The Phony Feminism of War CheerleadersBreaking News
tags: imperialism, feminism, war on terror, Afghanistan
A depressingly familiar theme has dominated the reports and commentary that have surfaced in the wake of the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan in the aftermath of U.S. withdrawal: The end of 20 years of imperial war is a feminist disaster. “Women in Afghanistan Fear Return to a Repressive Past Under Taliban,” one New York Times headline declaimed. USA Today put it more condescendingly: “We can’t make a country care about its own women. Only Afghanistan can do that.”
And President Joe Biden’s adherence to Trump’s decision to pull troops out of the country has attracted ostensibly humanitarian pushback from both parties: “The decision to place a higher priority on a political promise than on the lives of innocent men, women, and children is a stain on America’s reputation and undermines our credibility around the world,” read a statement issued by Republican Senator Mitt Romney. Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen lamented the changing fortunes of Afghan “girls who grew up with freedoms, education, and dreams of building their country’s future.”
These sentiments mimic those that were trotted out two decades ago to fortify support for war in the first place: Representative Carolyn Maloney famously (and embarrassingly!) donned a burqa to deliver a Congressional speech lauding then-President George W. Bush for waging a just war that had the potential to liberate the brutalized women of Afghanistan. The Feminist Majority Foundation cheered on the U.S.-led invaders as a “coalition of hope” in a lengthy 2002 spread in Ms. magazine. Media coverage about women in Afghanistan skyrocketed in the months after the 9/11 attacks, which helped bolster public opinion regarding military intervention in the Central Asian country.
The fact that Afghan women really do face immense oppression makes their cynical use for war-stoking purposes almost unfathomably galling. While conditions may have improved for certain individual women in Afghanistan since the U.S. launched a ground war there in late 2001, the war was never waged on their behalf, and those who led the nation into war—along with everyone who has served to maintain the occupation since—never did so with the intention of securing an egalitarian future for the women of Afghanistan. Imperialism is not compatible with feminism, and the persistent assertions that it can be reflects the ugliest truths about both.
Many Americans’ understanding of war as a moral mechanism for liberation is overwhelmingly based on the wars that people socialized in the United States have the most familiarity with: the American Civil War and World War II, which ended the horrific atrocities of chattel slavery and genocide, respectively (even if those outcomes weren’t precisely the victors’ primary motivation). But they’re exceptions: History offers vanishingly few examples of wars that were actually worth a damn, and this is particularly true of nearly every U.S. military intervention since 1945, which were largely conducted to fortify American political and economic domination across the planet while wrecking countless lives in the process. If this sounds to you like the angsty ramblings of a college freshman home for Thanksgiving, I dare you to come up with a better or more concise explanation of what exactly the past few generations of American wars were intended to accomplish.
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