Monday, February 09, 2009

WAR COMES TO THE MAKERS OF WAR

That phrase comes from the old ‘Victory At Sea’ series. It referred to the American bombing of Japan starting in ’44 as the island airbases within range of the Home Islands became operational.
McClatchy reports that state and national pols from the great state of South Carolina are fixin’ to pass a law that if Guantanamo detainees come to the Charleston Navy Brig, why they’ll shut the electricity off to it (not to the entire Base, mind you, since the Yankee Navy employs a whole passel of red-blooded patriots in town, and the Yankee military is one of the State’s biggest employers).

Charleston, you may recall, fired the opening shots in the Civil War, cannonading Fort Sumter on a fine April morning in 1861 – and with great gusto. It later made a lesser – if less egregious – mark in history when General Sherman, fresh from the capture of Atlanta and his march through the great State of Georgia to Savannah, started making his way up the coast. The good citizens of Charleston had their remaining slaves take all their valuables, good furnishings, good silver and flatware up to Columbia, the State capitol, figuring to outfox ‘Uncle Billy’ and his bhoys, who were no doubt coming now to repay the compliment of 1861 with fire and iron. Alas, the bringer of war – kind of foxy himself – bypassed the makers of war and brought war inland up to Columbia, razing the place – and all the Charleston crockery to boot.

It’s that sort of place. A North Carolinian, in the brouhaha leading up to that terrible War, reflected morosely that his State was “a vale of humility, situated between two humps of pride”, the other hump being Virginia, home to Richmond and now bedroom to the Beltway. What evah is a body to do?

Now comes a sizable delegation of legislators in the matter of the great War on Terrah. Or Terr-er.

Having plumped for the whole thing, having cheered the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act and all the other pomps and works for which History is fixin’ to hold somebody responsible, South Carolina is yet again faced with the prospect of a great War ‘coming home’. And again, they don’t much cotton to it. What evah shall they do?

They will legislate and pass a law. No gimlet-eyed stiff, upper lip for them. No sir! To the inkwells! To the touchpads! To the klieg lights! To the South Carolinians, as to their predecessors the Japanese, ‘war ‘ is something that happens to other people.

Nor are they alone. The good citizens of the great State of Kansas, specifically of the County of Leavenworth, situated therein and duly constituted, are equally shocked, shocked, at the thought that their ‘war’ might take up residence. They are home to a lucrative spread of military installations, not the least of which is the Army’s Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, where the Army goes to learn how to fight and win its wars (the curriculum is yet again in the process of revision, as we speak).

The good burghers also enjoy the employment opportunities afforded by several houses of incarceration within their jurisdiction. There is a county lock-up, a State lock-up, the big and semi-famous Federal lock-up known colloquially as “Leavenworth”, and a private-enterprise lock-up to handle inmates from States whose own zeal for righteousness and justice has overtaxed their brick-and-bar facilities.

And there is the military’s Disciplinary Barracks, a prison for all those caught in the quite possibly unconstitutional toils of the military justice system. That facility, recently moved into a Supermax complex when the old 19th century monstrosity was finally replaced a few years ago, was until 2001 proud of housing ‘the worst of the worst’, such as pudgy, soft-fingered Air Force Master Sergeants who, being ‘military’, were more dangerous than any other criminal in the country because ‘they knew how to use guns’. The thought of such personnel posing more of a danger than any 1st-year gang member can only bring a rueful smile to those who are familiar with military hyperbole, which to the military mind is almost indistinguishable from truth. Which is a trait the military now shares with the polarized Right and Left in the country.

But now, suddenly, the hapless inmates at the United States Disciplinary Barracks (its formal title) are demoted to just hapless-inmates; the ‘worst of the worst’ have suddenly been discovered to be a motley of teens, wandering Uighurs, and various bearded folk from what were supposed to remain far-distant battlefields – or, at least, ‘theaters of operation’.

Having demonstrated that it is utterly unable and unwilling to have to defend its actions in any civilian court, and faced with an increasingly restive military lawyer corps that is beginning to get fits of the vapours from thinking far too much about ‘abstractions’ and ‘concepts’ such as ‘Nuremberg’ and ‘war crimes’, the jailors are now in a quandary: How do you let go of a wolf you have not only trapped and shackled but have grabbed by the ears? How back away now? And who’s going to take the wolf off your hands and ‘home to their place’? Without your own pretty face getting bitten off in the process?

But if there’s one thing America has in abundance after 40 years of Left and Right demonizations, it’s prisons. And that’s why now the burghers and solons of these prison locales are looking out and up with about the same mixture of surprise, apprehension, and irritated confoundment as the Tokyo denizens who looked up to see Billy Mitchell’s B-25s coming in over the rooftops: This – is happening – to us? Do they know who we are? And the classic whine: Why usssss?

Suddenly the good patriotic folk are thinking of States’ rights and the heartless intrusions of a ‘fedril gummint’ which they had heretofore known only as a friendly and reliable cash-cow, delivering paychecks and subsidies with an inspiring regularity; an affable donkey, a mule faithfully schlepping the bounty of the public till to those shrewd enough to have gotten on the ‘good’ list.

Yea, these be strange times, and We shall see strange things.

In what has to be construed as a definitive proof of the existence of a God Who Laughs to Scorn, well-coiffed and well-shod solons known for their jingo, macho, kill-em-all-and-let-God-sort-it-out support of the frakkery on the Eastern Front are now buzzing about like overstuffed bees, essaying a stentorian bray to the effect that nobody is going to bring the war into their back yard. Harrrrrrumph!

It’s one thing to have a bunch of chained unfortunates safely warehoused in this or that well-walled facility, where their years of rot and vegetation can be made to manure the rich pastures of local emolument, and where their bedraggled and dispirited and disoriented families can come to visit and have to spread some cash at the local strip-malls and fleabags. It’s another thing to have folks who – if the stories about them be true – are connected to distant, very unhappy, and very resourceful associates and relatives, who might themselves decide to pay a visit.

And who knows whether such stories about them are indeed true? The fog of war, alas. The thing that gets kids in uniform killed and generals given a free pass to come up with further nebulous theories about the properties and dynamics of fog. But always over there. Somewhere. Somewhere else.

Curiously, in the august halls of the Senate, the execrable Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is not one of the pack, allowing his stable-mate, Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) to do that thing with the snorting and the stamping of the hooves and the flaring of wide nostrils and the shaking of antlers, horns, or large floppy ears.

And thereby hangs Graham’s tale, as it were. He is up to his own floppy ears in the equally execrable military justice system, being a general in its Reserve and a former Judge on what must be formally termed, and with a straight face, its ‘appeals’ court. The military’s attorneys, now combining the famous characteristics of that trade with all the worst elements of the professionals-in-the-military conundrum, are – as said previously – thinking very much of ‘Nuremberg’ and ‘war crimes’. And not in the abstract, but as something that may yet happen … to them.

With a few honorable exceptions who are trying to actually defend their clients, the JAGs are most solicitous of supporting this President as they were the prior specimen. And therefore at this point they would very much like someone to take the ‘wolves’ off their hands. The less the JAGs are seen near these folks, the less chance that people might start wondering just what the JAGs’ role has been in this whole dark and unholy mess. I’m waiting for DVD copies of ‘Judgment at Nuremberg’ to start disappearing from shelves and catalogs in the name of ‘national security’; my bet is that they have not been available at military PX’s and Exchanges for quite some time.

The war, if not yet Nuremberg, is coming home.

It is becoming repugnant, what is happening now. Although the war has been coming home in the form of dead and wrecked veterans for years, only now, and for this, are the pols rising up on their hind legs.

The dead can be buried. The wounded can be clucked ruefully about over coffee at the local diner. But the ‘enemy’, now the ‘enemy’ is coming. What do you do with them? What do you do with what you have done to them?

In a way, it’s like the national undercurrent of unfocused concern over what to do with the more-than-Soviet percentages of imprisoned citizens now starting to ‘come back’ into ‘polite society’? You can’t – yet, anyway – ‘civilly confine’ all of them because of what they ‘might do’. What now then?

There’s something of Cavafy in all of this, in all of this bustling and braying. But he saw, as We must sooner or later come to see, that “the barbarians were, somehow, a solution”. A solution to a vast national failure – not in war, but deeper than that.

Much, much deeper.

ADDENDUM

Daniel Nasaw reports that this has now broadened to a wider Republican Congressional groundswell.

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