Thursday, August 31, 2006

What Is Complicity?

Juan Cole says that the sprinkling of cluster bombs in a civilian area right before a cease fire is a war crime. I don't know what the law is on this but it is without a doubt a moral crime.

He also says.

"The American people are complicit in these war crimes, insofar as they provided the cluster bombs and supported Olmert to the hilt in his dirty war, which was only occasionally about actually combating Hizbullah fighters (there weren't any, in a lot of the places that were bombed)."

I wish I knew what complicity was or how complicit the American people are here. America contributes to Israel, Israel buys weapons with US tax dollars and buys US weapons with US tax dollars. Do most people even know what a cluster bomb is? Does some of the excusable ignorance excuse? What about the inexcusable ignorance. Just what are your duties?

This seems like it is too far away for the American people to be complicit. I find it disturbing for two reasons. (1) It echoes Bin Ladin's claims about U.S. taxpayers. It echoes justification for terrorism in the idea that no civilians are innocent. That's a dark path to go down. It runs in both directions and turns political and military conflict into a blood feud. Also, it's not true. (2) It does not seem plausible to me and I don't think it would to most people, except those who hate the U.S. But there is some real complicity. There is some real guilt. I don't know how far it goes or what it means. I think an account of it is harder to give than some might think. I suppose this is because I doubt the average American's ability to influence his government in any meaningful way.

But when you charge complicity on matters like this--things that American people have absolutely no ability to control or perhaps even to know about, you water responsibility down in such a way that it becomes meaningless. The only good that does is that it makes you able to demonize groups of people, to vent your rage. But it doesn't do any real good if your goal is to actually get people to take responsibility, to see connections, to create change.

There needs to be some word for such a state--where voting occurs but real democracy is absent. I can't think of one. Well, clearly there are oligarchic and plutarchic elements in the U.S. but that doesn't quite capture it.

But even if you don't take on that controversial assumption you need a better account of complicity. Seeing innocent people die and have their lives destroyed, like the people in Lebanon, seeing what seems like it can only be indifference to the value of their lives, this makes us angry. I would hope it does. But I just don't think the knee jerk attempt to blame everyone in sight really accomplishes anything except to license more horrific violence.


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