The Tim Wise 2001 essay Who’s Being Naive? War-Time Realism Through the Looking Glass is the penultimate chapter in The Power of Nonviolence: Writings by Advocates of Peace. This essay continues the Post-Vietnam to the Present (1975- ) section of the book. Wise is an anti-racism educator and author.
His essay complements the previous Arundhati Roy essay War is Peace. While Roy upholds the polite –but firm– criticism of a foreigner, Wise bluntly takes his fellow Americans to task for the Afghan War. As someone who forces Whites to face up to their own privilege in US society, Wise is at ease in ripping apart pro-war arguments in kitchen table language.
The criticism put forth by Roy and Wise reinforce each other by coming to the same conclusions from both external and internal vantage points. Both 2001 essays were written when the Afghan invasion was fresh, and they have proved to be prescient as the Afghan War has dragged on for a dozen years. Reminds me of the just departed Pete Seeger masterpiece, Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.
The title of the essay, and its introduction, starts with the pro-war talking point that opposition to the Afghan War is naive. As Roy points out in previous essay, do not mistake this for a Democrat/Republican divide, I heard a Democratic elected official use this line of argument in 2008 in defense of Obama’s pro-war stance.
Wise starts with the pro-war faction’s mocking of the the anti-war truism that ‘violence begets violence.” He goes step=bystep through the US killing of Quadafi’s daughter in Libya by a US bomb leading straight to the Lockerbie airplane bombing 2 years later. He draws from these circumstances the same lesson that Roy tried to impart: bombing Afghanistan will create more terrorists,
Wise then adopts a call and response model for the rest of the essay. He first point what the pro-war faction calls realistic is opnion based while what they call naive is fact-based.
Wise also points out that the US cherry-picks which countries are bombed under the color of stopping terrorism. Saudi Arabia, which was home of 15 of the 19 terrorists who committed the 9/11 attack and the home of Osama bin Laden, has not been a target of US violence.
Next, Wise takes on the pro-war mantra that “all they respect is force”. He points out that if force were the solution then decades of US use of force in the Middle East would prevented the 9/11 attacks.
Wise dissects the pro-war straw-man that “we tried peace and peace failed.’ He challenges the proponent of this argument to show when we have tried peace in Afghanistan. He points out that the US has been a continual participant in violence in Afghanistan, including funding the Mujaheddin against the Soviets.
To which I would add that the US was allied with bin Laden when he worked with the Mujaheddin, which takes us back to the truism that “violence begets violence” Or as it is called officially “blowback”, which happens when the violence forces the US supports against our global adversaries become our adversaries themselves using the support we gave them.
In the previous essay, Roy felt the need as a foreigner to reinforce that she was anti-violence in wanting all perpetrators of violence brought to justice to make clear that she was not justifying anti-American violence. As a US citizen Wise treats that proposition as a given. Instead he uses his time to focus on how the pro-war “realistic” approach fails to bring terrorists to justice:
To be realistic is to insist that nations harboring terrorists must be brought to justice.
Wise then continues in pointing out that the US does not have an interest in bringing them to justice. The US coalition partners, and the US itself, harbor terrorists. Wise gives the examples of the graduates of the Fort Benning, Georgia School of the Americas; the Miami Cuban terrorists; and Haitian terrorist Emanuel Constant who is responsible for for “the murder of over 4000 people.”
Similar to the Roy essay, Wise also questions the efficacy of the the Afghan food drops other than as a publicity stunt for back in the US.
The most frightening part of Wise’s 2001 is his quoting of the “mentally ill” comments of Clinton adviser Dick Morris as saying that
we should declare war on Afghanistan, and then Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Colombia.
In the intervening dozen years, the US did. Dick Morris was not mentally ill, just in the know about the state of US geopolitical ambitions.
Wise points out that these “american warlords” can mouth the word of “King, Gandhi, Jesus” while ignoring that their warmongering would be “condemned” by these teachers.
Wise finds “even more disturbing” something that does not surprise this writer at all. He is shocked to see so-called liberals supporting the Afghan War. I wonder if he was equally shocked by the total destruction of the anti-war movement once the war-mongering continued with the switch from a Republican President to a Democratic President.
In summing up, Wise is as correct today as he was then:
you can call your war correct, and the rest of us naive, but won’t make it so.