July 25, 2010

THE FALL OF THE ROME


I am not being gleeful as I write this. More and more US and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan are dying or are being captured by a force so laughably small that you wouldn't even find them on the map of the White House situation room.

I have said a long time ago, and anybody who has read up on their military history had said the same thing, that Afghanistan is a war you cannot win. Regardless of how you define victory, and dear god, has that been redefined in the past nine years.

Regardless of what parameters you use to measure this war, you cannot win it. In the end (historically speaking), an occupying force will never win. Sometimes it takes months, sometimes years, every now and then decades or even centuries for the native population to rise up and force them out (we called that last one colonialism), but in the end, you as the occupying force will lose out.

Now, we can take the moral high ground and state that we are fighting to get girls to go to school, to have women be able to take their rightful, equal place in a modern society. And I could not give you a more worthy, more noble cause than that.

But that is not what it's about. It never was. If that were the case, our troops would have to be in Dubai, in Saudi Arabia, in Iran, in Syria, in Libya, in most African countries. But they aren't. Because the sad truth is that we as a world do not give a shit about women's rights. We never have. We never will.

We give a shit about money, and so we look away as our leaders enable dictators and mass murderers to run the Sudan, to be in power in Congo, and militarise the perversion that is the Saudi Arabian Royal Family. All countries rich in minerals and oil that we would like, that our corporations would need to maximise their profits. Cheap resources. And human life? Is so much cheaper down there.

We look away when little girls get their clits ripped out of their tiny bodies with rusty knives, to have their vaginas sown shut as they wait to get raped by their "husbands" years later, never to know how it feels like, what pleasure their own bodies can give them, how much they would have to offer, not only physically, to their male counterparts.

Yes. If we were to fight over resources, there would be no nobler cause that to fight over the possibility to raise and enable future generations of women to stand tall, to reach their full potential, to give the human race new perspectives, new thoughts, new ideas and new ideals as we left the dead carcass of the 20th century behind us.

But this is not what we do. We send in our troops, brave men and women, into a country like Afghanistan without a clear vision, without even night goggles to have any kind of vision as they bleed for a mission they cannot understand...

... because there is nothing to understand. There is no mission. Once upon a time the mission had been to capture Osama Bin Laden, something we have all but forgotten about as he ran away into Pakistan, safe and sound somewhere, anywhere, nowhere. We send the ones we care so little about into this desert of rock, heat and cold, where there is nothing to capture, nothing to defend and nothing to win.

I was in a bar in St. Louis on the evening of September 11, and a man next to me – upon hearing that I was German – complimented and thanked me for the German reaction on that day, as thousands upon thousands streamed towards the US embassy and laid down flowers in front of the gates, a silent and tearful reminder that we are all the same, that in the words of Jesus, "what you do to the smallest one, the most insignificant one, you have done to me". We are all the same. We are all the divine (and coming from an atheist like me, that should mean something). We are all worthy.

"Wouldn't have expected that from the Germans," the man next to me said. He was probably a good man, with a good heart and a good family waiting for him somewhere as he had been on a business trip and now was grounded here. A good man whose mind had probably only known German culture through Hollywood and the Hitler Channel, a small chunk of time that still defines us for so many people around the globe.

"Let me buy you a drink," I said. And I did. A beer and a shot of whiskey.

"Who would do something like this?" the man asked me. That is another thing about being a German. You don't always see it, they don't always say it, but deep down, very many think it. If somebody has the answer to why human beings are able to commit such atrocities, a German must know. It must be wired into our genetics, that understanding for the depths of darkness that lurks in the human heart.

"I don't know," I said and lied. I did know, of course. But it was an answer that would have been hurtful, painful and impolite on that day. And besides, he answered his own question just a moment later, without even realising it.

"You need a parking lot, you guys in Europe?" he said as the TV in the bar streamed the same images over and over, interrupted by talking heads on mute, kabuki theatre played out in real time. "Because you just say the word, we turn the whole damn middle east into a giant parking lot. Turn the fucking dust and sand into glass, kill everybody with the damn bomb and be done with it."

Who is capable of such atrocities? We are. We all are, and all it needs is a spark, an ideology, a religion that tells you that you are better, that the others are not worth anything, and yes, that is something, that is the knowledge that Germans of my generation grew up with, that we were taught in our schools, that we should not, must not ever forget.

How easy it is. How small the step is. How little of a reason is needed to go somewhere and kill others. All it takes is fear or anger. And somebody to blame. And others will have to pay the price. Soldiers and civilians. Women and children.

Somewhere on the battlefield. Somewhere in Afghanistan.

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I don't think so. I believe the road to hell is paved with the lies of others who told good people that they were right, that these actions were righteous, and it matters little whether it was the Nazis telling the German people that, Osama and his twisted religious beliefs or our governments telling us that we are doing this "to protect our freedoms", as the freedoms our men and women bleed for in the farthest regions of the globe are cut down, curbed and killed at home.

There are missing US soldiers out there, on those battlefields, tonight. My thoughts are with them. There are women and children out there tonight, on those battlefields, afraid as they go to sleep, about what tomorrow may bring. My thoughts are with them.

There are our leaders out there tonight. And they make decisions, and they make choices that put all of us in harm's way. And they care too little and speak too much, they smile for the cameras and think in pre-processed and empty words as others whisper in the ear what is good for their countries, what is good for their career, what is needed to get re-elected, to hold on, to hold out, to hang onto power for their own personal gain.

I cannot bring myself to have my thoughts with them.

As they bring us all down. And play the fiddle as we are burning in fires of their making, flames that erupt in places so far away, in regions so poor that the rest of us will not even notice that the blazes are raging and coming towards us all.

We are seeing them only on television in snippets and short bursts, explained, declared, wars and conflicts that fuel the machines of our own undoing.

But they are coming closer. As we fail. As we fall.

As we are all Rome.