More Badasses!

Last time, my list was already going kind of long with everyone from Alucard to Private Vasquez. So I thought I might make a second installment and include all the people I couldn’t, and break the mold a little by venturing outside of the world of science fiction. But as usual, the only real criteria is sheer badassness, those people who went above and beyond at kicking ass, keeping their cool and staying alive when all around them was dying or exploding! So here they are, the other badasses who deserve recognition for all their awesomeness!

Bill Kilgore:
“I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for twelve hours. When it was all over I walked up. We didn’t find one of ‘em, not one stinkin’ dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like … victory.”

These are the words that soldier, surfing enthusiast and notorious badass Lt. Col Bill Kilgore is most remembered for. A seminal character is the 1979 epic war film Apocalypse Now, Kilgore was the commander of the an Air Cavalry brigade that was responsible for getting special agent Capt. Benjamin L. Willard and his PT Boat escort up the Mekong River. This he did by assaulting a company of Viet Cong that was controlling the mouth of the river, flying in low in attack choppers to the tune of “Flight of the Valkyries” by Wagner, blowing the shit out of everything, distributing death cards on the corpses of the enemy, and then ordering his men to surf on the breaking waves!

That’s right, in the midst of enemy fire, he disembarked on the Mekong Delta and told his men that it was either “fight or surf”. When told that this was too risky, Kilgore replied simply that “if I say it’s safe, it’s safe!” He would also remark in the midst of it that “Charlie don’t surf!” Loved by his men and feared by his enemies, Kilgore combined balls, daring, eccentricity and wry humor into one package. As if this wasn’t enough, Kilgore seemed to lament the fact that one day, the war would end. And why not? With no asses to kick and no death to defy, men like him would surely run out of things to do and die from boredom.

And as Willard himself remarked in his journal, Kilgore had a certain aura about him, as if nothing could touch him. Yes, given his indifference to explosions and bullets’ ability to miss him, Kilgore could only strike audiences as crazy, invincible, or some odd combination of both. But given his reputation, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kilgore survived the war and went on kicking ass until the day he died. I’m sure there’s even shrines somewhere along the Mekong river that are dedicated to him!

Bo:
Man, demon hunting has been growing in popularity in recent years! And with more and more heroines taking to the stage, its also been getting a lot sexier! This is especially true of Bo, the an ass-kicking vixen of Lost Girl and a leather-wearing succubus to boot! Much like her male peers, Blade and D, she is a supernatural being with mixed origins who uses her abilities to help those in need. Largely, this consists of hunting other supernatural beings who prey on the innocent and just like to stir shit up. In addition to her leather getup, her weapons of choice appear to be traditional in nature, crossbows and blades rather than guns.

Working with the only real friend she’s known since discovering her true identity, Bo and Kenzi run a sort of Fae/Human detective agency where they investigate paranormal events and learn more about the world she comes from. In the course of learning about her true origins, Bo is brought face to face with the Fae world and its particular struggles. After being told that she must choose between “the light or the dark” of the Fae world, Bo chooses instead to remain neutral and fight for humanity, largely out of loyalty to her friend.

In time, she meets and develops relationships with other beings, like the wolf-shifter Dyson, who holds down a day job as a police detective, and a human doctor named Lauren. These relationships, in addition to the nature of her job, allows Bo to keep one foot in both worlds, which seems to be the natural resolution to her predicament (i.e. having “lost” her humanity years before).

Bryan Mills:
“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”

Just as Ellen Ripley taught never to come between a mother and her child, Mills taught us never to come between a father and his daughter. Yes, with the release of Taken in 2008, we were all indebted to Liam Neeson for proving that a retired father-figure can still be the biggest badass on the block! Within ninety-six hours of learning that his daughter had been kidnapped, Mills flew to Paris and took down an entire Albanian mob ring and all those involved in their human smuggling. And part of what made it so damn cool was how effortless he made it look!

After spending years honing his skills with the CIA, a job which eventually cost him his job and custody of his daughter, Mills quit his job and moved to LA to be closer to her. However, things went awry when his daughter decided to take a trip to Europe to follow U2 on tour and ended up being kidnapped by a bunch of sex-slave traffickers. Thus the very thing that cost him a life with his daughter would allow him to bring her back home safe and sound! Not only was he able to deduce the identity of her kidnappers from a single phone call, he was also able to determine who amongst the authorities were on the take from them, where the bad guys safe houses were, and who they were doing business with. Not bad for an old man!

But really, the scene that took the cake for me was when he walked right into one of the Albanian mobs hideouts, impersonating a French government agent, and extorted the bad guys for more money!

Awesome, especially when you consider that it was all an act so that he could find out which amongst them was the guy he had a phone conversation with. And once he knew, he says so cooly, “You don’t remember me? We spoke on the phone two days ago. I told you I would find you.” Then proceeds to take them all out with his bare hands and their own guns! Oh, and that torture scene afterwards, where he hooks up Marko to the power grid? It was so good, I feel the need to quote his opening threat in full:

“You know, we used to outsource this kind of thing. But what we found was the countries we outsourced to had unreliable power grids. Very Third World. You’d turn on a switch – power wouldn’t come on, and then tempers would get short. People would resort to pulling fingernails. Acid drips on bare skin. The whole exercise would become counterproductive. But here, the power’s stable. Here, there’s a nice even flow. Here, you can flip a switch and the power stays on all day.”

Bad-Ass! If only Mills and Ripley could get together and make a baby, that kid would be the safest, most badassed kid in the world!

Dirty Harry:
“You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well do ya, punk?” One of the most quoted lines in Hollywood history. You almost forget that the man saying it was threatening to blow the head off some thug with an empty .44 magnum. And this was after he single-handedly foiled a bank robbery. Yes, this scene not only made Clint Eastwood’s career, it also immortalized Inspector Harry Callahan as one of the baddest dudes of all time!

Working for the SFPD, Inspector Callahan became the template for an entire generation of movie cop. Nicknamed “Dirty” because of his reputation for crossing boundaries in order to get the bad guy, Callahan was also a man of deep principles who believed very strongly in what he was doing. Always, his weapon of choice was his trusty .44 magnum service revolver, a gun that is notorious for packing an incredibly punch! Though he might use other weapons in the course of duty, or just his bare hands, the magnum was always the gun he is seen wielding in iconic images.

Often condemned by higher ups and authorities for being a “rogue” or “loose cannon”, he was in fact the kind of guy who only broke the rules – including his own – when it was absolutely necessary. And when it came right down to it, his rough exterior hid a semi-tortured soul that longed for a world in which life was simpler, people were civil, and no one committed grisly crimes. But as long as they still did, he was prepared to whip out his gun and shoot them up!

Sounds like a cliche now doesn’t it? Well, that’s because Eastwood established it as a household theme! Callahan was, for all intents and purposes, the original bad-boy cop, willing to bend, grease and even break the rules in order to take down the criminal psychopaths and avenge the victims of violent crime. But always, he loved what he did, and was a hell of a lot more committed than the pencil-pushing bosses and red-tape bureaucrats who complained about his methods! (Whoa, speaking of cliches!)

John McClain:
The man who put the hard in Die Hard! Unlike most of his peers, Detective John McClain of the NYPD was good at taking down bad guys not because of his big brain or super human fighting skills, but because of his raw, unrelenting determination. Relying on a cop’s instincts, a strong sense of duty and the desire to protect the ones he loved, McClain triumphed over criminals and terrorists through persistence and his refusal to just roll over and die. Basically, he was like an itch they couldn’t scratch, slowly driving them mad until they lost all control and died in a fiery explosion or a spectacular fall.

A veteran cop with the NYPD, McClain established his reputation as a badass by taking down twelve terrorists in LA who decided to celebrate Christmas by seizing control of a multinational corporate building and taking its employees (including his wife) hostage.

This reputation was further cemented when, on the following Christmas, a bunch of paramilitary goons decided to hold an airport hostage so they could fly a Central American war criminal in safely and then ferry him away. His third stint involved stopping a former East German infiltration expert-turned mercenary who also happened to be the brother of Hans Gruber (his first victim) . Last, but not least, he managed to foil a bunch of cyber terrorists who chose July 4th to stage a massive heist involving “fire sale”ing the US economy and all its utilities. Again and again, McClain brought them down by enduring endless beatings, running around, and getting there just in time to screw up some element of their plan.

In this way, McClain did demonstrate a sort of subtle genius by being able to get under the bad guy’s skin. In all cases, the criminals he was dealing with were adept at planning and manipulation, relying on fear, feints and bluffs that would make their opponents play into their hands. Intrinsic to their plans was a sense of control, ensuring that all things went according to schedule so they could get in and get out without being caught. By putting himself at the center of things and constantly gumming up the works, McClain robbed them of this control, thus making them act rashly and stupidly until their plans unraveled. But of course, the bad guys were always on the verge of getting away when McClain finally did them in, ensuring that things stayed suspenseful until the end.

Tragically, his commitment to badassery and being in the wrong place at the wrong time cost him his marriage and pretty much alienated him from his daughter. It also led to a love-hate relationship with the bottle and a 401k that had seen better days. And though it seemed like time had run out on his marriage, John was ultimately able to rebuild things with his daughter, mainly because he saved her life! And, as predicted, she was pretty ballsy and tough herself. Guess the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree ;)

Rambo:
Much like Dirty Harry, John Rambo is one of those heroes that has been imitated so many times over the years that he’s become somewhat of a cliche. However, if one were to dig deep beneath all the merchandizing, knock-offs, and half-assed imitations, one finds an original creation who was quite the badass indeed. And like most of Stallone’s roles, there was some real substance to this character before a series of sequels buried it under a mountain of cliches and repetitive plotlines.

Born to a Navajo father and Italian/German mother, Rambo enlisted in the army at an early age and was sent to Vietnam where he served two tours: one as a regular solider and another with the Green Berets. After being taken prisoner and tortured, he escaped and deployed one last time. After all that, Rambo returned to the US to find that people had turned against the war and hated him for being a veteran. This led to a severe case of PTSD and some serious trouble with the law.

In the original novel, Rambo was arrested, escaped from jail and became the target of a manhunt. This ended with his death in a secluded wood after he had taken down several officers and National Guardsmen. In the movie however, Rambo doesn’t die but surrenders, speaking of the horrors he’s witnessed and lamenting how he cannot return to a normal, civilian life. He then is taken to jail where he remained until the second movie came out.

In the sequels, Rambo finds a sort of resolution to his conflict by returning to active duty, again and again. Ultimately, it seems that the solution to his inability to reintegrate into a peaceful lifestyle is to embrace a life of violence, but for the sake of helping those in need.

His first redeployment (in First Blood, Part II) is to his old stomping grounds of Vietnam where he is tasked with rescuing POW’s who never made it home. His second is to Afghanistan, where Soviet forces have taken his old friend and mentor Col. Trautman prisoner and he and a bunch of mujaheddin warriors must break into the camp to save him. In the fourth and final installment, Rambo comes out of retirement one last time to help a bunch of missionaries who have been taken hostage by the military Junta in Myanmar/Burma. In every case, Rambo racks up the kills, relying on his trusty bow and arrow, M60, KBAR knife, and any machinegun he can get his hands on to eviscerate, carve, punch holes in or blow the bad guys away!

Yes, as I said, things got pretty cliche with this series, relying on the latest news sensation and the repetitive theme of an old warrior returning to what he knows to make the carnage seem emotionally accessible. But who the hell cared? If there was one thing Rambo was good at, it was kicking some serious ass and it didn’t really matter who’s it was! In the end, they fell by the hundreds, overwhelmed by his mighty arsenal and signature sneer!

Raylan Givens:
What do you get when you cross a cowboy with a Federal Marshall? Why, Raylan Givens, of course! The star of the hit series Justified, Raylan Givens is a no-nonsense, gun-toting, wisecracking lawman who seems to have learned the art of law enforcement from guys like John Wayne and Dirty Harry. Much like his predecessors, he has a penchant for breaking the rules and pissing off his superiors in order to reign in the bad guys. But of course, no one can fire him because he’s just too damn good!

Born to a criminal family in Harlan County, Kentucky, Raylan joined the Marines in order to get away from the drugs, criminals and white supremacists that his hometown was known for. After becoming an expert in small arms and the quick draw, he enlisted with the US Marshalls and became a law man. Known for his accuracy, fast hands, tendency to wind up shooting people and signature cowbow hat, Raylan quickly earned the reputation  of being a “cowbow”, both in terms of appearance and sensibilities. Naturally, he would be the first to say that he tries to resolve things peacefully, but somehow, violence keeps breaking out.

After a “justified shoot” involving an arms dealer whom Raylan told to leave Miami in 24 hours or risk getting shot on sight, Raylan was transferred back to his home state of Kentucky. Here, he found the county of his youth overrun by the Oxycontin trade, prostitution, and violence, often involving people he used to call family and friends. More often than not, Raylan is forced to reign in people who are much like him, people who he could have easily become if he had made slightly different choices (echoes of Garry Cooper there!).

Xena:
Don’t ask me how I managed to forget Xena last time around! This iconic, heroine, warrior-princess, inspirational figure is someone without whom no list of inspirational badasses should even be written! So I amend my previous mistake, and include her here and now. I knew not what I did, please don’t send me hate mail. Moving on…

Xena is without a doubt one of the most popular heroines to come out of popular culture and fantasy/sci-fi in recent decades. Tough, smart, and sassed mouth, she is anything but prim and proper and has been generally known to kick some serious ass and look good while doing it. Whether she’s high-kicking, wielding that Chakram (throwing disc), slashing through bad guys with her sword, or just leering at people with those eyes, Xena is to badass heroines what AC/DC is to classic rock. In short, it’s dam hard to imagine one without the other! Originally appearing in the series Hercules as a villain, Xena went on to become his friend and lover and even earned herself a spin-off which did better and ran longer than its forebear.

Her own back story begins with her as a pirate and criminal, until she met and was double-crossed by a young, ambitious Roman officer named Julius Caesar (played by none other than Karl Urban). After surviving his brutal betrayal, she went to the East and joined some warlords, losing herself in revenge and violence until she tired of it and returned to the west. Here, she continued warring and raiding, until she met a demi-God named Hercules whom she initially tried to kill, but soon joined forces with him in order to defeat a warlord who had taken control of her army.

In time, she and Hercules had a love affair and she decided to change her ways. Nicknamed the “warrior-princess”, she soon teamed up with a young woman named Gabrielle who she taught to fight. Together, the two began roaming the lands of the ancient world, seeking out injustice and fighting for what was right. As she fights the forces of evil, Xena must also fight the forces of her own past, striving to resist the temptation to return to her old ways. Oftentimes, Gabrielle’s friendship and company prove to be the difference between resisting and succumbing.

Sounds cheesy, no? But it’s also pretty effective. In addition to being a hero to women and young girls everywhere, Xena’s relationship with Gabrielle has proven to be an inspiration to the lesbian community who claim that this powerful bond is a prime example of love which transcends gender norms or social mores. So in addition to her trademark war cry, disc-throwing and swashbuckling skills, Xena is a hero for being brave in a way that has nothing to do with ass-kicking or weapons. She is brave just for being true to herself and not giving a damn what anybody else thinks!

Final Thoughts:
Okay, now that I’ve paid homage to all these badass icons, I think I got what I need to draw some tentative conclusions. Basically, it seems to me that all of them share certain characteristics that set them apart and make them so damn unforgettable. So if you want to be badass like them, you better start thinking about adapting some of the following to your repertoire:

  1. Roguish Personality: Whether we are talking about detectives, mercenaries, or freelance hunters, it seems that in order to be badass, you need to be willing to break the rules a little. Things like convention, regulations, and red tape are the kind of things that inspire annoyance, tediousness and the desire for you to do something outlandish and possibly reckless. Screw what other people think, you know what needs to be done and someone’s got to do it! If not you, then who?
  2. Strong Values: But it’s not enough to simply break the rules. There has to be a higher purpose to what you are doing to justify this disregard for procedure and discipline. Basically, you need to have a strong commitment to what is right and know the difference between simply following orders and doing what needs to be done. After all, people following orders led to some of the worst crimes and miscarriages of justice in history! You gotta see the big picture and circumvent those who don’t sometimes, otherwise shit can happen!
  3. Mad Skills: Whether you’re weapon of choice is a gun, a sword, some high-tech device, or just your hands and feet, you need to practice hard and be good at what you do! No hero has ever excelled by being lazy or neglectful of their basic fighting skills. You don’t need to be the best, mind you. Many a time you will confront someone who is more skilled than you are. But in these cases, your wits and your righteousness will overcome. Hell, you may even find yourself being rescued by a sidekick or someone you thought was against you. Heroes are good like that. They have friends and helpers where the bad-guys do not 😉
  4. Troubled Past: Let’s face it, all this ass-kicking and smart-ass talk can’t conceal the fact that you’ve got some demons! Hell, all heroes do. Perhaps you’re struggling with your past, perhaps you’re not 100% okay with where you came from. But whatever the case, you know that ultimate resolution will come only through confrontation. Only by facing those who best embody your fears and demons will you prevail over the darkness you hold inside. But don’t do it too quickly! Chances are, you’ll become boring once you’ve vanquished your enemies and found inner peace!

Well that’s my assessment at least. But of course, if you are a true badass, you aren’t going to follow MY rules are you? Of course not! So take what you will from these “guidelines” and find your own path to badassery. For no matter what people may tell you, badasses are all rugged individuals at heart. If everybody did it, it would cease to be badass wouldn’t it?

1984 vs. Brave New World

Whenever I’m confronted by a virtual bookshelf or asked to list my favorite authors, I always make sure that George Orwell and Aldous Huxley are ranked among the top 10. Both of these men were immensely influential for me, inspiring not only my love of literature but also my desire to write. In that, I am hardly alone. Literally millions of people list these men as major influences, claiming that 1984 and/or Brave New World had a huge impact on their personal and/or intellectual development. It is probably for these reasons that I love teaching them so much, they’re just so chock full of all the elements a literary teacher likes to get into! Picture a quarry full of gold nuggets, one that never runs out and pays out for every new person who’s willing to mine it, and you’ve got a good idea of what these books are like.

Geez, was that sycophantic enough for ya? Okay, both books have their share of weakness too, and while I must admit that 1984 was certainly better structured and more serious than Brave New World, arguably it is the latter which proved to be more accurate. This is another aspect of these two books which has helped to establish their timeless nature: both are distopian visions of the future, both are works of satire that – like all works of satire – were set in the future but were really about the times in which they were written. And, most importantly, both were extremely critical of the day and age they were written in, addressing the many ways in which freedom was being suppressed. But since their approaches and their visions contrasted heavily , future generations were left to debate: which came true?

Huxley sought to answer this question himself in his essay “Brave New World Revisited”. Naturally, he thought that it was his vision that proved more accurate, but of course he’d say that! It was his vision! He also had the advantage in that Orwell had died shortly after writing his magnum opus so he wasn’t exactly around to rebut. But alas, Huxley’s contemporaries and subsequent generations of scholars tend to agree with him. Between a future where humanity is controlled by a series of brutal dictatorships who suppress free thought and control their citizens through the destruction of language, the rewriting of history, and the constant manipulation of emotions, and a future where humanity belongs to a global state where people are made compliant through pleasure and conditioning, it is arguably the latter which came true. The jury is still out, and the trial never ends, but right here, right now, Huxley’s vision is still taking the lead.

Of course, a few years ago, proponents of the 1984 school of thought believed the odds might have been tipped in Orwell’s favor thanks to the rise of the Bush administration, Afghanistan and Iraq, domestic spying and the controlled paranoia of orange alerts and patriotic orthodoxy. However, with the worsening situation in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, and a series of blatant scandals, each one a “slow-bleed” on Bush’s approval rating, those fears were put to rest. With every passing month after the 2004 election, it seemed that Bush’s “War on Terror”, which many believed to be little more than a justification for waging war on American civil liberties or launching a global neo-con agenda, was doomed to fail. So once again, the pendulum swung back to Huxley. Thank God too! I don’t know about you, but between Feelies and Soma on the one hand and he Thought Police and Room 101, I’ll take being amused to death over being brutalized to death any day!

Naturally, the debate shall continue, most likely well into the “information age”, a time in which new ways and opportunities for encouraging social cohesion or suppressing human freedom will present themselves. But it is such a good debate isn’t it? Not only is it fun, from an intellectual standpoint anyway, but it also forces us to confront the ways in which our personal, intellectual, and creative freedoms are not being addressed, by circumstance or design. It forces us to take stock of our society and think of ways with which we could address the ways in which our governments and even we as a people fall short. It forces us to think for ourselves, which, I don’t know about you, but to me seems to be the point of these novels in the first place. For it is only in individual thought and the freedom to do so that any kind of social control or attempts to make us compliant fail. Well, that and armed rebellion, but this way is much cleaner, I think you’ll agree!

What does Osama’s death mean (part II)?

What is to be done? Well for starters, the US and its coalition allies should withdraw from Afghanistan. If history has taught us anything, its that occupations are a losing battle, especially in places like Afghanistan. That country has made a name for itself grinding up invaders and spitting them back out. It’s mountainous terrain, hardened people and impenetrable network of tribal loyalties have always proven to be the undoing of invaders, no matter who they were or what kind of technological superiority they possessed. But above and beyond all that, it is startling how much Afghanistan is beginning to look like Iraq, which in turn showed the same signs of failure early on that haunt all occupations and foretell their failure. To break it down succinctly, there are five basic indicators that indicate that an occupation has failed.

1. Insurgency: If the population turns against you and begins mounting an armed resistance, you know you’ve lost. Little to nothing can be done at this point because tougher measures will only aid in their recruitment, they have the home field advantage, and can recruit endlessly from their own population. The occupier, no matter how benign their original intentions, can’t allow violence to go unchecked, and so they inevitably play into the hands of their enemy. Already Afghanistan has mounted its own insurgency in the form of a resurgent Taliban that is actively recruiting from the country’s Pashtun majority. Recruits spill over the border on a regular basis from Pakistan, where millions of Pashtuns also live, and there is little the US and Coalition can do about it because the Khyber Pass (the mountainous region that spans the border) is too vast and rugged to keep sealed.

Much like in Iraq, what we’re seeing is a major resistance that is actively recruiting from a major ethnic group that is fighting to regain the power it once enjoyed. In some ways, it worse than with the Sunnis of Iraq, because the Pashtuns constitute the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan with 40 percent of the population, the remaining 60 being made up of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Arabs, and many other groups. In short, they constitute a larger chunk of the population, and their counterparts are disparate and divided.

2. Weak/Crooked Allies: Hamid Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun who served in the post-Soviet Afghani government, has a long history of allying himself with US interests. During the Russian occupation, he was a secret contact for the CIA and helped run guns and money to the mujahedin from neighboring Pakistan. During the Taliban’s rise to power, he became a vocal opponent, and after 9/11 he became a major ally of the US . It is also rumored that he was a consultant for Unocal, a major oil firm with strong ties to the Bush family. It’s little wonder then why he was installed as president once Coalition forces had ousted the Taliban. Unfortunately, since the invasion, his government has been notorious for its corruption and impotence. In the former category, his election win in 2009 was tainted by scandal and blatant instances of fraud. His family have also thrived under his rule and committed numerous criminal acts, the most notorious of which were by his half-brother Ahmad Wali Karzai, a prominent drug trafficker and CIA contractor.

In the latter category, Karzai’s political impotence is legendary. In fact, he is often playfully referred to as the “mayor of Kabul” because his power does not extend beyond the capitol. Warlords who owe no allegiance to him or coalition authorities, who were bought off in order to fight the Taliban, are largely responsible for controlling the other regions of the country. Though corrupt and weak, Karzai’s remains an important political ally to the US because of his background and ethnic-ties. He is able to put a Pashtun face on a government dominated by non-Pashtun groups, and is a long-standing enemy of the Taliban which it is still doing battle with. Beyond that, however, he is powerless and fast becoming a liability.

3. Civil War: When the people turn on each other as a result of the occupation, you know you’re not doing a very good job. Iraq is a prime example of this, with the Sunni minority doing battle with the Shia majority and the US and its allies playing the role of arbiter. No one, especially the Iraqi people, can forget the carnage of that episode. But worrying still is how Afghanistan is going in the exact same direction. While the country is no stranger to civil war, it is clear that it has been inching in that direction for years now and another civil war seems inevitable. And when that happens, the general chaos tends to be blamed on the occupation force. Not only is their presence seen as the catalyzing force, which it usually is, but their inability to contain the situation also makes them accountable.

4. Unclear Enemy: While the US and its allies have always claimed that their fight is with the Taliban on behalf of the Afghani people, the reality is quite different. The line between Taliban and Pashtuni’s became blurred sometime ago, with US and Coalition forces now waging war on the dominant ethnic group. This is not a choice position for an occupier to be in. When you can’t tell the difference between your enemy and the general population, you know you’re in trouble. When the line that separates them becomes blurred, and not just to you, you know your mission is doomed to failure. In any failed occupation, this is precisely what happened. What began as a controlled, limited engagement, spilled over and became messy, brutal and confusing. This is what happened to the United States in Vietnam and to the Russians in Afghanistan, not to mention every colonial ruler everywhere. And, inevitably, it backfired… horribly!

5. Criticism at Home and Abroad: When your own people begin to criticize you, not to mention your allies, you know you’ve overstayed your welcome. In any democracy, one cannot prosecute a war without popular support. Dictatorship’s fare slightly better with domestic opposition, but sooner or later, any war effort can be broken because of popular resistance. For years now, public opposition to the presence of US and Coalition troops has been on the rise. Recent survey’s conducted by US news services even went as far as to claim that Afghanistan was becoming “Obama’s Vietnam”. A comparison to Iraq would be more apt, but the existing metaphor has more power.

In addition, Karzai himself has become increasingly vocal in his condemnation of Coalition forces “methods”. In this respect, he is not unlike Nouri al-Maliki, the current Prime Minister of Iraq, who also skirted the fine line between supporting and condemning his US-allies. In time, Maliki even began to go as far as to say that Iraq would demand a total withdrawal of US forces if things continued on their current track. Karzai may not be in that kind of position, he knows he cannot survive without US support for the time being, but he also cannot sit idly by while Afghani civilians are killed and not speak up. In time, as civilians casualties mount, he may very well be forced to choose sides, no longer able to skirt the line between his allies and his people.

6. Widening Conflict: When your conflict begins to spill into neighboring countries, you’ve got a full blown quagmire! Remember the US bombing of Cambodia during the 70’s, which took part because US forces believed the Viet Cong were running guns through that country? Well, the outcome – hundreds of thousands of people killed, no change in the course of the war, and the rise of Khmer Rouge in Cambodia – was hardly a success, regardless of what Nixon would say. Much the same is true of Iraq, where Iran began exercising a sizable influence over Shia politics in the south and had to be called in to mediate. Turkey’s border conflicts with the Northern Kurds is another example, lucky for everyone it did not end in an invasion! But in any case, the rule is clear. If you have to widen the scope of the conflict to strike at your enemy, you got a problem and need to examine your options.

For many years now, this has been the problem in Afghanistan. The conflict has been spilling over the border into Pakistan, due in part to the fact that Osama found refuge there, but also because the shared border region, which remains unsealed, is heavily populated by militants, most of whom share ethnic and cultural ties to Afghanistan Pashtuni population . The US began conducting Predator strikes in the area in 2008, and has since expanded its involvement to include special forces and CIA operatives. While the death of Bin Laden is certainly a symbolic victory for this expansion, it cannot be expected to make the war in Afghanistan itself any easier. In the long run, its more likely to destabilize Pakistan’s already shaky government and create a permanent haven for Islamic militants, much like Cambodia became a radical communist regime.

So, since the war in Afghanistan possesses all of these things in abundance, I would argue that the time has come to pack up and leave. In addition to it being a potential disaster, and that its really not making life any better for those affected, there is also the fact (as stated in my previous article) that it ceased being about Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden some time ago. Now that he is dead and his whereabouts confirmed, perhaps this is just the justification that’s needed to put an end to the last war in the “war on terror.” I doubt anyone would buy it, but what can you do?

What Does Osama’s Death Mean?

I did not start this blog with the intention of getting into politics. There are few things more subjective and divisive than where one stands on various issues, political parties, or where they fall in the big spectrum. However, once in awhile something comes along and you just have to take to whatever forum you have available and comment on it.

And so I come here, to my webpage where I usually do reviews, to comment on this groundbreaking story.

Yes, it finally happened. After ten years of obscurity and unconfirmed whereabouts, after years and years of being told “we think he is in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan”, Bin Laden was not just found, but killed. And the big question that seems to be on everyone’s lips is, what happens now? Obviously, 9/11 was a turning point in history.

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Whether or not you agreed with the assessment that it “changed everything”, you had to admit that it was what Gibson described as a “nodal point” in our history. It changed many things, for better or for worse, including but not limited to how the world thinks of terrorism, how the US executed its foreign policy, what that policy entailed, and had a huge impact on international relations.

It also put a face on global terrorism, again for better or for worse. And with Bin Laden’s escape from the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent invasion of Iraq and torture controversies, many people have been left wondering about the course of the whole “war on terror” and whether or not it was even worth pursuing anymore.

And now, ten years, and two inconclusive wars later – not to mention some “enhanced interrogation techniques”, hundreds of thousands dead, and a whole lot of unanswered questions – the man responsible for 9/11 and this detour in our history is finally dead. But the question remains…

What Now?

Does Bin Laden’s death mean anything for the “war on terror”? Even though the term has been dropped from the US’ foreign policy lexicon, will this affect the position of the US on the world stage or have any impact on the problems of extremism or terrorism?

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Second, and perhaps of equal importance, how will future generations look back on this period in our history? Will they see it as an aberratio, as our generation tends to do with Vietnam? Or will they see it as something that began with tragedy and ended with triumph, albeit with some bumps along the way?

Not Really, No

Personally, I think the answer to the first question is a resounding no. While Bin Laden’s death is certainly a symbolic victory, and definitely a victory for Obama (if he exploits it just right), his death really doesn’t change things vis a vis the bigger picture. Why? Because the war on terror ceased being about Osama many years ago, shortly after Afghanistan was invaded in fact.

Which I think helps to answer question two, but one thing at a time! As it stands, the US is still engaged on a number of fronts with its former “war on terror”, and its enemies go far beyond Bin Laden and his small band of people. Whether it’s the resurgent Taliban, Islamic militants in Pakistan, or the possibility of Al-Qaeda in Yemen, the US finds itself committed to a war on several fronts.

And they aren’t going so well! While the Obama administration’s focus on relying on drone strikes and tactical operations is certainly better than having boots on the ground, this strategy isn’t working too well either. Drone strikes are not as surgical as advertised and the civilian death toll is something the current administration is deliberately keeping from the public.

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On the plus side, the US has pulled out of Iraq after seven disastrous years of occupation. The long-term effects that it will have on the region are also unclear. But one thing is for sure… after years of insurgency, civil war, and most areas of the country still living in fear and dire poverty, things couldn’t get much worse.

Any hopes the neo-cons have that something good will come out of the Iraqi war, hence saving Bush’s legacy, cannot be taken seriously anymore. There are those who predict it will get even worse, that the sectarian violence is nearing phase two, that the current government can’t possibly control the country, and that some kind of fundamentalist autocracy with strong ties to Iran is inevitable.

Some think there’s nowhere to go but up, but even many of them believe that it was the withdrawal of the US that now makes this possible – i.e. that nothing good could happen so long as the occupation continued, the Iraqis needing to “build democracy” on their own.

Addendum: these hopes were dashed as well, due to the rise of ISIS and the extreme sectarian violence that followed. While it’s clear that ISIS is a long-term consequence of the US invasion of Iraq and the civil war in Syria, there is also plausible speculation that the rather abrupt withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in 2009 was a factor.

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So realistically, Osama’s departure from the international scene is really not the decisive factor it could have been roughly a decade ago. At least, not in my humble opinion. And this, as I said earlier, goes a long way towards answering how this whole episode will be viewed by future generations, – provided I’m correct, of course! 😉

Given the fact that the US can’t use this as a pretext to pull out of Afghanistan, stabilize Iraq, restore the US’s tarnished reputation in the Middle East or amongst it allies, mend fences with Russia, end North Korea and Iran’s defiance, or bring back the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis or Afghans, future generations are likely to see this whole campaign as a resounding failure.

So indeed… what now? What can be done to salvage the situation that 9/11, Osama Bin Laden, and the “war on terror” has left us with? What can we do, short of turning back the clock and killing him back in 2002 when the opportunity first presented itself, thus avoiding all the crap that happened between now and then?