Sunday, October 16, 2005

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.


At 9:25 PM, Blogger Rev. Barky said...

Try implementing a peaceful approach to a situation with an engorged military industrial dragon poised to ignite it's hot breath. I work within the confines of this complex. Like a cog in a vast machinery of potential destruction, I wait for my time to turn my little turn, oblivious to what the whole mechanical monstrosity is doing. Mostly, few give it much thought lost in the whirl of engineering, development, contracts, funding and logistics but I have seen a few bulletheads expand the effort by objectifying an "enemy" that we are told is trying to kill us. For them, it is awesome to see the revenge our efforts can accomplish. Most everyoone else earns a paycheck. One thing is for sure - there is an awesome amount of money being spent on this stuff and there would be a profound lack of pupose if there no use to them - so we use them. And it pays well. I wonder what's for lunch in the cafeteria tomorrow.

At 7:57 AM, Blogger breakerslion said...

I have no answer to that. Military preparedness is a modern necessity, and has been for centuries! Our weapons have merely grown larger than we are. The problem with that arises on the days that we discover that we are the barbarians at the gate.

With all of the posturing on both sides of an argument, a purely peaceful solution is often impossible. If a purely military solution worked, we would all be speaking Latin. If someone can find a way for India and Pakistan to set aside old grudges and become mutually respectful allies, not only at a government level, but also at a household one, then there is hope for the rest of the world.

At 6:29 PM, Blogger Rev. Barky said...

Itr really doesn't help to have an administration that is so busy covering up their mountain of lies that they wouldn't know the truth if it bit them in the ass.

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At 8:10 AM, Blogger Paul said...

Demonizing the enemy is certainly a hallmark of this administration, with all its good guys/bad guys/evil doers/ and America the Great Christian Crusading Nation talk.

I was never in the military. Guess I wonder if training people to kill other people requires going so far as to demonize them. The enemy does have to be objectified in some sense, as a target, but it seems to me that wouldn't necessarily involve demonization.

At 8:28 AM, Blogger BEAST FCD said...

Demonizing the enemy is often an essential element for war.

Not only does it increase the morale of your own troops, it rallies the population of the country involved to work towards a common cause.

Unfortunately, though, in the case of America, the war has become so drawn-out that it has become a stinky stalemate. Hence all these demonizing that will otherwise work in America's favour has backfired, as in the case of the Vietnam War.

Moral of the story: Just like Sun Tzu purported, never fight a protracted war.

At 9:39 PM, Blogger Rev. Barky said...

Although I work indirectly for the military, I have never been enlisted and "conditioned". One thing I know - the act of killing other humans is a major traumatic event and almost certainly damages a person psychologically. How cold killing anyone turn into a truly positive experience for a person? Learning how to kill is a useless skill for any individual - but not for a government engaged in defending it's very existence.


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At 7:57 AM, Blogger Paul said...

Beast: I guess that's probably unfortunately true - that for the average soldier, maybe demonization is the only way to go.

I guess though, without knowing much about the subject, I had in mind other military traditions - you know, the martial arts kind of thing. I also saw a movie on the history channel - "Zulu" - that portrayed military action as almost like a religous ritual, with the Zulus showing great respect for their enemy.

I don't know how accurate this was...

And then there were the - I forget the word, the Japanese swordsmen... and the "knights in shining armor," probably wasn't really so shining, I don't know...

If soldiers could be trained into the necessity of killing rather than being killed, it seems like maybe that could be enough motivation...

At 8:28 AM, Blogger BEAST FCD said...


Much as demonizing the enemy is distasteful, it is, unfortunately, a very powerful tool.

Add to that equation, religion, and you get a very potent, moral boosting mix.

But, as in any war, the key point is a swift victory. Beyond that, any other strategy is pointless, since a slow victory will render the victory a hollow one.

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