Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Death Becomes Him

George Clooney had two movies released late last year that featured him as a star (“The Descendants”) and as director, writer, and star (“The Ides of March”). I enjoyed both of them, and was pulling for Mr. Clooney to win an Oscar for “The Descendants.”

Both of the films used the death of a main character to focus our attention. “The Descendants” featured the death of a family member. “The Ides of March” featured the death of a political aide. In both cases, the personal nature and depth of emotion associated with the tragedy caused us to become more involved with the story.

A different aspect of death is being played out in our war in Afghanistan. Here, death is political.

We’ve seen this before. In Vietnam, our national issue wasn’t how to win the conflict. It was how to use the war to increase the political power of President Johnson. Our soldiers followed Rules of Engagement that were designed to enhance a political narrative, and it was not pleasant.

Some of America’s finest ended up dying for political correctness.

I would imagine members of our armed services in Afghanistan are coming to a similar understanding. They are not charged with winning a conflict. Rather, they are engaged in a timed withdrawal designed to enhance the political authority of President Obama.

In Afghanistan, political opportunism is dominant in an arena where death is a player. The alleged rampage of Staff Sergeant Robert Bales reminds us of William Calley and the My Lai Massacre of 1968. It might also remind us of soldiers of the United Nations acting as “Peacekeepers.”

Military forces work well when they are engaged in traditional military operations. When their task is to create a favorable narrative for politicians, they often fail, and death is the byproduct.

Inadvertent Koran burning, along with the alleged acts of Sgt. Bales, increased the political power of Afghan President Karzai. The deaths of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki (along with his son, a 16-year-old teenager born in Denver) enhanced the political power of President Obama.

For each political leader, you might say, “Death becomes him.”

The culture of Afghanistan expresses approval with violent demonstrations. Our culture expresses approval with a vapid lightness.

It would be good if that were not the case.

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