What Happened to the War?

For the past five years I have been a one-issue voter.

My issue? Stop the war.

I’m not much of a fighter. I grew up with a father who was haunted by his experience in World War 2. He could not stop reliving it, and forcing his horrible memories on me and my brothers and sisters. Despite this, my understanding was that it was a “good” war, one that we all could be proud of. In 1950’s America this was the overwhelmingly predominant sentiment, and even today I think most would concur.

But when my war came along — the one in Vietnam — I was no longer a child, and I didn’t think about it in that childlike way: Oh boy! Competition! Let’s kick some ass! I love kickin’ ass! Our leaders say we have to do this, so I’m going to do this. We have to stop the spread of communism — if Vietnam falls, all of Asia will go down like dominoes. My nation is superior and in this way we will prove it. Better dead than Red. The honor of my country is at stake. God is on our side.

We have at least one war every generation, and I have now been around long enough to know that there are two reasons: one is that wars are profitable for old guys. The other is that young guys like to fight, and are thus easily manipulated into believing they must fight.

I can look back at World War 2 now and see that it didn’t have to happen. International competition for land and resources, the humiliating Treaty of Versailles, the profit motive of arms dealers and the utter failure of diplomacy led to that conflagration. Don’t get all “Hitler was crazy” on me. I know that, but then what about Mussolini, Roosevelt, Tojo, Hirohito, Churchill? What about Charlemagne, Napoleon, George Washington, Che Guevara and Ghengis Khan? Were they all crazy? Are we all crazy? Because don’t we always, haven’t we always, resorted to robbing, raping and killing each other to resolve our differences? As if there were no other way! And doesn’t the end of each war set the stage for the next one? Didn’t we recently (90 years ago) have “the war to end all wars”? Heck, maybe we’re not crazy. Maybe we’re just stupid.

Look, I’m aware of all the practical arguments you can give me for fighting all these wars, and I’m sure to many of you I seem unpatriotic or naive. I admit I’m more interested in the world than the nation. I’d rather promote the survival of humanity than of Americans, and by definition this is unpatriotic. I can live with your censure for that. As for practicality, how many times are we going to “settle” things with mass violence, only to discover 20 years later that things aren’t settled at all, and we have to saddle up and go fight again? How many millenia of bloody destruction must we endure before we try something else? How practical is it to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting the results to be different?

Am I naive to suggest that we find another way? Now that there are six billion of us and we can see the end of existing global fuel supplies and the very climate is changing as a result of our presence, isn’t it time we stopped with the mindless killing and started to work together, to pool the world’s talent and try to save our planet — our home? I’m not a doomsayer. I’m really quite optimistic about what we might achieve if we cooperate, if we learn how to listen to each other, if we stifle the greed of old guys and derail the bloodlust of young guys and focus instead on making a better life for all of us and for our descendants.

Somehow I’ve lost sight of my one issue over the past year. Healthcare, Reverend Wright, Hillary’s brave campaign, our government’s blatant corruption, Larry Craig’s foot-tapping, cyclones, earthquakes, the unconscionable profits of Exxon, dappin’ on the podium — so much has crowded out my one issue. Meanwhile, way out on the edge of the media bubble, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq drag on. Atrocities are being committed every day. Even the legal stuff, the killing that has been officially sanctioned, the affronts to human dignity that are approved by international treaty, are hardly mentioned in the news anymore. I’m not blaming the press. It’s my bad that I’ve let this slip from my consciousness.

My One Big Issue is the reason I would have voted for any of the excellent Democratic candidates for president in 2008, and why I will now support the finalist, Barack Obama. It’s the overriding reason why I wouldn’t vote for McCain under any circumstance (although there are plenty of other compelling reasons not to vote for him). I know that the mess we have created in Iraq precludes any kind of immediate withdrawal of forces, but we must begin to wrap it up there and stop shooting, even if we can’t pull out for years. President Bush is trying to work out a deal — a “Status of Force Agreement” — that will make McCain’s dream of a hundred years there a reality. Congress needs to block this any way they can, and the next president needs to work out something that makes sense and actually leads to the U.S. departure from a country where we do not belong, playing a role that cannot be sustained, at a cost that is simply unimaginable.

Whatever the hell is going on in Afghanistan, it isn’t working. The Taliban is back big time, and the locals seems to be hiding and abetting Osama bin Laden, which I think makes our effort there a complete failure, so I would suggest looking for an alternative to the deployment of troops. The terrorist problem has always seemed to me a police matter anyway — it was the Bush Administration that tried to make it into an excuse for military action.

Nobody really wants to deal with this as a serious issue. Nobody wants to get at the causes and try to make real change. Six months ago all the candidates for President of the United States said, in response to prompting from the press, that they couldn’t promise we’d be out of Iraq by 2013 — the end of a first term, which to me was sort of a promise that we wouldn’t be out by then. So we don’t have an antiwar candidate, and the wind is out of those sails.

Nevertheless, as the earth’s population continues to explode, water and energy supplies dry up and pollution threatens all humanity, we may be at a tipping point, a point in history at which we do something together, or die separately in bunkers, proudly waving our tattered flags.

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5 Replies to “What Happened to the War?”

  1. I hope that all of our soldiers in Iraq will be home long before 2013. But like you, I’m not holding out much hope for it. What worries me right now is the renewed saber-rattling by the Bush administration against Iran. Like Iraq, there is no good reason to start a war in that country. But Bush doesn’t need a good reason, and we’ve set a terrible precedent, letting him get away with his vanity war in Iraq.

    He has about five months left to do more catastrophic harm to our country while filling his own and his cronies’ coffers with gold and treasure. I hope Congress keeps a sharp eye on him.

  2. Yup.

    Allow me to add that the population that fought in WW2 was, by and large, more cross-class than the population that fought in Viet Nam, and certainly the population that’s fighting and dying in the Middle East. Even the most dyed-in-the-wool “conservative”–at least if they’re working class or below–can begin to see that it’s not rich men’s sons and daughters who are dying, and it’s not poor people whose lives are made better (read: richer) by the wars. It’s why Bush tried so hard to shut up, ignore, defame, and otherwise silence Cindy Sheehan.

    And, really, it’s why I try to do my teeny small part for peace and justice. As Elvis noted, what’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding? It’s a stand worth taking, and I don’t care how many, or how few, people are with me. I’m glad you are, though.

  3. It’s the “Never Ending Story”, eh…

    After the way we’ve evolved so violently all these millennia, I’m just glad there ARE still folks being born and raised who don’t believe its lies.

  4. “I’d rather promote the survival of humanity than of Americans”. Indeed!

    Any idea suggesting the possibility that we surrender some of our privilege and power so that non-Americans might have a chance to thrive is a risk to the American way. It’s a risk even if the long-term plan is a benefit to everyone. We only seem to think and plan in 4-year increments. Our problems are bigger than that. Our vision needs to be bigger than that as well.

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