Wednesday, March 23


I didn’t know what to talk about today. I was conflicted, and the friction of dissonance made me feel like I was trying to walk in two different directions at the same time.

I wanted to talk about climbing, partly because the weather is changing that way it does here in the spring – dramatically (I love you, DST) – and outdoors is becoming so doable, and also because it will be dominating my week. My local gym, Beyond the Crux, is hosting a bouldering comp this weekend and I get to help out with tearing the gym apart to set new routes, and with judging the early rounds on Saturday.

I’ve said that climbing isn’t generally competitive, but I also mentioned the caveat regarding comps. I’m not a huge proponent of turning climbing into a competition. And yet, when the comps come around, there is an electric atmosphere full of gymnastic feats of strength and daring-do. Competition, with self and others, will push climbers to stretch and grip like they never have before. There will be skin left on the wall and holds. There will be blood.

And there will be cheering. And competitors cheer for each other. I’ve never seen anything approaching poor sportsmanship among climbers. I’m sure it exists, have even read about it – I’ve just never seen it first hand.

My personal belief is that it’s because climbers are ultimately competing against themselves and the route, not each other. I think that appreciation of the accomplishments of others, both historically and in the now, is so ingrained into climbing culture that being a sore loser is just too embarrassing to contemplate.

Still, to be honest, I kind of wish we wouldn’t put it to the test. I have yet to master defeating myself; why would I want or need to defeat anyone else?

I wanted to talk about Libya too, and coalitions, and no-fly zones. If I’m conflicted about climbing comps, imagine the dissonance that I feel about Libya.

Part of me is very happy that Qaddafi won’t be able to inflict damage on the rebels from the air with impunity any more the way, say, the forces in Afghanistan inflict damage on insurgents from the air – with blatant inaccuracy and a stunning lack of care for the lives of civilians. Part of me cringes at the thought of the West getting involved at all though, mostly because our impulse control is usually so poor when the chance to invade presents itself.

Most of me believes, with the rebels, that this needs to remain an internal Libyan affair as much as possible, and that they need to finish it themselves. Part of me hates that they have to finish anything and wonders what kind of trauma that finishing will inflict on a people, a nation.

Civil wars are horrible things. They tear apart a group of people that are supposed to be unified, and leave scars so deep that healing ends up being measured in centuries. Look at the US. The war might as well have been last week the way they shout at each other across old battle lines. Look at Canada. Quebec is practically a different country in all but the legal ways.

Hawks say that war is just a fact of human existence; that the best way to deal with it is to recognize that fact and get about it in as efficient and ethical way as possible. Doves say that all war is an atrocity and should be abolished; that there’s no way to intentionally kill another human being ethically; that the concept is ludicrous and mad.

My internal friction is that, as much as I hate to agree with hawks, as much as I love to agree with doves, they’re both right.

I love the idea of not needing war anymore, of abjuring it so completely on a global level that we banish it into the realm of legend. That one day, so far from now that we can’t really imagine it, it would become myth; stories told to children the way we tell them about cannibalism now – to scare and awe, but without current applicability.

If we must have war, intervene in the flow of things by intentionally injecting death and conflict into the current, then I’m glad that the coalition we’re sending is so conflicted itself. There are undeniable reasons to get involved in Libya on humanitarian grounds. Qaddafi would have slaughtered thousands, hundreds of thousands, without the no-fly zone. The rebels wouldn’t have stood a chance in the long run. “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, Clarke said. The rebels might not have thought it was magic raining down on them, but it would have been essentially the same thing, something indefensible from either perspective. So I’m glad that somebody is stepping in to stop it, even if stopping it means doing it, only more brutally and with stronger magic.

I like that the coalition is so broad and diverse. That diversity – the friction inherent in it – will help keep all the participants slightly more honest. It will make it less efficient, something that the hawks will hate, but that inefficiency will be a small price to pay in exchange for its instability. Hopefully NATO and the Arab League will hold it together just long enough to prevent Qaddafi’s madness from dominating the story, and then, optimistically, that instability will tear the coalition apart before anyone can get any stupid ideas.

I’d love to put my foot down and say that all war is wrong (which it is), and that there’s never really a good justification for violent aggression (which there isn’t), but I think that I think that this is more complicated than that.

In the Independent they ran an article about the rebels coming out of Benghazi the day after the first coalition strikes against Qaddafi’s armored columns. I quote the article:
‘Some of the Shabaab were shocked by the human cost of what had taken place. “This is a different kind of war. I am sorry that so many people had died in this way. I was fighting against them only yesterday, but I am still sorry…” said … an engineer from Tobruk who had joined the revolution. “But look at him: he is somebody's son, a poor mother, a wife, children would be crying," he added, gently covering the face of the man on the ground with a torn blanket. His companion … murmured: “May Allah give them peace. We all want an end to all this.”’
I wanted to shake the hands of these two men, maybe hug them, and then make them generals. And then, in the next sentence:
‘But there were others who stripped money and watches from corpses. A teenager exultantly cried "Allah hu Akhbar" repeatedly as he stood over the body of a fallen soldier, scarcely older than him, legs blown away.’
I don’t know if I’d have left the adverb, but still – lovely bit of journalism showing the friction, how nothing is simple. Nothing is simple. 

I wish it was.

And just in case you think that I’m suggesting that what NATO is doing is at all admirable, please understand: This is another mess we made.

We’ve been supporting Qaddafi for years, after all, selling him weapons and the planes and anti-aircraft installations that we’re bombing now, propping up his regime to create enough stability that Western petroleum companies could operate with a modicum of safety. If the rebels hadn’t forced the hand, we’d still be shaking Qaddafi’s, quietly, away from the press and the lights. For the sake of commerce and lower gasoline prices.

Bet our ass we would be.

And when this is over, we’ll sell Libya replacement armaments, bet our ass.

A friend mentioned that some general had talked about how much “skin” the US had in this operation. I agree with her that it’s a powerful little image. He said that the US didn’t have as much skin in because of the broad base of support.

But we do have skin in, all of us that vote for our leaders in our developed countries. We have plenty in. Let there be no illusions, please. And when there’s as much friction as there is right now, there will be plenty of skin left behind.