February 02, 2006

The Price of Empire, and the Lie of "Good Intentions"

I'm still in the process of going through the old archives that I had saved and reposting many of my major essays, including the lengthy series of articles I've written based on the uniquely important work of Alice Miller. Close to 50 of those earlier pieces are now available at The Sacred Moment. I'll be posting a Table of Contents in a few hours, so that readers can more easily locate essays they find of particular interest.

I just came across a post I originally published on May 27, 2004. It's especially relevant to certain issues I've discussed more recently -- most notably, in the second part of my series, On Torture, entitled: Of Means and Ends. All of the entries in that series are listed here.

That entry from almost two years ago excerpted an excellent short essay from the National Catholic Reporter. Because it is just as if not more pertinent today, I offer that excerpt again. I emphasize that this first appeared close to two years ago:
The Bush administration -- at great expense both monetarily and in terms of American purpose -- is learning what it’s like to be a colonial power. One might have thought that ample literature exists on the pitfalls of such an enterprise, but the administration seems to have ignored what history might have to say.

In fact, it is a conceit of the neoconservative movement that has so thoroughly shaped our foreign policy in the past three years that America is destined to dominate and to be a force for good in the world.

The irony, of course, is that what began on the wings of lofty moral tones is crashing into the mountain of war’s hideous debris, much of it -- from the deaths of yet uncounted civilians and soldiers to the abuse of prisoners -- singularly immoral. ...

Occupying powers in campaigns built on deceit and an inflated sense of power and importance usually meet with disaster.

With few exceptions, occupying powers become hated. Whether it is England’s 800 years in Ireland, Belgium’s near-century in the Congo, France trying to hold on to Vietnam (Indochina) and Algiers, or Britain’s century-plus in India.

There’s a line in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India (1924) that speaks directly to the American troubles in Iraq. It’s when Dr. Aziz says to Fielding (and this was more than 30 years before Britain left India): "Clear out you fellows, double quick I say. We may hate one another but we hate you most. If it’s 50 or 500 years we shall get rid of you, yes, we shall drive every blasted Englishman in the sea. Then you and I shall be friends."

The price of ambition is the element never mentioned in the already elaborately documented march of this administration to what it believed would be the adulation of the Iraqis and the admiration of the rest of the world. We’re beginning to understand, and the cost keeps rising by the hour.
One can only despair at how terribly that cost has increased in the time since this piece was first published -- and how it continues to increase with every day that passes.

The passage that I highlighted also echoes Chris Hedges' themes in the excerpts from his book that I offered yesterday. The idea that "America is destined to dominate and to be a force for good in the world" is part of the mythic reality that Hedges discusses. As Hedges puts it: "By turning history into myth we transform random events into a chain of events directed by a will greater than our own, one that is determined and preordained. We are elevated above the multitude. We march toward nobility."

Despite all the horrors that have transpired since we first invaded Iraq, the mythic reality still prevails. We still insist on our "good intentions." Even most of the Bush administration's severest critics still cling to this life raft. This point, the idealization of authority, is explained by Alice Miller more thoroughly and more convincingly in terms of its ultimate roots than by any other writer of whom I am aware. For more on this point, see the first part of my new series on The Limits of Politics, where I describe the various interlocking parts of the psychological dynamics identified by Miller, or this essay concerning the obedience-denial mechanism revealed by someone like Mel Gibson, or the conclusion of my series On Torture. [Another essay is also crucially relevant to these issues: Iraq -- The Practice of Denial.]

This idea is also tied to a certain framework that permeates Western thought more generally, as I briefly indicated here. I'll be exploring that question in more detail soon.