Friday, December 30, 2011

War Rains On Our Parade

Now here is a headline that is truly sad (from AP). “Big parade unlikely for troops back from Iraq: Some say celebration improper while Afghanistan war continues.” The idea being, why celebrate the (alleged) end of one war while another (nearby and presumably for the same cause) is still going on? Well... we did have “V-E Day” (May 8, 1945) four months before “V-J Day” (September 2, 1945), but those were more coherent, less ambiguous times. In those days, one of the main goals of any war was – believe it or not – actually winning. How much more sophisticated and realistic we've become since then! We pull most active, uniformed, combat (add as many more qualifiers as you like) troops out of Iraq, and within about five minutes the terrorist bombings begin again. Hey, wait a minute – aren't we supposed to stick around for a while after “winning” a war? How does retreat constitute winning? See what I mean about how much more “nuanced” we are now in our approach to these things?

The problem is that even though this may all be perfectly acceptable to the powers that be in Washington, New York, and elsewhere, the American people may be starting to catch on. On the most basic – some would say primitive – level, the entire vindication for war comes in the victory parade. And this has been true from time immemorial. At that moment, one can, at least temporarily, forget those left behind (POWs), those who came back in body bags, and those who came back missing body parts or their sanity. The iconic significance of the victory parade is not to be underestimated, because of the statements it makes: It was all worthwhile, and shame on anyone who nitpicks or quibbles. We have, once again, proven our manhood (or womanhood) and the supreme worth of the American way of life. We have taught another bunch of baddies not to screw around with the U.S.A. (even if that's not what they thought they were doing). And – best of all, perhaps – we can now settle back into our accustomed lifestyle, surrounded by war heroes, and proceed to train up the younger generation in preparation for the next war.

Yes, Americans can't get along without triumph. It's never enough to sit under our vine and fig tree and mind our own business, as long as there are wrongs to be righted anywhere in the world. And the satisfaction that comes from having righted those wrongs – ah, that is not to be matched. And as to what it costs us to be the policeman and enforcer for the entire world? Well worth it, we say. Because the resulting pride and triumph are things that most other countries can only dream of. Who else ever got to police the entire planet? Not the Romans... not the Moslems... not the British (although they came as close as anyone)... not the Soviets. And besides, doesn't it all vindicate our origin myths – our original self image as embodied in the founding documents? We always knew we were special, and so it only makes sense that we have to go out and prove it on a regular basis. Otherwise, the world might forget. _We_ might forget!

But now here we are – slouching home victory-less, and with nary a word of thanks from the beneficiaries of our exertions... no parades, no ticker-tape (is there even any such thing any longer?), no big open cars (ditto), no iconic photographs of sailors kissing nurses (same-sex or otherwise)... but mainly no victory, no winning. And it's not as if we're totally new to this experience; after all, it happened in Korea (although we were loath to admit it), and it happened in Vietnam (which resulted in an orgy of self-flagellation over many years). We did get a taste of victory the old fashioned way in the Gulf War, but that turned out to be only a prelude to the debacle that followed.

So we really are in a new era when it comes to warfare, and the causes are many. One is, of course, a change in the nature of war itself, which has ceased to feature set-piece battles by opposing armies in uniform and evolved into, typically, a dispersed, small-unit-based army fighting natives, rebels, insurgents, and “terrorists”. And behind this trend are things like geographical, cultural, political, and religious differences – not to mention economics. World War II was, perhaps, the last pure case of rich countries fighting each other – which meant that they had the same general concept of war and of strategy... and the similar level of economic development and industrialization led to a kind of symmetry in tactics, armaments, munitions, transportation, logistics... even down to unit organization and uniforms. That symmetry persisted with the Korean conflict primarily, I think, because we were fighting a clone of a much larger power (China) or fighting the much larger power itself. But then it all broke down with Vietnam because, guess what, the other side was not only fighting on its home turf but it was fighting in the ways that worked there – whereas we were still trying to get them to “fight like a man”, you know, with flags and uniforms and bugles and all that. (And this, by the way, is a non-trivial matter as well. As long as we were fighting Europeans, we and they shared a certain set of expectations about how war was to be done; this was eventually codified in the Geneva Conventions. But those Asians (whether East or Southwest) -- well! They're just dirty little beasts, and that's all there is to it.)

So yeah, I guess there were probably “victory” parades after Korea, although I certainly don't remember any, having been a bit young at the time. But I also imagine that people might have been standing there on the curb with a flag in their hand, kind of wondering in the back of their mind, now what exactly are we celebrating here? Did we really “win” anything, or did we just break even? And was it worth it? Et cetera. Vietnam, of course, by the time it was finally over, had shown itself to be a debacle of cosmic proportions... and many Americans hung their heads in shame, and insisted that others do the same. But did we learn? Not really. When it came time to kick the Iraqis out of Kuwait all those scars had healed – there was a new generation in charge, and plenty of new toys that the military was anxious to try out. And the thing about that conflict (the Gulf War) was that it actually worked – I mean, it resulted in an unambiguous victory, and was, arguably, a bargain (relative to what's gone on since). So that sharpened our appetite – ah, maybe the days of glory are not past after all... maybe Vietnam was an anomaly. And thus was paved the way to folly and absurdity in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So yes, much of it can be attributed to the ongoing history of warfare, world politics, the evolution of technology, and what not. But those are minor concerns compared to the forces that are keeping us in a state of perpetual war. I've gone over this before, but I'll at least mention the continued existence and dominance (over both major parties) of the unholy cabal that is primarily responsible for our current situation – namely the Neocons, the Evangelicals, the armaments makers, and the Israeli lobby... not that those groups don't overlap considerably. And what makes this such an effective cabal is not that the various groups have the exact same agenda. On the contrary, the armaments makers are interested in profits, the Israelis in security, the Neocons in power (and Israeli security), and the Evangelicals in fulfilling the promises found in Revelations. Their strength is that they have found common cause in perpetual war in the Middle East – what I refer to as the War on Islam.

And by “armaments makers”, I don't mean only people directly involved in the design, manufacture, and sale of weapons; it has to include the vast array of suppliers, shippers, and support personnel as well as financial interests, investors, and so on – an entire sector of society, in fact, that thrives on war and fears peace like the plague. (And, by the way, in case you hadn't already noticed, the vast bulk of support and “advice” to the Republican contenders for the presidency comes from this cabal. They are to the Republicans what the unions, minority activist groups, and trial lawyers are to the Democrats, even though the Democrats, once in office, follow their orders as well.)

So when this many people are making money, and acquiring power, by means of war, what difference does it make whether those wars are won or lost? The truth is, it makes no difference at all – as long as the wars persist. Which means it's actually most convenient if we neither win nor lose, but keep struggling – and you'll notice that our wars these days are designed with that in mind. But there are always alternative plans in someone's back pocket, “just in case” something happens like our ostensibly getting out of Iraq. Resources can then be redirected to Afghanistan in a seamless manner... or to Iran... or North Korea... or China. The possibilities are endless.

But even though winless wars may make some people happy, they have to be eroding our self-image as a nation, and they have to be creating a state of chronic depression among the citizenry, do they not? And, as the article points out, “(m)any troops who fought in the Iraq War could end up being sent to Afghanistan.” In fact, many already have been. So there you have it – perpetual war, an endless rotation among third-world pestholes, an endless cycle of provoking even more enmity which we are then compelled to combat, and so on. And so far this technique has been limited to Southwest Asia, but who is to say? We're rattling sabers at Iran and China now, and have rattled them on and off at Russia and North Korea – not to mention here and there in Latin America, and even sub-Saharan Africa. Truly, the world is ripe for the picking, and there are any number of American politicians and leaders who will rush in without counting the cost -- and presidential candidates who promise to do so.

So the article in question ends – as it should – with a whimper: “A parade [I guess that means any parade – a kind of generic parade] might invite criticism from those who believe the United States left Iraq too soon [! -- When were we supposed to leave? In ten more years?], as well as from those who feel the war was unjustified. It could also trigger questions about assertions of victory.” That's for sure. But wait – who, exactly, is “asserting victory” in this case? No one that I know of. Oh sure, we read interviews with returning troops who are programmed to say stuff like, “we helped the Iraqi people obtain their freedom”. But guess what, bub? That's not why we went over there. Anyone remember WMDs? Oh well...

And finally -- “President George W. Bush's administration referred to military action in the Middle East as part of a global war on terror, a conflict that's hard to define by conventional measures of success.” Excuse me, is this an “Onion” article? No – the behavior of the Bush and Obama administrations is beyond satire. Just consider the expression “global war on terror” for a moment. Number one, “global” -- meaning anywhere in the world, regardless of whether we have any vital interests or not. If “terrorists” from Mali attack the Central African Republic, we're there, dude. And it's because “terror” is just... well, it's bad! Evil! And it has to be wiped off the face of the earth! Little attention is paid to what any military scholar knows, which that “terror” is just a loaded term for “unconventional warfare” or “asymmetrical warfare”, which is, in turn, simply the way poor countries make war on rich countries (or their surrogates). And what is it, after all, that makes what _we_ do in the Middle East not “terror”? It feels the same to the civilians who wind up getting killed and wounded. I'll tell you what it is. We wear uniforms and have a flag. Yeah, that's about all it boils down to. If the “terrorists” wore uniforms and had a flag, we'd have to call them an “army” and give them a lot more respect.

And as for “conventional measures of success”, well... that's what I've been calling “victory” or “winning” all this time. So... what would non-conventional measures of success be? “Helping the Iraqi people obtain their freedom?” But there is no guarantee that we've even done that much; the jury is still out. And as far as suppressing “terror” overall, it can be argued that we've only made things worse by our actions. No, the true non-conventional measures of success are the increased riches and power that have accrued, and will continue to accrue, to the people who sponsor these wars, and their political servants. The problem is that these measures cannot be admitted to in public, leave alone bragged about (except in corporate annual reports and “think tank” position papers). And they represent values that are, for some mysterious reason, simply not shared by the public at large – you know, “You go to war and get killed so I can make money and gain power.” In their naïve, simplistic way Americans still long for victories – for something they can take pride in. But this is all to be denied them, because they have no voice and no standing in the world as it has become.

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