Wednesday, March 7, 2007

War and Witchcraft

I was reading a BBC article on a conflict in Vanuatu sparked by a claim that a sorcerer used black magic and witchcraft to kill a rival. This accusation spiraled into wider conflict along "tribal" lines.

It is easy to dismiss these sort of news stories as a product of another culture's "ignorance" or "superstition." These stories seem far removed from our generally scientific way of thinking.

But, as I read this story, I thought about our own motivations for the current conflict in Iraq, motivations that proved as ephemeral as these accusations of witchcraft. Weapons of mass destruction and ties to terrorist networks were myths encouraged by our own fears, and we will probably be leaving Iraq in pretty bad shape. While the violence in Vanuatu left three dead, the violence that has emerged in Iraq has killed tens of thousands (and probably more than has been estimated).

Moreover, our decisions are branded as policy decisions based on "intelligence" gathered by various agencies. The term "intelligence" is invoked as some untouchable, mysterious set of sources that we-the-people obviously cannot understand but is something we should just trust in. In that manner, "intelligence" becomes our own "black magic," and, in this case, proved just as elusive.

Perhaps we are not so immune from war out of ignorance after all.

1 comment:

George said...

I have a friend who went to Vanuatu with the peace corps. She swam to the next island to escape when the tribe she was living with had their annual cannibalistic rites and she was the only non-tribal human around.

True story.

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