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Pacification and its Discontents

Kurt Jacobsen

As George W. Bush’s Iraq mission unravelled, US policy elites revived counterinsurgency doctrines. The new edition of the Counterinsurgency Manual defines pacification as “the process by which the government assert[s] its influence and control in an area beset by insurgents,” which includes “local security efforts, programs to distribute food and medical supplies, and lasting reforms (like land redistribution).” Who can object? Yet for sceptical beholders “pacification,” and its synonym, “counterinsurgency,” are stale euphemisms for violent suppression of popular resistance movements abroad. As the lynchpin of US strategy in Vietnam, pacification was responsible for the destruction of untold numbers of non-combatants. Armed insurgents seem at times only to have gotten in the way. “The more we won, the more we lost,” as one war correspondent observed. Indeed, this ballyhooed strategy proved to be woefully counter-productive virtually everywhere it has been practiced. In this pamphlet, Kurt Jacobsen examines the curious case of the rehabilitation of repressive practices that any sensible civilized nation ought to discard.

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