A Visit to the Swamp of Conflicting Ideas
I just listened to the debate on C-span between George Galloway and Christopher Hitchens on the subject of the US-British invasion and occupation of Iraq. No matter whose side you favor, both men make some interesting and revelatory statements. The problem is, both men are right, and both men are wrong. Is this because there is no black and white? No, there is black and white and all shades of gray in between. The problem has complex origins. Monsters were created and destroyed in the region for political advantage, and the flow of weapons and money into the willing hands of the power-hungry made sure that there was no stability or democracy to be had under the Marshall Plan. Every subsequent step down the slippery slope that has led to the present bizarre situation has been a logical outcome of the then-existing bizarre situation, both defensible, and debatable. In other words, and in my opinion, we just keep making mistakes.
I am reading a first-hand account of the campaign in the First World War that pushed the Germans back from the Marne, and started the long, bloody, and bitter retreat of that army back to Germany. History belongs to the victor, and most history books dismiss this series of campaigns with the words “The Germans were pushed back....” Make no mistake, this was a retreat, not a rout, and the German soldiers fought and died bravely for what they believed was a just cause. This is sadly relevant for the bloodshed that happened after that war. If you make an enemy, you might make an enemy for life. No lasting diplomatic solution ever was achieved at gunpoint. Sarajevo is a prime example; anyone care to remember the political issues that started WWI and the sequel? The peace is achieved and maintained by recognizing the rights and supporting the rights of all people. If you invade a foreign country, must you not recognize the rights of the occupied to fight back? We call these people terrorists. They are engaged in the same activities as the French Résistance in World War II. They have their own ideas who the enemy is. My opinion of those ideas is irrelevant to them. From an outside perspective, their enemies include some of their own people, but there are socio-racial groups that don’t get along in that country. Turkey has threatened to invade if the Kurds win independence. The problems are complex, and military occupation is too simplistic an answer to be the whole answer. I maintain that one can recognize the right of a sovereign people to create insurrection, and still do what is necessary to quell said insurrection.
One small mistake we can avoid making is dehumanizing and oversimplifying the enemy. This has been done traditionally to facilitate the killing of men by soldiers. Unfortunately, this kind of equivocation does not have a lasting effect on the soldiers who use it, and the deeds of war often come back to haunt them in later years. This is caused by the conflict between the social taboo against killing humans, and the need to act like a weapon when part of a military operation. There is no clear solution to this problem. Either we turn our soldiers into permanent killers, with no more inhibitions than a gunslinger from the old West, or we turn them into guilt-ridden basket cases. I think I prefer those with less inhibition toward killing per se, as long as I can trust them to remain rational human beings. In a world that contains drugs, alcohol, socio-political and religious demagoguery and fanaticism, that can be a problem in itself.