Okay, I'll admit that I haven't gotten really up-in-arms about the whole Iraq and Afghanistan situation. I never thought we should be there, especially not Iraq, but I never got into a vehement anti-war mode. I think some of the anti-war protesters are what turned me off from that. Seeing people with Peace Signs and NO WAR signs and just rabidly fighting any and all war universally--it just turns me off because it seems like the obvious and equally blind opposite end of the war/no war polemic. As with most things, there's some room in the middle that makes more sense. Without getting involved in World War II, who knows how far the Germans would have taken their regime and genocide? There are clearly reasons to go to war, so blanketly just saying all war is bad seems naive. On the other hand, there are times and situations like what we are dealing with now that are so much more ambiguous that it requires a bit of subtlety and panache to really get at the root of why some wars should be supported and others reviled.
There's no doubt in my mind that the military action in Afghanistan and Iraq is unneccessary and unproductive. It takes a grave lack of understanding of the terrorists' mindset and modus operandi to think that they will be intimidated or stopped by military force. This is an ideological war--a war of ideas and beliefs, and we've brought little more thank tanks and bombs to the party. I watched The Fog of War last night and it made clear all of the really distubring parallels between what is going on now and what American military intervention has looked like in the past. At the bottom of all of it are a few complicated questions that have no easy answers, but that appear to be the kinds of questions our leaders are not used to asking.
- How do the ends justify the means? There will be all sorts of pragmatists who tell you that the goal is what is important, and that the path to the goal is not. This is easy to philosophize and theorize about, but much more difficult to act on when thousands upon thousands of human lives are at stake. The use of the atomic bomb on Japan during WWII was an amazingly disproportionate act of force against civilians designed to keep American troops from dying on the ground. It worked, it won the war, and how could it not? But was that a reasonable way to do it? Is there not a sort of honor in war that says that the tactics you use to defeat your enemy should be somehow 'fair'? If we think about the appalling situation with Iraqi prison abuse, people get very upset about that because it seems inhumane, unfair, and unjust. It's not something we like to imagine people doing, even if they are doing it for a cause with which we agree. So it's not okay to sexually humiliate prisoners in order to get information that might lead to the capture of terrorists and killers, but there is no legal repercussion of annihilating hundreds of thousands of people with a single bomb in order to stop a war? Robert McNamara mentions in the film that if the Allies had lost the war, that he and others would have been tried as war criminals. Is it always the case that we look the other way during a war? Why is there this ambiguity?
- Where does it end? Another great point from McNamara came from his discussion with a former Vietnamese foreign minister who told him that the Vietnamese people were prepared to fight to the last surviving person to keep Americans out of their country. They would have rather died and been completely wiped off the face of the earth as a people than be ruled by what they saw as an American Imperialist power. This doesn't seem so terribly different than the attitude of radical Islamic terrorists or other people with violent, disparaging views of our form of democracy. Where do you stop? How do you stop hunting and killing when every new death, especially those of innocents and bystanders, breeds ten new extremists? The desired outcome of this war is the safety of the United States people and interests, but there just ins't a way to force the entire planet into agreement. We are already the most advanced military power on Earth, and yet terrorists are not intimidated in the least. They attack sporadically and sometimes successfully, and what logic dictates that killing some of them, more of them, or most all of them will stop this? You have to kill ALL of them, and then all of the people who might become them, and then pray that no one else gets angry about all that killing... it's an endless loop.
I don't have the answers, and no one does. It's not easy to approach these subjects, and it's even harder for people whose decisions and thoughts about these things actually matter--the ones who actually lead to action and thus death. We're all armchair generals here, and it's easy to hold a sign and argue against killing--just as easy as it is to wave a flag and support a President no matter what he says. The hard thing, I think, is asking the right questions and spending the amount of time and brainpower thinking about them. There's no soul-searching needed to shout, but it takes a great deal of thinking to convince.