I ran into an acquaintance at the store and we started talking about current events. “Did you know we’re in Niger?” he asked at one point.
If I didn’t know better, I would have worried about his mental state. There we were, standing in the produce aisle of a supermarket in the middle of North Carolina … and he’s thinking we’re actually more than 5,000 miles away in a country neither of us has ever been?
I knew better, though. That’s just how people tend to talk about things the “government” does. It stems from the original sin of believing, “We are the government.” Well, I’m not, and you’re not, even if you vote regularly and pay your taxes without complaint.
(If you work for an arm of the state, it’s more problematic, but I would still say that you, personally, are not “the government.” Depending on the nature of your work you might be abetting some of its worst behaviors, though. Would self-reflection be in order?)
Nowhere is this thinking more muddled than when talking about the U.S.’s endless wars and interventions. Someone pulled off a neat trick: Getting 300 million people to believe that when a few politicians and generals send a few thousand soldiers half-way around the world for questionable purposes, it’s really we who did it. Even if we didn’t know about it!
For the record, I am not in Niger, and — unless you’re reading this on a computer in Niamey — neither are you. The fact that my money was used to send soldiers there or that it was done in my name doesn’t change that.
Imagine some thugs came up to you and me on the streets of Raleigh, robbed us, and used the money to buy weapons for a gang war in Detroit. Would it then be proper to say that “we” are in Detroit? Of course not. Free of such mystical thinking, you would condemn the thugs and their robbery, and see neither as legitimate.
The healthy position to take toward a violent gang is to disavow any approval of it. Above all, don’t identify with it or start thinking of it as “we,” even if you’re being robbed (“taxed”) to support it.
This is the way a clear-minded person should think about the violent gang that makes up the state, in my opinion.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take notice of it, or criticize it, especially when its actions harm innocent people or endanger your well-being. The recent events in Niger, where a firefight involving U.S. troops led to the deaths of four American service members, is a good example.
What are American troops doing in Niger? Nothing useful to me, as far as I can tell. The logic of empire in the 21st century demands that the U.S. be “present” everywhere, taking sides in every local dispute, toppling this dictator and propping up that one, helping some violent thugs (excuse me, “freedom fighters”) and bombing others.
The war mongers and the beneficiaries of the military-industrial complex will, of course, say that “we’re” in Niger — and who knows where else — as part of a war on terrorism to keep Americans safe at home. I call b_______. (The word I’m thinking of is “blowback.”)
Don’t feel alone if you didn’t know that there are a thousand U.S. troops in Niger. No less an uber-hawk than Lindsey Graham, a member of the U.S. Senate’s Armed Services Committee, said on TV that he didn’t know it until recently.
Not that it matters to Graham or to most of his colleagues in the political establishment, Republican or Democrat. No, the most important thing to them is whether or not Donald Trump used the acceptable word-formula when expressing sympathy to the widow of one of the dead soldiers.
Did Trump disrespect “our” troops in his phone call? Who cares? Why isn’t anyone talking about the supreme act of disrespecting the troops: sending them to one hellhole after another to kill and die for no good reason?
Even if you believe it’s the job and the special competency of the American military to protect your freedom, the deaths of those soldiers in Niger did nothing to further that. Did they know they were signing up to be expendable pawns in a game in which they had no stake, beyond a paycheck?
I am not in Niger, and neither are you. Those American military personnel who are there, fighting on our dime and in our name (but shh, don’t tell anyone until it can longer be kept under the rug), should be brought home now.
Meanwhile, I refuse to identify in any way with the gang that sent them there. I am not the gang … er, government. My self-respect demands that I not only acknowledge that to myself, but proclaim it to the world.