Kony 2012 and Afghanistan

I found last week’s hoopla surrounding the Kony 2012 video annoying and disturbing.  Designed to stir souls to a noble cause, the video is worrisome because it is classic agitprop.  It has ignited among its viewers a strong emotional firestorm that bypasses reason.  (On a sadder note, it seems the global explosion of attention and backlash were too much for the maker of the video.)

Everyone agrees that Kony is a bad man, but I doubt everyone agrees on a real solution.  Neither Facebook posts nor monetary contributions stop an evil man like this.  UN blue helmets don’t do much good either; just ask the residents of Srebenica.  It would take a concerted effort by a competent, modern military force to uproot that kind of evil.  Funny though, when that sort of operation becomes reality, as with the Iraq War, people complain about it.  If only text donations were more widespread back then, maybe Saddam Hussein could have been effaced by the collective wireless bills of the Free World.  And what about the fresher atrocities of Kim Jong Il?  By the time of his death last December, there was no 80 million+ hits YouTube video for his crimes.

For all the talk of “capturing” Kony, I would not be surprised if his capture attempt looked and ended up like last year’s righteous and successfully culminated mission against Osama Bin Laden.

Just a day or two after the Kony 2012 media explosion came the sensational storm of the Afghanistan massacre.  But instead of passion to spark a new war, this story reinforced among the public a desire to end an old one.  I instinctively resist the popular sentiment to pull out that comes from seeing casualties and bloodshed.  When I studied “peace and security” as an international relations major, I discovered the great extent of thought that informs decision-making on questions of peace and war.  Such deadly serious business must not be decided by the fickle whims of the public, but ought to rest in the hands of sober-minded policymakers.  Whether we actually have such trustworthy policymakers in power is another story altogether.

The power to make war is a necessary and classic function of government that is not going away anytime soon.  Indeed, Robert Kagan’s latest book argues specifically for America’s need to maintain a prominent profile in the world’s affairs.  What is ultimately entailed in Afghanistan is hard for me to say, but mere public opinion shouldn’t determine whether we send SEALs to get Kony or send our troops in Afghanistan packing.  Our national security and our troops’ sacrifice are too important for that.

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Men of service shaping up

In case you haven’t been looking lately, our men in uniform have been shaping up.  No, I’m not talking about PX90 drills or rehearsing counterterrorism scenarios.  The martial professions that at their fashion zenith brought us the wonders of baldrics and dress blues have since democratized and reinvented themselves for the metro age.

The Wall Street Journal has spotlighted a purported eyebrow “scuplting” craze peeling through the ranks of America’s fighters in Afghanistan.

Pfc Guillemette

Pfc Guillemette. Courtesy The Wall Street Journal

Meanwhile, one plainclothes detective of NYPD’s thin blue line has traded down to a thin blue tie, earning delectable internet glory as the “hipster cop.”

Detective Rick Lee, NYPD

Detective Rick Lee. Courtesy Associated Press.

Without a doubt, these men of our uniformed services are serving us honorably, protecting us from mad mullahs and disgruntled hippies.  Now, they may be just a little more fashionable than the rest of us.

Hackers, Pirates, Brats

The Afghanistan Wikileaks story has gotten progressively more interesting in the weeks since it broke.  Initial critics rightfully blasted Julian Assange’s outfit for endangering the lives of those who have collaborated with NATO forces.  When prompted in a July 28th  interview by Today‘s Merideth Vieira, the Australian-born Assange admitted (to his credit) the possibility that further killing could result from his leak campaign.   So in an effort to save lives from American “murder,” as Wikileaks alleged in their famous Apache helicopter video from earlier this year, the once prodigy hacker and his crew have wrecklessly endangered the lives of others.

The leaks also have the secondary effect of making cooperation with American forces less appealing to any potential partners in future conflicts.  For this, some observers have concluded that Wikileaks is basically an enemy of the United States.  Its no coincidence that Iceland happens to be a base for the site or that Pirate Bay, Sweden’s ridiculous information liberators, have extended a hand of complicity to securely host the leak documents.  It would seem silly to think that Scandinavians have been conspiring in enmity against America, but such a postulation is not far off the mark.  In terms of international relations theory, these countries are known as freeriders.  Iceland is a quintessential case.  During the Cold War, America operated bases there and since that time, Iceland’s military has been virtually nonexistent.  So its not surprising that there has come to be such contempt for the military, or the idea that outside of their sheltered paradise, there exists a brutal world that sometimes necessitates the use of force.

Swedish pirates and Icelandic scofflaws are just the tip of the iceberg of today’s self-indulgent wannabe hacker heroes.  Recall the modern day anarchist, who instead of hurling a bomb like a good nineteenth century revolutionary, thanked today’s finest industrialist by hurling a pie in his face.  This was the case for Bill Gates when he visted Belgium in 1998.  So if you aspire to invent new technologies, increase worker productivity, and bless humanity by single-handedly launching an information revolution, not only will governments seek to double tax your earnings and capital gains, you should also expect occasional vollies of pie as your just dessert.  While Assange aspires to liberate secrets from the vaults of the state, those like Pirate Bay seek to terminate copyrights and all intellectual property protections.  To these starry-eyed warrior geeks, no secret is worth keeping, and all information should be freely accessible.  But if we compelled all computer code to be open-source or all pharmaceuticals researchers to immediately disclose their formulas, the only ones who would produce these goods for us would be the spoiled hacker types who do this stuff on their spare time.  They have no comprehension of economic utility or value, or their necessary relationship to work and sacrifice.

Perhaps these hacker pirates are best seen as little leather-clad Neos who feel they have moral license to run around with their figurative guns blazing, reducing Agent Smith’s marble lobby to flying chips and plaster.  In a top-notch piece by the Christian Science Monitor, former CIA officer Jerrold Post explains that the same psychological motivations of spies holds true for the Afghanistan Wikileakers.  While some people betray secrets for money or sex, others are motivated by ideology or ego.  And whether we consider the American private who initiated the leak or Assange and Pirate Bay who obliged, its the confluence of ideology and ego that satisfies these bored, ungrateful, uncomprehending brats in their quest for significance and belonging.  How sad it is that so much energy and talent of youth are poured into counterproductive and downright dangerous channels.

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