copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
It is March, again. Just as I have been for years, in this month I am haunted by the hate we, humans, propagate. March 19th is the sixth anniversary of “unnecessary wars”. The phrase is not mine alone. Public servants, Ambassadors, and former Presidents have proclaimed as I have. Foreign Secretaries and domestic Diplomats deem the war was a mistake. Then there are the people.
Those embroiled abroad cannot be happy with a hapless combat that destroys homes, the lives of families, and fractures communities. The American public also grapples with great pain, albeit for those safely ensconced in the States, the pain is less physical or psychological than a soldier’s stationed abroad might be.
When polled five long years ago, people in this country stated the war was a mistake. At the time, fifty-six percent of the United States population rejected further battle. Americans decisively declared, the “war is not worth fighting.” Seventy (70) percent of Americans thought any slight gains in security had come at an “unacceptable” cost in military casualties. That was then.
Today, as the economic crisis looms larger in the minds of many United States citizens, less pay attention to the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. Americans hope only for change, spare dollars, and cents. Indeed, the American people want jobs. The public craves the cash they need to put food on the table. People are more focused how they personally might pay for the roof over their heads. The only wars that cause them worry are “trade” battles. All is not well on the Western Front.
On the home front, Americans are anxious. To worry about the conflict abroad seems a waste. Many families face foreclosure. Businesses fail. Jobs are lost. Ours is a generation who will not prosper as their parents’ had. A few, although not few enough in the minds of those affected, fear the future for sons, daughters, husbands, and wives who are called to combat. Perhaps a lesser number are apprehensive when they ponder the fate of a loved one who will volunteer for service in Iraq and Afghanistan. My sister, brother-in-law, and I are amongst these.
This weekend, on his father’s birth date, I learned my nephew has considered his options, his career, and the choices he has. Jason is a Marine. He enlisted near a year ago. He enjoyed boot-camp. The not yet twenty one-year-young man did as he has always done; he endeavored to do his best. Months ago Jason was promoted to Lance Corporal. It was quite an honor He is proud and happy to serve his country. Perhaps, he will overseas. Jason has not decided conclusively. Yet, it seems a stay in Afghanistan is his plan.
His family, mine, understands at any moment the decision will not be made by him. The Marines might move him to the Middle East. While change came in American policy, it appears an end to armed conflicts is no longer the priority.
Nonetheless, as one who has stood vigil for peace since before the first American bombs blasted over Afghanistan, as the sixth anniversary of the more often observed Iraq War draws near, I invited many of my fellow activists to commemorate the day. I sent an electronic mail to the many who have joined the local Peace Corner congregation each week.
My message was delivered on the same day the stock market slipped to a record low. An acquaintance, one who organized our local community in support of then Senator, Barack Obama, answered. She stated she could not participate in an hour-long peace vigil on March 19th, regardless of what time it was held.
Jesse wrote of her commitment to Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package. Her advocacy, she said, would prevent her attendance. However, she revealed, in truth, she felt she could not sanction the remembrance.
Jesse penned, “I may not love all aspects of the President’s plan regarding Iraq but trust that he knows much better then I how to get out without bloodbath. With regard to “Afghanistan,” she wrote; “until there is a strong diplomatic effort going in that region, which wasn’t done under the Bush regime, we owe it to soldiers there to give them the support they need to protect themselves while they are trying to destroy our enemy.”
I wondered what I might say. Frequently I spoke of my belief; I wish to support our servicemen and woman actively. That is the reason I want them safe and sane. I thought of my conversation with my sister. Linda feels certain Jason will offer to serve abroad. She wishes not only for his safe return, she prays for his sanity. Too many, Linda bemoaned, come home, and mentally, emotionally, the troops who travel afar, and saw a world of woe, are never the same.
As I reflected on my siblings reality, I read more of what Jesse avowed. “Our enemy is there – and despite what you and I have discussed in the past Betsy, this is NOT a people you can negotiate with and you can’t change their mind set. They are out to destroy us so we have to try to destroy them first.” As I considered her words, I reflected on an article presented three days after the Twin Towers fell, long before America wrecked greater havoc on a country bombed back to the Stone Age before the US sent more artillery. Tamim Ansary penned, An Afghan-American Speaks. In the reflection, published in Salon the author offers a thoughtful analogy, one I observed to be true, even as an outsider.
(T)he Taliban and bin Laden are not Afghanistan. They’re not even the government of Afghanistan. The Taliban are a cult of ignorant psychotics who took over Afghanistan in 1997. Bin Laden is a political criminal with a plan. When you think Taliban, think Nazis. When you think bin Laden, think Hitler. And when you think “the people of Afghanistan” think “the Jews in the concentration camps.”
I thought to share the source; yet, I feared Jesse might not be open to the comparison. Although she has often heard of my belief in the principle, transformation is invisible. We must talk endlessly if we are to build trust and a novel truth, the woman who advocates for diplomacy expressed what for me feels forever dismissive. “We will just have to agree to disagree on this one,” Jesse typed.
“I wish all of you well in your efforts since I know you only want what you think is right and moral. I wish the conflict had never started in Iraq and that we had completed what we started in Afghanistan . . . which was to find and capture Bin Laden and his followers, and bring them to justice.”
In accordance to what Jesse thinks humanitarian relief, she stated her hope is America will “rebuild what we destroyed in the region, build schools and proper roads, lay down broadband to connect these backwoods people to the rest of the world so they can see what there is out there.”
Jesse theorized; “Only by doing that can we offer them an alternative to what they have now.” I wondered. How might we accomplish any of what would be good in the Middle East as long as we came, and continue to come to Afghanistan with guns ablaze. Had our failed policy in Iraq not been a lesson, or are we do believe as Jesse, and even George W. Bush might. The only reason for regret in the past was a lack of intelligence.
Just before he left the Oval Office, the previous President, who Jesse blames for the battles that brew, ruminated. “The biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq,” a remorseful George W. Bush told ABC television in December 2008. “I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess.”
Intelligence. That is often the problem. Intellectually adept as any of us might be, emotionally, each of us is handicapped by what we believe. We forget, as I shared with my sister days earlier. “No one can be inside of our heart, soul, being, or brain.” I asked Linda to think of the two of us, our experience of our home life, our parents, and our shared history. We do not perceive any given moment as our sibling does. Nor do either of us relate to what others in our brood believe to be true. Perchance, this lack of perspective, an empathetic point of view is the cause for endless wars.
As I pondered, Jesse apparently perused another article and sent the source on to me. I trusted she knew as I frequently express, I never agree to disagree. I believe, personal philosophies, peace, and profound inquiry, are each part of a never-ending process. Agreements are not achieved in an instant. Combat will not cease in a second, and conversations, if they are to be effective, must be ongoing.
With a link to the essay, Jesse included a statement, “Knew you would want to see this. I’m so conflicted – wish I knew the right thing to do.” I clicked on the link and smiled when I saw the New York Times Columnist Bob Herbert treatise appear. A man I personally admire, one I think phenomenal, in his March 3, 2009 editorial addressed the issue of Wars, Endless Wars .
The article begins . . .
The singer Edwin Starr, who died in 2003, had a big hit in 1970 called “War” in which he asked again and again: “War, what is it good for?”
The U.S. economy is in free fall, the banking system is in a state of complete collapse, and Americans all across the country are downsizing their standards of living. The nation as we’ve known it is fading before our very eyes, but we’re still pouring billions of dollars into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with missions we are still unable to define.
I read the article in its entirety and responded. “Dearest Jesse,” I enthusiastically noted. “I am past partial. I love Bob Herbert!” Herbert’s reference to a favorite tune and musician of mine, prompted an impulsive applause. When I saw he had connected the wars to the economy, I became more enthralled with his every word.
I thanked Jess for her being open to further thought, and her willingness to share. I expressed my own truth. I observe “The war is tied to economics.” Conflicts overseas have an effect on the environment, education at home, business, and whether we rebuild the infrastructure. Questionable ethics, ethnic cleansing, genocide, and homicide, increase when a country is consumed with a waged conflict. Homelessness, amongst veterans, or the displacement of those on foreign soil, is disregarded when we are embroiled in warfare. I stated, “The list of effects is endless.”
I also believe emotional intelligence is altered when we think war is a necessary evil. We begin to engage in one battle, it seems enemies are everywhere.
Then, I told Jesse a tale, a true story that occurred seconds after I spoke with my sister.
I entered the Recreation Center ready to swim. I trusted thoughts of my nephew and the war would fill my mind while I was under water. I entered the locker room to prepare for my exercise, and there I saw an acquaintance. Sue, a Korean woman I often chat with, was gathering her gear. She has lived in the States for near a decade. Sue is young, beautiful, and does not speak in depth on most subjects. When we see each other at the cement pond, the swim is often our priority.
Brimming with beliefs, I blurted out, “I loathe war.” Sue verbalized her venom for violence immediately. She told me of how awful the North Koreans are and why combat is necessary. I responded; the North Koreans are people.” Sue spoke with knowledge. She told me of the dictatorial government, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, and the people who will do whatever their government demands.
In all the years we have known each other, we have chatted frequently. Yet, I have never seen or heard Sue speak with such vigor. Sue assured me the North Korean people will follow their leader. I reminded her of Hitler, and the economic Depression, that helped catapult the Fuehrer to power. Even long before my review of the aforementioned article, An Afghan-American speaks these comparison was so real for me.
As we discussed the dynamics of conflict, I introduced many more instances, on various continents. “Much of what occurs worldwide illustrates why people are motivated to do as an autocrat deems they must,” I said. I referred to the reality in Afghanistan, although not as eloquently as Author Tamim Ansary had.
Some say, why don’t the Afghans rise up and overthrow the Taliban? The answer is, they’re starved, exhausted, hurt, incapacitated, suffering. A few years ago, the United Nations estimated that there are 500,000 disabled orphans in Afghanistan — a country with no economy, no food. There are millions of widows. And the Taliban has been burying these widows alive in mass graves. The soil is littered with land mines, the farms were all destroyed by the Soviets. These are a few of the reasons why the Afghan people have not overthrown the Taliban.
We spoke further of other circumstances in countless countries. “Each,” I exclaimed, “exemplifies the same truth. War is an economic endeavor, always has been . . . even the Civil War is but an example.”
Sue listened; and then rationalized her beliefs. I too paid attention; and then shared why I thought, why I think, as I do. Finally, my sincerest belief rose to the surface. Empathy is the best educator. I invited Sue to imagine. “If you had a relative who resided in North Korea, would that individual be evil?” Would you wish to kill them . . . before they killed you? Sue stood quietly. She stopped speaking. Reflected for a time. Then she said, “I understand.”
Perhaps, if Jesse, the President of the United States, and the people, in each an every country contemplated our deeper connections, the sixth anniversary of the Iraq war, March 19th, would not need to be commemorated. Nor would we prepare to pay tributes to those who have or will fall in Afghanistan. If humans were to honor, no man, or matter is an island, perhaps, people would not need to fight for jobs, fiscal stability, food, shelter, power, or for principles that are contrary to a stated belief in peace.
References for a wartime, all-time reality . . .
- Jimmy Carter: ‘The War has Been Unnecessary. The former president talks about the war in Iraq and how Sen. Kerry can counter ‘flip-flopping’ attacks. The Today Show. September 30, 2004
- ‘War on terror’ was a mistake, says Miliband, Foreign secretary argues west cannot kill its way out of the threats it faces. By Julian Borger. Guardian. Thursday 15 January 2009
- In War: Resolution. The Claremont Institute. Winter 2007
- 56 Percent in Survey Say Iraq War Was a Mistake, Poll Also Finds Slight Majority Favoring Rumsfeld’s Exit. By John F. Harris and Christopher Muste. Washington Post. Tuesday, December 21, 2004; Page A04
- Could “Buy American” Rule Spark Trade War? CBS News. February 15, 2009
- Iraq war my biggest regret, Bush admits, By Suzanne Goldenberg. The Guardian. December 2, 2008
- Wars, Endless Wars, By Bob Herbert. The New York Times. March 3, 2009
- Economics of the Civil War. History.com