Tuesday, April 6, 2010

New Wars vs. Old Wars?

Texas in Africa has a wonderful discussion of why the old wars/new wars dichotomy is false.
The idea behind that argument was, in Kalyvas' words, that, "...new wars are characteristically criminal, depoliticized, private, and predatory; old civil wars are considered idological, political, collective, and even noble." The "old" wars are, in this view, "political," while "new" civil wars are "criminal." ...
 Against this view:

What evidence is there that the Congo's armed groups enjoy living in miserable conditions in the forests, or that they only rape because terrorizing people is the goal? Did Gettleman look at the very real grievances over land rights, the dynamics of state weakness, or the questions of ethnicity and citizenship that affect the behavior of every single armed group in the eastern DRC? ...

Of course, anyone who seriously studies the region will tell you in a heartbeat that the Congo war is not now and never was a "resource war." It's a war in which resources fund part of the conflict, but no one is actually fighting for control of the resources as an ultimate goal. The patterns of violence and all available evidence do not support Gettleman's claim.  ...
By failing to dig a little deeper and understand what's actually behind all the violence - and by ignoring the fact that all the "old" civil wars, including those in France and the United States, were pretty nasty as well - Gettleman does his readers a great disservice. He treats Africans who engage in war as irrational savages who have an insatiable appetite for destructive violence. He never acknowledges that many wars throughout human history - especially those in which ethnic or religious identity was a key issue - involved horrific violence against civilians, caused lots of unnecessary deaths, and lasted for decades on end. Thirty Years' War, anyone?

Treating African conflicts as another manifestation of "the other" means that we never get the full picture. ... That a war does not make sense to an outsider does not mean it is pointless.
 Or, from the magnificent play, 1776, during the debate about whether to write The Declaration of Independence:

John Dickinson: Mr. Franklin, are you seriously suggested that we publish a paper to the world declaring that an illegal rebellion is, in fact, a legal one?

Ben Franklin: Why, Mr. Dickinson, I'm surprised at you. Rebellion is always legal in the first person, such as "our rebellion." It is only in the third person, "their rebellion" which is illegal.

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