Obama’s Nobel Speech and the Price of War
I cannot sleep, so now I am online for a short time. Believe me, there are other items on my mind that are robbing me of my sleep, but I thought I would comment on one of them.
They’re lauding him as another Theodore Roosevelt in the media, but I cannot help but shake my head at our president. He wants to make war in order to preserve peace. His own vice president once suggested that we were even in the wrong place to make war on our enemies. But now, these are Obama’s wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and I can only say, as an American citizen and as a Buddhist, that you cannot wage war in order to obtain peace. War only begets war, period. The thing is not to get sucked in by the same arguments by the same people that got you into the mess in the first place.
Obama has allowed himself to be influenced by Bush holdovers and Clintonistas. We are now in the clutches of people that favor corporate control of our government. The thing is, what may have seemingly worked nearly twenty years ago shouldn’t be applied to national and world events today. And if what Matt Taibbi says in Rolling Stone is true, we are really in for it.
But back to the black warrior. He’s not charmed the Norwegians completely. He is not staying for the full, three day ceremonials that included dining with the King of Norway, concerts and other events, and this is rankling the common Norwegians who have come distances to see him. After all, he is a world leader, and had to reschedule other responsibilities on the hop for this one-day unexpected international excursion. And Obama felt that he did not deserve such honors, as he did the first time he heard about receiving the Nobel.
It was totally different for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Coretta, even down to the black tie and tails that King wore. You could say that it was a welcome respite to go on a trip, receive an award and enjoy a vacation with his wife. But then, King had the luxury of not being a world leader, simply a leader of his people in America. He did not have the power to wage war, merely the power (aided by the media) to influence large numbers of black and white (and Jewish and Asian and Latino) people to practice civil disobedience in the streets in order to obtain long overdue rights for his people. People did get killed and maimed, and it was like a war to certain people. It was the last part of the Civil War that had to be waged.
However, King’s minions and allies were for the most part, unarmed and nonviolent. They were going against people who were always armed with rope, with guns, with whips, with hoses. There are still people around who are carrying the scars of their encounters with the agents of American apartheid, and they have no medals. Some have quiet wounds; others still suffer from brain injuries and paralysis. But war, real war where both sides are armed with guns, grenades and bombs, is always disruptive of life: violent, bloody, and relentless, and stopping it is almost as hard as it is easy to start.
It’s almost like someone who becomes a mass shooter who nurses a grudge against certain people in workplaces or schools. Notice that they always manage to spray others with bullets who aren’t involved in their grudge; while the people they targeted escape injury or death time and again. That’s what war is these days. It is waged on civilian populations who are caught between protagonists. The civilians–the common people–always lose. The private contractors are still there in Iraq and Afghanistan. McCrystal who helped run the show with Abu Ghraib and torture is now commander in Afghanistan. There’s an oil pipeline involved, too. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Obama invoked Hitler, compared him with al Qaeda today, and said essentially that pacifism could not have been waged against someone like him. Excuse me, but it is a known fact that Hitler’s own generals expected the powers, Britain and France, to bring their firepower to bear on the little dictator. Had they done so, bringing their troops forward but without firing a shot, der Fuhrer would have been quelled. He would have backed off because he was not yet up to speed. Instead, the generals saw Hitler win and win again by bluff, because people were not strong enough to threaten more than what they were capable of doing. The British and the French could only remember the generation of men that they had lost in pointless battles, and would have done anything except real pacifism to avoid war. They could have confronted Hitler early on; they did not have to kill scores of people or start a war. Europe ended up having to do just that anyway, going sideways with Hitler for years until he finally sank his fangs in it. Obama calls himself a student of history; there were probably people in that audience who inwardly dissented from his view of events. Including how al Qaeda came to be our enemy.
Let me go back to Teddy Roosevelt, because the media once again allows me to point out a historical truth that they have decided not to dwell on. Teddy Roosevelt indeed carried a big stick in his international endeavors. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for helping to mediate the peace between Japan and Russia, but even this award, like Obama’s, was controversial in its time. Roosevelt was far from being a pacifist; he was exuberant about war and killing; and he also shared out the carcasses of thousands of animals he shot to prove it. But all that ended when his favorite son, Quentin, was killed in World War I.
The former president, who had strenuously encouraged Americans to join the war against Germany, became a shadow of himself, grieving the son he had essentially pressed into the abyss. He was just like another perceived weakling, the British colonial era writer Rudyard Kipling, who basically forced his own son to go to war and to win glory, and then spent his remaining years weeping over the young man’s demise until his own. War means death and loss. Men and women become killers. There is hardly anything glorious about it.
Roosevelt had already worn himself down in an earlier trip to South America on the River of Doubt, which is now named for him–the Rio Teodoro. During this expedition, which proved be to the last of his life, the very environment seemed to revolt against Roosevelt’s mass bagging of animals and insects. Roosevelt contracted malaria and a leg infection, both of which reoccurred several times even after his return to the United States on the eve of the Great War. However, the young man’s death was the coup de grace; it hastened Roosevelt’s own end six months later in 1919. All the man wanted to do was to die; there was no one else he could live for.
And so now, Obama is being lauded as a new Roosevelt figure who has his own Doctrine about defending America and going into foreign countries as it suits American interests, and who will have his own war. He’s going down into the maelstrom that modern American presidents have gone down at their peril–whether Vietnam, Lebanon, Iraq–and I very much doubt that he will be as successful as they had hoped to be. Obama didn’t want his arrogance to get him in trouble with the Man Upstairs–so said that prayer he put into the Wailing Wall in Israel–but his arrogance is very much in play here.
And whether Osama bin Laden is the target is not even mentioned at all. It’s only al Qaeda. At least the enemy has a name; Bush refused to even countenance bin Laden after he got what he wanted–the subjugation of Iraq and the capture and death of Saddam Hussein, our former ally, just like bin Laden. Bin Laden was only a pretext; which is why he was allowed to escape by the Bushes to whatever fate he has encountered.
Obama’s going to have to learn the hard way. A lot more victims will fall like wheat before the scythe, and he’s going to find out that being a Clintonista is not the way to go and not where the people wanted him to go, but he’s going to learn. It’s just unfortunate that the country, weary of so many losses, is going to have to relearn the lesson along with him.