Outside of the machines and techologies that humans have invented to kill each other, I’m not convinced that warfare is a suitable historical subject, if the measure of a historical subject is demonstrable and meaningful change over time. For example, check out this nationalist, masculinist rhetoric from the White House about the killing of Osama Bin Laden on Sunday. (This Washington Post article was reprinted in my home-delivered copy of the Denver Post this morning:)
The Obama administration presented new details Monday about the death of Osama bin Laden, portraying the spiritual leader of al-Qaeda as a reclusive figure who had lived in relative luxury and whose final moments had finally exposed his cowardice.
As Americans solemnly remembered those killed at bin Laden’s command, senior administration officials sought to turn their tactical military victory into a moral one by undermining the heroic image he had long cultivated among his followers. They stressed that he had been discovered not in a remote cave, but in a mansion in a wealthy Pakistani city. They also sought to suggest that, as he tried to escape U.S. Special Operations forces, he may have used one of his wives as a shield.
“Here is bin Laden, who has been calling for these attacks, living in this million-dollar-plus compound, living in an area that is far removed from the front, hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield,” John O. Brennan, President Obama’s deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism, told reporters at the White House. “I think it really just speaks to just how false his narrative has been over the years.”
Bin Laden’s narrative isn’t the only false or misleading narrative. Brennan’s narrative is strikingly similar to colonial trash talk about military and political foes, which makes me automatically skeptical of it. His words are guided by a nearly ancient script. Accusations of unmanliness and [effeminate] luxury were two prominent rhetorical weapons wielded by Anglo-American men against both Indian and French men, and Indian men gave as good as they got on this score. Continue Reading »