humiliating police action to redress he failure of
> our intelligence services and cur blind political stupidity in arming and
> exploiting fanatics to fight the Soviet invader, then abandoning them to a
> devastated, leaderless country. As a result, it's our miserable duty to
> seek out and punish a bunch of modern medieval religious zealots who will
> gain mythic stature from the very death we propose to dish out to hem.
> And when it's over, it won't be over. The shadowy bin Laden armies, in the
> emotional aftermath of his destruction, will gather numbers rather than
> wither .way. So will the hinterland of silent sympathizers who provide
> them with logistical support.
> Cautiously, between the lines, we are being invited to believe that the
> conscience of the West has been reawakened to the dilemma of the poor and
> homeless of the Earth.
> And possibly, out of fear, necessity and rhetoric, a new sort of political
> morality has, indeed, been born. But when the shooting dies and a seeming
> peace is thieved, will the United States and its allies stay at their
> posts or, as happened at the end of the Cold War, hang up their boots and
> go home to their own back yards? Even if those back yards will never pin
> be the safe havens they once were.
> John le Carre is the author of 18 novels, including his most recent, The
> Constant Gardener.
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