THE SUPREMACY OF VIOLENCE January 21, 2008Posted by wmmbb in Iraq Policy.
I can go to the fridge, for that is where these things are posted in our house, and still find the leaflet, “Stop the War on Iraq – No Australian Involvement”. In the bottom left hand corner it says: “If war starts – rally the day after 5.30pm Wollongong Mall”. As it turned out we did not make those rallies but we did join the main rally at Wollongong Mall, or rather I went along as a spectator and listened to the speeches, from among others as I recall, a Catholic Bishop. That was in 2003, and similar demonstrations occurred around the world, and to no effect. The reign of murder and misery was launched regardless, and our presence there averted none of it. So to this day we must carry the burden our failure.
In those days I was talking to the world via telephone, and I distinctly remember speaking to an American who was somewhat defensive about the background television broadcast of reality television as people unnecessarily died. If war as entertainment did not give pause, and it has been given a run in the earlier Gulf War, then the contention by numerous commentators that the turnout of demonstrations across the world represented a new force in international politics, should have.
The plain conclusion it seems to me that demonstrations alone were insufficient, and that effective political action required more, given the media, public as much as private, would inevitably support the status quo.
Olga Bonfiglio takes the diametrically opposite view, based on what happened in Washington where 500,000 people rallied. Incidentally, she notes one speaker in Washington then observed: “Peace is not the absence of war. It is the presence of justice.” Probably knowingly such a contention should remind us of the brick at the corner of the construct of Western Civilization. It is the echo of a person described as the last classical and first medieval man, Aurelius Augustinus, Bishop of Hippo Regius (354 – 430), author among other works of De Civitatus Dei, written from 413 -426 and containing 22 volumes.
Augustine was dealing with the weighty question of his age: Why had God allowed the Roman Empire to fall? Much like global warming that proposition was being denied, and the fall of the Roman Empire despite the sackings of Rome (for example by the Goths in 410), and the contraction of urban life throughout the Empire, took hundreds of years to sink in. The cultural assimilation of immigrants and the flight of refugees was current issues then as now. The ready answer for the demise was that the Empire had abandoned the old gods. The state, Augustine said was a convention, and its principal responsibility was justice. Even Rome, so the historian interprets Augustine, “for all its virtues, had not been a true state (respublica), because it was not founded on justice”. For the virtuous, Christian or otherwise, Augustine contended, justice was more important than the state:
Set aside justice, then, and what are kingdoms but great bands of brigands? For what are brigands’ bands but little kingdoms? For in brigandage the hands of the underlings are directed by the commander, the confederacy of them is sworn together, and the pillage is shared by law among them. And if those ragamuffins grow up to be able enough to keep forts, build habitations, possess cites and conquer adjoining nations, their government is no longer called brigandage, but graced with the eminent name of a kingdom, given and gotten not because they have left their practices but because they use them without danger of law. Elegant and excellent was the pirate’s answer to the great Macedonian Alexander, who had taken him; the king asking him how he durst molest the seas so, he replied with a free spirit: “How darest thou molest the whole earth? But because I do it only with a little ship, I am called a brigand: thou doing it with a great navy are called emperor”. (De Civitatus Dei, Book IV, chapter 4.)
Olga Bonfligio concludes:
Much was accomplished on that cold, sunny day in Washington, D.C. and in cities across the United States and the world. People marched the city streets to make peace an option, peace a possible outcome, peace a stand against war. They marched to make peace patriotic! People were finally speaking their minds. It’s been so long since they have. Yes, maybe democracy happened that day.
And yet the war, and the murder and the suffering went on, and have not stopped in almost four years. It would have been so much better if we had had the means to stop it from the start, or least stop by now. Violence is still thought to the means to an end, which can neither be peace or justice, and in all likelihood is further violence, so as to maintain the modus operandi of brigandage and murder.