POST #9. ESTRANGEMENT AND ALIENATION: THE RIVER PEOPLE

In a documentary whose name and source I’ve forgotten (though it has the feeling of “Frontline” in my memory), a television crew followed a squad of soldiers as they patrolled the streets of some then-contested section of Baghdad. In one scene, an officer, aided by a translator, questioned a local man about the movements of opposition fighters. The local man seemed to give equivocal, perhaps devious  answers, because his body language didn’t quite match his words, and as the officer left, he expressed disdain for, and mistrust of, “these people,” who he was ostensibly helping to liberate. He felt estranged, not only from the local populace, but from the country and his reason for being there. As it turned out, another Iraqi translator reviewed the broadcast, and found that the on-site translator’s words were very different from, and sometimes contradicted, what the local man actually said, and the difference was often more than mere incompetence would account for. Knowing that this miscommunication (if not sabotage) had probably been going on for some time, one could understand the officer’s sense of alienation, which was probably shared by others in his command.

Ambiguity, feelings of alienation, and uncertainty about the basic elements of communication and trust, are what I wanted to re-create in the segment about the river people. The Astyadji, from the River Scamander, never presented themselves at the walls, and the other tribes never mentioned them. It was only when Ygpatajz made a passing reference that Xeno learned of their existence, and when the Greeks first made contact, the Astyadji lied about why they never came around (or about their relations with other tribes), yet they were open about their loyalty to Troy, and to Hector’s baby son, whom the Greeks had so brutally murdered. They seemed to move about, perhaps hiding from the Djaporozji raiders, but they’d been concealing their abandoned campsites, as if trying to hide their existence from the Greeks before they were inadvertently discovered. It was hard to know the Astyadji. Meanwhile, the people from the five rivers gave ever-changing and conflicting accounts of what their tribal names were, or what those names meant, and there may well have been a sixth tribe (perhaps even a sixth river), but the putative members of that tribe denied their own existence, though they were plainly different from the other river tribes. The irony is that Xeno and the Greeks can’t translate their suspicions into open hostility because the garrison (the ancient counterpart to the American occupation force) is woefully undermanned. The tribes probably don’t realize that (though it will eventually become obvious), so they mask their hostility in aloofness and cultural ambiguity.

This sepsis of passive aggression parallels the relationships portrayed in the Iraq documentary. The Iraqis were overrun by an invading force which claimed to have liberated them from Saddam. That was a good thing for many Iraqis, but the resistance blended into the population and struck from anywhere and everywhere, so the “liberators” were suspicious of everyone; Viet Nam redux. The resistance retaliated against those who cooperated with the invaders, so even those who supported the Americans were reluctant to be seen assisting them. This situation could have been prevented, or at least curtailed, if a sufficiently large occupation force had been activated, as all the pre-invasion research had urged. (See POST #7. IRAQ: THE ALLEGORY 2.0) Subsequent troop surges couldn’t undo the gains the resistance made during the initial post-invasion anarchy in Iraq. Similarly, an adequately manned Greek garrison might have been able to stabilize the outlying areas for the new Greek occupation and reconstruction forces. However, even if such forces had returned to Troy, they would have encountered unstable surroundings, and maybe military opposition to their landing, because the undermanned garrison was too small to protect itself, let alone stabilize the Dardanelles.

 * * *

When I began this post, I thought that the estrangement of and from the river people was a continuation of the Greek’s alienated feelings as they pressed through Priam’s palace, where the ornamentation along the corridors was so strange it threw off their depth perception, and they discovered that this eastern culture was a theocracy, where the kings were worshipped as gods. I now realize, after further reflection, that this wasn’t the case. The alien culture the western invaders encountered as they sacked the city was the culture of Troy, the dominant power in the region, and they were bent on destroying that culture and civilization (though not the urban structure itself, as we came to learn). The  river people they encounter are local tribes of varying ethnicities, who had been suppressed by Trojan culture, and the westerners (Greek garrison) were merely trying to assess the lay of the land, and come to terms with the locals.

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