not making war

A Taoist wouldn’t advise a ruler
to use force of arms for conquest;
that tactic backfires.

Where the army marched
grow thorns and thistles.
After the war
comes the bad harvests.
Good leaders prosper, that’s all,
not presuming on victory.
They prosper without boasting,
or domineering, or arrogance,
prosper because they can’t help it,
prosper without violence.

Things flourish then perish.
Not the Way.
What’s not the Way
soon ends.

Lao Tzu
Ursula K Le Guin’s version

Imagine a time in American history when we had a president who wasn’t devoted to violence.

I think we’d be a very different nation had such a president ever been elected.

Instead we’re a culture of violence and death.

But that’s beside the point. It’s perhaps easy to see my attachment to Taoism most clearly in this poem, as it is a strong and definitive stance against violence and for pacifism. I don’t know exactly when I became a pacifist, but it’s been a very long time. I want to say it’s when I was in sixth grade, but it might be more useful to think of it as being when I was fourteen, which is a bit later and when I had time to think more about it. Though I do remember arguing very strongly against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan when I was just a kid.

But it’s hard for me to not think of my own identity as an american. I’ve always felt disconnected from this country, and not just on an ideological level, and yet I am forever bound to it by accident of geography. No matter where I go or how far I wander, I will always belong to america because nationalism is still such a powerful (toxic) idea in the hearts and minds of so many people.

Lao Tzu talks about the price of war here, which is something I often describe as a disease. In the wake of war, only thistles and thorns will grow. I take that as a metaphor for the cost of war. It’s more than simply a body count. There’s a price we pay as a society for violence, and it’s steep. It debases all of us. Strips us of humanity.

Last night, it was confirmed that Trump’s first dronestrike as president killed an 8 year old american citizen named Nawar al-Awlwaki. Her 16 year old american brother, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was killed in 2013 by dronestrike under Barack Obama.

There was little pushback against the Obama Administration for murdering a child, an american citizen, and there’s still little pushback now that Trump is president for murdering another child, another american citizen.

Our government has now murdered nearly an entire family for the alleged crimes of their father (we used to have courts that judged who was innocent and guilty, but now we have drones). We also murdered him, as you can see from the link there.

We have poisoned ourselves for so long with violence that we no longer even understand the price we paid, the loss of our own humanity.

What Trump did was despicable, yet few people are discussing it. And I think it’s because it draws an uncomfortable reality about the Obama Administration, who liberals love. Obama’s Administration committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. Dronestrikes are terrorism, and we use them as tools to secretly murder anyone that the presiding administration sees as a threat. Or even just a potential threat. I don’t have anything to say in defense of Anwar al-Awlaki. By all accounts, he was a miserable excuse for a human. Just as I have no words to defend Osama bin-Laden.

But I watched my country cheer over the illegal murder of him. We cheered like savages. We are the barbarians of the world, toppling civilisations, and I am reminded of it daily by our neverending war for supremacy against poor Arabs in decimated nations.

Osama bin-Laden and Anwar al-Awlwaki were terrible people if even half the crimes they were accused of are true. If even one of them is. But the way civilised humans deal with monsters is by making them account for their crimes.

We don’t murder them in secret and then dance on their graves.

Even Osama bin-Laden deserved his day in court. Partly because his crimes were not solely against the US. Entire nations wanted him held accountable. They didn’t want him murdered like an animal.

The same is true of Anwar al-Awlwaki.

And his children–children–did not deserve to die because of the accident of genetics and geography.

The Tao asks for balance. For kindness and empathy. For understanding. And it’s hard to find that in america. There are bright spots, of course, and entire sources of light, but I see so much darkness and death and destruction in the will of my people that it’s hard to hold my head up sometimes.

This is a fitting poem today.

It’s fitting as a rebuke to our government of blood and chaos and ash and smoke.

I see no balance today. I see no future for this benighted nation of cowards, savages, and thieves.

Sorry to be such a downer, but it’s becoming more difficult to make a daily consideration of the Tao when I’m inundated with such violence.

But I keep trying. I’ll keep trying.

I hope you’ll try too.

And I hope this new appetite for activism in the US will extend justice to the countless people we’ve destroyed from the Middle East.

on the shrugging indifference of imperial war crimes

Image taken from Getty Images.

Originally this was going to just be a portion of a longer essay about how we blame idiots for the ills of the world and especially for america’s problems, but this is already reasonably long, so I’m making it its own post.

UPDATE: Here’s a link to that essay.


Anyrate, this is something I came across on twitter. I thought about just screengrabbing them so they would have to potentially answer for their insane garbage logic, but I’ve decided to leave their names and faces out of it.

I mean, no one reads this site anyway, so who cares.

An exchange by two writers I know through the internet. They’re white, reasonably young, and would consider themselves progressives. Or at least Democrats.

Anyrate, the exchange, with commentary:

Imperialist 1: Clinton will kill too many people, just as Obama has. She will allow exploitation of far, far too many, just as Obama has. This is true.

Imperialist 2: Any president of the US is going to be at least indirectly responsible for a lot of deaths.

Imperialist 1: I don’t like drones but I think Obama sees them as a necessity to avoid massive bloodshed given our collective awfulness.

We’ll stop here for a moment.

We begin with what I assume is sort of a shrugging sorrow, if I’m being generous, or shrugging indifference, if I’m just reading the words.

Let’s assume it’s shrugging sorrow.

These two are people who would consider themselves the intelligent minority in the country. The people who wish the best for the country and know better than all those dumb poor idiots ruining it. They’re young white liberal writers, so they’d also consider themselves part of the good guys.

And what we get here is a shrug.

About the deaths of people of color across the globe.

They would probably paint this as being realistic. I mean, it is. This is reality. At least the first statement by the first imperialist. Obama is responsible for countless deaths. So is Clinton.

We come to an interesting point, that any US president is going to kill lots of people.

Why is this?

I mean, certainly this has been generally true. It’s part of the tradition of being US president.

But does it have to be?

Imperialist two seems to think it does have to be this way. They also make the interesting distinction that they would be indirectly responsible.

I assume this is because their policies kill people. They didn’t physically pull any triggers or drop any bombs.

This is, of course, absurd.

The president is the head of the US military, which means they can directly tell soldiers, generals, and anyone in the military to stand down. To stop fighting. They can pull out armies. They can send them abroad.

This also means that when the president sends troops to war, he or she takes on the burden of those lives. He or she sent the bombs, sent the guns, sent the soldiers, so they must answer for the dead, the broken bodies, the broken psychologies, the decimated infrastructure, the dispossessed, the refugees that get kicked up by our imperial boots.

Hardly blameless. This is not an indirect effect of policy.

Those dead, those mutilated, those psychologically broken, those refugees, those homeless, those starving–that is the purpose of militaristic policy. It’s not a tangential outcome. It’s the whole reason the policy exists.

I mean, technically it’s illegal for the president to send troops to war without congressional approval, but we’re well past this. But so if this is true, if the president can send troops wherever they want, whenever they want (which they do), then the opposite should also be true.

It might crush their public opinion, but that’s a small price to pay for saving millions.

Now we come to the third peculiar point. The idea that Obama is using drones in order to keep us from engaging in more actual wars.

A few things.

This completely ignores the (seemingly irrelevant) fact that the president cannot wage wars without congressional approval. So the easiest way for him to avoid larger wars would be for him to just stop bombing people abroad, yes?

It also ignores how Obama has used these drones.

Imperialist one almost makes it sound like altruism or benevolence.

He’s only illegally bombing civilians (a war crime) of foreign countries to keep us from engaging in an all out war (something he needs to declare and get approval for).

Which, even if we stop there, this is an enormous feat of mental gymnastics to give shrugging approval of what amount to war crimes.

So, in killing people illegally with unmanned drones, he’s saving lives.


But let’s look at how Obama’s administration has used drones.

Well, they’ve done it secretly. For eight years. Against civilians. It’s proven to be ineffective, horrifying, and indescriminate.

You can read about it in The Drone Papers, which is really the tip of the iceberg. Jeremy Scahill‘s been reporting on the drone war for about a decade.

If Obama were really trying to save lives, if he were really doing this for a reason that we can argue is positive, why keep it hidden? Why not use this as an example of why traditional warfare is no longer necessary? Why not proclaim that the US has changed war! We’ve saved millions of lives by waging humane warfare (an extremely old argument that is always heinous nonsense)!

So we have this discussion of why Obama may feel like he needs to use drones in order to save lives which is so absurd I can barely even see straight when I read it.

But let’s move on.

Imperialist 2: Being a world power means you’re choosing which mass deaths you can live with.

Imperialist 1: Yeah. Not an exciting pitch! And certainly something I’d like to work on. But, yeah.

I put the most relevant part in bold but I’ll write it again.


This is the kind of heinous nonsense that passes for thought among those who believe themselves to be intelligent progressives. Again, they’d call this realism, but I call it the most odious form of imperialism and it follows a logic as ancient as imperial genocide, with the same shrugging indifference to all the war crimes and murder.

To use an old cultural catchphrase, This is why we can’t have nice things.

We have people basically accepting the logic that we, as a people and a country, need to kill other people on a massive scale. There’s no argument about whether we should or shouldn’t do this. Not even an explanation as to why this is necessary. Just an assumption that we can live with mass deaths. Just an acceptance that we will kill millions.

And then the next sentence is shrugging acceptance of that logic.

We’re going to murder a lot of people.

Well, it’s not ideal, but maybe it’ll work out all right!

This drives me insane.

Especially because this is probably intended as a kind of gallows humor.

I could go on but it’s really making me sick.

But this is the essence of imperialism. We internalise so deeply the morality of the empire that we no longer even care that what it’s doing is domestically illegal, internationally illegal, breaks treaties, and is widely condemned by nearly every single nation on the planet.

You can call it realism, but this is actively making the world a worse place. A more dangerous and diseased place.

Not just the policies, which are obviously devastating. But this kind of acceptance of the empire’s narrative, the empire’s morality.

You can blame it on “our collective awfulness,” but there are people who are fighting to stop this. They fight every day to expose war crimes and to spread peace. But, no–that’s irrelevant to the discussion at hand! We’re being realists about america and all the idiots who made it into this atrocity!

I find this to be one of the biggest issues with american thought.

We pass blame and care little for solutions. We accept the imperial morality and call any hope of overturning it idealism or unrealistic.

This is, by the way, the same reason why the Founding Fathers didn’t free the slaves.

It was unrealistic! Too difficult! Who could expect them to go that far?

It’s essentially the argument for every system of power.

You need to break some eggs to make an omelette, and if you want a big omelette, you better shatter a lot of eggs.

The failure of american thought and discourse is really exemplified, I think, by this short exchange on twitter.

And if we look at the recent debate, we have a war criminal who proudly proclaims her friendship with other war criminals and dictatorships around the world telling someone that they have questionable motives for being an anti-imperialist thirty years ago.

Red baiting like McCarthy.

That’s the new face of the Democratic Party.

Anyrate, I’m too angry and frustrated and disgusted to continue.