FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Can Ignorance and Arrogance Win Hearts and Minds?

by DAVID MACARAY

Arguably, two critical assumptions responsible for the events in Iraq (and the pending disaster in Afghanistan) are (1) that men who wear ties and jackets and carry briefcases and Blackberries are “smarter” than men who wear funny clothes and ride camels, and (2) that, in the grand scheme of things, a technologically superior military force will always defeat a technologically inferior one.

As an ex-Peace Corps volunteer (India), I’m struck by how—despite the obvious lessons of Vietnam—the combination of naïve optimism, institutional arrogance, career advancement, and old-fashioned stubbornness can more or less constitute a foreign policy.

Back in those days, Peace Corps training required three months, ten hours a day, of studying the language (Hindi), customs, religion, history, and politics of India.  This stuff had to be learned before we were allowed to represent the United States as volunteers.  The program was rigorous.  A large number of trainees were “de-selected,” the State Department’s euphemism for washed-out.

Our teachers were Indian and American academics.  Every candidate in our group had a college education and every one of us was culturally empathetic and idealistic.  That was the kind of person the Peace Corps attracted.  As a means of weeding out any potential weirdoes or misfits, we were required to meet with a psychologist once every two weeks and a psychiatrist once a month.

Yet, for all this preparation, once in India, we committed social blunder after social blunder.  Despite desperately wanting to make a good impression, we regularly embarrassed and disappointed our Indian hosts.  We inadvertently insulted them, alienated them, confused, dismayed, and angered them; on occasion we made utter fools of ourselves.  And we did this with some of the best training you could get.

Which brings us to Afghanistan.  Apparently, the U.S. military—under the rubric of “counter-insurgency”—has been assigned the task of laying the groundwork for the nation building that’s expected to follow.  While the notion that something as wildly ambitious as “nation building” (particularly in a country as recalcitrant as Afghanistan) can be successful is, by itself, mind-boggling, the belief that the foundation can be laid by Marines is close to preposterous.

Even though Peace Corps volunteers aren’t experts on political policy or international relations, they do know a thing or two about cross-cultural exchanges.  If you were to ask any ex-volunteer who they think would be the worst possible choice for an emissary or ambassador to a foreign country—particularly one expected to mingle at the village level—they’d tell you it would be a soldier.

Villagers already know who Americans are.  They know we have everything and they have nothing.  They know we’re rich, powerful and aggressive, and they assume—rightly or wrongly—that Americans are going to consider their country an economic and cultural cesspool.  If we pretend they’re not poor and backward, we’re patronizing; if we pretend it doesn’t matter, we’re condescending.

Although these people are, by our lights, “primitive,” it is a profound error to assume they’re stupid.  Yet, that seems to be the prevailing assumption.  Indeed, if we didn’t assume they were less intelligent—if we didn’t think they were too dumb to distinguish between ambassadors and combat soldiers—we wouldn’t be using 19-year old Marines as cultural liaisons.

Still, you hear Pentagon brass glibly defend this policy by assuring skeptics that these soldiers will be provided with all the necessary “sensitivity training” required for the job, including removing their robo-cop sunglasses when conversing with villagers, traveling on foot instead of in motorized convoys, and passing out chocolate bars and medical supplies.

This is startling.  Either these officials are working off some mawkish World War II nostalgia, believing the Afghans will greet our soldiers the way French jubilantly greeted the U.S. army when it liberated Paris, or they’re deliberately deluding themselves, denying both the bitter lessons of history and the confounding empirical evidence before them.

In any case, they’re ignoring the fact that the men who are removing their sunglasses and passing out free goodies are armed invaders.  Foreign invaders.  And it’s simply unrealistic to believe that foreign invaders will win the hearts and minds of the citizens, no matter how “logical” the enterprise or how sincere the effort.

Because these men carry automatic weapons and, literally, have the power of life and death, they will be treated with detached respect; they will be listened to; they will be shown deference; they will be tolerated.  Until they finally decide to go back home.

DAVID MACARAY is a Los Angeles playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”).  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

 

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and a Confederacy of Lampreys: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail