Curtain Raiser

War & the Game of Mirrors, Colltalers

The widespread outrage over the president’s brutal insensitivity with the families of four U.S. troops, killed in Niger Oct. 4, has suddenly shed light over another issue few seemed aware of until now: the growing, and discreet, presence of American military operations in Africa.
But, to paraphrase Charles Baudelaire, the finest trick performed by modern warfare is to convince us that it doesn’t exist. If Americans already find it hard to keep track of the ‘official’ wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, then what should be expected from all other global conflicts?
The fact is that it’s not just attention span that is in short supply nowadays; we’re missing a honest, active media establishment to inform us about what matters, since the government would never be forthcoming about that sort of thing. Instead, we get the menu of celebrity gossip.
Not that the current national conversation about the culture of rape and abuse toward women, lack of gender equality, and complicity and omission by all involved, isn’t worth getting all the press mileage it’s been, finally, getting. Here’s hoping it doesn’t die in a week or two.
Still, it’s startling that, in the meantime, the $2.4 trillion, in Congressional Budget Office estimates, that U.S. taxpayers will pay in 2017, to fund the all but certain endless Iraqi and Afghan conflicts, is not even in the public radar – let alone the tragic human cost they represent.
Thus, the mere $1 trillion estimated to finance African military operations in not just Niger, but its neighbors Nigeria and Libya, plus Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, should we continue? all sound like a bargain. The U.S. military Africa Command insists, however, it has just one operating base in the continent: Camp Lemonnier, in Djibouti.
Given Africa’s sheer size and diverse stages of economic development, the overall excuse used to justify such a defense investment, that it’s necessary to prevent the growth of a ‘radical Islamic’ threat in the region, wouldn’t make easy converts out of sharp minds. But who’s asking?
We’re indeed living in a peculiar age, where

the latest consumer gadget, even if price-inaccessible to the majority, can easily dislodge from the headlines any news about dying U.S. troops in (always) faraway lands. To be quickly ousted themselves by the latest presidential tweet.
It is by design, of course, but it appears to most as a fact of life. Just as few are alarmed when natural disasters triggered by climate change are reported without the proper cause of origin. It was never so easy, for professional Russian hackers or amateur Macedonian teenagers, to get us all foaming through our mouths over irrelevant minutia. Meanwhile, the world sadly sees America as the mother of all defense contractors.
As for the concept of open-ended wars, campaigns so extensive to fully obscure their goals, it could be traced back to the Cold War, or the particular brand of geopolitics that emerged after WWII. The world split in halves, reconstruction and occupation became quasi synonymous.
It’s hard to explain why the U.S. still maintains expensive military bases in Germany and Japan, for instance, but for the fact that neither democracies is allowed to have armed forces. But there are plenty of defenders for the other 798 American bases in 68 other countries.
To pursue that line of questioning, however, would expose anyone to a torrent of strident rhetoric about the crucial need for the U.S. to have a military presence in key regions of the world, and to be downright accused of being either a lightheaded populist or irresponsible peacenik.
The argument against that kind of bullying, based on half-assumptions and one-sided points of view, is copious evidence that humanitarian aid is a way more effective form of political influence, often with better results for nations victimized and ravaged by constant war. That such a proven strategy is often relegated to a minor role is because war-prevention is almost never profitable. Specially if one has weapons to sell.
The president called the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, one the four American soldiers killed in Niger, 12 days after the attack. But that fact, and him falsely claiming that President Obama had not made such calls during his tenure, were promptly forgotten by the stunning revelation of what he actually said, as reported by Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson, who was with the widow at the time.
The president told Mrs. Myeshia Johnson that her husband ‘knew what he signed for,’ according to the Democratic representative. In yet another embarrassment for this administration, he said the congresswoman ‘fabricated’ this version, turning the issue into a public brawl.
Such ‘he said, she said,’ wouldn’t be out of place within the context of a soap opera, but it’s quite disturbing when it’s about a dead American soldier and as far as the U.S. president is concerned. By week end, all sobriety about it had vanished, though, when public attention was diverted again by a tweet of his, this time promising to allow the release of restricted documents on the assassination of President Kennedy.
Another week, another Trump inconsequential diatribe is sure to follow. All so that a monstrous tax cuts legislation, that will benefit wealthy Americans like him, a recurrent Republican dream, may proceed unchecked in Congress. Or another nail driven on the healthcare coffin.
‘The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist.’ The quote from the movie Usual Suspects, is another version of the Baudelaire line, altered as it often is, to serve the film’s plot. But it serves as the theme for what’s happening in America, circa 2017. Almost like a parlor game, every week there’s a palette of distractions to keep gossipers busy, and inconvenient inquires silenced.
How to prevent the blood of heroes from being dragged through the mud, and the tears of widows to be spared such cruel indifference, are questions to keep some of us up all night. But there’s got to be a moment when the wall of mirrors cracks, and evil may be taken by what it is.
For no matter the many songs of glory and words of praise, no consolation can mend the tragedy of losing a dear one to an unaccounted and meaningless war. Specially one that’s designed to enrich those unscathed by it, and put in the ground the very young and the best among us.
Now, when seeking comfort, mathematics is surely not the place to head to. Ever thought about a number that’s so big that to write it down could have started at the Big Bang, go beyond the time scientists expect the universe ‘to reset,’ and that still not being enough to represent it? They call it Number Tree (3). Worth inquiring about it. Why? Because now it’s not the time to expect comfort anyway. Have a good one. WC

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