-By Eric Scott Pickard
I reacted to the recent attacks in Paris like most of the world; with horror, with sadness, and with anger. At the time of the attacks, I was already feeling very maudlin. I was watching a documentary series on the history of the United States, and there was France, Omaha Beach, soaked in blood.
There was the Holocaust.
There was the bomb, and the architect of its destructive terror, Oppenheimer, the man who so loved literature and poetry, quoting the Bhagavad Gita – “I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.” I thought then about how the tread of history is so tenuous, and how we are balanced on its rickety edge. How many tiny things could have been done to prevent Hitler’s rise to power? If the Treaty of Versailles had been based on lifting up all of Europe, rather than punishing Germany, how would things have played out? If some art teacher had admitted a young Hitler into art school, would he have spent his life in obscurity? What about Munich? What about, what about, what about, over and over again. If one thing seemed apparent to me then, it was that in the course of human history, we have stumbled so many times. We have been wrong, so many times, or rather, those who lead us, who lead the apparatus, what author Mark Corske calls the Engine of Domination, have been wrong so many times. As I thought these things, ruminating, there was Paris.
I spent that night watching the body count roll in. I spent the next several days absorbing the developments and reading the opinion pieces and the social media posts, ranging from lucid and complex thoughts on foreign policy to the reactionary rants of racists and fools. But my mind just kept going to back to the thread of history.
Not Just Paris, but the World.
We must remember that just the day before there was another horrid attack in Beirut, ostensibly conducted by actors of the same organization, the Islamic State. Further, vicious assaults on the innocent were conducted in Africa, in Southeast Asia, and of course, Palestine. None of these attacks received anywhere near as much international media attention. In fact, attacks all over the world in the last years have barely been covered. Domestic attacks in the United States, mass shootings, happen with such shocking regularity that are hardly even worth a mention on the evening news, and turmoil across the Middle East is so routine that the worst of the atrocities go unnoticed by the West. The world, it seems, is rent in fire and blood. Orwell has gone from being a writer and social critic to being a prophet; war is indeed now the new peace. This is the context in which we find ourselves.
All Warfare is Based on Deception
I am not here going to weigh in on the theories that the Parisian attacks were some sort of false flag operation, or even the (much more lucid) observations that Western intelligence services had forewarning of the attacks and failed to stop, or intentionally did not stop, the attacks. I will not weigh in on these things because many already have, and in the end – does it matter? The future, the reaction, is what matters now. We mourn our dead – and I mourn for so many, not just those slain in France but those around the world who have been tortured by violence – but we must now look forward. We must not repeat mistakes of the past, or allow our leaders to, once again, use this sort of violence in their power games.
After the attacks of September 11th, 2001 in the United States, there was an outpouring of grief. The whole world, it seemed, was saddened, and stood in solidarity with the American people. This has happened also in this case, and I do not at all challenge those who changed their profile pictures and shared memes via social media. Yes, there were other attacks, but I understand that human beings loathe this sort of violence. Human beings are, by and large, good and decent, and many feel helpless in the face of these atrocities. They seem so big, and we seem so small.
But after September 11th, the United States and Western allies used the sorrow and grief and fear of the world in order to perpetuate war, a war long desired by the elites in command. These Middle Eastern wars laid the groundwork for the very group responsible for the current crisis, the Islamic State – just as the Treaty of Versailles laid the groundwork for the horrors of the Second World War. This is nothing new; look to the Gulf of Tonkin incident that formed the justification for Vietnam, look to the sinking of the USS Maine which formed the justification for the US war with Spain. Look to history. The Mexican-American war, a massive land grab, was “justified” in a similar way, and on, and on, until we come to 13 Friday, 2015 in Paris.
The outpouring of love, support, solidarity, and yes, fear, will surely be used by these powers once again. The question is, in what way? It is convenient for us to say, yes, we want to defeat the Islamic State. The IS has committed horrors beyond the ken of rational understanding; sexual slavery, genocide, summary executions, and the institution of horrific corporal punishments for simple crimes, including beheading. It would be remiss of me not to point out that a close Western ally, Saudi Arabia, is guilty of many of these same crimes, but that isn’t publicized. To point that out would not fit the narrative that points towards a justification for war; in fact Saudi Arabia (and Israel, who have committed their own atrocities) will be a “key ally” in any future Middle Eastern conflict. But the Islamic State is almost certainly only incidental. No, the key is Syria, and the Western powers’ desire to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power and install a new government. In the background of all this is Russia and Vladimir Putin, and the power struggle for access to key strategic positions, trade routes, and energy reserves. The Cold War dynamic is alive and well, as these major powers move their people around like pawns in the struggle for wealth and power.
So where does this leave us, the people? Syria is a quagmire, with many factions, some of which will not line up on either side – if we even have any ability to find what the “sides” truly are. In the best case, there will be an ongoing proxy war, leading to some basic agreement between the powers, helping citizens very little. In the worst, it will lead to a third world war. In any case, the cost in “blood and treasure” will be enormous, and it only furthers the constant culture of war. The real fear I have, though, is the lesson of history: what are our guarantees that this will not spill out into other areas, create other problems, perhaps even worse than IS? Where does it end? Will it ever end? We ignore the warnings of history to our great peril, and if we allow history to march along as it has, it will march us straight to our doom.
For all this, I keep one thing alive in my heart, and that is our common faith in peace and justice. I watched the people of Paris open their homes to strangers to keep them safe, even in the midst of bloodshed and terror. I watched them place candles of remembrance in their windows, making the nickname “City of Lights” a reality. I watched Palestinians line up in solidarity with the victims, praying for them, even as they suffer then own perpetual tragedy in a nation no longer theirs. I watched people weep openly for other human beings that they had never met, who lived across an ocean. I watched people rightly point out other tragedies of the past days and months and embrace the fact that not just Europeans matter, that all human beings should be free of violence and fear. This, this great outpouring, is what gives me faith that now, we can finally break this chain. History has repeated far too many times, but this time, we have a chance – if only because the present is all that truly matters. The world is waking up. The world is watching, and waiting. Let us cast off the old models of domination and control through fear and violence. James Joyce said, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” Let us, then, wake up, and wake up others. Let us cut the thread of history, and step together into another future.
-Eric Scott Pickard is a poet, activist, journalist, and thinker. He is a co-founder of Free Radical Media and co-host of the Free Radical Media podcast.