I want to call it the “Boromir Fallacy.” Recall how in the movie The Fellowship of the Ring the Council of Elrond has learned the long history of the Ring and the evil it has done for ages. The delegates have learned how the Dark Lord, wielding this Ring, wants to “rule them all and in the darkness bind them.” Yet seeing the golden band, the man of Gondor Boromir, exclaims: “It is a gift! A gift to the foes of Mordor! Why not use this ring?” No, replies Aragorn, “You cannot wield it! None of us can. The One Ring answers to Sauron alone. It has no other master.” The Ring, the Council concludes, must be destroyed.
The ranks of good liberals, including many in the amorphous peace movement, are replete with many Boromirs. Decent, well intentioned, brave, but oh so naively inclined to believe they can use for good the Ring that is U.S. imperialism! Have these people learned nothing from the last five years of relentless U.S. aggression? Or the century of imperialism before that?
My recent column posted on CounterPunch and Dissident Voice has produced more than the ordinary quantity of feedback. In it I suggested that the emerging movement urging U.S. intervention in Darfur plays into the hands of the Bush administration with its designs on the “Greater Middle East.” So far 25 out of 31 responses have been entirely favorable. “Thank you for your excellent analysis” writes a Pennsylvania man. “Thanks for making the connection to the U.S. grand design strategy,” writes a fellow CounterPuncher. “I would like to express my profound gratitude for your excellent article,” writes the director of an organization called the Peace and Justice Foundation. “Excellent as always,” writes a Massachusetts historian (who draws my attention to the fact that the Simon Wiesenthal Center presented its annual Humanitarian Laureate Award to Rupert Murdoch). “Thank you so much for your wisdom,” writes a man in Washington DC.
“Good article,” writes another. “Just what I suspected. Whenever that old Holocaust Knight of Sad Countenance, Elie Weisel, starts tilting at the old genocide windmill, crying ‘Never again!’ I get suspicious.” A self-described “old research hand on the Sudan” wrote, “Thanks for your column--it was good, and it was courageous.” A Canadian radio broadcaster called it “an astonishing article” and asked for an interview. Some sent me links they thought would further my case. Thomas Mountain, “the first westerner to write on Dafur, in early 2003” wrote, “I enjoyed your article opposing western intervention in Dafur” and like one or two others suggested I emphasize the oil resources in the region.
One person who agreed with the piece sent me an exchange of letters with a friend in Sudan who supports the Coalition to Save Darfur but also wants to “rein in the neocons.”
On the other hand, one woman describing herself as an African-American wrote, “I was more than just dismayed, I was revolted,” by my piece. “For you to claim in one sentence that it may be true that more than 200,000 Sudanese may have perished; than questioning whether this is even genocide (you cite the U.N. to support that it isn’t), and than [sic] going on to say that our government would do much worse than what has already been perpetrated [sic], is a very sad argument indeed.”
An editor of a “Marxist journal” wrote, “I sympathize with your very serious concern that certain kinds of intervention in the Sudan may be ‘imperialist.’” (I wondered why a Marxist would put the word imperialism in quotation marks -- as though it were something hypothetically or dubiously posited to exist, rather than a fundamental concept in Marxist analysis.) “However, I am not sure that you have presented a clear grasp on a lot of what is going on there. Indeed, you may have in your tone, despite your words, downplayed serious crimes committed not only by the paramilitaries like the Janjaweed, which is government sponsored, but by the government itself. After reading your article, I am almost convinced that you give a strong impression that you don’t care and that the only people who do are right-wing nuts.”
A long-time correspondent, who routinely takes me to task for my comments pertaining to Zionism and Israel and occasionally charges me with anti-Semitism, writes: “In my view, your anti-Imperialism (and not you personally but the notion you espouse) is basically a cover under which Arab imperialism resides. And that is why your position and that of Patrick Buchanon’s [sic] are so similar. You are both providing intellectual cover for moneyed and oil interests…”
And then there was the guy who really seemed to echo Boromir: “I think urgent action is required and that the US Government, criminal though it may be, ought to use its power to whack the Sudanese government on the ear and deliver immediate aid to the Sudan.” Why do we not use the Ring…for good?
There’s just too much confusion here to properly address as I eye the pile of final exams on my desk. But I will freely concede that sometimes the actions of even a despicable regime, or agents of it, can produce something positive, for reasons intended or unintended. Hegel talked about the “cunning of Reason” in history. Progress towards greater freedom can occur due to the actions of unsavory people. A Nazi German diplomat in Nanking named John Rabe used his clout to save tens of thousands of Chinese from slaughter by Japanese forces in 1937. Iris Chang in her sensationalistic Rape of Nanking bestseller suggested that Rabe “saw the Nazi Party primarily as a socialist organization and did not support the persecution of Jews.” He was a Nazi in any case who while in China used his Nazi status for good!
I know Bosnians who deplore U.S. foreign policy today but have high praise for the U.S. intervention in Yugoslavia in 1992-94. They feel it saved many Bosniaks’ lives, and it probably did. But more might have been saved, perhaps (we can’t rewind history to know for sure) had the U.S. not shifted from its initial policy of supporting the continued existence of the Yugoslav Federation to one of endorsing the newly reunited Germany’s encouragement of Slovenian and then other secessionist movements. The latter included the one in Kosovo, cradle of Serbian nationalism but now overwhelmingly populated by ethnic Albanians, some of whom were drawn to the armed struggle and independence movement spearheaded by the Kosovo Liberation Army. While the State Department regarded the latter organization as “terrorist,” the Clinton administration opted to work with it in 1999, circulate disinformation preposterously exaggerating the number of Kosovar victims of the local Serbs, and use the much-hyped humanitarian crisis to bomb Belgrade and make Kosovo a de facto NATO protectorate in 1999. In the background loomed images of Bosnian concentration camps readily conflated with Auschwitz and Dachau. Maybe, as a result of the war of intervention accompanied by grotesque propaganda, more were saved than killed. Just maybe you can find some good there.
But why did the U.S. and its NATO allies -- dragooned by Washington into combat following the farcical “Rambouillet Accord” of 1999 -- use their power to impose a reconfiguration of the Balkans? Was it to do good? Or to show that the Atlantic Alliance -- whose existence seemed pointless following the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact -- could step into Yugoslavia, a nation once proud of its non-alignment with either military pact, and impose order? Wasn’t Washington, nervous about the likelihood that if it didn’t take action Germany would, telling the world, “We will ensure that Europe, including the Balkans, will stay stable on our terms”?
The result? The destruction of centuries-old Serbian Orthodox churches, the flight of tens of thousands of Serbs from Kosovo. (Nebojsa Malic has for years been providing details on Antiwar.com) The record of U.S. administrations on “humanitarian intervention” is pretty miserable, actually. But this is the record the “Darfur advocates” validated by Bush need to reference as they rally disoriented liberals around their cause. These offer up their ring fingers to neocon-led administration, thereby allying themselves to a regime-change regimen that can only produce more of the same.
American people with good-hearted intentions aren’t running this Darfur show. They aren’t generating the butt-headed Holocaust analogies. It’s the war machine, foraying slyly into the progressive camp, thinking, “Let’s work with these ‘left’ people too, these impressionable do-gooders, let’s get them on board at least this part of the program. Let’s get them -- in this period when Bush’s popularity’s hit bottom -- to say, ‘Please Mister President, send troops into Sudan! For good!’”
“The One Ring answers to Sauron alone. It has no other master.” Any good it does is transitory, and probably illusory. It must, concludes the Council of Elrond, be destroyed. Boromir concurs with that -- but then falters, weak and uncertain, by the Anduin River as he strives to seize and wield the Ring. He wants to use it to help his people. In that, he’s not “evil” but merely confused. Frodo outwits him, and escapes. Boromir recognizes his error before dying his honorable death; at the story’s end, of course, Sam and Frodo destroy the Ring.
But back to the real world of the twenty-first century. An imperialist country dwarfs all others in its military might and threatens to expand its empire through military force. Its imperialism is not a policy, bad and mistaken, but its very nature. This is not to say it can do no good. It can, for example, distribute aid in the wake of a tsunami or earthquake. Just like a corporation that contributes to skyrocketing levels of childhood obesity can donate some of its profits to Save the Children. But such acts of apparent virtue always fit in to a larger calculus that is mainly about expanding profit. Recall how Bush once told the wealthy donors at a presidential campaign ball, “You’re my base.” His cabinet, in turn, is what Lenin called “the executive committee of the ruling class.” It has no higher responsibility than to attend to the interests of corporate America, as it sees them.
There was a time (the Reagan years) when government officials and pundits referred to a “Crescent of Crisis” from the Horn of Africa to Afghanistan. The specter haunting the region then wasn’t Islam or “Islamofascism” but Soviet influence -- ostensibly Marxist regimes had taken power in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Southern Yemen. Washington was deliberately exploiting Islamic anticommunism as an ally, doing its best to wreak havoc in Afghanistan, which fell to the most vicious sort of Islamic fanaticism after the secular “Marxist” regime was toppled in 1993.
The long confrontation with the Soviet bloc ended with the USSR’s dissolution in 1991, and ever since the official line has been that “Communism is dead.” U.S. actions in what is now being called the “Greater Middle East” are driven not by competition with the Soviet superpower, but by the perceived necessity of securing the region and its natural gas and oil resources within the U.S. camp, pending future confrontations with capitalist rivals. The neocons have pretty clearly spelled out the agenda of “regime change” from Afghanistan to Sudan, framing the mission as a “war against terrorism,” while Cheney’s staff is known to see China as the up and coming, oil-guzzling challenger. The U.S. wants to control Southwest Asia and parts of Africa, the better to contain this posited rival.
Sudan is a major oil supplier to China, and the two governments have a warm relationship. Iran is China’s number one oil supplier. When one looks at U.S. efforts to effect regime change in these nations, ostensibly to end terror of one sort or another, how can one ignore the broad geopolitical context? When one considers how systematically and shamelessly the administration lied about Iraq, how can one not assume a hidden agenda in its moves against other countries? How can one suppose that NATO in Africa can do anything other than to advance an imperialist agenda?
The slogan “Out of
Iraq, Into Darfur” that occasioned my last piece; the simplistic
representation of the Darfur situation as Arabs versus oppressed blacks;
the evocation of the Holocaust and sensationalistic charges of genocide
all fit in nicely with the neocon project for remaking the world. On board
the project we predictably find the usual suspects, but alongside them the
innocent if misled Boromirs who think they can use U.S. imperialism to
help the world’s oppressed. But to paraphrase Aragorn, they cannot wield
it. It answers to Capital alone, and has no other master.
* * * * *
Towards the end of the third film in the Ring trilogy, the Dark Tower suddenly falls, and the good forces of Middle Earth (men, elves, dwarves) fighting at the Gates of Mordor witness evil evaporate before their eyes. The Ring, returned to the abyss of Mt. Doom, has been destroyed and with it the Dark Lord’s ambitions for world conquest. In every face, joy and relief.
Now just imagine the reaction of the world, Sudan included, if tomorrow the streets of America were filled with millions surrounding and storming the citadels of power, the headquarters of the architects of imperialist globalization and war. What joy! What redemption of the image of a people widely perceived as complicit in the evil committed in our name! What can we do to help the oppressed of Darfur? We can liberate America and make it a credible ally of the oppressed everywhere.
Gary Leupp is a Professor of History, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion, at Tufts University and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
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