Each War Gives Birth to The Next
News broke last month that the United States had dropped one of its MOAB (Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb) devices over a massive tunnel complex to roust enemy combatants from the bunkers underground in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan.
The news that came soon after as the biggest surprise about this attack was not that this “Mother-of-allbombs” (its slang name) was the largest conventional bomb in the U.S. arsenal. It was that the tunnel complex the U.S. had bombed was built by the CIA.
The underground tunnel networks go back to the 1980s Cia-funded fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. The Tora Bora region, located near the Pakistan border, was built up at that time with tunnels, caves and other protections to keep the Cia-funded mujahidin rebels well protected when they needed to go underground and escape the then-occupying Russian forces. They were built using bulldozers and other construction equipment provided from the Saudi Binladin Group, paid for by the CIA, and helping support one Osama Bin Laden in the region at the time.
In the current battle when the MOAB was dropped, the targets were from the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) from Uzbekhistan and Pakistan. They also included fighters from the Tehrik Teleban Pakistan, a regional tribal group pushed over the border by the Pakistani military during the June 2015 Zarb-e Azb offensive, along with a group of Orakzais.
So with this battle, the Americans were basically blowing up their own secretly-built underground tunnels and bunkers. The irony of course is that without those constructions the enemies they were attempting to bomb might never have been there – and may never have been the threatening force that required such bombing. And the enemies behind those battles were the same ones America had helped ‘bring to birth’ many years before.
One of the major lost messages in war is that each war often builds a foundation for the next one. Not always as literally as it did in this specific case but those foundations often make the next war even worse.
World War I, the war once referred to as ‘ The Great War’ had been brutal for all involved, but perhaps especially so on the French. During the German retreat near the end of that war, German troops ripped apart the Nord-pas Mining Basin region of France, its most industrialized region in the northeast. Germans leaving the area extensively looted the area before running back towards their homeland, and also blew up just about everything else of value in their travels. This included destruction of railways, bridges and entire villages. Belgium and other countries also suffered, but none so drastically as France.
The war itself, the havoc it had caused on remote players in that war, and that severe damage to France caused the winning forces and their leaders to demand reparations from Germany in amounts so severe that, in addition to helping rebuild the damage caused, would weaken Germany so badly it could never damage it again. There were even clauses demanded in the Treaty of Versailles, the one that eventually ended up being signed by all parties, which stated that “Germany admits … that Germany and her allies, as authors of the war, are responsible for all losses and damages.”
In the end, Germany was required to pay 132 billion gold marks (US $33 billion at then exchange rates) and was, after having to sign clauses like that last one, publicly humiliated for its actions. And while one can understand the victors having the urge to cause both financial and psychological harm on those who had started the war, the combination laid the groundwork for the next war. Germany considered the financial
burdens of the reparations so heavy that the country’s new leadership, including eventually Adolf Hitler, saw the long-term impacts as completely out of line for them to have to continue to pay. They also helped keep the fires of anger burning throughout the region, making it easier that most would have imagined recruiting and aligning Germany’s citizens to start what became known as World War II.
Another way countries plant the seeds of its next war is through the redistribution of munitions. One of the regions where that took place was in Vietnam, where, after World War II was over, it became the beneficiary of left-over warehoused World War II weapons.
One of the major shipments of these weapons came from the USSR, which helped supply military aid during the Indochina War of 1946-1954. These weapons included as a major weapon of choice the MG-34 Sovietmade DP Machine guns, which were being provided to Viet Minh locals attempting to fight off the French occupation of their country. North Vietnamese PAK40 anti-tank guns came from the German World War II haul also and were provided with reverse-engineered Soviet-built munitions to work in them. Other weapons provided to Vietnam included the German-built STG-44 and MP-40 machine guns, tens of thousands of which were captured by the Soviets immediately at the end of World War II.
The French Foreign Legion also brought in their own World War II weapons ‘memorabilia’ in the form of ex-wehrmacht MG-34 machine guns and others from captured stocks.
Without these readily-available weapons it is possible the Vietnam wars that plagued the area for over 30 years might never have had the same solid start by in 1946. And it is also possible what the U.S. called “The Vietnam War” and what the locals called “The American War” might never have started at all.
And then now there is the odd situation that, immediately after the end of the Iraq war, the Americans occupiers managed to make a mess of things. They first gave a billion dollars in cash to the Sunnis for a variety of support, logistics, and security reasons, which might seem a reasonable thing. But then American General Petraeus in 2004 decided that was not enough to ‘keep the peace’, and instead came up with an unusual plan to back the Sunnis’ internal arch-enemies, the Shia.
He did this by initiating what was referred to then as the ‘Salvador Option’, named after the Reagan administration’s concept of arming death squads to kill insurgents in El Salvador. In this more modern incarnation, Petraeus and his team incorporated most of the Shia militias in the region, supplied them with cash, training, and weapons, and created what many know today as the Shia death squads and the torture prisons.
Not surprisingly pushing the Sunnis and Shia against each other, especially with ample backing of cash and military supplies on both sides from the same source (the Americans), created friction which could only get worse over time. Today that friction is seen as one of the major reasons the ISIS forces have emerged as a counterforce against the Americans and others in the region now.
Even if these examples had been precisely planned to create the eventual havoc they finally caused, in Afghanistan, after World War I as World War II was being born, in the seeding of the Vietnam war, and in the emergence of ISIS, it is hard to imagine how the world could be any less stable. The truth of the way the world is beginning to look is that each past major war is now making some next and possibly more horrible war even more possible.
It will take much stronger policymakers, treaty negotiators and decidedly non-military thinkers to prevent this happening when the next war ceases. Those watching what’s happening in Syria right now, please pay careful attention.