A quick note on Syria

I just got back from vacation, and am catching up on the Syria news. A piece that has particularly resonated with me is Rep. Grijalva’s, on CNN:

http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2013/08/29/prevention-better-than-punitive-in-syria/

I especially like Rep. Grijalva’s wording that the whole framing of US interventions as precise, limited and strategic is fundamentally flawed. War, in my opinion, is not precise, limited, or strategic, no matter how much the military wants you to believe it. War is messy, and if a nation decides to get into it, it should do so with the understanding that it will be a mess and horrible.

An analogy occurs from aikido. When I see my sensei perform a move, it makes sense to me in my brain. The interaction is, in three words, precise, limited and strategic – the precise use of your opponent’s energy to disable him or her in a strategic way (e.g. getting the gun or knife out of their hands, getting them on the ground) in the most limited way possible (without injury or death). When I get on the mat and try it with my partner, the interaction is messy and confusing. Sure, a lot of that has to do with the difference in our skill levels, I have much to learn in aikido; however, I think that skill disparity doesn’t explain the experiential difference between understanding the move, and doing it. Understanding the move happens in my brain – this center-motion, this footwork, this arm-motion. But doing the move happens in the rest of my body as well as the brain, and it’s in the interaction of two bodies, small, large, wiry, curvy, confused, experienced, where the technique truly happens. The transition from brain-understanding to whole-body-understanding involves confusion, awkwardness, and not infrequently pain.

So it is with war. Planning out strikes and military actions happens in the theater of ideas, clean, precise. Actual engagement of two nations in mass murder happens in the messy, loud, chaotic space of bodies (metal and organic) clashing with bodies. The transition from the strategic space to actual combat involves confusion, hatred, pain, and death.

The messiness of warfare is by no means a new idea, and yet American foreign policy in the last few years seems to have ignored it. I hope that our leaders, present and future, will have the courage to be honest about the military conflicts they plan to engage in, rather than pretending these conflicts are intellectual exercises, with consequences left to the readers – us – to puzzle out.

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