Thursday, October 2, 2014

When Will We Ever Learn?

My husband did not come back from Vietnam a gung-ho military patriot. In fact, what he told me about Vietnam was: "It's all fucking bullshit, Vic." He also said that if he ever had any say in the matter, he'd never agree to a son of his (and of course, back then, it was just sons) going to war for a bunch of ego-driven old white men in Washington (and of course, back then it was just white men).

As it happened, that was a moot point because our son reached his adulthood between wars, so to speak, because I don't count Grenada as a war, do you? Although I guess we would be justified in referring to it as an invasion.

Of course, we've always kept our fingers in lots of pies, providing weaponry and training to various rebel groups in places like El Salvador and Nicaragua, assassinating the stray president. We helped the Afghans oust Russia and they appreciated our assistance so much, we became firm wait, I'm dreaming. Actually, they turned the weapons we gave them on our own kids.

Since Vietnam ended, we've gone to war in Iraq (now for the third time) and Bosnia and Somalia and Afghanistan (our longest war so far and no end in sight) and at this point, we have to include Syria. Not all of these were full-fledged wars but they all sent our soldiers into harm's way.

If we have to fight a war, and sometimes we do, we should let the original George Bush or Bill Clinton be our role models - in with superior force, accomplish the mission (getting Iraq out of Kuwait - ending the genocide in Bosnia) and out again.

I had no quarrel with going to Afghanistan - to try to get Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda-  but it never occurred to me that we would still be there 14 1/2 years later, long after Osama was dead and al Qaeda was decimated. (Will we ever be rid of it entirely? No, and it seems that those who pop up to take its place are ever more barbaric and lethal.)

I honestly could never figure the rationale for Iraq 2.0. The justifications kept changing and as we learned that each new reason was false, it morphed into something else. Saddam allied with Al Qaeda - nope? Weapons of mass destruction - nope? Bringing freedom to a country ruled by a repressive dictator? Going by that we'd have to liberate half the countries of the world. Best conclusion that I could come to was that we'd elected a man (Bush) with a Daddy Complex and another man (Cheney) who with a Power Complex.

And yet, look what happened when we tried to elect a president we thought was different, not one of those old white egotists my husband described but a black man we thought would require the most extraordinary of circumstances to consider taking us to war again. After getting us out of Iraq (per the requirements of the Status of Forces Agreement signed by George Bush and Hamid Karzai in 2008), we're right back again. We're still in Afghanistan 6 years into his presidency (and we're going to stay there for at least 10 years)  and now add Syria to the mix.

Can presidents really not help themselves? Can they simply not "just say no" to war?

And what is the justification? If the countries of the Middle East are really so worried about ISIS invading their territory, then let them form a joint coalition to fight them. Several of them have armies and air forces and sophisticated weaponry of their own and sure, let's give them even fight their own battles.

Is it the brutality of beheadings? Yes, this is a particularly ugly way to kill someone but what the hell, killing someone is killing someone whether it be by hanging or shooting or throat-cutting. Our own methods of carrying out capital punishment sentences here at home are not all that humane and we don't seem to worry overmuch about it.

Sometimes, wars work. I would have to say World War II worked. Despite the massive loss of life on all sides, we are now staunch allies with Japan and Germany. More often than not, wars don't work. It took peace and trade to finally become friends with Vietnam. It took peace for England and Northern Ireland to lay down their arms. After centuries of fighting and rebellion, when the Scots had a chance to vote for independence under peaceful conditions, they chose to lay old animosities aside and to stay a part of England.

And when you add the particular antagonism between disparate religions, the hatred becomes even worse. If we ever win the hearts and minds of the middle east, it won't be through bombings and invasions.

Best thing we could do there is to advise every American to get the hell out and then, let the Arabs figure it out on their own.

My husband died 1989 (of lung cancer contributed to by Agent Orange) but I'm pretty sure I know what he'd think about our latest batch of wars.

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