By Kathleen Barry
Since President Obama announced on August 31, 2013 that he has “decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets. This would not be an open-ended intervention,” he is taking the high road, talking about human dignity and how the international community would be a failure if it did not respond to the chemical gas attack in Syria. He speaks as if the U.S. would never violate the Geneva Protocol of 1929 that bans the use of chemical weapon. After all, the U.S. signed on to that treaty. And then used chemical weapons over and over again. Babies are being born today in Vietnam from US napalm aimed at earlier generations in 1968 onward.
I lay the failure to stop wars directly on our failure to confront the masculinity of war.
Here is how it works:
First, Obama promises a ‘limited intervention.’ That would be a first – not only for the U. S. but anywhere the masculinity of war is engaged which is everywhere there is war. Obama is using the term “intervention” to try to get around the fact that he is prohibited in US law from declaring war as President. Worse, “limited” is beguiling, employed by Obama to convince us that it is possible to limit an attack when it is not.
Here is why: Vengeance. Men socialized and then trained into the masculinity of war are required by the very meaning of manhood itself to fight back if they are attacked, whether the attack is against their state, their community, their home, their wife, their children. In Unmaking War, Remaking Men (2011) I call this core masculinity that precedes all the differences among men. Their manhood is confirmed in their return fire. They know that if they do not fight back they will be seen as less than a man in their own eyes and those of everyone around them. Their return fire does little or nothing to protect their families or their state just as the initial attack does nothing to stop the use of chemical weapons.
Here is how it works: As I detail in my book, Strike #1 – the U.S. launches the attack saying it is limited, or surgical. Strike #2 – having been attacked, Syrian men fight back rather than face the humiliation of been impotent when under attack, Strike #3, The U.S. calls them as terrorists or insurgents because they aimed weapons at U.S. targets, Strike #4, the U.S. strikes back unleashing all of its might and power in a war on terrorism that promises to ignite the entire Middle East. Strike #5 Congress and Americans in general support the new war because they think its against terrorists, and after all, who isn’t against terrorists. That was how we got a decade of war against Iraq with a death toll that is well over one million. The U.S. and every military knows this progression into war. It is called revenge and it is driven deep into the heart of masculinity of war. How could Obama not know that ‘limited intervention’ (Strike #1) is really provocation for all out war, but provocation must first be covered up by claiming “terrorism” Strike #2, #3 and reinvoking the US war on terrorism, a script for unending war.
‘Limited intervention’ likely will be the first sparks of a full blown Middle East war Strike #4, #5 – if the US attacks, Syria has threatened to attack heavily armed Israel, the major US ally. Israel has been preparing its response and is urging Obama to go to initiate this war. Iran, which has a long border with Syria, is under treaty obligations to stand with Syria if it is attacked. The U.S. and Israel see this imminent U.S. attack on Syria as a gateway to the war they’ve been trying to launch against Iran. War on Syria then becomes a proxy war that they intend to extend into Iran.
Do you remember the investigation led by Hans Blix on weapons of mass destruction and Bush’s rush to war against all of Blix’s reports to the U.N. that his team found no evidence of WMDs in Iraq? Now Obama is rushing the U.S. into a ‘limited intervention’ even before the investigating team sent to Syria by the Secretary General of the United Nations has reported back.
Syria – who is using the chemical weapons? Possibly President Assad authorized it the but the evidence shows that the rebels either 1) staged this precisely to drag the U.S. into their war because Obama has said all along that the or 2) as has been conjectured were stockpiling the gas and it was accidentally set off.
Obama invokes our sympathy “the world can plainly see — hospitals overflowing with victims; terrible images of the dead.” And that is indeed horrific. But Syrians, mostly women and children, are on the run from a U.S. attack. What do these Syrians know that American’s are not seeing? That you are as dead in dying from chemical weapons as you are dead from a U.S. bullet, bomb or mortar. That fact should be a simple concept to grasp, but not living in a war zone, it can be easy for Americans to no know. And there is no safety anywhere these refugees go. One woman I saw escaping wrapped in black with an infant and toddler in her arms and another trailing behind her, headed for a refugee camp, where without a husband, she may be protected from US bombs and shelling but will be highly vulnerable to the rapists roaming the camps.
Americans know something that the President does not want to know and does not want Congress to hear: that only 29% of Americans are in favor of his “limited intervention” and 48% are against it as of September 4, 2013, according to a U.S. poll. The next day news reports show that the offices of Congress members are flooded with calls for a “no” vote. That is why Obama is trying to beat us out of being heard by members of Congress as he rallies their support in meetings in the Oval Office, as he presses various leaders to reign in their pack. He is trying to usurp the possibility of Senators and Representatives listening to us. Don’t let him get away with it. We have precious little time.
Kathleen Barry, Ph.D. Professor Emerita of Penn State University is a feminist activist and sociologist who is the author of Unmaking War, Remaking Men (2011) which exposes the masculinity of war and of violence against women. With other works, she is also the author of Female Sexual Slavery, and after 30 years of work on prostitution and trafficking in women The Prostitution of Sexuality: Global Exploitation of Women.