War Dums: South Sudan Ethnic Violence Threatens Civil War.

South Sudan, long known as a regional hotbed of violence and terror, has recently exploded into even more furor than usual. South Sudan is the world’s newest nation, having been founded by national referendum in 2011, and has continuously grappled with what could already be called a low-intensity civil war ever since. The root of the conflict is centered on tensions between  the ethnic Dinka and ethnic Nuer peoples, which have long simmered under the surface and is only now exploding into near- civil war status. As the Washington Post reports:

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to nearly double the number of peace­keepers in the world’s newest nation to more than 14,000 and urged swift action to end a violent political and ethnic conflict that threatens to become a full-blown civil war.

Amid reports of mass graves, extrajudicial killings and rapes, tens of thousands of civilians have sought refuge in U.N. base camps that in some cases were described as under siege.

There appeared to be no sign of a rapprochement between the crisis’s central players: President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and former vice president Riek Machar, who is a Nuer, as the ethnic killings threaten to overwhelm U.N., U.S. and African efforts to end the violence.

“There is a palpable fear among civilians of both Dinka and Nuer backgrounds that they will be killed on the basis of their ethnicity,” [U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi] Pillay said.

Chiok Ring, 32, was stopped by Dinka soldiers in another part of the city. He and four other Nuer men, including his brother, were in his black Suzuki, Ring recalled. They were easy to spot: all had six parallel horizontal lines etched across their forehead with a razor, part of the Nuer initiation into adulthood.

One soldier barked: “You are Nuer. Come out.”

Meanwhile, an airlift evacuation of American citizens conducted by the U.S. military in the South Sudanese city of Bor resulted in three aircraft taking fire, and four soldiers being wounded. The Department of Defense has sent a contingent of 150 marines to Camp Lemmonier in Djibouti in the event they are needed to help evacuate the remaining American citizens in South Sudan.

These sorts of stories always remind me of how bad an idea intervening in African conflicts is. It seems to me that a large number of Americans still suffer from the proverbial “white man’s burden”, which could now just be called “The Interventionist American’s burden”: the notion that the United States have some responsibility to bring peace, civilization, democracy, human rights, blah blah blah, to the developing world. Supporters typically agitate for this in the form of copious amounts of foreign aid money and/or military interventions into these places. After the disastrous Somalian intervention of Black Hawk Down fame, these people have eased up on the military aspect slightly, but it rears it’s ugly head once again every so often.

The nationalist Progressive view of foreign intervention (as first administered by the scheming Woodrow Wilson) posits that America has the responsibility and sacred duty to zap bad guys across the world and act as a “policeman on the corner”, as a popular early 1900’s pro-interventionist slogan went. Wilson’s grand notions of world-policing lead to American involvement in World War I, which directly contributed to the start of World War II, and into a zillion other wars and interventions throughout the 20th century. Of course, this was all started not because Wilson and the early Progressives were humanitarians, but because they were hardcore American nationalists who wanted to see the United States propelled into the position of world supremacy over Great Britain. WWI was their ticket upward.

Late Dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in his ubiquitous leopard-print hat.

I recall the day I realized the futility of getting involved in African inter-ethnic conflicts. I was watching a Youtube video on the late dictator of the former Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko. The video was just some interview, I am not sure what it was about. An extremely interesting flame war raged in the comments section between two individuals (presumably Africans) having a fiery argument over the ethnic background of Mobutu. One commenter claimed he was Congolese, while the other maintained he was Rwandan. This meant nothing to me. Rwandan, Congolese, what’s the difference? It dawned on me, though, that I was only viewing the argument through my “American glasses”, which didn’t see an important distinction between Congolese and Rwandan people. It may not mean much to me, but to these two arguers, it sounded like the issue of the century. They were saying things to each other like “I hope your whole family is killed and dragged through the streets, you bastard!”, all over this argument of whether Mobutu was Congolese or not.

It made me realize that most Americans, including myself, barely understand ethnic conflicts in Africa. This includes American politicians. There are a lot of good moral and practical reasons for not intervening in African conflicts, and one really good reason on the practical side is this: How can we, as Americans, hope to intervene in African conflicts with any degree of success without understanding all the subtleties of African ethnic conflicts? We can’t. The notion that the United States can bravely gallop into African ethnic conflicts and put them to rest is total and wishful baloney. I am a staunch supporter of open immigration into America; if people want to help Africans stuck in ethnic conflicts, they should offer to spend their own money to bring them here. There are many charities that do this. It is an admirable pursuit. Otherwise, we should not get involved.

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