Tuesday, September 18, 2012

cutting losses with dignity

Hal Pepinsky, pepinsky@indiana.edu, pepinsky.blogspot.com
September 18, 2012
                A US colonel in Afghanistan announced in time for this morning’s US news that US ground forces would no longer “support” Afghani patrols and police.  And since our military would never dare give command of our air power, especially one that might be infiltrated by “the Taliban.”  And oh yes, the Afghanis have to supply their own troops now.
                Reportedly, US-Afghani political relations are “strained.”  I imagine that Afghani  ex-patriots who relied on the promise of firm US support to return home, are feeling betrayed by a US-led NATO occupation that is abandoning them, just as a succession of leaders of national reform or liberation movements from Ho Chi-Minh at the outset of the Cold War on, has been used and abandoned to suit US realpolitik.  It is particularly galling, I’m sure, to hear “Americans” tell you that we have given you more than enough chance to clean up your act, and if you can’t make it on your own now, it’s your own fault.  This sense of national superiority and infallibility galls me too.  But my conscience tells me that it is better to be abandoned sooner rather than later by US largesse.  However much the bloodshed continues in the wake of US withdrawal into fortresses in Iraq and Afghanistan, it will always be worse the longer we remain present outside our fortress walls.
                As importantly, the firmness of President Obama’s withdrawals saves “American” lives too. As safety required Norwegians to sentence Anders Breivik to life in prison, so transforming the violence of US military occupations may need to begin by separation of us from them.  Indeed, on its face national self-governance requires that colonizers and occupiers let go, which always happens by degrees, not as wholesale change.  Stripped of political correctness, the president has decided that we are not going to win these wars, and that he is going to save US life and limb especially as fast as politics and the safety of our troops permit.  Kudos to the US president and our military for continuing to back out of Afghanistan during a close US election.
                It takes even more courage to withdraw knowing that resistance fighters, seeing that they have us on the run, will celebrate their victory over invading non-believers by nipping at our tails, killing and humiliating us by bits and pieces as our young fighters struggle to return home safely and with a shred of dignity.
                Non-military war resisters made the mistake of vilifying troops returning from Vietnam, and we certainly owe returning troops respect for having risked so much to serve others, and more dignity back home than relegating them to our streets, hospitals and prisons.  Adding blame to anyone, and declaring winners and losers doesn’t help make anyone safer and more secure.
                Requiring any party to apologize or to “accept responsibility” for a war only gets in the way of de-escalation.  It isn’t necessary.  Gandhi is among those who called upon conflicting parties to end their impasse by embracing one another as friends.  I may have happened to have long believed that landlocked, mountainous Afghanistan could no more ever have been or will be conquered than its European counterpart, Switzerland.  I may wish that Afghanistan is the overt invasion to end all overt US invasions, as I did when the last US helicopter rose out of the US Embassy in Saigon.  The realist in me is grateful to get US withdrawal on any terms my government and media want to use.
                Plea bargain ceremonies before US criminal court judges drove home to me the absurdity of demanding contrition, remorse, or acknowledgment of having learned somebody else’s lesson.  When a defendant has signed onto a bargain reached between her/his lawyer and the prosecutor exchanging a guilty plea to a certain offense for a sentence, and the judge has agreed to the deal, the defense attorney and client stand before the bench as the judge, step by step, requires the defendant to assure, on the record, that this plea is voluntary (never mind that the defendant can’t make bail), and that s/he has indeed done each element of the crime charged.  I have sat there knowing that defendants knew themselves to be innocent, but who couldn’t wait in jail for a trial date.  The ceremony is a farce.  So it often turns out to be too, when people who batter their partners apologize and promise never to let it happen again.
Conversely, governments like all power holders may well back off and do what I think is the right thing while justifying it for the wrong reasons.  When the trustees of my university approved a policy opening faculty promotion and tenure files to public inspection, I called a press conference to catch the president as he left the meeting, to shake his hand and thank for doing the right thing, without further comment.  It wouldn’t have helped for me to claim victory, nor to point to how many years it had taken the administration to recognize what the on its face had always required.  So it is in the diplomatic world that face-saving accords have supplanted the unconditional surrenders we required to stop pounding Germans and Japanese.  So it is in common practice in consent decrees US regulators enter into as they extract fines and other sanctions from corporate wrongdoers.
I have been exposed to many training protocols for victim-offender mediation or conferencing.  Some place a premium on offender apologies.  I have never asked for apologies.  Some require that those labeled offenders “admit responsibility,” for their alleged legal transgressions, as in pleading guilty beforehand.  I’m mainly interested in honesty regardless of whether I hear what I might want to hear.  I may feel personally obliged to listen actively and self-critically in a mediation process; that is my offer of a way of relating, not a demand.  If parties realistically and voluntarily accommodate one another, I don’t find it necessary to push them to do so with conscious insight.  Many of the wonderful ways we respond to one another happen without being thought of or put into words.  Insight may promote settlements of wars, but giving dignity to those who settle takes precedence over requiring insight in others.  Peacemaking happens in many real ways.  Love and peace--hal

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