Who Do They Think We Are, Oxymorons? A Look At ‘Humanitarian’ War - WhoWhatWhy

Who Do They Think We Are, Oxymorons? A Look At ‘Humanitarian’ War

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What is humanitarian war?

[ARTICLE SUMMARY: Every US intervention is sold as serving beneficent ends. The latest is allegedly for strictly “humanitarian” reasons. This essayist argues that there’s always another purpose—and the public is the last to learn the truth]

One of the greatest gifts of the War on Terrorism, everyone’s favorite war against an abstract concept, is the treasure trove of revisionist semantics we’ve received from Washington. We’ve learned that Homeland Security is best maintained by securing other peoples’ homelands abroad. We’ve learned, from the ‘Shock and Awe’ approach used in Iraq, that the most effective way to neutralize a Terrorist State is to Terrorize it into submission. But perhaps the most impressive hoodwinking on the semiotic front has been the naming of the overseas military operations themselves.

Let’s do a brief recap. First, we had Operation Enduring Freedom, which, given its soon-after-9/11 context, was presumably about the endurance of American freedom. Then came Operation Iraqi Freedom, which, as the name suggests, was more about Iraqi freedom (but American freedom too, since one surely breeds the other). Last year saw the launch of Operation New Dawn, which touts a new American freedom: the freedom to stop worrying about Iraq.

Finally, we had Operation Odyssey Dawn, which, as I understand it, was—is—a ‘journey’ to bring a ‘new day’ of freedom to Libya. Why an ‘Odyssey’? Because it takes place on the Mediterranean coast, of course. Certainly not because it will take 10 years to complete, and will be riddled with infinite setbacks and holdups, such as shipwrecks, cannibals, and six-headed monsters. At least we hope not.

What all these catchy titles have in common is that they imply that all the overseas military operations are driven, in some way or another, by altruistic motives. Indeed, Washington has pitched the intervention in Libya as the most expressly humanitarian post-9/11 effort to date. Some will argue that the action in Libya isn’t a part of the War on Terror at all, but is an altogether different, multilateral enforcement of a lifesaving No-Fly Zone (it’s a NATO affair called Operation Unified Protector now, of course). But is it really all that different?

An American-led war is taking place in yet another Islamic country under the thumb of an arch-villain who must be removed in the interest of world peace, the timetable is indefinite, and people are dying. Sure, NATO has carried out the majority of the strikes, but last time I checked, NATO (born as America’s team in the Cold War) is and always has been a largely American-directed and -funded affair, as Robert Gates complained earlier this month.

The point is, what’s happening in Libya is not merely, or even primarily, a ‘humanitarian’ effort. Can an expressly ‘humanitarian’ invasion truly exist? Isn’t a humanitarian invasion an oxymoron? There may be no active forces on the ground (that we know of), but it’s certainly an invasion of airspace, and therefore, of territorial sovereignty. Further, down there on the ground, people are dying.  No matter how you spin it, it’s definitely a war. While Washington’s specific geopolitical goals are anyone’s guess—oil, trade, regional influence, all of these?—is there any doubt that a main motivation of U.S. involvement in Libya is national (or, to risk using a loaded but descriptive term, imperial) self-interest?

But, you say, humanitarian war can exist. What about the Balkans? I would argue that the NATO interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo, while having humanitarian components, were essentially about clearing up some unfinished business from the Cold War. Genocide-prevention was clearly one objective, and probably a sincere one. However, the ‘90s redrawing of Balkan borders had a lot to do with fencing in a newly-weak Russia. Serbia is a Slavic nation, and has always had close ethnic and political ties to Russia. Serbian hegemony in the region would mean Russian hegemony. In other words, regional influence, as in the Middle East today, was undoubtedly central to Washington’s (imperial?) policy in the Balkans.

Personally, I don’t believe that a primarily ‘humanitarian’ war has ever existed, and in all likelihood, it probably never will. If such benign crusades do exist, why are we always so selective about them? Where were the invasions of Rwanda and Darfur?

If they don’t exist, maybe they should. But war is war, and we used to be more honest about it. Whatever happened to operation titles like Overlord, Masher, Eagle Claw? They hark back to an era when we weren’t afraid of our own imperial ambitions. Indeed, for better or worse, we were proud of our global reach. In the past ten years, Washington’s attempts to whitewash our foreign policy have become particularly heavy-handed and saccharine. It’s an insult to our intelligence, and the absence of outrage is perplexing.

But maybe, just maybe, Washington is right about us. They know exactly what words we want, and need, to hear before we go to war: Freedom, Dawn, and Change.

GRAPHIC: http://www.csmonitor.com/var/ezflow_site/storage/images/media/images/0303-humanitarian-war-gun-flower/7500002-1-eng-US/0303-humanitarian-war-gun-flower_full_380.jpg

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0 responses to “Who Do They Think We Are, Oxymorons? A Look At ‘Humanitarian’ War”

  1. Avatar Suze_O says:

    As Major Smedley Butler put it: “War is a racket. It always has been.” After retiring, he looked back on all his military career and realized that everything he had ever done was to defend American corporations’ rights to access and plunder other countries’ resources. 

    Americans need to really take a hard look at this country’s military-industrial complex. They always want a war. It gives the brass a nice career ladder and big weapons contractors a sizeable profit. More peaceful means would work better, but there is no money in it.

    It seems the Pentagon decides there will be war, and then corners the President into giving it to them. The “Commander-in-Chief” title is a farce. If he gives an order to pull out or negotiate instead of bomb, the military absolutely refuses to obey. Or  they start something themselves – like the Bay of Pigs – and force the President’s hand. And we all know what happened when Kennedy refused to go along.

    The Roman Empire fell because it overreached militarily and became hopelessly corrupted politically. How familiar that sounds now!

    And We, the People, get bread and circuses instead of information.

    • Avatar Evan says:

      You made some very good points! When we step back and look at how our government is run ( Zenn’s Peoples History of the US and Bush Family of Secrets are a good start), we are unable to do anything for the common good of US citizens unless it is twisted to first generate big $ for mega corporations and the richest 1%. Thus unprofitable things languish, while our taxpayer-paid-for armies (public and private) invade, abduct, render, snuff and torture citizens of other countries that interfere with the profit goals of those now running the US. Even when the banksters cause a depression affecting most of us, the response is to leave military budgets alone and to cut education, healthcare, environemental regulations, infrastructure investments and social security — not much to profit by there. So we who once had a country with an enviable educational system, great infrastructure (at least roads & bridges), relatively clean air & water and a viable middle class — now have none of those things. Generals Butler and Eisenhower would be appalled! Grass roots ongoing action and pressure may be the only hope.

  2. Avatar Thomas says:

    I whole heartedly agree with your analysis.  But yesterday, Le Monde reported that Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guard are now backing Gaddafi, who has threatened to retaliate against European cities.  As illegitimate as US actions may be, I find this a frightening turn of events. 

    • Avatar russwnyc says:

      But why wouldnt those at loggerheads with the US support others facing attack from the US? Are they all expected to just submit? Whatever you think of these regimes, it is only logical that they would resist, and perhaps help each other when facing a common foe. Dont forget, too, both have oil the West covets.

    • Avatar Thomas says:

      It is logical, I agree.  But an alliance between Iran and Libya should still raise eyebrows.  If they succeed in carrying out a nuclear attack, people will forget about the injustices committed by the west (or at least people in the west will).  It will take great strength to remind people.

      Hey, while I’m here, I should mention I’m such a huge fan of your work.  Thanks for your all your efforts–people need to understand that true patriotism is about love for one’s country, not one’s rulers.  

    • Avatar barbara henninger says:

      I think Iran’s stance is nuanced regarding the West v. Libya.  They want to stand with Islam, represented by the “rebels”, but Khadaffi has been supportive of Iran.  This article was pretty good, I thought:

  3. Avatar Ornpim says:

    A note on the choice of headline image: While
    the image of a soldier’s camouflage uniform contrasts well with the flowers he’s
    holding and suits the content of the article, I don’t think the context of
    Thailand’s 2006 coup has anything to do with a humanitarian war.     


    But anyway, thanks for such an eye-opening

  4. Avatar MUUSC12 says:

    Isn’t the term “humanitarian war” oxymoronic?”

  5. Avatar Mooninjoon says:

    Public Relations has always been an important component of the war making machinery.  Wars are pre-sold to a public that is really a partially educated peasantry.  Educated enough to think it can discriminate but without sufficient leisure to disentangle the subtleties of how disinformation is inserted into information to create multiple veils under which the actual intentions are buried.  Add that to the typical human complexities of desire, fear and inability to come to an agreement and you have an average day on the planet.
    Subtracting the PR and propaganda from any situation seems appealing but really only lifts two of the many veils.  But it’s a start.

  6. Avatar sfulmer says:

    It seems many people don’t see the hypocrisy of “humanitarian war”.  These are the same people who do not question the roots of violence, the fragmentation of thought, and the inheritance of consciousness.  Your “military intelligence” will never figure that out, and your religions will make you mad instead.  It sure ain’t easy on the rest of us.  

    On a somewhat related not, wasn’t there supposed to be a hearing on just what exactly the CIA or Navy SEALS had in mind by the use of the name “Geronimo”?