September 18th, 2010 16:08 EST
Is Our National Security Really at Stake in Afghanistan? Was France's in Algeria?
The threat of the military-industrial complex
Do you remember the anguished Frankenstein monster rampaging through the neighborhood in horrific black and white film? Doctor Frankenstein, whatever his intentions, could no longer control him.
Think of that when you consider Afghanistan. Think of it when you remember how assiduously we have ignored Dwight D. Eisenhower`s parting words: beware the military-industrial complex. Think about it when you watch reruns of The International on television, a film whose powerful message is that all wars are bankers` wars.
And while you`re contemplating these seemingly disparate matters think of the Algerian War of Independence, because imbedded in the bloody history of that war is the very lesson we are so steadfastly refusing to learn today.
The French had lost Indochina, but we thought we could get it back for the West, for colonial exploitation, for the rubber manufacturers, and so we blundered into it. Many of the French nationals Paris pulled out of Indochina were Arabs and Berbers from Algeria where another war for independence was fomenting.
Then it came, the Algerian war for independence, fired up by France`s ignominious defeat in Indochina and by what was obvious to almost everyone but us, that we too would end up pulling out ignominiously.
Whose wars were these? Was France`s survival at stake? Was ours? No. These were wars for profit, wars to enrich bankers with the interest rates they charge on war debts, wars to prolong colonial exploitation, wars against people deemed lesser than the war makers.
France was actually on the verge of learning a lesson. The Algerians began their revolt in 1954. In the subsequent years, as France and Algeria both sacrificed a generation to the war, there were enough moderates on both sides to negotiate a better peace than the one finally nailed down in 1962 in Evian. It might have been possible to negotiate an accord that would have allowed the French pieds-noirs to remain and become part of an assimilated Algeria.
But right-wingers in the French army rejected anything but the insurgents` absolute defeat, leaving Algerian moderates no choice but to support a harder line and fight to the end, which resulted in an abject defeat of the French and tragedy for the pieds-noirs and others, like the writer Albert Camus, who had hoped for a democratic and multicultural Algeria, combining the best aspects of European and Muslim civilization.
The public utterances of the deposed Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and now his successor in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, sound suspiciously like the initial statements of right-wing Gen. Jacques E. Massu, Raoul Salan, Edmond Jouhaud, Jacques Soustelle and others.
They began tamely enough, describing to French journalists the consequences of a French withdrawal, depicting compromise as capitulation, warning of the consequences of moderation, sounding persuasive and respectful of French democratic traditions. Sound familiar? But then their statements became more vitriolic, and finally they revolted against a duly elected republic whose policies seemed namby-pamby to them. Moderation always seems weak to the military-industrial complex because it doesn`t feed the beast.
The French had witnessed the consequences of tolerating political generals who instead of carrying out policy sought to make it, which is always the death of a democracy. German moderates had hoped their army would protect the Weimar Republic, but it stood by and watched the Nazis politicize and terrorize its ranks. French moderates fared better in 1961 when the majority of army officers failed to support the right-wing coup attempted in Algiers. But it is doubtful that without the steadying hand of Charles de Gaulle that French democracy would have withstood these self-righteous rebel officers.
Are we immune to a similar putsch? Who secretly supported Massu and Soustelle? The banks and the industrialists, of course. The French military-industrial complex. They wished to go on exploiting not only mineral- and oil-rich Algeria and its Arabs and Berbers but also the French pieds-noirs who were overwhelmingly poor and little better off than the Arabs and Berbers. Did France fall because it rejected those extremist generals? No. Are we today threatened by Vietnam? Hardly. In fact, our tourists enjoy it. Did Michelin Corporation fail because it could no longer exploit Viet rubber plantations? No, but it had to pay fairer prices.
France`s safety was not at stake. But the misdeeds of a corrupt regime were at stake, just as in Afghanistan. And just as in Algeria and France, we now have generals who repeatedly overstep their mandate and try to jam up the White House and civilian policy-makers by making dire pronouncements about the consequences of quitting a thoroughly corrupt rascal like Hamid Karzai who is serving the bankers and contractors very well.
Intellectually the problem for us was signaled by the changing of the name of the War Department to the Defense Department in 1949. The military-industrial complex calls all wars defensive and strives to keep the population in a constant state of jitters about our various enemies. No life worth living is lived without enemies. No nation with noble ideas, indeed no nation with ignoble ideas, exists without enemies. But a nation that exists in a continual state of war cannot secure peace and prosperity for its people. What began in 1949 has been heightened by the creation of a federal security state in which the military-industrial complex now seeks to extend its powers into civilian life in the name of security.
Not every war is in our interests, but war is always in the interest of bankers and profiteers. It is always in somebody`s interests, and it is the job of a democracy to distinguish those interests and make sure that when it goes to war it goes to war to defend its people and not to fatten its elite. And that means imbuing its military with a love and dedication to democratic process, the very process Generals McChrystal and Petraeus have been transgressing.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com