From "Infinite Justice" to "Enduring Freedom" in the Murky Mindset of Presidential Pretenders. (10/2/2001)
Sometimes, even against all reason, a simple title of even just a few words, has the power to compel or propel a discursive act that would not have occurred otherwise. That is not necessarily a good thing either. In this particular case, since all I have in mind right now is the title that appears above, the idea of pursuing whatever thought might lie hidden behind it does not strike me as a preeminently beneficial, prudent, or sensible thing to do. Be that as it may, and putting that cautionary injunction aside, I also cannot think of any compelling reason to not-say something instead of nothing under this title. In other words, making a complete fool of myself by setting out on a verbal journey that springs from virtually nothing concrete and goes nowhere in particular makes as much creative sense to me right now as remaining silent does. Silence is its own virtue, one I choose to ignore here for the sake of committing the sin of speaking without any prior thought of a subject, or a direction, or a conclusion. Whatever results from this senseless exercise will therefore have the appearance, but not the reality, of being completely a priori. Descartes's cogito ergo sum notwithstanding, then, I set out on this journey with a mind as near to a blank slate as anyone can have from a position without any clear presence in the universe, since in order to claim that I exist at all, according to Descartes, I must first think. Since I have not thought first of what I am likely to say, I cannot claim that the result of putting these words down will actually exist either after the fact of having done so. This action is, as much as anything can be, a pure function of the Logos, since, like God, I am about to create something, even if only a string of senseless words, ex nihilo; that is, a discourse without any prior thought to what it will be when, or if ever, it reaches its end.
This is also a lie as well, since the very existence of these two phrases in the title, that is, "Infinite Justice" and "Enduring Freedom," carry with them ideological content, even if it really is not mine, does not belong to me, that was formulated by someone at sometime in the past and project some sense of meaning or significance into the world at large. My first thought when hearing that George W. Bush had named his war against terrorism "Infinite Justice," and here the lie, falsehood, is obvious because I claimed earlier that I had no thought whatsoever, was that giving any human endeavor of this, or any other, kind a title that involved the Infinite probably overreached the capacity any nation has to wage war against anything else that exists in the universe. No human action, in other words, can possible reach an Infinite level or duration. My second thought was that "Infinite Justice" was probably a category reserved specifically to something, some agent, that was Infinite in and of itself. The only Infinite thing or category in Christian ideology, of course, is God. Hence, I suppose, George W. Bush was implying that his war against terrorism was going to be one that delivered the "Infinite Justice" of God to the perpetrators of the destruction of the World Trade Center towers. Exactly how, or when, the Infinite Justice of God is going to be implanted in US military hardware, in bombs, missiles, and bullets, is a question without answer as far as I know, unless the military has developed something more than just a "smart-bomb" that we don't know about yet.
Almost immediately, of course, Muslims everywhere began to protest the use of the phrase as a way to characterize the war against terrorism because the words "Infinite Justice," in Islam, are ones reserved wholly to the actions of Allah. Coupled with the fact that Bush had already declared a "Crusade" against Islam, his decision to name the war with the term "Infinite Justice" only managed to deliver a double insult to the entire Muslim world. The name was then changed to "Enduring Freedom" in order to demonstrate that Bush did not really intend to insult anyone.
I have a few problems with the way things have been going since the President declared his war against terrorism, in general, and several others related to the tradition, in place since his father did "Desert Storm," which as traditions go isn't all that long a time to establish one, that have mostly to do with the use of language, naming especially, to characterize operations against an enemy conducted by military means. Apparently, and while no one was looking, the government has created a new cabinet-level post (Secretary of Naming Wars), even an entire bureaucracy, at least where Republicans are concerned, whose mission and sole purpose is to think up catchy phrases with which to characterize its proposed operations (this one mostly covert, secret, and hidden from public view) against our numerous, and now completely faceless, enemies in the Middle East. Last night I heard, but cannot confirm this morning, the phrase "Bold Eagle," as it issued forth from the mouth of a talking head, and wondered if the operation had been renamed yet again. I would not object if that is the case, since "Enduring Freedom" seemed to be a pretty lame label to attach to a war-plan that is supposed to rid the world of terror for all time. As an outcome it serves some purpose, I suppose, but as a means to an end it has virtually no dramatic force at all.
"Bold Eagle" represents a significant improvement but I literally fear that it too will have a relatively short shelf-life, specifically just as long as it takes for the first bomb to explode in Afghanistan, making it possible for someone to say that "The Eagle Has Landed." I sense just exactly that kind of linguistic perversity in the people who are orchestrating Bush's commitment on behalf of the American people to pursue faceless terrorist networks for the foreseeable future in places that do not exist on any map I have been able to discern. It looks, so far, too much like an open-ended budget appropriation that will consume American productivity in exactly the way that the Cold War did for the last 50 years of the 20th Century. It sounds like Reaganism all over again. Tax cuts for the fabulously wealthy, followed by huge increases in military spending, at the expense of domestic programs, of course, that ultimately result in vast increases in this country's public debt with an inevitable slide into world-wide economic recession. Sounds like a plan to me and exactly what one would expect from a Republican administration.
Putting that possibility aside, my real objection to any of this revolves, like a dead planet in the grip of a distant sun, around the way Bush, and other members of his administration, use language, even just words themselves in only half-sensible strings of discourse, like campaign slogans, to stand in the place of concrete action, or even in the place of reasonably thoughtful plans from which that action might be derived. Naming a war before it is fought, even before it is planned or articulated, as if it existed already in historical reality as an accomplished fact, seems to reflect a belief in a concept of the Logos that does not stand very well under only moderate scrutiny and analysis. Like Adam going out with God to name the animals in Genesis, an action according to interpretation that somehow conferred dominion over them to the first, and all subsequent, men, Bush seems to believe that naming a war, even a priori, will ensure that it turns out to be successful. In one sense, of course, war is always successful, whether it is named or not, whether or not it has the right or proper name from the beginning, in that we can all rest assured that it will consume vast quantities of dwindling resources and ever-diminishing wealth, that it will cause the extinction of numberless human beings, that it will destroy whatever it targets, and all that will be accomplished even if it ultimately fails to achieve whatever goal is attached to it prosecution. The real problem here, apart from naming wars before they are fought, is the Eurocentric conviction that the best way to advance civilization is to destroy whatever parts of it do not fit well into a preconceived, elitist, even utopian, perception of what it is supposed to be. Making the world over into Eden, Paradise, and Utopia, always requires acts of war because perfection itself never allows for the existence of the Other. Today the Other is radical Islam. Tomorrow it will be something else. Not to be forgotten, of course, is the fact that Islamic radicals have declared Jihad (Holy War) against Americans. Americans, in turn, have declared Crusade (Holy War) against radical Muslims. Both sides seek the same thing: Utopia, Paradise, Eden, the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Allah, on earth. What we get is more death, more destruction, but always named something else.
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