Being “Woke”

Franz Kafka wrote a number of very strange and unsettling stories.  Probably the most surreal and best known is “The Metamorphosis.”  Written in 1915, at the start of World War I, here is the famous opening sentence:

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into an enormous insect.”  (better translation might be “monstrous vermin”)

This opening is just as disturbing as in Orwell’s  1984:

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” 

As one commentator put it:  “This line perfectly sets up the idea that everything is not quite as it seems and manages to plunge you into an alien world without any explanation.”

What is especially striking is Gregor’s reaction and his family’s reaction to this shocking and horrible change in his identity in its external condition.    Gregor at first thinks this is a temporary condition and he can wait it out for a change.  Then, when nothing happens, he begins attempts at “living with it.”  His family is perplexed and troubled;  but they also in a sense “negotiate” with the new condition and are finally relieved when Gregor dies of starvation.  It is hard to imagine a more surreal story!

To borrow a term from modern urban slang, Gregor is “woke” but he hardly seems capable of dealing with his situation to say the least.  The real nightmare begins as he awakens.  We come up against an unsettling paradox:  to be “woke” means to be aware of the “nightmare” one is living in.   The current situation in Afghanistan seems to be one of those moments.  

But the “nightmare” did not begin just now; it goes back over 30 years.  And it involves at least 5 presidents; both Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals in our political culture.  You might say it begins with President Carter (but really it goes so much further back!).  During the Carter Administration we began to secretly arm various Afghani tribes and clans so they could fight the invading Russians.  It was the Cold War, and we wanted to mess up the Russians without getting our hands dirty.  That part worked; the Russians fled Afghanistan just as we have, but the people whom we armed evolved into the present day Taliban.   Whenever you join hands with violence, the results are never a blessing.  Fast forward to 09/11, Bin Laden hiding out in Afghanistan achieves a catastrophic terrorist attack on us.  President Bush commences military actions against Afghanistan including a full scale invasion.  Instead of treating Bin Laden and cohorts as a criminal gang and getting an international coalition to hunt them down and bring them to justice, we launched this war, and then, incredibly enough, another war on Iraq which had never been involved in any attack on us, but the war was built on a total lie.  And almost every member of Congress supported this, both Dems and Republicans (not Bernie Sanders, who was an independent at the time).  Incidentally, the vast majority of the Islamic world was shocked at the act of Bin Laden in the name of Islam, and many were prepared to help the U.S. in bringing him to justice.  There was even a Guardian story, which I can’t verify, that the Taliban were willing to turn Bin Laden over to the International Court but not into U.S. hands.  (By the way, the destabilization of Iraq contributed greatly to the formation of ISIS and that nightmare.)

So the war continued and also the delusions and lies.  Obama, who is so often portrayed as a commendable president by the liberal establishment, had his own contributions to this nightmare.  This extended quote is from a Washington Post story about the history of our involvement in Afghanistan (Craig Whitlock):

“President Barack Obama had promised to end the war, so on Dec. 28, 2014, U.S. and NATO officials held a ceremony at their headquarters in Kabul to mark the occasion. A multinational color guard paraded around. Music played. A four-star general gave a speech and solemnly furled the green flag of the U.S.-led international force that had flown since the beginning of the conflict.

In a statement, Obama called the day ‘a milestone for our country’ and said the United States was safer and more secure after 13 years of war.

‘Thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion,’ he declared.

But for such a historical day, the military ceremony seemed strange and underwhelming. Obama issued his statement from Hawaii while he relaxed on vacation. The event took place in a gymnasium, where several dozen people sat on folding chairs. There was little mention of the enemy, let alone an instrument of surrender. Nobody cheered.

In fact, the war was nowhere near a conclusion, “responsible” or otherwise, and U.S. troops would fight and die in combat in Afghanistan for many years to come. The baldfaced claims to the contrary ranked among the most egregious deceptions and lies that U.S. leaders spread during two decades of warfare.”

Then this morning I saw this op-ed piece in the NY Times:

I Was a Marine in Afghanistan. We Sacrificed Lives For a Lie.

Well, that is one “woke” Marine!  Unfortunately there are so many military, political, and intelligence folks who still believe we were somehow “protecting” America over there.  Well, trillions of dollars later (which could have paid for everyone’s health care during the last 20 years) and thousands of American soldiers dead or injured, the Taliban are still in control!

Chris Hedges, the ultimate “woke guy,” had, as usual,  predicted this long ago.   Just a few weeks ago he was writing this:

“The debacle in Afghanistan, which will unravel into chaos with lightning speed over the next few weeks and ensure the return of the Taliban to power, is one more signpost of the end of the American empire. The two decades of combat, the one trillion dollars we spent, the 100,000 troops deployed to subdue Afghanistan, the high-tech gadgets, artificial intelligence, cyberwarfare, Reaper drones armed with Hellfire missiles and GBU-30 bombs and the Global Hawk drones with high-resolution cameras, Special Operations Command composed of elite rangers, SEALs and air commandos, black sites, torture, electronic surveillance, satellites, attack aircraft, mercenary armies, infusions of millions of dollars to buy off and bribe the local elites and train an Afghan army of 350,000 that has never exhibited the will to fight, failed to defeat a guerrilla army of 60,000 that funded itself through opium production and extortion in one of the poorest countries on earth.

Like any empire in terminal decay, no one will be held accountable for the debacle or for the other debacles in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen or anywhere else. Not the generals. Not the politicians. Not the CIA and intelligence agencies. Not the diplomats. Not the obsequious courtiers in the press who serve as cheerleaders for war. Not the compliant academics and area specialists. Not the defense industry. Empires at the end are collective suicide machines. The military becomes in late empire unmanageable, unaccountable, and endlessly self-perpetuating, no matter how many fiascos, blunders and defeats it visits upon the carcass of the nation, or how much money it plunders, impoverishing the citizenry and leaving governing institutions and the physical infrastructure decayed. “

You can read the whole piece here:


And from the satirical website, The Onion, there was this headline:

Critics Warn Withdrawal From Afghanistan Paints Entirely Accurate Picture Of U.S. Government

And last, but not least, in my opinion, the most woke guy in the modern era: Gandhi.  And he knew how to respond to the nightmare.