Philippines Free Press, August 22, 2009 issue
A totalitarian agenda
By Manuel L. Quezon III
WAR, the German military strategist Carl von Clausewitz famously proposed, is the exercise of force for the attainment of a political object, unrestrained by any law save that of expediency. For most people, however, war is supposed to have a kind of sacred purpose. Democracies, in particular, are supposed to resort to war, not out of bloodlust or the desire to conquer and subdue, but rather, in fulfillment of a basic human right that applies to nations as it does to individuals: self-preservation can require self-defense.
The problem of course is that once the sword of war is unsheathed, force of arms may require an exertion in lives and money as to make even victory a losing proposition. Therefore, even when self-defense takes on the characteristics of a sacred duty – there are, after all, in both Christianity and Islam, justifiable wars according to the tenets of those great religions- what is demonstrably a right is not necessarily the wisest course of action.
Put another way, even when justified, war isn’t necessarily the best solution to a conflict; arbitration and negotiation should be pursued and exhausted first. Winston Churchill famously expressed this as follows: “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”
For a generation now, since Ferdinand Marcos fell, our governments have tried to jaw-jaw but always end up resorting to war-war in dealing with two rebellions that began in the late 60s and early 70s: the pursuit of revolutionary struggle by the Communist Party of the Philippines and the Moro quest for independent nationhood.
While military offensives often prove more popular than not, the cost in lives and the damage to the economy usually end up bogging governments down in a quagmire of human rights and other scandals, such as the lack of equipment of the armed forces and damage to infrastructure. So administrations end up back at the negotiating table and resume peace talks.
No one, it seems, is capable of securing a lasting peace. Never mind the various rebel groups, who may or may not be sincere in their protestations that if only reforms were really put in place, they’d come down from the hills and become peaceful, productive citizens. Consider the dilemma of our civilian and military leadership.
You will often hear the military complain that if they only got enough material and political support, they could “finish the job” and truly whip the various rebel movements. But then you also hear civilian politicians, for their part, complaining that the military isn’t really interested in final victory because it would then make the armed forces obsolete – or at the very least, require a substantial reduction in the number of troops- which would, endanger, along the way, lucrative armaments and other contracts.
Another aspect to the civilian-military divide is the frustration the military feels over what it perceives to be the ability of its enemies to hide behind laws passed by naive civilian politicians, which essentially ties one hand behind the military’s back, leaving them handicapped when it comes to military operations; while civilian politicians, on the other hand, believe the instincts of the armed forces are too brutal to be given free rein in pursuing combat operations.
Another way of looking at this civilian-military divide is that it is a form of checks-and-balances; it prevents military operations from getting out of hand, but also limits the ability of governments to simply give away everything in order to secure a peace that may actually represent a defeat for the state.
But what happens when civilians and the military alike, come to a meeting of the minds, and decide that the security of the state cannot be separated from the partisan political interests of the ruling party, composed not just of civilian politicians but the military’s top brass as well? You have a situation fraught with danger, because the state becomes something greater than the people, for by unifying the military and civilians in the national leadership, you have a state that commands, and which can disobey, the people.
For the default position of the public is for the maintenance of peace, and the pursuit of war only in terms of necessary self-defense but not for outright conquest. The default position of those with a militarist mentality is to worship war, and to pursue it regardless of the consequences. Notice I do not say this is the default position of the military; a military properly schooled in the proper relationship between civilians and the military recognizes war as the last option and one that furthermore requires limited, realizable goals, always guided by civilian parameters of legality and ethics.
The present administration has proposed, time and again, the subordination of the rule of law and ethical parameters like human rights, to the military objective of defeating various rebel groups. This galvanized domestic and international opinion against the administration, which has beaten a strategic retreat every time the criticism got too widespread and sustained. It has not prevented the administration from trying to resume its policy of all-out war, the moment it thinks the coast is clear.
The result has been to further radicalize both rebels and the uncommitted public that simply wants peace and an end to the fighting. The administration has pretended to pursue peace talks while embarking on a path that guarantees the failure of any such talks. This is not just because the various rebel groups are not interested, themselves, in anything more than a tactical breather to recover their strength, but also, because the administration finds it useful to provoke its enemies and so recklessly seeks out opportunities for confrontation.
The pursuit of Abu Sayyaf bandits, practically on the eve of the resumption of peace talks with the MILF, the start of a major PNP operation to confiscate illegal weapons, and the President’s stated policy of blurring the lines between civilian and military authorities by making “the alliance between the local government units and the Armed Forces of the Philippines a major campaign plank, especially in the local elections” in 2010, are all part of a whole: and it is called totalitarianism, in fact if not actual name.