In search of mitigating circumstances

People are always talking about “militating against.” When was the last time you heard about someone militating for something?

Well, maybe those valiant Coalition Forces in Iraq, who are militating for Democracy – along with (according to a widely circulating e-mail) fresh drinking water, vaccinations, and education for women!

Of course, one does sometimes also hear the unfortunately maligned alternative, “mitigate against.” I say “unfortunately,” because here in the Keystone State – and probably in many other parts of America the Beautiful – the Army Corps of Engineers tends to approve the destruction of natural wetlands as long as artificial wetlands are constructed someplace nearby. This is called wetlands mitigation, and it’s premised upon what are now generally recognized as faulty assumptions about the ability of human beings to recreate fully functioning ecosystems (cf. “Biosphere II”). Every study I’m aware of shows that artificial wetlands fail to replicate the originals; many of them aren’t even self-perpetuating.

However, in ordinary political discourse it’s considered in very poor taste to say things like, “the new highway will obliterate over 100 acres of valuable, spring-fed seeps.” How can you say “obliterate” if the DOT intends to construct replacements? Those seeps will simply be mitigated against.

I wonder if Dubya understands the difference between “militate” and “mitigate”? I mean, going after Saddam because you can’t catch Osama does have a certain whiff of mitigation about it. But if he isn’t careful, skyrocketing prices at the pump will militate against public support for further oil wars. An alarmingly large segment of the electorate clings to the view that expensive oil does not mitigate the loss of blood – which is, of course, quite cheap (especially Iraqi blood).

The unfolding prisoner abuse scandal might seem to militate against further adventures prescribed by the Project for a New American Century, such as the invasion of Iran and/or Syria. But many of the deep thinkers in the “imperialism with the gloves off” school must welcome news that can be slanted to place all the blame on ordinary “rogue” soldiers. If they have their way, human soldiers will all eventually be replaced with machines, a la “Terminator.” That is to say, they’ll be mitigated against.

Who needs the military anyway? It is the one, surviving vestige of the welfare state (even if pay has fallen to such low levels that many military families need food stamps to get by). The Ivy League chicken hawks in the Bush regime have to hate the G.I. Bill almost as much as they hate the economically disadvantaged folks who comprise over three quarters of enlisted men and women in the U.S. armed forces. And for the designer wars of the future, general issue (G.I.) just won’t be good enough. High-priced mercenaries are a much better deal, because they aren’t subject to courts martial or congressional oversight. The C.I.A. has been outsourcing for years. You don’t want your own guys turning the thumbscrews. Adhering to the letter of the Geneva Convention and giving our allies diplomatic cover militates against that shit.

One good piece of news that you rarely see in the headlines is the effort to restore the vast marshlands of southern Iraq, in which our old friends, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, are playing a leading role. Last year, when I first wrote about the unmitigated destruction of these wetlands – a case of simultaneous ecocide and genocide – the prospects for recovery looked grim. Since then, I’ve read a few reports in the environmental press indicating that Iraqi villagers themselves have been taking the lead in destroying drainage canals and refilling the marshes, and the Army Corps guys entrusted with oversight (along with the private consulting firm DAI, Duke University, the Iraq Foundation, the AMAR International Charitable Foundation, and the University of Basra – see here) seemed genuinely committed to ecological restoration. Perhaps there’s hope for the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers yet!

Unless, of course, the Army Corps views the restoration of the Tigris and Euphrates as the world’s most distant wetlands mitigation project. I must admit, there is a certain, warped symmetry to it. Levees, dams and dredging here; roadblocks, walled compounds, arresting and interrogating every fighting-aged male over there.

But with the latter policy in ruins, perhaps the best way to check the power of militant groups is simply to extend formal recognition to them – give ’em new uniforms and get the hell out of the way. Let the militants militate against someone else for a change – like, say, Iran. Nothing like a war against your neighbors to mitigate internal social discord! Hey, it worked for Saddam . . .

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