Friday, January 08, 2010

Choice or No Choice

Dhar Jamail has an article at Truthout about a stop-lossed GI incarcerated for writing and singing out his anger at being held in the Army beyond his contract date for a second deployment. The comment string is good, too. This one especially caught my eye.
With all of the abuse, stop loss, Gulf War Syndrome, declining Veteran care, etc etc, I can't see how our so called "volunteer" forces can continue to recruit.... How much more evidence does anyone need that this is a bad thing to "volunteer" for?

That anyone would willingly volunteer to participate in America's ongoing wars at this point in those wars' history amazes me. Eight or six years ago I can understand people's willingness to serve. But after years of lies, of sacrifice by American forces and the deaths of well over 100,000 Iraqis and Afghanis--all of which has made this nation no safer and certainly less economically secure--Americans should be voting with their feet NOT to serve in a military that is being sacrificed for no good reason.

But that's a hard choice for many people. The ugly logic of war is that once we begin the sacrifice, we must continue to make that sacrifice so that the original sacrifice will not be in vain. That makes it hard to change course, even when a clearly better choice is available and feasible. In a bad economy, the military offers money. Combine that with a what is often a genuine willingness to serve and volunteering probably makes sense.

That's the tragic part. Most people don't want war but somehow serving war is the easy choice.

And the wars continue.


Sunday, January 03, 2010

Let’s Pretend

Rising to the defense of his own failed policies, former Vice (but actually the real) President Cheney has accused President Obama of pretending that America is not at war with terrorists. Cheney claims that the reality of the terrorist threat does not fit in with Obama’s magical thinking and charges that Obama’s pretend policy leaves the nation at risk. Dick Cheney waxes fearsome about the dangers to America from a president who pretends that the nation is not at war. In contrast, Cheney asserts that under his administration war was anything but pretend and America was safe.

But the eight years of Cheney’s wars were about as pretend as any fairy tale. Not only did his administration largely ignore what Cheney now presents as an existential threat to the US (al Qaeda) but it never mobilized the nation for war. Other than the military and military families, Americans have not been called upon to sacrifice. The administration did not ask for additional taxes (as Lyndon Johnson did) to finance the added costs of the war. We weren’t asked to conserve vital resources such as petroleum. No, the Cheney Administration just called it war, sent the troops and paid for it all on credit. You can’t get much more pretend than that.

Of course, the pretend does not extend to the actual battlefield. Out there the war is all too real, with live bullets and ordnance and genuinely dead people, not to mention the vast number of maimed and injured. Nothing is pretend out there save, perhaps, America’s illusions about what contributes to our national security.

Back in The Homeland, however, it’s a different story. Cheney can pretend that he led a nation at war even as his administration simply ignored an actual problem in favor of a war-of-choice in Iraq. The recent Christmas bombing attempt is the most telling proof of his administration’s failure: the same warnings that were ignored in 2001 were ignored in 2009. Yeah, I know, it’s Obama’s administration now but if Cheney’s administration had been serious about developing a strong intelligence and interdiction program during the past eight years, the Christmas bomber would have hit the radar and tripped some flags. The warnings were out there. Instead, we got eight years of Cheney’s wars and we are still at risk from the same mistakes.

Compared to that record, I will not begrudge Obama his “pretend” world. In fact, I want him to imagine a different world even as he deals with the realities of the world as it is. Dick Cheney would have us believe that the world is a fearsome beast that can only be kept at bay with force and violence. His world is the endless war of Nineteen Eighty-Four where all men are definitely not equal and the State’s interests are paramount. I and most other Americans would prefer a more practical, less draconian approach to the difficulties of sharing a planet with other peoples.

A more practical approach would recognize that violence and terror will always be part of the human experience. So too, will be fanatical idealism that justifies violence and terror for a cause. All that is real and any responsible government will act to prevent that violence from harming its citizens. But the response should also be proportional. Endless war and deployment of vast military force around the world is not a proportional or effective response to terrorism. War should be reserved for truly existential threats. Terrorism and Islamic extremism are not existential threats to America.

Nor is the threat unique to the US. Attacks around the world testify to that grim fact. So, instead of unilateral, costly and ineffective US wars, I want America to cooperate and collaborate with other governments and international institutions to secure potential targets, identify violent organizations and disrupt their operations. All this makes more sense than pretending to be at war and sending real people to kill and die. It makes more sense than discarding two centuries of civil liberty and rule of law.

If Cheney wants war, he would do no better than to declare war on economic injustice. A world where a small elite (including me and most Americans) enjoys wealth and privilege while many live at subsistence level or worse creates an environment for hatred and violence. Even if the ideologies and direction of violence originate among the educated and well-to-do, crushing poverty and hopelessness provide a receptive audience and willing recruits for their plans. Putting an end to that cycle would make America and the world much safer than all of Cheney’s wars.

I won’t pretend that will happen. I will imagine it as long as I live.

I don’t expect Dick Cheney to lead that war. He has always had other priorities.

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