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The Beasts We Have Built


On Tuesday in “Great Decisions,” I co-taught the class whose topic was “Exit from Afghanistan and Iraq.”  Abandoning the textbook, I wanted current news.  So much has happened in the past month that I decided to print, print, print articles more relevant to the present.  And I had told my co-teacher, M, to take the video that begins each session with Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, and Henry Kissinger, among others, who offer statements about the role of the US in shaping world policy.  Ugh.

I must confess, here, that for the first time in my obsessive-compulsive life (I’m also a little neurotic), I procrastinated.  Example from the distant past:  When I was a college freshman, my roommate asked if I wanted to go to a movie.  I said,  “Can’t, I have an exam in two weeks.”

I told my children this, hoping they’d follow their mum’s example.  Instead, I was ridiculed with: “Nerd alert.”

Fixations aside, I was looking through some of the articles a classmate had suggested.  When I read, “American interests in the Middle East,” I shot off an email, telling R that this takes the top of my head off.  Just as American exceptionalism takes the top of my head off.  Just as the question of achieving victory in Afghanistan takes the top of my head off.

So, a couple of hours before class and with two cups of high-test espresso for trimethylxanthine oomph, I searched for info about the carnage in Fallujah that’s resulted in a never-ending tragedy of genetic mutations and birth defects, via US WMD.   Printed it.

I, also, printed an article, recommended by activist friend Jon Gold, about the mercenaries that remain in Iraq, in “support” roles.

Insert:  I’d taken Baltimore’s light rail with dear friend Maia Tabet to the Trayvon Martin rally the evening before.  When I told her about Tuesday’s topic and my concerns that it might become adversarial, Maia said, “Just don’t say ‘We.’”  She did not want me to include myself in the “We” of US imperialistic criminal behavior.

And, so, I made an announcement at the beginning of class to clarify my position.

Now, back to the video that always takes the top of my head off—the one I was supposed to watch prior to co-teaching, but didn’t.  The usual goons appeared.

Then, John Nagl, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army and a counterinsurgency expert, spoke from the screen, “Aristotle said that the only objective of war is to build a better beast.”  Whaattt?  Okay, that’s what entered my ear and brain.  A mondegreen.  Really, though, it was this: “Aristotle said that the only objective of war is to build a better peace.”  Whaattt?

After the video, M said she wanted to spend the first hour on Iraq and discuss Afghanistan after our break.

There was no disagreement that the wars are epic disasters.  And that so many Americans conduct their lives with no thought of the carnage and, therefore, no care.

H mentioned Colin Powell’s warning to George Bush that “once you break it [Iraq], you are going to own it.”

I diatribed (I know, I know) about the mercenary army and its history of barbarism.   No one disputed this.

Afghanistan provided the most discussion—especially withdrawal.

I emphasized three recent events: the burning of Qurans, troops urinating on dead bodies, and the savagery committed by a sergeant who slaughtered 17 civilians, including children.

M expressed concern about the women of Afghanistan—what will happen to them when we leave?

J said we shouldn’t impose our way of life on another country.  But this was never the actual goal of the invasion.  And so I said it.  The reason for war morphed so many times, but it was always about control of resources and Wall Street profiteering.

R said he worries about Pakistan, and for this reason believes that the US should remain in Afghanistan.

But remaining means increased casualties, inspires even more hatred, and guarantees that troops will continue to commit atrocities.

After class, we lingered, remarking that the debate was lively and compelling.

Later, while driving home, I thought about Aristotle’s quote and John Nagl’s misquote.  Aristotle actually said, “We make war that we may live in peace.”

No, Ari, war is waged to further enrich the uber-wealthy whose insatiable greed condemns us to wretchedness.

Peace, peace, peace.  Beast, beast, beast. The US Empire is a beast that is building more beasts wherever its fingerprints and footprints make contact.

Missy Beattie is obsessive, compulsive, and neurotic in Baltimore, MD where she, also, is working on paranoia to further her pathologies.  Email:  

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail:

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