Posted by: Dan | August 31, 2011

Sensitive Soldiers and Good Cops

I recently watched the following fourteen minute film, which was taken from deleted scenes from the longer and (from what I’ve heard) excellent documentary, entitled “Occupation Has No Future.”  Here’s the video, and I suggest you watch it:

 

I was struck by the point made by former members of the IDF, regarding the ways in which sensitive and humanitarian people become incorporated into participating in the actions of a brutal and oppressive occupying force.  Thus, one fellow found himself thinking, “It’s better that I go, with my disapproval of the occupation and my humanitarian impulses, than somebody else go who is filled with hate and eager to have a gun in his hands.”  However, this fellow also goes through a further awakening: “Even if I’m giving out flowers to women at checkpoints, I’m still standing somewhere, with a gun, ready to kill people, in a place where I absolutely do not belong” (NB: these quotes are my paraphrases).

However, as a friend of mine pointed out, it is interesting to extend this way of thinking from the context of the military occupation of Palestine, to our own context.  Instead of thinking about soldiers, it is interesting to carry this trajectory of thought into our reflections upon the (increasingly militarized) police forces that operate in our own cities.  In many ways, the police are an occupying force who serve, not justice, but the interests of those who have the power to make laws.  Furthermore, just as much of the post-military service discourse in occupied Palestine focuses upon the good moral character and sensitivities of the IDF soldiers, so also much of the reflection upon police forces focuses upon the good moral character and sensitive humanitarian nature of some police officers.

I don’t mean to deny any of that (I personally know some very kind and moral people who went on to become cops), but that focus misses the broader point.  The police enforce oppressive social policies.  They (sometimes legally, sometimes illegally) act violently towards those who are marginalized within society and towards many of those who try to act in such a way as to bring about more just social arrangements.  So, sure, you can be sensitive and be a member of the IDF and, yeah, you can also be kind and be a member of the police.  The catch is that, at the end of the day, you are still a part of an occupying force that prioritizes the desires of the elite over the needs of the people.

This is part of the reason why it is fully appropriate to say “fuck the police” (without also meaning, “fuck you, Officer X”).

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Responses

  1. Hey Dan, your “fuck the police” post has lodged itself in my brain for a year and a half now. It hit home because its “systemic evil” view of policing made sense of a lot of things I’ve seen and heard in the DTES.

    But since you bring it up again, I’ll ask a question that’s been bugging me ever since… It’s a bigger issue with “anti-” systemic, anarchist positions… I’m wondering what the alternative is? Is it possible to live in this fallen world without some kind of police system? And is it likely or possible to have a police system that doesn’t end up serving the most powerful people? I’m not saying we should stick with something that’s profoundly flawed just because it’s the only thing we can think of, but I’m saying I need some hope-filled imagination, because I’m coming up empty. And I feel like it starts to become lazy and luxurious to simply always be “against” something when we’re not busy imagining a better way.

    And maybe the larger question is, can we really free ourselves from participation in all of these death-dealing systems? Should we refuse to vote, refuse bank accounts, and not participate in churches and denominations because they are corrupt systems? Or, like Anne Lamott says, is there room for living redemptively within the system, for “poking at the belly of the beast from within”? I agree that being a relatively nice soldier is not a good enough reason to participate in war, which is the most death-dealing system of them all. But what about policing, banking, politics, church, and other systems? Are they just as far gone?

    I believe we have to rail against the darkness, wherever we see it, but at some point, we realize that the darkness is inside us, too. How can we get away from ourselves? How can we avoid messing up every better system we come up with, simply because we all have pride and evil in us? I’m ending on a depressing note. Give me some hope, Dan. :)

  2. Beth. I don´t want to answer instead of Dan, of course, but I will give a few of my own thought on the subject.

    As to the police, there have been, and there still are, many societies without a police force that “works” and are more egalitarian than our nation-states. The police has not always been here, but has developed historically over time. During the largest part of the human species, we didn´t have things like police, military, war (large-scale organized violence), slavery and a divide between rich and poor. There are still a bunch of indigenous people that don´t need the police to function as a group/society, and there are and have been many other groups (like the anabaptists) that has functioned to a great degree as a society, without armed forces.

    As to the question about separation or reformation, and the evil inside us etc, I agree with your questions. But I do think we need to move away from, and confront, the ways of the system as much as possible and at the same time try to walk alternative ways. I do think that all of us has it within our grasp to do more, although we tend to be bound by fear. Personally, I have been living without a bank account and a wage labour for a few years now, and it has not ruined my life or the life of people close to me.

    Just my thoughts, of course.

  3. HI Beth, we met and had lunch together at Wiconi camp one day, and thanks for posting this video DanO. I sent it off to our Israeli son I was trying to hook you up with in Vancouver last winter. He is partying in the fleshpots of Montenegro right now but he should be home late fall (will you still be in Vancouver? maybe we will pop up to BC?). He was doing in Gaza and the northern border exactly what those vets in the video were doing. We left Israel together in fall 2006 right after he was discharged after the war with Lebanon ended and none of us has been back since. Israel is a terrifyingly beautiful place, and there is so much sorrow there. Other than a spanking new Jerusalem falling right out of the sky I do not see how God’s peace will ever reign there. (Of course, now that Glenn Beck is bringing his wisdom to the holy land maybe there is hope? Here’s a link to Beck’s rally in Jerusalem: http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/cutline/glenn-beck-boasts-courage-israel-rally-ahead-upcoming-212057148.html). I might add that the video doesn’t address the settler militias which are often more brutal and have less controls on them than the IDF. Everyone in Israel, Palestinians and Jews, has a story to tell and can articulate with rationality and great passion their own position; why their suffering is the most important, why they feel persecuted and afraid, why their rights are being infringed upon, and why they are entitled by (G-d/Allah, tenure, U.N. res. 242, common sense, holy writ, Islamic and/or Jewish prophecies, a superior culture, historical imperative, the bones of their grandparents, etc.) to this or that patch of land. Then you throw a pathological American Christianity into the mix and you have one politico-theologo cluster fu%#k on your hands! I have no answers, of course. Perhaps we should have thrown our lot in with Barabbas and his “fuck the Romans” strategy of liberation after all? I reckon even Jesus may have had some second thought about that whole ‘cheek turning, love your enemies’ campaign while dragging that cross up the Via Dolorosa. BTW, you can rent ‘life-size’ crosses in the old city if you are a crucifixion re-enactor, and now they have little wheels on the bottom! They are not all that expensive and some folks even time share them, each one carrying it as far as one of the 14 stations, makes sense if you think about it. They have these little trucks that then haul the crosses back down to the starting place at the Lion’s or Saint Stephen’s gate–where Stephen was martyred, he was the first martyr you know! No one ever wants to carry crosses backwards from Golgotha to the Lion’s gate. Of course ‘Christian tourism’ has been big business in Israel since the time of Constantine’s mother Helena, and shops along the Via Dolorosa pay a premium rent. I used to have lunch and coffee everyday at a Palestinian owned cafe close to the Damascus gate right across from station III at the Catholic-Armenian church in the Muslim qtr. (where Jesus stumbles for the first time). Seif the owner would try and teach me Arabic and we would sit and watch the endless parade of monks and nuns, the sweaty, plump, white, mid-western evangelicals, the E. Orthodox and their big, black, hats, and the weeping groups of Latin Catholics trudge by. I never saw any Americans carrying crosses though, but lots of Filipinos, Mexicans, Italians and Eastern Europeans. There is always a squad of armed IDF posted right at that corner too, because a violent riot started there back in the mid-eighties. It’s also the exact spot where Haredi and other ‘Ultra-Orthodox‘ Jews, many with big pistols tucked into their waistbands coming into Jerusalem to pray at the ‘Wailing Wall’ merge with all the traffic heading up the Via to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and all the exhausted Christians heading back to their air-conditioned hotels, and Palestinians, who do most of the dirty work, making their long trek ‘home,’ and all those tiny trucks hauling crosses and garbage and what not back out of the old city–no wonder Jesus stumbled there first! It’s such a dangerous confluence of irrational passions, religious ecstasies, repressed sexuality, big money, the smell of piss and the G-d whose name we dare not speak, and the little-buddy of a god some just can’t shut up about, and the GOD of the loudspeaker yelling down at us from his minarets; well, you can imagine the potential dangers. But on the bright and ecumenical side, the Via Dolorosa (the way of suffering) is the only street in Jerusalem that has one name shared by all the faiths! (true, having one name is in everybody’s financial interest and smoothes the flow of commerce, but why be cynical!?) Obliged and G(g)-d bless you brother.

  4. Damn, i just looked at my post and realized the length of it, sorry DanO, sometimes I just get writing and don’t know when I should stop! obliged.

  5. Dan, good to see you here – weird to cross paths in such different places!

    And Jonas, thanks for your comments on my questions. You bring up some good examples. It’s true that indigenous groups and Mennonite groups and other groups through history have found ways of keeping peace without an organized force, though in the case of indigenous groups, there was definitely still warfare between tribes. I think this is easier to do in small groups that share a similar way of life, and commitment to a common set of values.

    I’m wondering if you can think of any alternative “ways” that apply to our increasingly diverse, primarily urban populations today. It seems harder to conceive of an alternative system in a large city like Vancouver, especially when my neighbours are from very different places and may have fundamental disagreement with me about what is just and right and true.

    I appreciate your call to push ourselves to abandon systems and find better ways.

    I’m going to be out of town and away from internet for the next week or so, but I hope the conversation continues!

  6. Just a short note to say that this is a fascinating post! I’ve often thought about the ways in which all of us find a way to be moral in our own eyes and have gotten annoyed at bourgeois morality more than once.

    So I’d say your observations go well beyond the cops. I know a guy who works for a major oil company, quite possibly in the Niger delta, and he’s a “good” guy. He does not look in the mirror telling himself that he is part of one of the most death dealing system on the planet.

    But then neither do we, who consume that very oil, or worse the cursed plant-based fuel that is expropriating millions in the third world by literally locking them out of their arable fields (In Cambodia, it is the oil tycoons from the Middle East who are buying the fields and doing bio-fuel).

    So it would be great to list and expose these moralities after the fashion of J. K. Galbraith in this post:
    http://donotfreeze.blogspot.com/2008/07/tempted-design-whole-course-around-this.html

    • Same thing applies to professional social service agencies. Another occupying force.

  7. Beth. I would be interested in what evidence you know about pointing to warfare prior to domestication/civilization? I know there are evidence for war between some indigenous tribes, although these as far as I have heard have been connected either with the attack/influence from civilized societies or with a life based on agri-culture. I haven´t heard about evidence for war in nomadic groups prior to civilisation/agri-culture/cities. But I am open to change my mind.

    As to the small group thing I agree. For me the conclusion is that we need to move away from mass-society and cities.

    How to move from here to something truly radically different is the million dollar question, of course. Building radical communities, attacking the system, spreading the word, trying to be more self-sufficient and less dependent of technology and the system, practising solidarity with the poor and oppressed an so forth could be important steps or pointers in the right direction, I think.

    • Watched a doc I think you would like, Jonas. It’s called End:Civ and it’s kinda based on Derrick Jensen’s two volumes, End Game.

      Here’s a link:

      http://endciv.com/

      • Dan. I´ve seen it. I agree with the main part of the critique of civilization in the film, but I don´t trust Jensen at all. He is increasingly promoting a militant (above-and) underground hierachical organisation called Deep Green Resistance, that he and some of his friends are trying to start. Jensen also takes a very aggressive approach to critics and questioning, and the DGS-folks have been calling on both the feds and the police when they have been threatened. Also I think Jensen dismisses pacifism without really trying to understand the non-violent approach. I think the perspective of John Zerzan and other anarcho-primitivists is more useful, although I don´t follow Zerzan all the way either. But I do agree that we need to get past civ in some way sooner or later.

  8. This is really thought-provoking. I’ll probably wrestle with it for the rest of the day.

    Thanks.


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