by Gordon Taylor | 2/29/2008 02:20:00 AM
That's how cold it has been at night in the mountains of Kurdistan this past week: minus 26 degrees C. As someone who winces at frost and has never been close to combat, I cannot begin to contemplate the horror of it. As American news channels dissected every nuance of Hillary and Barack's statements, as well as the Incredible Importance of Obama's Middle Name, as Hollywood cavorted and necklines plunged, a pitched battle of almost mythic savagery has been raging in the canyons east of the river Zab.
After a week, the outcome of the battle between the PKK and the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) is still in doubt. The mountains are sealed, and no independent observers can get in. The Turks claim well over 200 "terrorists" have been killed in the fighting, including the PKK leader who planned the 21 October raid near Daglica (Oramar) which left 12 Turkish soldiers dead. The PKK responded that this was a lie. This mythical "commander" did not exist, they said, and he was certainly not dead. They claim to have lost five guerrillas in the fighting, and they have posted their names on their website. In their latest communiques they claim that the number of Turkish dead has gone over 100. The TSK, they say, is withdrawing toward the Zab. One of their leaders, Murat Karayilan, has sent his congratulations to the "heroes" of the battle. In other news, the PKK claims to have ambushed a TSK column in another sector.
One thing is certain: the Turkish Army has not rolled to some overwhelming victory. In fact, they are under pressure from the Americans (who supply their intelligence and AWACS planes), as well as the Iraqis, to get out. Remember, this is guerrilla warfare. If the PKK survives, they win. If the Turkish Army does not win, it loses. The PKK appears to have done more than survive. The TSK has had a week to do its worst. They have sent in their elite mountain commandos, the toughest fighters they have, men infamous for their practice of cutting off the ears of their fallen enemy, soaking them overnight in Coca-Cola, and using the remaining cartilage as key rings. [see Nadire Mater, "Voices from the Front"] They have hit the PKK with F-16s, with heavy artillery, with bombs guided by American and Israeli intelligence, with helicopter gunships and aerial drones. And still the men (and women)of the PKK have withstood the assault. If a feat of arms such as this had been performed by the U.S. Marines or the French Foreign Legion, they'd have relics of it preserved in a glass case in a museum.
All of this reminds me of one of the best things I.F. Stone ever wrote, a piece which he called [and I have no source to cite other than memory], "What's Really at Stake in Vietnam." At that time, in the middle of the Vietnam conflict, things were not going well. We weren't losing any battles, and yet we weren't winning the war. Lyndon Johnson had just given a speech in which he referred to the evil Communist guerrillas, sneaking around in the night, not playing fair and coming out for a real fight. Many people ridiculed this, of course, for what else had the Minutemen done after Lexington and Concord, and why else was Francis Marion called the "Swamp Fox"? I.F. Stone analyzed our official reasons for Vietnam--the fight against godless Communism, Munich analogies, domino theories, etc.--and found them, not surprisingly, to be mere rationalizations. The real root of our frustration, he found, lay in that most famous of quotes by General Curtis LeMay, the one about "bombing them back into the Stone Age."
This, Stone said, lay at the heart of our real terror. We couldn't imagine that any people so primitive that they lived in pre-Industrial conditions, wearing only black pajamas and subsisting on a bowl of rice a day, fighting without jet planes, heat-seeking missiles, or radar, could really challenge us on the field of battle. What was at stake, he said, was not our belief in God but our belief in General Motors. Without technology, what were we? With all these modern weapons, why weren't we winning?
To this, of course, the Right always has an answer. It was a plot. It wasn't fair. The politicians screwed us over. They didn't let us win. Resentments like these were rife in Germany after World War I, they will be the same when Turkey withdraws, and talk radio will be alive with them as we retreat from Iraq. Mark my words. Even now Rush Limbaugh is writing the script in his head.
[Note: Again I emphasize that the I.F. Stone essay is quoted from my memory. I stand ready to be corrected if anyone can do so.]
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