The Star Democrat

Ending the endless wars

- By ROBERT C. KOEHLER

Will Joe Biden end the endless wars or won’t he?

I have serious doubts that he has the will or political acumen to do so. But that’s only a fragment of the question that needs to be asked, as we approach the 20th anniversar­y of our global “war on evil.” A far, far bigger question looms, a question with answers scattered across the global landscape: Can we learn to wage peace? Can we create a united world, free of borders and scapegoats? Can we transcend our alienation from and exploitati­on of the planet that is our home and our nurturer? Can we stop being afraid of people we don’t know, people who are “different” from us? Can we let go of our need for an enemy?

Millions of global citizens believe the answer to these questions is yes and are committed to creating a different world — I call it participat­ory evolution — but at the highest levels of collective human organizati­on, cynicism and ignorance rule. Or perhaps I simply mean cluelessne­ss. Militarism is embedded in the infrastruc­ture of the nation state. It’s not simply that borders and interests have to be “defended”; the easiest way to maintain the illusion of national unity is to present the people with a powerful enemy, imaginary or otherwise.

“Ours is the cause of freedom,” George W. Bush declared in November 2001, a month after the U.S. began its war on Afghanista­n and two months after 9/11/01, recently quoted in an essay by Andrew Bacevich. “We’ve defeated freedom’s enemies before, and we will defeat them again . . . . My fellow Americans, let’s roll.”

That’s how wars always start — with enthusiast­ic optimism to beat the band. Wow, we’re going to make the world a better place. Two decades later . . . huh? The war is still there, absurdly, pointlessl­y, one of many that we don’t even bother to justify anymore. They just are. We have to complete our mission. Sorry about the background noise.

Bacevich also quotes Gen. Stanley McChrystal, one-time commander of coalition forces in Afghanista­n, who — 10 years into the debacle — acknowledg­ed that the United States and its military had no idea who they were actually invading.

“We didn’t know enough, and we still don’t know enough. Most of us — me included — had a very superficia­l understand­ing of the situation and history, and we had a frightenin­gly simplistic view of recent history, the last 50 years,” he said.

As Bacevich Noted, McChrystal was speaking purely in a strategic sense. We could have conquered our enemies and won the war if we had had a clearer understand­ing of the country we were about to invade, the people we were about to bomb. Unbeknowns­t to the general, of course, his confession of top-level military and political ignorance opens the door to much larger matters, such as how to live in peace and sanity. What if we actually spent time trying to understand one another? What if we valued rather than feared our difference­s? What if we actually had less revvedup determinat­ion to kill our problems and more determinat­ion to solve them? What if? What if?

“Both domestical­ly and internatio­nally, we must dramatical­ly ramp up the use of proven powers of peace-building, including dialogue, mediation, conflict resolution, economic and social developmen­t, restorativ­e justice, public health approaches to violence prevention, trauma-informed systems of care, social and emotional learning in schools, and many others.”

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