Monday, November 15, 2004

Collective reprisals

/ punishment / collective /

"We'll unleash the dogs of hell, we'll unleash 'em... They don't even know what's coming - hell is coming. If there are civilians in there, they're in the wrong place at the wrong time." (Sergeant Sam Mortimer, US marines, Channel 4 News, November 8, 2004)
In June 1944, as a reprisal for a partisan ambush that killed 40 German soldiers, SS troops stormed Distomo and rampaged through the village in an act of revenge, part of the Nazi reprisal policy at the time, which held the local population as a whole responsible for any guerrilla attacks. The toll was 218 dead, men, women and children. Collective responsibility and collective punishment were staples of the Nazi reaction to resistance everywhere in occupied Europe.

So you see where I live, this image, rings a familiar bell.

Thus it must come as no surprise when the whole Fallujah debacle is seen over here as what it really is: collective punishment, presented as regrettable necessity, for having the gall to resist foreign occupation. Over here,there are still historical memories of being on the receiving end of various imperialisms. Recent memories: besides the Nazi barbarity, we still recall how the British were greeted with flowers in 1944, only to open fire at a defenseless crowd of demonstrators some weeks later, enlist the services of Nazi collaborators and become targets of attack soon thereafter. Greek guerrillas were guinea pigs for napalm in the mountains of Pindos, while our quasi-dictatorial post-civil war governments, were replaced by a bloody military junta sponsored and blessed by the US. So given this historical experience of imperial and colonial violence, it is no wonder that there exists a default sympathy for those defending their country against any imperial aggression - a sympathy that seems nowadays to transcend the left-right divide (for reasons too complicated to describe here...)

I'm willing to bet that this legitimization of popular resistance is the predominant sentiment in every country that has had similar experiences. The pc variants of the White Man's Burden, that seem to dominate the American neo-cons and their jingoist nationalist base (and some of the more nutty British fellow travelers), are easily seen for the ideoleptic apologetics of power they are in most of the world.

Around the world, a war crime, is seen as a war crime. Letting people die of thirst [pdf file], is considered a war crime, not allowing civilian males to escape the massacre, is a war crime. Blocking access to Red Crescent aid is, again, a war crime.

So you see, my instinctive hermeneutic schema concerning the recent horrific events is that Allawi is an Iraqi version of a Tsolakoglou, the Iraqi troops in Fallujah are more or less the counterparts of the "security battalions" (the vile riff-raff that collaborated with the Nazis), attacks against collaborators are like attacks against the hooded thugs who exposed the resistance members - and the Iraqis that joined the resistance after accepting passively the previous local despot, are just like the thousands who didn't dare rise against the Metaxas dictatorship, but were willing to risk their lives against the foreign invaders...

No two imperial occupations are the same. But all share, to an extent, the same ruthlessness and vileness. This woman, mourning the death of some loved one, or indeed loved ones, became emblematic of the Distomo massacre in 1944, when her photo was published in Life magazine. Her gaze, I feel, extends across the decades from the ruins of Distomo to rest, uneasy, on the ruins of Fallujah.

1 comment:

talos said...

old comments

Dimitar Vesselinov:

Fallujah in Pictures http://fallujapic…The Global War of the 21st Century http://divedi.blo…