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 How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

April 26, 2017
Richard Moser
Empire Abroad, Empire At Home
Stan Cox
For Climate Justice, It’s the 33 Percent Who’ll Have to Pick Up the Tab
Paul Craig Roberts
The Looting Machine Called Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
The Dilemma for Intelligence Agencies
Christy Rodgers
Remaining Animal
Joseph Natoli
Facts, Opinions, Tweets, Words
Mel Gurtov
No Exit? The NY Times and North Korea
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Women on the Move: Can Three Women and a Truck Quell the Tide of Sexual Violence and Domestic Abuse?
Michael J. Sainato
Trump’s Wikileaks Flip-Flop
Manuel E. Yepe
North Korea’s Antidote to the US
Kim C. Domenico
‘Courting Failure:’ the Key to Resistance is Ending Animacide
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Legacy of Lynne Stewart, the People’s Lawyer
Andrew Stewart
The People vs. Bernie Sanders
Daniel Warner
“Vive La France, Vive La République” vs. “God Bless America”
April 25, 2017
Russell Mokhiber
It’s Impossible to Support Single-Payer and Defend Obamacare
Nozomi Hayase
Prosecution of Assange is Persecution of Free Speech
Robert Fisk
The Madder Trump Gets, the More Seriously the World Takes Him
Giles Longley-Cook
Trump the Gardener
Bill Quigley
Major Challenges of New Orleans Charter Schools Exposed at NAACP Hearing
Jack Random
Little Fingers and Big Egos
Stanley L. Cohen
Dissent on the Lower East Side: the Post-Political Condition
Stephen Cooper
Conscientious Justice-Loving Alabamians, Speak Up!
Michael J. Sainato
Did the NRA Play a Role in the Forcing the Resignation of Surgeon General?
David Swanson
The F-35 and the Incinerating Ski Slope
Binoy Kampmark
Mike Pence in Oz
Peter Paul Catterall
Green Nationalism? How the Far Right Could Learn to Love the Environment
George Wuerthner
Range Riders: Making Tom Sawyer Proud
Clancy Sigal
It’s the Pits: the Miner’s Blues
Robert K. Tan
Abe is Taking Japan Back to the Bad Old Fascism
April 24, 2017
Mike Whitney
Is Mad Dog Planning to Invade East Syria?    
John Steppling
Puritan Jackals
Robert Hunziker
America’s Tale of Two Cities, Redux
David Jaffe
The Republican Party and the ‘Lunatic Right’
John Davis
No Tomorrow or Fashion-Forward
Patrick Cockburn
Treating Mental Health Patients as Criminals
Jack Dresser
An Accelerating Palestine Rights Movement Faces Uncertain Direction
George Wuerthner
Diet for a Warming Planet
Lawrence Wittner
Why Is There So Little Popular Protest Against Today’s Threats of Nuclear War?
Colin Todhunter
From Earth Day to the Monsanto Tribunal, Capitalism on Trial
Paul Bentley
Teacher’s Out in Front
Franklin Lamb
A Post-Christian Middle East With or Without ISIS?
Kevin Martin
We Just Paid our Taxes — are They Making the U.S. and the World Safer?
Erik Mears
Education Reformers Lowered Teachers’ Salaries, While Promising to Raise Them
Binoy Kampmark
Fleeing the Ratpac: James Packer, Gambling and Hollywood
Weekend Edition
April 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Diana Johnstone
The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail