[Leaflet distributed at a peace protest in San Francisco, 2007]
What statement is made by pictures of empty boots and crying children? Is it meant as an explanation or even an agitation against the logic and reason of war? Is the human tragedy on display an attempt to clarify how national interests are pursued over the interests of other nations? Or are these pictures trying to confront the public with the radical warning: the way that politicians execute their goals isn’t trustworthy, it even leads to failure.
Indeed, the suffering of war is a costly lesson that “our elected officials” teach us – and it’s a lesson that the protesters should take to heart. A nation-state that sees its “vital interests” threatened by another state asserts those interests over corpses. The export of freedom and democracy is apparently a thoroughly bloody affair for those who have the misfortune of living in what America defines to be “rogue states,” and thus have the questionable luck of being designated for liberation by the US military. And indeed, these people have received liberty, either dead in heaven or living in the bloody hell that is American nation-building.
“Bring our troops home” seems reasonable, nobody would voluntarily stay in a war and no one in these foreign countries has exactly invited them to come. But asking exactly those who send and keep the troops there to do otherwise is unfortunately not challenging their responsibility, as if they just made a mistake or overlooked something. Contrary to what the protestors seem to suggest, the politicians that have carried out this war and managed its operation haven’t violated the duties of office. It’s much worse than that – they have done the very job assigned to them and enshrined in the constitution. And they have done us the “favor” of informing us quite explicitly that the nation’s imperialist ambitions can’t afford to shy away from the human costs of war; its “vital interests” simply require a good deal of death. Did Bush or anyone else promise that a war to liberate the Iraqi people would go off without a whole lot of killing and dying?
In the light of all this, isn’t it a bit contradictory to make an appeal for peace to the very same authorities who found this war so necessary, regardless of the objections of protestors who took to the streets? And why should those responsible for the problems now be the ones we address our concerns to and rely on to fix them? And instead of appealing to the career ambitions of politicians, as if these “vital interests” didn’t exist, shouldn’t we have a closer look at what these interests of our nation are? Maybe these “interests” are now the motive for so many politicians to be concerned about the war, rather than objections and concerns based on the suffering of the people involved. It seems that because of the fact that these sacrifices haven’t paid off for American control in the region, the method of this war is now under review -- not because of a critique of the means and ends of “our interest”, but rather concern for their success.
So instead of demanding peace by showing pictures of crying children and empty boots – images used just as often as justification for continuing and escalating the war so as not to “abandon” the poor Iraqi children, or so that the fallen troops “shall not have died in vain” – perhaps it makes more sense to look at what the true substance of this freedom export is and why it always seems to demand so many sacrifices. After all, the interests that are being violently defended in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere won’t disappear when this war comes to an end and the troops come back home. On the contrary, it is precisely in the times of peace longed for so dearly by the protestors that the US – like all nation-states – accumulates both the reasons and the means for the next war.
War hardly has a good reputation, but unfortunately this protest’s mode of political judgment -- democratic critique, confronting politicians with the results of their actions -- does. Asking the above questions might not end the war now, but it can offer reasons for putting an end to imperialist war and peace.