Beating Nationalism: How Many Georgian Wars is Enough?

Somewhere down in their guts, and despite the bravado of Barack Obama’s campaign rhetoric, the people who yearn for “change” in America are asking for leadership that will not turn its back on the wisdom of peace makers like Saul Alinsky. But last week’s killings in South Ossetia seemed to grin back at the young movement with the face of Randoph Bourne saying I told you so. “War is the health of the state.”

Out of the recent Caucasian (sic) war, a clear winner rises. Whether you look to Russia, Georgia, Poland, or the USA, the victor stands waving flags. His name is nationalism. And in the face of this victory, what are the chances that the people of the USA will be able to choose internationalism instead?

George Bush betrays USA commitments to internationalism, but he could not act alone. What he goes for is nationalism in alliance. What he calls coalition should be more properly termed a cartel, because a coalition is something you put together to fight a cartel, if you want language that respects liberation.

The Georgian (was the pun intended?) assault on South Ossetia was a repudiation of internationalism, and in that sense, it worked perfectly well. Prior to the Georgian glare of rockets, there was an international arrangement in place for the peace of South Ossetia. It was a weak arrangement, as we see. And it was dominated by Russian influence. Nevertheless, the peace of South Ossetia was formally monitored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). And compared to this week, we can see that it was working in important ways.

The war over South Ossetia makes official what George Bush has been telling us all along. The cold war cannot be over, so long as there is an unstoppable nationalism on the loose. The cleverness of last week’s gun show was how it (once again) transferred the reality of that nationalism over to one side. My god! Look at what the Russians are doing!

What Russia’s doing is criminal. It counts as collective punishment of the Georgian people. But the problem is finding any principle of wrongdoing that George Bush has not already shredded. What Georgia did on Aug. 7 was criminal also, in violation of tautly stretched peace agreements. And when Georgian troops were retrieved from Iraq, who could not be reminded of the criminal-in-chief?

In place of this never-ending spiral of gang violence, I think there is a real and present yearning for a global neighborhood that thugs don’t shove around. Which brings us back to the roots of the Alinsky dream and the half-conscious attempt by the Obama movement to globalize it.

As Socrates once said to sweet Phaedrus, before you can persuade a person to do anything good for himself, you have to figure out how to speak to his particular kind of soul. In the language of the political battlefield last week, we learned something we might have thought we could ignore about the soul of America until November, 2008. Something, dare we say it, that Jeremiah Wright was on to.

The textbook answer to cycle of national belligerence, of course, is to get back in the business of international power and peace. A textbook answer won’t work, you say? In fact, the American voters have for the past several elections desired something other than a Bush-whacking nation. Getting who you vote for is difficult enough these days. But then getting why you voted for them? That’s the ultimate challenge that the movement for “change” faces in the world today.

Greg Moses is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and a member of the Texas Civil Rights Collective.. Read other articles by Greg, or visit Greg's website.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Michael Kenny said on August 22nd, 2008 at 7:12am #

    The fundamental thrust of this is right. There was a peaceful arrangement in place for 17 years and if Saakashvili wanted to chage it, and it is perfectly legitimate that he might want to, then he should have raised the question bilaterally with the Russians or at European or international level.

    Just a little point on terminology. Nationalism is not the opposite of internationalism, any more than an activist is the opposite of a pacifist.
    In Europe generally, nationalism is very strong. The whole structure of the EU is postulated on it, although not the structure of NATO, which is postulated on American hegemony. Nobody sees anything wrong with nationalism as such. What they object to is the instrumentalisation of nationalism for purposes other than ethnic identity or cultural pride. That’s lesson of the 20th century wars and the 100 million or so dead. That was the mistake Saakashvili made, probably because he had surronded himself with Israeli crazies who didn’t understand Europe. That was why the rest of Europe ditched him. That was why the Russians were so sure of themselves. They knew that he was out of step, not them.

    On the subject of Israeli crazies, guess where General Gal Hirsch, the guy who screwed up in Lebanon, was packed off to (out of harm’s way, one supposes!).

  2. Greg Moses said on August 22nd, 2008 at 7:27am #

    Good morning, Michael. Thanks again for such a careful reading.

    I take your point about nationalism. As I was switching channels between Fox and MSNBC last week, I was seeing two kinds of nationalism. One kind of nationalism could wave its flag in the midst of an international competition. Another kind of nationalism advanced the flag by force of arms. So there is a kind of nationalism that excludes internationalism, and a kind that doesn’t.

    The nationalism I’m talking about above is the kind that rolls over internationalism. But there is another way.

    Thanks again.

  3. bozhidar balkas said on August 22nd, 2008 at 8:56am #

    i am also against collective punishment of a people for the actual or alleged individual crimes.
    in a lawful world, russia did not have to invade georgia. it cld have demanded ICC bring saakash to court.
    that wld wood have been best optionfor all of us.
    however, the ‘law’ that is in effect is EU/US ‘law’ or lawlessness.
    still, i wish russians have done the legal thing while avoiding any punishment of soldiers/civilians.
    i say this even tho i do not know if and how many civs/soldiers have been slain/maimed by russian soldiers.
    perhaps georgia can demand trial for medvedev/putin? thank u

  4. Donald Hawkins said on August 22nd, 2008 at 9:56am #

    Corruption ‘threatens China rainforest’

    Farmers in the tropical region of Xishuangbanna in China’s south-west Yunnan province recently staged a protest, accusing local officials of colluding with the rubber industry to destroy the local rainforest.
    The BBC’s Jill McGivering investigated their allegations, which the government denies.
    The environmental activist was extremely nervous when he met us, dashing from place to place to find somewhere private enough to talk.
    The income from rubber has brought badly needed development
    He had reason to worry. He wanted to speak out in support of a group of farmers in a remote part of the tropical region of Xishuangbanna who have made some controversial claims.
    Last month the farmers held a protest, complaining that local officials were turning a blind eye to a law that the rainforest must be protected. The farmers alleged that some local officials were colluding with rubber companies, allowing them to flout the rules and cut down the forest to plant rubber trees. Several farmers were arrested.
    The activist told me that the farmers were fighting to preserve their traditional way of life.
    “Where the forest is destroyed,” he told me, “it causes drought. The farmers have to go a long way to get water. And without water, they can’t live.”
    When I travelled to the area and tried to meet one of the protesters, the authorities intervened. Police officers followed, questioned and searched me and later detained my driver.
    That surveillance – which lasted three days – made it hard for me to investigate the farmers’ main allegation against local officials.
    There is no doubt though that the rainforest is under threat.
    Chinese scientists who have studied the rainforest say it has declined dramatically. Several decades ago it covered about 70% of Xishuangbanna. That has fallen to about 43% today. BBC

    That’s China and here in the States:

    Activists decry Denver’s ‘secret’ detention facility
    By Tillie Fong
    Saturday, August 16, 2008
    Activists who plan to demonstrate during the Democratic National Convention were outraged to learn that Denver was creating what they called a “secret” facility to hold protesters.
    “We’re offended that this is where they hope to keep the protesters,” said Glenn Spagnuolo, an organizer with the Re-create 68 Alliance.
    Spagnuolo was among nearly a dozen activists who gathered Friday in front of a brick warehouse on Steele Street to speak out against the temporary detention facility to house demonstrators if mass arrests are made during the DNC.
    Members of Unconventional Denver, who had bandanas covering their faces, held up banners including one that read: “Gitmo on the Platte” – a reference to the American detention camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba used to hold suspected terrorists.
    At one point during the news conference, three patrol cars – one belonging to the Denver sheriff’s department and two to Denver police – drove up.
    When demonstrators tried to approach two of the vehicles to ask officers for their business cards, they drove away but parked nearby.
    The door of the warehouse had a sign posted that read: “Ring bell for assistance. You will display proper identification at all times.” Two “No Parking” signs also were duct-taped to the railing in front of the warehouse.
    When a few activists tried to peek into the door windows, a couple of Denver sheriff deputies came out and told them to get off the dock.
    When a reporter and photographer from the Rocky approached the door after the activists had left, two Denver sheriff deputies came out but said the journalists could not enter the building.
    Officer Marie Kielar said that the facility will be open for tours between 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Wednesday. As for the patrol cars, Kielar said they were there to prevent vandalism.
    © Rocky Mountain News

    Last night on the news someone said this is where they are going to keep trouble makers. Oh my. Now these activists in China are they trouble makers yes if you are a person who cuts down rainforests to make that big money and in Denver for activists to get there voice heard are they trouble makers yes if you are the people in charge of this thing and out of sight out of mind. Anyway what happens where you cut down rainforests, Worldwide and what happens when you put people in a secret detention facility, {that sounds strange}, who want to say stop the war, stop the warming and stuck on stupid is not the answer. Not much. Trouble makers think 5000 dollar suits and talking points, I know shocking.

  5. Donald Hawkins said on August 22nd, 2008 at 10:08am #

    “We might see an ice-free Arctic Ocean by the year 2030 – within some of our lifetimes,” said Mark Serreze, a geographer at the snow and ice data centre.
    “There are some scientists out there who think that even might be optimistic.”
    The loss of the sea ice in summer would be unprecedented in human history, said Don Perovich a geophysicist with the US Army’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory.
    “As near as we can tell looking at the historical record, there’s been ice in the Arctic in the summer for at least 16 million years,” he said. SMH

    How long have humans been on the Earth?

    On one of the financial channels you know they interview people on the street and ask them questions and most people don’t know the answer. Hmmm On CNN a few months back James Carvell was doing the same thing on the street and asking questions about politics well most people gave the standard answers they see on TV then this one kid maybe 23 gave his own idea on the subject and James like cut him off. Dude the kid made some very good points.

    The oldest human fossil found (named Lucy and found in Ethiopia) has been back dated to between 3 and 3.6 million years ago. Lucy was not a Homo Sapien, but we do know that she was a hominid, she walked upright. Chances are our species are direct desendants of Lucy’s species.
    If you want to get specific, the first Homo Sapien walked the Earth around 200,000 years ago, but no one is really quite sure about that. The reason being that it is difficult to find fossils. The earliest Homo Sapien found to date is 200,000 years old but that’s not to say a Homo Sapien could be found that dates back 400,000 years or longer!
    Some will even claim that Homo Sapiens have only been on the Earth for about 100,000 years. If that’s the case it is trtuly remarkable how far we have come in such a short time, well I guess if we’ve been here 200,000 years that’s remarkable too. After all Dinosaurs were on the Earth for 250 million years, and what did they get done?
    In just the last 70 years great advances have been made and in many way’s just stood still. Dude the kid made some very good points.

  6. Donald Hawkins said on August 22nd, 2008 at 12:14pm #

    I just read that two cities will be virtual fortresses at the Democratic and Republican conventions. They will have airplanes, helicopters, barriers, fences and thousands of police officers, National Guard troops and Secret Service agents. 1,000 National Guard troops in Denver will help and air cover the North American Aerospace Defense Command, based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

    I have this picture in my mind of a kid maybe eighteen long hair with a sign that say’s Peace and he looks up into the air and see’s airplanes and helicopters then looks straight ahead and see’s barriers, fences and thousands of police officers, National Guard troops and Secret Service agents and National Guard troops.

    What he doesn’t see is the fact that this administration has a special team to minimize this type of free speech. I wonder will they be at both conventions.