“Only the dead have seen the end of war”
War itself invades us every day
At home, at work and, yes, at play
We cannot escape while we have breath
Indeed, it stalks us until death
And worse, we paint a moral face
On architects and stars of war
As though killing offers grace
To reach salvation ever more
CEOs and generals support the cause
While cash and fame await
But blithely fail to mention flaws
That leave lesser folks a fate
Of separation, pain and gore
From wars to come and those before
The quote above is attributed to Plato, George Santayana and sometimes to General Douglas MacArthur (who in turn claimed that Plato was his source). Our governments and our leaders claim to seek peace, but the body of work supporting peace is miniscule compared to the bodies that litter the history of war. With key people on this earth demanding war, how will we ever see its end? Even recent history seems to place war on the highest level of human achievement, while relegating peace to rhetoric and dreamers. I want to examine some of the mythology of peace while we also review our process for going to war and our penchant for self-deception. We currently are in international talks to guide Iran away from nuclear weapons through negotiation, but if you were to examine the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, it seems clear that to our Congress as well as to the PM, the overwhelming favorite policy is to threaten Iran with force and that negotiation equals appeasement. Only the disaster of war can prevent the disaster of nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran? Recall that Netanyahu was a strong cheerleader for Bush’s invasion of Iraq. He declared unequivocally (2002) that Iraq was building nuclear weapons under Saddam Hussein. That clearly endorsed the phony intelligence foisted on us by the Bush administration. Why should we believe him now? He seems to have no additional information.
Meanwhile, war drums today beat for further military intrusion in Iraq, Syria and Libya and on. We seem to have forgotten that the 2003 invasion of Iraq created the instability that gave rise to al Qaeda of Iraq that Saddam Hussein had previously blocked. AQ has now morphed into ISIS/ISIL bent on death and retribution, and now the cry for more “boots on the ground.” Iraq was not a perfect law abiding nation prior to our invasion, but 80s history is that special envoy Donald Rumsfeld was instrumental in the sale of chemical weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein during the 80s under both Reagan and GHW Bush. We didn’t sell the weapons we wanted . We sold the weapons we had, to paraphrase Rumsfeld. Were those sales for some humanitarian purpose? Didn’t Bush in 2003 cite chemical weapons as a reason to invade Iraq? Hmm? In the 20 years between our providing chemical weapons to Iraq and our invasion in 2003 seeking weapons of mass destruction, had there been some major change in Iraq that required our invasion? Maybe our Attention Deficit Disorder? Despite Cheney’s intelligence the answer is no. We simultaneously say we hate war while we deliberately promote it. Is it ironic that our avowed enemy, Iran, does have boots on the ground fighting Isis? Maybe we should thank them just as they should thank us for destroying Sunnis in Iraq and making Iran and Shia preeminent there.
My introductory verse alludes to two entirely different views of war. War-makers see war as their calling. It has been so since before kings. Most of us see war as inherently ugly, brutal and immoral. It requires active killing, deprivation of freedom and property, anguish and pain. War must therefore be uniquely morally justified in order to engage in it or wage it. “War-makers” (my definition) include those who profit personally from it. We have had profiteers who supported war for centuries including thousands right here in these United States. They have been decried from the Revolutionary War onward. We compare virtually every competitive activity to war. This may serve as a lesson in itself as to why we tend to accept war as natural and even wholesome. Football causes thousands of permanent injuries for players from children to professionals, but we seem to enjoy the macho competition while the players literally smash their brains at play. Football offers a modicum of strategy and tactics; planning and preparation; qualities we ascribe to war. There are other “supporting rationales” for war that seem more insidious. We train our soldiers “to kill or be killed,” therefore justifying killing as self-defense. We speak of far greater evils such as loss of freedom with falling “dominos” that will cause our demise (Vietnam). We literally demonize our enemies to both stir up anger and energy to defeat an enemy and to reduce the moral questioning within a nation. Almost laughably, Bush referred to the enemy as “evil-doers.” Perhaps Pogo was more accurate: “We have found the enemy and he is us.” We minimize the human aspects of our enemy to justify killing for wars of choice as well as for wars of vital defense. They become equal. Enemies become targets or objects as well as monsters and otherwise inhuman beings and, yet, PTSD thrives. It is hard to fool soldiers completely. War veterans are killing themselves at the rate of 22 per day. Perhaps the stress of “kill or be killed” is more than the human psyche can absorb without serious damage.
There appears to be still another “cover” to justify any war, still harder to accept: the myth that the greater good is served by our “we built that” pride. We build “smart” bombs and weapons that spare non-combatants as though explosives and munitions had human caring motives when, really, the profit motive of the builders overcomes the conscience of reality. We only use these weapons as a last resort? When was the last time that we truly tried anything but war to resolve a conflict? Even now, many “conservatives” are trying to derail negotiations with Iran. We provide fame and acclaim to our military leaders who help organize our killing for us, with leaders like the now shamed General Petraeus. The power bestowed on military leaders is unparalleled in human endeavor. But is power the solution or the problem or both? General Eisenhower warned of the “military-industrial complex,” but was woefully optimistic in predicting what happens today when military leaders retire to be lobbyists for military suppliers of arms and advisors who create a revolving door of a political demand push for military spending. Power/War becomes an economic driver that colors our political and social policies.
Smart bombs, dumb bombs; all cost billions. Is this trip (back to the middle east) necessary? Let us check your baggage. Are you going to make money on this war? Are you pursuing justice, glory or just money? We created huge new private organizations for logistical support of our combat forces. This would stun Ike were he alive, but it brought Cheney’s firm billions that were not used to hire many loyal civilian Americans in war zones, but rather thousands of Bangladeshi and other low cost labor that had no loyalty to the US but increased Halliburton profits. Air Force aircraft that don’t work safely are on the scale of $ 1 billion each, but the political-military-industrial complex buys them with impunity and demands more. Peace cannot survive in this climate of greed. Can we?
As a post note, we have seen a recent evolution of language to support insane concepts. “Conservative” is a case in point. In my lifetime, a conservative was someone who cared about preserving the environment, saving his/her money and other resources; reserved in social interactions or interfering in another’s life. My father was a conservative. He was slow to accept checkbooks or sport shirts. He would be appalled that “conservatives” now abused the planet for personal gain; that denial of facts would be a status symbol or that “conservatives” would start wars for money and lie about it. Listen to Senators Lindsey Graham or John McCain for war coming to a neighborhood near you.
10 Mar 2015