[Marxism] Admire Colin Powell - Hell No!!!

Jurriaan Bendien andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Tue Nov 16 01:06:24 MST 2004


I did not say I had a misconceived admiration for Colin Powell, I said that 
although I obviously take a different view, I respected him as a person and 
considered that he had had a spectacular life, that he worked very hard in 
international politics, with enormous responsibility. Overall, you can 
probably say that he had a "moderating influence" in the Bush I 
administration. Bush II looks set to be a more "monolithic" structure.

In his autobiography (which, since he is a politician as well as a military 
man, of course omits quite a few details, which he couldn't talk about, even 
although he is surprisingly frank in places) Powell considers basically that 
American intervention in Vietnam had been wrong, quite some admission for 
for a senior officer who was involved on the battlefield there. It was in 
fact the experience of Vietnam which helped inspire the original "Powell 
I am not best placed to make a substantive critique of Powell's politics, 
but I am sure there would be others who could do that.


Of course, you can decide not to give your political opponents any human 
credit whatsoever, deny that they have any good intentions, and regard them 
simply as "evil" human beings and so forth, but that makes any meaningful 
dialogue in the framework of democratic or civil discourse impossible, and 
renders understanding your political opponents impossible as well. In that 
case, the spectrum is just limited to goodies and baddies, angels and 
demons, gods and devils, where people are either all bad or all good, all 
right or all wrong. It's another thing to deeply understand political 
opponents, find that you have absolutely nothing in common with them, and 
decide on that basis not to have anything to do with them (or even to 
comment on them).

In military affairs, it not infrequently happens that soldiers on opposing 
sides of the battle can, even though the purpose of their armies is to 
slaughter each other, have respect or even friendship for people from the 
other side, and thus transcend the dehumanisation of war, in which it is 
necessary to kill without mercy. In fact, sometimes it has happened that 
soldiers from opposed sides in the battle fraternized with each other, 
something which is often considered dangerous by the leadership, because it 
may call into question the very reason of "what are we fighting for". Which 
is to say that there are these real contradictions in people's lives, and 
that in real life things are rarely all good and all bad, that things are 
not all black or all white, and so on, even although we need to know the 
difference between them. Diplomats have to deal with this kind of thing 
everyday, and it requires special skills.


Obviously, political activity requires a definite point of view, a political 
"line" which, once decided upon, is consistently carried out and defended 
for the duration of a policy, and you cannot compromise on that, by starting 
to give your opponents credit which empowers them. You want to test out and 
prove the correctness of the political line taken. But, for instance, no 
democratic form of organisation can function effectively unless the majority 
credits the minority with the possibility that the minority could be 
correct, and in principle could, on that basis, become the majority in the 
future; just as the minority has to have the discipline to follow the 
majority line, until the next discussion about whether the line was correct, 
or is still correct.

To be able to evaluate correctly whether it remains possible for the 
majority and the minority to work together, however, it is obviously not 
helpful to characterize those who differ from your own line as just a bunch 
of idiots, totally wrong, evil, worthless etc. You have to be able to see 
beyond current differences in some way, and place current disputes in a 
broader perspective, to be able to unite people in a common campaign. And 
ultimately of course, all human beings have positive intentions, the highest 
positive intention being the aspiration for immortality.


A world in which things are either good or bad, right or wrong, plus or 
minus, can provide comfort and security, but dialectical thought provides us 
with the insight that this comfort and security may have shaky foundations, 
since real life contains many contradictions which must be mediated all the 
time, and that therefore we have to retain a capacity for relativizing 
matters (cf. Zizek, who tries to do this in provocative ways to shake people 
out of complacency). There are boundaries and limits which must be sharply 
defined, but I think we have to bear in mind why we are doing it, and not 
absolutize boundaries and limits when it's clear no eternal truths are 
really applicable in the given case.


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