The political unrest in the Ukraine has been a news topic which falls outside the loosely defined scope of this site. Nevertheless, popular uprisings wherever they occur catch my attention for similar reasons that they resonate with most people.
Unless you subscribe to an ideology or identify with a social group that is so marginal that the very idea of the people evokes some sense of otherness, then to see people en masse challenging the power of the state, generally seems indicative of a social fracture in response to which it shouldn’t be too hard to take sides.
Do you side with the state and its agents who are willing to kill civilians in order to defend the state? Or do you side with the civilians who are risking their lives in order to defend their country?
That doesn’t sound like a tough choice, yet gain and again I encounter individuals who on the one hand challenge and view with suspicion virtually every action of the U.S. government and are tireless in their expressions of dissent, and yet on the other hand will just as tirelessly defend any other government if that government happens to be one not favored by the U.S..
This is what I would call a pathological anti-Americanism, because it elevates criticisms of the U.S. government (many of which are perfectly legitimate criticisms) to a point where they overshadow all other considerations. Worst of all, they view everything going on in the world through a U.S.-centric prism, oblivious to the possibility that the negative U.S.-centric prism is just as distorted and limiting as its pro-U.S.-centric counterpart.
Post-Iraq, the catastrophes that virtually everyone wants to guard against are the unintended effects of American military adventurism, while much less attention is given to the unintended effects of American inattention.
In one of Michael Vlahos’s characteristically deep analyses he describes the mythic significance of a citizens’ uprising — in response to which the state is in jeopardy of destroying itself.
But then he goes on to describe how in the case of Syria, the state has assumed an “inalienable right to kill.” Moreover, America’s acquiescence to Syria’s adoption of a strategy of mass atrocity has been instrumental in making that strategy effective.
To intervene or not intervene is not the question, because this frames global events in terms of American domination. Yet we fool ourselves if we imagine that the boundaries of our concerns also define the scope of our influence.
Michael Vlahos writes: Why do the photos, video, and tweets out of Kiev have such mythic power? Why do demonstrations, and barricades, and people shot down, young and old, men and women alike, wring such enduring emotion (like Les Miserables)? Why do citizen risings in big, capital cities have such a hold on us?
For a start, citizen-risings in cities are not war. Even when there is lots of fighting, it is never a fair fight, and we are rooting for the underdog, where the force against them is always unfairly superior, professional, and heavily armed. Plus a group of poorly armed citizens are unlike an army in almost every way. But especially this way — Together, they are the whole community: Men, women, and children fighting together. Their backs are against the family hearth itself. Nothing could be more existential, or more motivating.
Hence their entire defense is an improvisation that seeks survival in destroying the very appearance of what they fight for, as they willingly demolish their homes (cutting passages and loopholes in their townhouse rows), their streets (ripping pavers and dragging their own vehicles into barricades), their centers of civic life — thus their very way of life — to resist the invader. Yet the material things of life mean nothing now compared to the preciousness of community and identity.
Because their defense is always existential — victory or death, freedom or slavery — and their enemy is always implacable and sure to win: If only they can kill enough.
Yet the mission of the citizen rising, though existential, is never hopeless, because the citizens know they can win through martyrdom.
The operational goal of the barricades is to successfully repel the armed might of the state — but the strategic goal is to overturn (or at least compromise) the very legitimacy of the state by forcing it to kill large numbers of its own citizens. This is why putting down a citizen rising is so risky for a state regime.
It is risky on two levels. On one level, soldiers will try to break down barricaded positions by killing civilians, reasoning that bravado — and thus resistance — will melt away as people see friends and family killed in front of them.
But this is the secret of community martyrdom: It cements social bonds stronger than any glue. In Kiev we have seen acts of heroism and sheer courage that convention typically associates only with soldiers in battle. Like the woman who tweeted after being shot in the neck, we have felt heartrending moments of pathos.
Truth is, a citizen rising that survives its first casualties (or atrocities) becomes potentially as strong as any army in any prepared, defensive position. Its barricades then suddenly are splendid field fortifications, the righteously occupied city blocks and squares like immoveable castles of concrete, rubble, and rubber.
So now the state’s arm of enforcement had better be an army, because they now face an army in a fortified place, ready to fight to the death.
But remember, these are still citizens of the republic, and the army of the republic cannot escape its sworn oath to defend them. And because the assembled and resistant are men and women and children together, killing them is like killing your own community: Your own family. Moreover, a state that would wantonly kill its own people is not simply guilty of crimes against humanity: It is guilty (at least incipiently) of attempting to kill itself. [Continue reading…]