Sometimes in the heat of revolutionary change, unspeakable atrocities are committed. Individuals look back in horror at what was inflicted and are unable to comprehend how citizens could go into such a collective state of irrationality. This societal dilemma is called an issue of anomie, which is described as a state of normlessness; where there is a rejection of self-regulatory values and any distinction between right and wrong, for the moment, become obsolete.
David Émile Durkheim, one of the fathers of modern sociology, coined the term ‘anomie’ in 1897 in his book ‘Suicide’ and describes it as a “a rule that is a lack of a rule.” A society can become anomic for a variety of reasons, but it is always preceded by a dissatisfaction with the current set of affairs. In essence, the people’s will to change the old order overcomes their rational instincts and makes them primitive peoples; regressing them from their modern consciousness. It is this phenomenon that is perhaps an obstacle to major revolutionary change, if done too hastily; since people loose their moral senses, their ability to recognize an emerging despotism all the more diminishes. This can have devastating consequences to the society after the initial short-lived euphoria of change.
One prevalent detailed precursor to ‘collective anomie’ is distorted idealism. The German Romantic author, Jean Paul, called this relationship of the mind and earth Weltschmerz – the grim understanding that the demands of the mind cannot be met in the physical world and that one’s weaknesses are a direct result of his relationship with the cruelty of what he witnesses and experiences. There are seemingly two dark paths that can follow; either the individual enters a state of escapist mentality and seclusion or develops an anomic response that renders him incapable of self-regulating his values. The former is much less socially destructive, since it is individualistic, and is much more prevalent; it is known as Hikikimori in psychological studies and oftentimes is caused by post-industrialism and its implications. It is especially present in modern day Japan, given the origin of the word itself; affecting about 3.6 million.
The anomic response to Weltschmerz holds a much greater societal cost. Although individual anomie is dubbed “sociopathic,” collective anomie is much more radical; it is the destruction of norms and values – and seemingly, for that time being, the destruction of morality. This deregulation of morals is often seen in war and violent struggles. It was present in the Yugoslav Wars, where Serbian soldiers in newly declared states of Croatia and the Bosnia would massacre citizens of non-Serbian ethnicity – for little reason other than ethic cleansing. A complex dilemma arises when you examine their actions; where did their moral consciousness go, and how could these seemingly ‘civilized’ peoples engage in such irrational violence?
Oftentimes, when individuals are given authority they feel inclined to maximize their power; the Serbian military was in a position of dominance, and they felt they needed to fully exert their power, no matter the ethical implications, for their ‘nationalistic common good.’ They had no limits; they were in a state of anomie. And moreover, war usually causes irrationality in the soldiers themselves, affecting their decision-making and their state of mind. It drives soldiers to do inexplicable acts – some so heinous they’re difficult to comprehend. In Bosnia during the Yugoslav War, rape was used as ‘an instrument of terror’ by the Serbian-Bosnians. The victims were usually Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) of the region. It illustrated a total suspension of ethics and is difficult even to describe in words. Young Bosnian girls were sold and passed around in predominately Serbian infantry lines for rape, torture, and sometimes death – the majority of this happening the region of Foča in Bosnia & Herzegovina. There were specific camps designated for rape and torture, driven by religious and ethnic hatred. Young females were systematically brought to the camps, raped & tortured, and traded to other soldiers for money or just general ‘enjoyment.’ In the submitted “Seventh Report on War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia: Part II” the atrocities are described in grim detail:
“Day and night, soldiers came to the house taking two to three women at a time. They were four to five guards at all times, all local Foča Serbs. The woman knew the rapes would begin when ‘Mars na Drinu’ was played over the loudspeaker of the main mosque..”
“..While ‘Mars na Drinu’ was playing, the women were ordered to strip and soldiers entered the homes taking the ones they wanted. The age of women taken ranged from 12 to 60. Frequently the soldiers would seek out mother and daughter combinations. Many of the women were severely beaten during the rapes.”
The song ‘Mars na Drinu’ was a Serbian-Chetnik patriot song that was banned under Tito in socialist Yugoslavia. To illustrate the ethnic dimension even further, the report goes in more personal detail of the rapes:
“While the witness was being raped, her rapist told her, ‘You should have already left this town. We’ll make you have Serbian babies who will be Christians.’ Two soldiers raped her at that time; [And then] five soldiers raped the 18-year-old girl in full view of the witness.”
Now, the frightening question still remains; what caused these individuals to lose their sense of humanity? What desensitized them to the point of violence and rape? The collapse of their moral environment, their racially-idealist attempt to realize their nationalist goals, and the elimination of social values all contributed to their irrationality. They became submissive to ‘herd mentality’ that was formed on ‘rules that lack rules’ – there was no moral direction. It is this, I fear, that any form of disorganized violence could bring. This form of irrational collectivism is dangerous, and if any revolutionary change is brought it must be properly handled to prevent such a tragedy, in the true Aristotelian sense of the word, from happening.
You can read the this particular war crimes report in full here.
Also, an interview of Seada Vranic, the author of ‘Breaking the Wall of Silence,’ can be found here.
She is a renowned journalist who has covered the mass rape that occurred during the Bosnian War.
Today, while I was fidgeting around with the American flag, I kindly asked my youngest 6 year old brother to say the Pledge of Allegiance, not expecting much. He said it word for word and, despite irregular pauses between phrases, managed to recite it fully and was overly-content when he finished.
I then asked him what it meant, and I was sincerely surprised at his answer even though I should have known better; he didn’t have the slightest idea. He was just telling it as he was taught in school, without any any comprehension of what he was proudly repeating every morning in school.
Frankly, this is seemingly a product of – to borrow a word from the lexicon of Michael Parenti – Superpatriotism. He describes it in these words;
Superpatriots are those people who place national pride and American supremacy above every other public consideration, those who follow leaders uncritically, especially in their war policies abroad.
Parenti goes on to describe it ideologically in more detail;
The superpatriot’s America is a simplified ideological abstraction, an emotive symbol represented by other abstract symbols like the flag. It is the object of a faithlike devotion, unencumbered by honest history. For the superpatriot, those who do not share in this uncritical Americanism ought to go live in some other country.
Is the American school system raising a passive society of ‘Superpatriots?’ Although too young to understand ideological connotations and public policy or to form their own opinions, one of first lessons in elementary education is instilling vibrant nationalism, indulging them in ‘American Exceptionalism,’ and learning the Pledge of Allegiance. This, to me, is nationalistic madness because it is this type of ideology that drives self-destructive policies and cultivates, either intentionally or not, a breed of obedience that is dangerous to civic duties and functions.
This ‘you are either with or against us’ nationalist fervor is a true danger to a societal vigilance; if anything nationalism should be reasoned, discussed, and accepted voluntarily (if even that) at a certain coming of age, not imposed on the feeblest of minds.
Moreover, why are we replacing skepticism with blind love of the state? As Howard Zinn said: “Dissent is the greatest form of patriotism!”
In modern history courses, it is implied the age of colonialism ended after the decolonization of Africa in the years after WW2. After the mass exploitation of indigenous persons, the destruction of their cultures, and the genocide of their peoples – the Western powers are sorry for what they’ve done, and they’ve shown their gratitude by leaving them to their own. The “White Man’s Burden” is over; we’ve changed.
But what do we make of the humanitarian wars and the imposed economic globalization through international institutions? Is this something to embrace, or is it rather neocolonialism “with a human face?”
If there is one thing we can learn from the tragedy of 19th and 20th century colonialism is that the interests are seldom explicitly stated. It is illustrated as the noblest of causes; it was the duty of ‘civilized’ to help those less fortunate and rid them of their immoral cultures. It is this relationship between the colony and the colonizers that is seemingly most dangerous, and established cultural hegemony [a term borrowed from Anton Gramsci’s writings] on those under occupation, making them disillusioned of what the future held. In of itself, this creates an atmosphere of implied prejudice and dependence that severely dismantles the cultural balance and solidarity among the peoples of that area. On a tangible level it strips them of their natural resources, impoverishing them, and leaving them to wallow in their suffering.
On the topic of the noble portrayal of colonialism – each Empire had their own distinct form of doublespeak used for garnering support. For the French and Portuguese it was the “civilizing mission,” all in effort to tame the ‘backward people’ in order to forcibly assimilate them into the social mores of the respective empire. For the Americans, and the British also, it was predominately the “White Man’s Burden” based on a poem by Rudyard Kipling which portrayed the imperialism as a noble enterprise and seemingly divinely sanctioned. For other empires, their reasons were almost explicitly nationalistic with little ‘noble’ justification. The German and Italian Empires both wanted their “place in the sun,” especially Germany after Kaiser Wilhelm II’s rise to power and his doctrine of Weltpolitk. The Japanese empire was the only non-western imperialistic power and they based their doctrine on anti-western ideals and nationalism; the foreign policy of the Shōwa period was dominated by the concept of the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” which attempted to create a domineering Japanese presence in Eastern Asia. It’s underlying motive was similar to that of the American ideology of “Manifest Destiny” and many Japanese felt it was self-evident they would expand after the many wars Japan engaged in, particularly with China and Russia.
Not surprisingly so, much of the language used during the apex of what I call ‘classical modern colonialism’ is still prevalent today, albeit in a different more obscure context. The public reasons for militarization and dominance have changed and the functions of a physical empire have exhausted their use; however, the motivations for a commercial one are still very present in policy – and the reasoning may very well be very much the same; It is the public admission that we’re “civilizing” them, but not with culture this time [as least not directly], but rather with “democracy” and “liberal capitalism.” This was the justification for American-backed coups d’état of the 20th century, to eliminate any threat to American hegemony on the global stage, which was then communism. It was driven by fear and perhaps even more fundamentally ‘American Exceptionalism’ of which is staple of any imperialistic power. The reality of the Iraq War, the United States’ current occupation of Afghanistan, and the drone strikes all over the Middle East only enforces that this concept is still very fresh in the minds of American policymakers. It seems Americans have already forgot the tragedy of Vietnam, which they swore they would never allow to happen again. Noam Chomsky described the danger of this anomaly as such:
“Historical amnesia is a dangerous phenomenon, not only because it undermines moral & intellectual integrity, but also because it lays the groundwork for crimes that lie ahead..”
And in this respect, I cannot agree more. Historical amnesia and an ignorant public is always benefit to the policymakers – it is institutionalized ignorance and a product of exactly how the system was created to function in an effort to engineer a passive social order, and the assumed ‘benevolence’ of today’s major powers is only the tip of the iceberg sadly enough.
Aside from the United States, Western Europe is engaging in very similar neo-imperial activity to maintain at least some form of economic, political, or military control on the former colonies. France’s policy of Françafrique, which was once hailed to be a mutually beneficial relationship, is inherently exploitative. France’s supporting, and subtle funding, of resource-rich dictatorships such as that of the Democratic Republic of Congo [dictatorship until 1997] and Gabon [whose dictator died in 2009, but his son is now in power] are dissuading and rendering it near impossible for the native people there to establish their own system. This populist disconnect from policy and reality is a feature created by the former colonizers and was mostly promulgated during the Cold War, with the establishment of anti-Communist dictatorships, but is still very much a systemic staple of Western foreign policy today; all done in the name of safety, democracy, and ‘moral doctrines.‘
Although current French President Sarkozy has attempted to distance himself from Françafrique, it’s implications are still felt and still being pursued. France has been in more military operations in the past few years than it has been in the last 50; its intervention in its former colony Ivory Coast, its intervention in the Libyan Civil War (which it conducted before the emergency meeting of Western powers in Paris), its co-opting [with the U.S primarily] of the 2004 Haitian coup d’état of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, its troop deployment into the former French colony of Chad, and its military involvement in the Afghanistan War. All of these, claimed to be purely humanitarian wars, have much of the criteria of a neo-colonial mentality – and aims at establishing French (or Western) dominance in these regions of the world.
And perhaps equally commercially imperialistic is the World Bank and the WTO, where the World Bank gives loans to autocratic regimes in the Third World, only to see that money go to waste and then asking the WTO to demand repayments; which always comes in the form of severe cuts for programs necessary for those not in power. It is this dynamic that is exploitative and ultimately prevents these nations from ever reaching real global status, among other things.
Seemingly so, ignorance always benefits the state – and that certainly holds true in this case. The disillusionment of the public on foreign policy is rather frightening, and the imperial trends will continue to be cyclic and unbroken until it is realized. I take an anti-imperialist stance from an ethical, philosophical, and morally-pragmatic perspective; because the self-determination of peoples in realizing their own destinies cannot be undermined, no matter how elusively humble the cause or how great the safety that is promised thereafter.