Stay­ing power: then and now

The Covington News - - OPINION -

This thing in Iraq, and the one in Afghanistan as well, has about got­ten to the point where ev­ery last one of us is go­ing to have to think it through again. Each of us needs to start from scratch and think th­ese mat­ters through com­pletely. Next, then, we’re go­ing to have to do some­thing, in­di­vid­u­ally and cor­po­rately, that maybe all of us are a lit­tle un­com­fort­able con­sid­er­ing: we’re go­ing to have to make a per­sonal com­mit­ment to be in­volved with it, and stick with it un­til what we feel the cor­rect course of ac­tion to be has been ac­com­plished.

I’m just think­ing out loud here, so bear with me as my thought pat­terns ram­ble some­times be­fore I can get back to telling you why I feel the way I do. But, in a nutshell, I feel strongly that, given the se­ri­ous­ness of the com­mit­ment our na­tion em­barked upon when in­vad­ing a sov­er­eign na­tion and top­pling the gov­ern­ment thereof, Amer­ica needs to see the is­sue through to a sat­is­fac­tory con­clu­sion. And that’s just the way it is: in my view, it’s com­pletely un­ac­cept­able for Amer­ica to cut and run from ei­ther Iraq or Afghanistan.

I have a feel­ing that the vast ma­jor­ity of folks out there agree with me, but I also feel that not a lot of folks want to think about that Iraq thing on a daily ba­sis. Even fewer folks want to con­sider that Afghanistan thing, to the ex­tent that it rarely comes up in ca­sual con­ver­sa­tion, even ap­pear­ing on the news only when an in­ci­dent in­volv­ing Amer­i­can per­son­nel oc­curs.

I’ve been think­ing about why that is. I’ve been think­ing how it can be pos­si­ble for Amer­ica’s sons, daugh­ters, dads and moms, as well as other rel­a­tives and friends to be fight­ing a war in Iraq and Afghanistan while the rest of us are ca­su­ally pur­su­ing life as we know it in fast-food, in­stant-grat­i­fi­ca­tion Amer­ica. And the in­con­gruity of it all has fi­nally man­i­fested it­self in me to the point where it is spilling out in this col­umn.

I think the ma­jor stick­ing point of this prob­lem is that the vast ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens have never had to make any kind of ac­tive com­mit­ment to the Iraq/Afghanistan War. And al­though we’re com­ing up on a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion year and folks who op­pose the course Pres­i­dent Bush took would have us for­get it, the truth is that the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion did all the right things in lay­ing the ground­work for Amer­ica’s in­clu­sion in a mil­i­tary coali­tion of­fi­cially ap­proved by the United Na­tions, which de­spite its many short­com­ings does serve as the only of­fi­cial nexus for world gov­ern­ments.

I think most Amer­i­cans thought, given our ex­pe­ri­ence from hav­ing watched the first Desert Storm cam­paign on television that our tech­nol­ogy would bring about a quick and blood­less — at least for the Amer­i­can forces — con­clu­sion to any war. Hey, I re­mem­ber watch­ing a high-rank­ing gen­eral show a video of a laser­guided “smart bomb” en­ter the fourth floor of his coun­ter­part’s head­quar­ters in Iraq. The bomb hit ex­actly where it was in­tended to hit, and the Iraqi mil­i­tary unit was de­stroyed com­pletely. The thing that both­ered me a lit­tle was that while he was de­scrib­ing it, the gen­eral snick­ered a lit­tle and made light of the fact that his coun­ter­part was no more.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for us win­ning, and I am a firm be­liever in the va­lid­ity of the def­i­ni­tion of war given by the scourge of my na­tive state, William Te­cum­seh Sher­man, who said “war is hell.”

But it both­ered me a lit­tle that night, watch­ing the news, that the gen­eral brief­ing the press had a cava­lier at­ti­tude when watch­ing death be­ing vis­ited upon other hu­mans. Our re­spect for hu­man life was present in that the “smart bomb” tar­geted only the com­bat­ant forces and sought to min­i­mize col­lat­eral dam­age to civil­ians. But to triv­i­al­ize the com­mit­ment and courage of one’s op­po­nent, who if he had ac­cess to the same tech­nol­ogy and mil­i­tary su­pe­ri­or­ity might well have been able to turn the ta­ble, seemed to me to show a cal­lous dis­re­gard for life as we know it.

And, me­thinks, in­ci­dents like that press con­fer­ence have, over the years, com­bined to cre­ate in the vast ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans a false be­lief that through tech­nol­ogy we can fight a war any time, any­where, and win a swift con­clu­sion with a bare min­i­mum of loss of Amer­i­can life, and with ab­so­lutely no dis­rup­tion to the Amer­i­can lifestyle at home.

Well, that’s just not the way war hap­pens, is it?

As fan­tas­tic as this next state­ment will sound, Amer­i­cans with any sense of his­tory know that the hard part of ev­ery war we’ve been in­volved with has not been so much the win­ning of the bat­tles and the bring­ing about of the ces­sa­tion of hos­til­i­ties, but the re­build­ing of the world af­ter the con­clu­sion of those wars.

Let me of­fer some quick thoughts to sub­stan­ti­ate that state­ment…

The bot­tom line re­gard­ing con­tin­u­ing racial prob­lems be­tween black and white con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­cans in Deep South so­ci­ety, as well as the truth of why our pub­lic schools have de­te­ri­o­rated so badly, is that the re­build­ing of Amer­ica fol­low­ing the War of North­ern Ag­gres­sion was han­dled so badly. Had Abra­ham Lin­coln not been as­sas­si­nated, I have no doubt that things would have pro­ceeded along a vastly dif­fer­ent course, but that’s nei­ther here nor there. The truth is that Re­con­struc­tion, as it was in­sti­tuted, fol­lowed by the vir­tual re­bel­lion of the South through­out the Jim Crow days, re­sulted in the loss of over 100 years which could have been used to heal the hurt and help all peo­ple of the na­tion move for­ward, to­gether.

But it didn’t hap­pen. When South­ern white folks were able to re­gain po­lit­i­cal power, they vis­ited ret­ri­bu­tion upon black folks and the rest we know as our 20th cen­tury civil rights his­tory.

Fol­low­ing World War I, the vic­tors ex­ited Europe as quickly as pos­si­ble, leav­ing Ger­many’s work force and eco­nomic sys­tem dec­i­mated. The door was wide open for any­one with vi­sion and half­way de­cent plan to seize power, and 20 years later Adolph Hitler pro­vided last­ing proof to the world of the er­ror in win­ning a war and not stick­ing around to fix things up af­ter­ward.

Still the world did not heed that les­son. Fol­low­ing World War II, only when the Rus­sians started tak­ing over all the real es­tate in Europe did Amer­ica come up with The Mar­shall Plan and The Tru­man Doc­trine to pro­vide eco­nomic and mil­i­tary sup­port for na­tions who called for it to re­sist the forces of Com­mu­nism. Lis­ten, now. It took nearly 50 years for it to work, but even­tu­ally the Soviet Union col­lapsed and the Ber­lin Wall top­pled, and those two things would never have hap­pened un­less Amer­ica fol­lowed the com­mit­ment to make it hap­pen.

The Korean War came along. The Viet­nam War came along. Amer­i­cans were in­cul­cated with the need to “play war by the rules” as de­ter­mined by the United Na­tions. The bad guys could come south across their re­spec­tive di­vid­ing lines of lat­i­tude to visit hurt upon the good guys, but the good guys had to fol­low the rules and could not cross those same par­al­lels of lat­i­tude to visit ret­ri­bu­tion upon the bad guys.

And thus was born the day of war which re­quired no com­mit­ment from the rank-and-file of the vast Amer­i­can cit­i­zenry. Yes, we sent our sons and, later, daugh­ters off to fight in those “cam­paigns,” or “con­flicts” which the gov­ern­ment would never clas­sify as a fullfledged, all out war. But the Amer­i­cans at home felt no sac­ri­fice, no com­mit­ment and saw no daily in­ter­rup­tion in what for those at home con­tin­ued as nor­malcy.

And that, my friends, is what I see as be­ing the chief prob­lem with our con­tem­po­rary sit­u­a­tion in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’re not called upon, given the fan­tas­tic mone­tary en­gine which is our free en­ter­prise eco­nomic sys­tem, to make any in­di­vid­ual com­mit­ment to the war. Only those of us who have lost loved ones or friends have felt any kind of loss at all. The vast ma­jor­ity of us feel re­gret and a mo­ment or two of sad­ness when we hear of an­other ex­plo­sion claim­ing the lives of Amer­i­can ser­vice­men “over there,” but the main thing we feel is ir­ri­ta­tion at hav­ing to ac­tu­ally think about the war at all.

We want it to go away. We want it to be over. We want it to be blood­less and neat and clean and solved by tech­nol­ogy.

And that’s not the way it is, nor ever will it be so.

We won the bat­tles. The fifth-largest army in the world just up and dis­ap­peared, melt­ing into the pop­u­la­tion of Iraq and Afghanistan sim­ply by chang­ing their clothes. But the fight con­tin­ues, and will con­tinue, for as many years as it takes to in­cul­cate the idea of democ­racy and free­dom of choice into the thought pat­terns of the en­tire pop­u­la­tions of those na­tions.

And that ain’t gonna hap­pen overnight.

It took nearly 50 years the last time we tried it, and that was with the tacit and ac­tive ap­proval of all Amer­i­cans. Right now the jury is still out on what all Amer­i­cans think we should do.

So I’m telling you now: each of us has to think the mat­ter through, com­pletely, to its con­clu­sion. And then we have to act ac­cord­ingly, as we in­di­vid­u­ally be­lieve.

And the time for it, dear reader, is now.

Nat Har­well

Colum­nist

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