The news today is grim — mass killings, here, there, and elsewhere. The saddest thing is that most of these look to be retaliatory and, thus, a vicious circle of violence with no end in sight. Hillary Clinton is tying to reach out to the Pakistanis today, but is faced with suspicion and distrust that we are trying to use them to do our dirty work:

Clinton, in Pakistan, Confronts Rising Hostility
By MARK LANDLER
The visit comes at a tense moment in Pakistani-American relations, in the wake of a furor over a U.S. aid package.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/28/world/asia/28diplo.html?th&emc=th

The catch here is a sharp cultural clash with us in the West where we have learned that peace is the best way of life to be pursued. Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize is symbolic of this hope. In contrast those in Pakistan and Afghanistan have lived with the notion that honor demands punishing those whose attacks have harmed one’s own. This retaliatory ideal has many names and often causes extraordinary abuses of innocents. Apparently people are not valued as individuals, but rather as members of competing groups — a religion, tribal group, nation or whatever.

We in the West have in the past committed horrendous abuses of innocent people, too, while engaged in ‘wars’. I well remember our hatreds of our enemies in W.W.II. I was disappointed that it had ended before I could join up. As kids we learned and practiced a variety of tactics by which we could kill people with our bare hands — I still remember them vividly. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were greeted with great glee despite the fact that these were not prime military targets and that the vast majority of victims were innocent civilians. We had in fact killed more than that with our fire bombing raids on Tokyo.

It is for this reason that I think we have made a vast error in labeling our battles in Iraq and Afghanistan ‘wars’. This escalation in terminology has allowed us to use military techniques that have put at risk, injured, and killed thousands. And these killings have ensnared us in the Middle Eastern culture of retaliation. The Taliban are punishing us for what they consider to be our crimes in Afghanistan and the Pakistanis are fearful that they will be trapped in the same brutal ‘war’ games.

And so it goes.

What do you think?

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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