Thursday, March 8, 2012

Stop Kony. Also Stop Pretending That Your Awareness Matters.

A recent video by the organization Invisible Children that advocates making Joseph Kony -- a notorious criminal and leader of the LRA from Uganda who kidnaps children and converts them into sex slaves and child soldiers, among other heinous crimes -- famous, has gone viral. The point of the video is that if everyone in the world -- or at least everyone with a Facebook -- knows about Kony and his crimes, the people who might be able to help stop him (i.e. the United States military, visa vis the United States government) will be under more pressure to do so because everyone knows about it, cares, and won't relent in supporting his capture. This argument is founded on the very dubious premise that the reason Kony hasn't yet been captured is that there is insufficient motivation or "awareness" in the international community about the problem.

In reality, whether ten thousand or 100 million people are aware of the problem doesn't make it much more or less likely to be solved. The video touts the fact that the United States has sent 100 troops to support the Ugandan military in locating and arresting Kony, and worries that if there isn't enough awareness, the operation might end. The problem with this argument is that, if the operation did end, it would not be because of an insufficient level of caring in the world, but because the facts on the ground are such that the mission doesn't look promising, or that it could come to conflict costing many American and Ugandan lives, or millions of other considerations. The United States wouldn't pull out support if they were hot on the heels of successfully apprehending him.

The point at which the video really came off the rails was with this bold, unfounded assertion: "It's obvious Kony should be stopped, the problem is 99% of the planet doesn't know who he is. [it is?] If they knew, Kony would have been stopped long ago. [he would?]" There's obviously absolutely no reason to believe that either of these claims are true. This argument seems founded on the logic of a bad Christmas film; that if only there were more Christmas cheer in the world, Santa's sleigh would have the fuel it needs to make all of his present deliveries by Christmas morning. And if only everyone on Facebook shares this link, and buys a bracelet, Kony will magically disappear.

Others have raised concerns about Invisible Children and the Kony 2012 movement; where their funding goes to; whether they are sufficiently aware of the pertinent historical and political facts of the region; that the LRA is already gone from Uganda; and, echoing this piece, whether our "awareness" is really the issue at all. Except for the last, the other critiques I didn't find to be too substantive or important. And on the last matter, I think The Atlantic covered the point fairly well, so I won't pile on unnecessarily. However I did have a unique point (as far as I know) to raise. Namely, that of the anti-war activism of the filmmaker that's presented in the film.

It's not a huge element of the film, but at one point he's speaking to an audience and says "People say, 'who am I to stop a war?', I say 'who are you not to?'", and later he and a group of people are chanting an anti-war slogan and holding up a banner against war. Now, even if one is opposed to war, what does that have to do with Joseph Kony? True, he recruits child soldiers into his army, but they mostly engage in guerrilla warfare. Not really 'war' in the more traditional sense. But if we grant that he is waging a 'war', then in supporting a mission to stop him and bring him to justice, you are choosing to engage him in 'war', on the side of the Ugandan military (presumably, the side of righteousness and justice), but you aren't eschewing war or violence. You're almost certainly going to be forced to participate in it, if you're serious about the mission.

Which, if you really are on the side of right (as it appears Invisible Children is) shouldn't cause you to hesitate or waffle one bit. What it should cause you to do is drop your phony, pretentious, irrational anti-war activism when your life's cause is dedicated to supporting international military adventurism to defeat the world's bad guys. If you're willing to stop bad guys on this scale, but then get queasy and balk at making sure Iran doesn't go nuclear by any means (including military acts of war), then you're plainly irrational and inconsistent. Some bad guys, with power on a much greater scale, can do even more damage if not kept in check.

So, please, by all means, make Joseph Kony famous and do whatever is in your power to help stop him. Just don't tell me that raising awareness is going to solve the complex problem because it isn't. And don't pretend you can somehow solve problems of this nature while completely eschewing the use of force or violence, because you can't. And that's OK! Just don't pretend it's something it isn't.

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