So saith General Sherman during the Civil War. However, there is a quote concerning war that I far prefer. "The true enemy of man is war itself."
Incredibly, that statement was not made by a statesman, nor a military commander, nor a philosopher. It is a line from the Hollywood movie entitled Crimson Tide. Denzel Washington, playing the part of Lt. Commander Ron Hunter, makes this philosophical statement to Captain Frank Ramsey, played by Gene Hackman. I saw that movie fourteen years ago and the line remains impregnated on my soul.
Chris Hedges writes, "War comes wrapped in patriotic slogans, calls for sacrifice, honor and heroism and promises of glory. It comes wrapped in the claims of divine providence. It is what a grateful nation asks of its children. It is what is right and just. It is waged to make the nation and the world a better place, to cleanse evil. War is touted as the ultimate test of manhood, where the young can find out what they are made of. War, from a distance, seems noble. It gives us comrades and power and a chance to play a small bit in the great drama of history. It promises to give us an identity as a warrior, a patriot, as long as we go along with the myth, the one the war-makers need to wage wars and the defense contractors need to increase their profits."
Allow me to clarify. I am both a student of military history and a Marine Corps officer [ret]. It is recognized that war becomes an unwilling necessity when a nation is attacked by an aggressor nation. Prime examples might include World Wars One and Two. In WWI, France could hardly overlook the fact that German divisions had Paris in their sights. In WWII, following unparalleled Nazi aggression in Europe, the United States could not ignore the sneak attack on its Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor by Imperial Japan. In situations such as these the nations aggressed are forced into an unwelcome war, and the aggressor nation[s] bears the responsibility for unleashing the horrors of war. Who better to know that war is evil incarnate than one who studies war or a military man. The nonmilitary legislator or president is lacking in the true experience of war. Conversely, in a democracy such as ours civilians control our armed forces. At times, such control represents a dichotomy, but most would not have it any other way.
There is no such thing as a "good war." That is a oxymoron. However, as described above, there are wars when an aggrieved nation is reluctantly forced into war to salvage its sovereignty from a war-like aggressor bent on imperialism. Then there are wars that are just plain dumb. And because they are dumb, such wars represent the cruelest fate for our young and our future. By my count, since WWII the U.S. has fought 20 wars, and that number could be in dispute due to interpretation and be somewhat higher. Most of those wars fell in the dumb/unnecessary category. After all, what parent wants to hear how their beloved son died in Mogadishu, Somalia. Fortunately, with the exception of the Korean War and the Vietnam War, these wars were of short duration with a minimum of casualties.
There are two notable exceptions to that last statement, the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan.
Iraq is not only an incredibly dumb war, it is an illegal one. The invasion of Iraq in March 2003 violated the U.N. Charter and the Geneva Convention, both treaties we have signed onto and, thus, the law of the land. The invasion was based entirely upon lies, not intelligence failures. There were no WMD's. Saddam had nothing whatsoever to do with al-Qa'ida or 9/11. Indeed, many, including this writer, knew that Saddam was a sworn enemy of al-Qa'ida. Last, but not least, de-fanged Iraq posed absolutely no national security risk to the United States. A severely weakened state by 2003, she did not even pose a threat to her neighbors. Over 4,300 young American men and women have been killed in Iraq, over 31,300 wounded, many permanently. Due to multiple tours of duty, PTSD is prevalent in our military and suicide rates are off the scale. For what?
Documented civilian deaths in Iraq, according to Iraq Body Count, range between 92,311 and 100,786. IBC's count is very conservative because it is based on documented deaths. Muslim tradition dictates that the dead are buried very quickly, often without documentation by the government or hospitals. Other surveys of Iraqi civilian deaths are much higher, some well over a million. For what?
The true enemy of man is war itself.
There is hope in Iraq ... theoretically. According to the SOFA (Status Of Forces Agreement) between Iraq and the U.S. agreed upon during the waning days of the Bush administration in Dec. 2008, American combat troops are to leave Iraqi cities by June 30th. That is momentous, the first positive step in Iraq in over six years. Now I'm going to put myself out on a limb. It is not going to happen. I have access to a vast number of news sources. This remarkable development is only days away, and, unless each and every news source at my disposal has been remiss; what is the Iraqi government saying; what is President Obama saying; what is the Pentagon saying ... nothing. Ergo, it is not happening. I hope I am wrong.
As if Iraq was not enough to represent the horrible folly of war, there is rising concern about the war in Afghanistan, often described by the aforementioned oxymoron, the good war. Following 9/11, the attack on the Taliban government that provided an umbrella for Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida, the terrorist group which admitted responsibility for the unnerving attack on American shores, was a righteous retaliation, not a good war. However, in its fervor for launching the illegal war in Iraq the Bush administration, Pentagon, and the CIA made the egregious error of minimizing the importance of the Afghan war. That war, now in its eighth year, has now evolved into a foolish war because it was not resolved in its first year, indeed within months after its beginning due to errors made by commanders that will haunt them to their graves.
Abruptly, we come to the present. Norman Solomon said it best. "It takes at least tacit faith in massive violence to believe that after three decades of horrendous violence in Afghanistan, upping the violence there will improve the situation."
Ryan Croken adds his thoughts to the Afghan debacle. "As the US government, still without a clearly articulated strategy, calls for a heavily militarized escalation of forces into a conflict that cannot be resolved through military means, we would be well advised to arm ourselves with the wisdom of the historical record. As it now stands, President Obama is being led into the graveyard of empires by the same misguided philosophers of war that helped spawn this disaster in the first place."
In its past Afghanistan has defeated Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, various Arab armies, the British Empire, a sundry of other major intruders, as well as the Soviet Union in the eight-year war during the 1980's. The U.S. is rapidly approaching the eight-year benchmark set by the Soviet Union, which collapsed shortly after their withdrawal from Afghanistan. In business circles success is dependent on location, location, location. In military parlance success is dependent on terrain, terrain, terrain. Many a battle and many a war has been lost because a military commander made the wrong choice of terrain in making his stand. Afghanistan has proven over the centuries that it represents inhospitable terrain for an unwelcome invader in an elongated military campaign. The only hope for American forces in 2001 was a quick decisive victory over the Taliban government and the al-Qa'ida forces. That was within reach. Then defeat was snatched away from the jaws of victory by the criminal bungling of American decision makers. Both the Taliban and al-Qa'ida escaped to Pakistan, out of reach from NATO forces who are now dependent on a fractious Pakistan to correct American errors of judgment. That is where we stand today.
According to new Pentagon statistics, in the second quarter of this year there has been a 23 percent increase in the number of private security contractors working for the Pentagon in Iraq, and a 29 percent hike in Afghanistan. In fact, outside contractors now make up approximately half of our forces fighting in the two countries. "This means," according to Jeremy Scahill, author of the book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, "there are a whopping 242,647 contractors working on these two US wars."
Lt. General Stanley McChrystal is the man slated to be the new commander of our troops in Afghanistan. He states that the strategy involving Afghanistan will cost America and its NATO allies billions of additional dollars for years to come. In fact, according to budget documents released by the Pentagon last month, as of next year, the cost of the war in Afghanistan - more and more known as "Obama's War" - will exceed the cost of the war in Iraq.
Obama asserted in his Cairo speech that he has no desire to keep troops or establish permanent military bases in Afghanistan. But, according to Scahill, "I think what we're seeing, under President Barack Obama, is sort of old wine in a new bottle. Obama is sending one message to the world, but the reality on the ground, particularly when it comes to private military contractors, is that the status quo remains from the Bush era."
Obama told 60 Minutes that the US must have an "exit strategy" in Afghanistan. But when Representative Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts) tried to attach language to the supplemental requiring that the Pentagon submit an exit strategy to Congress, he was blocked by the House leadership, presumably acting on administration instructions.
Robert Naiman, senior policy analyst for Just Foreign Policy, was struck by the fact that the crowd vigorously applauded when Obama quoted the Koran thusly:
The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind.
As innocent civilian deaths mount in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan as a consequence of American military operations, Naiman suggests that the United States is also subject to that standard.
Whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind.
The true enemy of man is war.
The history of modern warfare illustrates that there are no accomplishments ... there is only destruction. Spain's power was diminished. Great Britain's power was diminished. France's power was diminished. So has Germany's power and, yes, even Russia's power to influence events. So, too, we may be witnessing the decline of American power as a consequence of two extremely inane wars with military adversaries of miniscule proportions. Man has mastered the art of war from nuclear bombs to highly sophisticated warplanes to intelligent missiles to pilot-less drones that can fire powerful missiles at unsuspecting targets while being piloted by technicians in Nevada or elsewhere. By contrast, the Japanese Empire destroyed itself in WWII via war, but Japan has emerged as a gargantuan economic power in the global economy by avoiding wars since the military debacle known as Pearl Harbor. China has largely avoided major wars for over 56 years. She has become an economic and military powerhouse holding vast sums of treasury notes to America's indebtedness. In the meantime, the United States has succumbed to military prowess, and the National Debt is increasing exponentially. There is no other conclusion.
The true enemy of man is war itself.