A fighting opponent

“A fighting opponent” (8 letters).

I was working on a crossword yesterday before settling down to plan a post as part of Bloggers for peace, and this clue was giving me some trouble. Then I got it (it was the last one to do, that’s how slow I was!). I’m sure cryptic crossword fans will be sighing heavily at how obtuse I am, and those of you not cryptically inclined will be looking blankly at the page and wondering what is EBL on today?

The answer to the clue, in case you want to know, was “pacifist”, ie an opponent of fighting.  Geddit? I know, cryptic crosswords are a bit, er, cryptic…

So that was an interesting piece of synchronicity, or coincidence, and got me nowhere in terms of a blog post. Not unless I wanted to do something on favourite cryptic crossword clues. Such as “What a dog does round trees” (4 letters), or “Bridge is a card game” (7 letters).

So I settled down to watch the wondrous Borgen, as planned, and tried to let go of bloggery.

Wouldn’t you know it though? Not only did those delightful Danes live up to my wildly inflated expectations, and pull off not one, but two, absolutely cracking episodes; not only that, but also the first episode was about the war in Afghanistan.

EBL wears a serious face…

The show encapsulated a dilemma that I face as a pacifist. Once a violent set of actions have commenced, the next conundrum is whether to support further actions to try to reduce and minimise future harm, or whether to withdraw in order to resist collusion with opposing principles and actions. In the Borgen episode, the broadly left-leaning prime minister, who was trying to remove Danish troops from Helmand, had to deal with the fallout of a fresh attack by the Taliban which resulted in the loss of a number of Danish troops.

I am aware at this point that I am about to introduce spoilers for anyone who is planning to watch this episode, but has not yet done so. So if that is you, go watch it first!

In summary, due to public and media responses to the loss of life, she was unable to keep to the plan for a phased and managed troop withdrawal. She had either to withdraw immediately, allow the Taliban to claim a moral and actual victory and face the consequences (difficult but do-able for her), or she could respond by increasing the amount of equipment, resource and troop levels in Helmand (not what she wanted to do at all but an obvious choice for a number of others).

She was put under pressure by Afghani activists who begged her to support their country in promoting democracy. She faced down political opponents who wanted to pursue a more military (and macho) goal. She dealt with her own supporters who wanted to stick to the original plan (political suicide). Then she was faced by the father of one of the dead soldiers, who was himself opposed to the war, but who shared his son’s farewell letter with her. In it his son tried to explain to his anti-war father why he had joined up and served in Afghanistan.

It was a complex, emotional and brilliantly written story. The acting, as always, was superb. God, I love Borgen, even though political dramas generally are absolutely not my thing.

Maybe I won’t tell you what she did in the end. Did she change her approach, or did she stick to her principles and take the consequences? Just watch it already!

Actually what she chose is not important because (a) Borgen is fiction, and (b) the dilemma is always there, regardless of a specific choice at a specific time. What the show did was allow the audience to work out their own solution and agree or not with the way chosen by the character.

This dilemma is familiar to peace activists. It can split groups apart who should be working together. It causes loss of peace in itself, just by existing.

The Friends Ambulance Unit was initially set up in the First World War to provide conscientious objectors with a role in the conflict that did not violate their opposition to fighting, but allowed them to support and help those wounded in it. Again, this was not unilaterally supported by all Friends. Some preferred to go to prison rather than support the war effort in any way. It also operated in the Second World War.

Once we are committed to acts of aggression, it seems inevitable that there are innocent bystanders. In the 1980s I could not bring myself to support the immediate withdrawal of troops from Northern Ireland because I felt the vacuum that would have left would have caused greater harm and violence. It was a difficult decision. I opposed the troops being there in the first place, but given that they were, I felt I had to take that into account.

My dears, EBL is a pragmatist, first and foremost. I manage projects, which means most of my time is spent finding ways around things which don’t go to plan. Life is messy and doesn’t read my critical path, unbelievable though that is. I wash it all up at the end in an evaluation to try and avoid making the same mistakes, but in the heat of project delivery (and it can get heated, and much of that heat may well be generated by yours truly if someone defaults on their commitment, I can tell you! You don’t want to make me angry.) I ignore the why, and focus on the “if … then…” option of sorting it out.

It does not sit easy. Sometimes I feel I have sold my soul, and not just on projects.

I said “No” to sending troops to Afghanistan. They went. I won’t celebrate it, and even though there are examples of good being done, I am not sure I can condone it. While I am not comfortable with asserting that my ethical squeamishness is more important than, say, Malala Yousafzai’s right to an education, nevertheless, in my bones I feel that there is still some moral weight to my viewpoint. If we accept, as I think we must, Malala’s right to an education (and if you don’t, then that is another matter to be discussed elsewhere), then using this agreement as a basis for violent intervention and conflict does not necessarily follow. Trying to link the secondary actions as a necessary outcome of the first (Girls should have education; girls’ education can only be achieved by killing the Taliban; therefore we must kill the Taliban) is both flawed and lazy. There are other ways to ensure the education of girls. Nor am I trying to imply this was the given reason for the war, of course! The given reason was just as muddled.

If we fail to stand firm on this, we contribute to a single-minded, unthinking and inherently dangerous world view that whoever has the biggest gun gets to decide whether girls go to school, or whatever the issue is that is being fought over. There needs to be constant challenge and discussion and reflection on all important ethical issues to ensure that we do not simply fall back lazily on what seems the easiest answer.

And if we should have learned anything by now, it is this: the long-term effects of such “obvious” solutions demonstrate that violent interventions merely result in generations of future conflict even if for a while some girls get to go to school. This is true of the rest of the world as much as Afghanistan. The UK is still trying to deal with the impact of its colonial past. Other examples abound; feel free to <insert your example here>.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it..

My dears, I appreciate your time in reading this rambling and poorly constructed brain dump. I am not agile of word or fleet of keyboard when ruminating seriously. I beg your indulgence.

Other bloggers for peace who are more able and beautiful than I include:

And really, go and watch Borgen!

The light in me salutes the light in you. Namaste.

P.S. “What a dog does round trees” (4 letters). Bark.

P.P.S. “Bridge is a card game” (7 letters). Pontoon.

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8 thoughts on “A fighting opponent

  1. You are right. Real life is messy and sometimes acts of peace lead to war… We do the best we can individually and trust that the rest… is the rest. TY for the pingback! 🙂
    Happy New Year!
    Eliz

    • Hi there and thanks for your comments. I always feel life is too complicated to say a single rule will always be the right one! Happy New Year!

    • Crosswords are basically where old puns go to die 🙂
      Let me know if you manage to get to Borgen, and what you think!

  2. Good post EBL. So many battles to be fought, however inappropriate that might sound. I got your first cryptic clue wrong, as you’ll have anticipated. Finally, I give up – where is the image you use as your blog header? Thanks.

    • Thanks – I get crossword clues wrong all the time so I am really pleased (and smug) when I finally get one right!
      The photo is Byland Abbey in North Yorkshire; another place that “Cromwell knocked about a not” as mother used to say

  3. Loved how you held the crossword answers until the end of the post. Love the analysis of contemporary issues, especially education of girls in Afghanistan.
    Never heard of Borgen, but will put it on the watchlist.

    • Borgen is Danish so it may depend how your Danish is, or how you get on with sub-titles…
      Glad you enjoyed it – I am less easy writing anything too serious 🙂

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