France's War Rhetoric: The Rise of the Exterminators

Otto Dix Totentanz anno 17 (Danse of Death anno dominici 17)

In 2001 after the period of shock and stunning paralysis that followed the 9/11 attacks some thinkers warned about the dangers of knee-jerk reactions and military adventures. Yet a majority of Americans, approved by a majority of Western Europeans, favored military retaliation. The argument then went something like this: "we cannot do nothing against these bastards, we have to fight back". Emotionally this is understandable: where you are attacked you want to retaliate and vent your anger and your rage. Politically and intellectually this gut reaction often leads to further disasters. An eye for an eye and the world goes blind. But the war mongers won and spread chaos from Afghanistan to Iraq and Libya.

The anti-war thinkers of the early 2000s were of course totally vindicated in their analysis: Afghanistan, the war that was so popular, was won in a month but is still lost 14 years and thousands of dead later. Thinking with one's guts is a blind alley.

In 2003 millions of people the world over had demonstrated against the looming war in Iraq. The demonstrators had no love, admiration or respect for Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader who was a murderous thug. People the world over understood clearly that war was not the answer and would only kill innocents and make matters worse. Precisely what it did. The Iraq war was based upon lies and fabrications, Afghanistan was a form of revenge for 9/11 but in both cases the military reaction made things much worse and led to the current waves of terror and the refugee crisis. Vengeance had defeated justice.

Now after the Paris massacres what was understood during the anti-war demonstrations of 2003 has been totally forgotten. France is on a war footing and the country that led the opposition to the US war twelve years ago is now walking in its footsteps and adopting the same war rhetoric, the same military attitude. France follows the catastrophic recipes of the neocons and prides itself on being tougher than supposedly wimpish Obama. All this is well described and analyzed in alternative media, in the US or France. Here and here.

What I find striking, among many other things, is the return of what I would call the genocidal fantasy. Words such as "eradicate" annihilate" "obliterate, "destroy" "punish" are frequently used to refer to ISIS, its supporters or sometimes terrorists who may be confused or conflated with all Islamists, Muslims or Arabs.

These words are commonly used by liberals as well as reactionaries and even among the left. Even some people who experienced the dirty civil war in Algeria also resort to this quasi-genocidal rhetoric. "There should be no respect for the law with these guys, they are murderers and they should all be annihilated" I heard one left leaning colleague say.

The dirty war in Algeria, which pitted Islamists against the army, haunts many people who fled to France to escape the terror and murder meted out by the FIS (Islamist front). Others who fled Iran may be equally vehement.

French people who should remember the murderous consequences of such rhetoric during the Algerian war of independence still favor it today. They support the curtailing of civil liberties and the military strikes on ISIS in Syria. Like Americans after 9/11 they massively support their government and imagine that a military solution exists. In other words, many who derided the US for its slide towards a non-democratic society, now believe in Bush's wisdom when he declared:

"you are either with us or with the terrorists". They have forgotten their support for Villepin's famous UN speech refusing war in Iraq.

What is annihilated is, of course, subtlety and the ability to think. The glaring example of failure is right there in front of our eyes and yet we choose blindness. What the US and Russia did not manage to do in Afghanistan is promoted as a miracle cure in Syria and Iraq.

The pain and shock after the Paris massacres not only reinforce the political blindness which led leaders to choose bombing as a solution to complex issues, they legitimize the blindness toward the pain of others, as Susan Sontag, phrased it. The eternal cycle of violence, blowback and more violence has started again and is cheered by people who think bombs will "eradicate" terrorism and/or terrorists.

In France today as in the US in 2001 critics are shouted down with a silly question which thinks it is smart: "so what do you suggest we do? Nothing?" and then if critics demur they are called "appeasers, friends of the terrorists" and called every name in the book. Not knowing what to do or being gripped by terror leads many to accept doing anything, bombing everything and finding succor in more violence. France is in danger of becoming a nation of Donald Trumps (bomb the s... out of them).

More war and more violence have been tried and always produced well more war and more violence notably more terror attacks. Yet the urge to bomb and destroy seems to be stronger. "Bomb; bomb, bomb Iran" McCain sang and now the tune is on everyone's lips but applied to ISIS. Suddenly the world has become Manichean, we, like George Bush, "know we are good" and we are getting ready to fight evil. Our responsibilities in the current mess disappear, our foreign policy had nothing to do with terror and deteriorating social conditions in our society do not matter, the weapons we sell to Saudi Arabia do not figure in dominant discourse, nor does Saudi funding of the radical groups that turn against France. Turkey's double game of bashing the Kurds while fostering ISIS even though it claims to fight it is also absent from media reports. There are just the good people versus the evil ones. The good cultured people vs. the scumbags or assholes. And, of course, if one limits oneself to the victims of the Paris terror attacks, innocents in cafés vs. the Kalashnikov-waving killers, this good vs. evil presentation is apt (though calling criminals just "scumbags" is too nice). When it is applied to foreign policy it becomes totally wrong. Those we (France, the West, Russia,) kill are forgotten and we forget the backlash and blowback we inevitably cause with our military hardware and our mental mush.

All asymmetrical wars in the recent past have been lost by the big powers, terrorism is flourishing after Iraq and in spite of drones but we do not learn anything from history and we rush to commit the same mistakes and accelerate the spiral of violence.

The "eradicators" as Robert Gates could have said "need to have their heads examined". They dream of genocide, sow the wind of "annihilation" and reap the whirlwinds of multiple terror attacks and yet they allow their guts to dominate their brains. They get drunk on their thirst for revenge even when the end point of further disaster is known to their non-reptilian brains. We know that it is precisely what terror groups want. The American experience has taught us that Guantanamo and drones are the best recruiting agents for terrorists. We also know that macho militarism is one step in the dance of death our leaders have decided to engage in with al Qaeda or ISIS. Those who claim to protect us from the terrorists are the chief promoters of terror and therefore the "disasters of war".