Fixing Planet Earth
Monday 20th October 2008, marked a grim anniversary. That was the 2’000th day that had passed since President George W. Bush stood on the deck of the U.S.S Abraham Lincoln and declared
“…My fellow Americans, major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”
Indeed, it was on May 1st 2003, 2001 days ago, that President Bush triumphantly declared to the world ‘Mission Accomplished.’ Hindsight is a powerful tool, and in contrast with what President Bush thought were victorious words, one can only imagine that to this day he is thinking the same phrase that was quoted in Ridley Scott’s 2000 movie ‘Gladiator’. “People need to learn when they’re conquered.”
Today marks a more hopeful countdown, that being that President Bush only has 90 days left in office, and on that day America looks likely to be swearing in the first African American President in its history. But what of the legacy he will inherit? What of Americas dual wars in the Persian Gulf?
The United States seems, in all its own conflicts, to have a major misunderstanding regarding the nature of war itself. While they proved to be useful and courageous allies in the First and Second World Wars, they have since bungled and botched the management and intentions of every war they have been involved in. In the Korean War America lost 390’000 soldiers between 1950 and 1953, and the conflict ended in stalemate. The Vietnam War saw 8’744’000 US soldiers die between 1965 and 1975. While they seemed to accomplish many of their objectives during the first Gulf War (a war managed by many European nations instead of the US alone), America left Iraq in ruin, and its people at the mercy of an enraged Saddam Hussein, who went on to commit mass genocide of the people that the US had told it would support in a revolution. The War on Terrorism (including the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts) have so far cost the United States somewhere in the region of about 5000 soldiers, with a total 1’150’000 civilian casualties in the above nations and Somalia.
What is it that the United States doesn’t seem to get? It is, one could argue, that very few men will ever understand, something that can only be truly comprehended by the men and women that experience it. For George Bush, Tony Blair or Saddam Hussein to send their troops into the theatre of battle it is comparatively easy. For they have never known and experienced the true horror of war. They have sat behind desks and commanded others, while brave men go off to fight, die or be killed in a haze of misery, bloodlust and brutality. War is humanity’s darkest response, the mass movement of soldiers and the mass enslavement of a population in order to assault, free, defend, overthrow or destroy an enemy.
It is a fundamental necessity to understand why war is fought. Truthfully, honestly, it must be understood. Rarely are wars every fought for the true freedom of people. There have only been two major instances in the past century that such occurrence have taken place, that being the Great War of 1914 – 1918 and the Second World War of 1937 – 1945. Those wars were truly fought for freedom. The current conflict in the Persian Gulf, named Operation Enduring Freedom, is being waged for political and economic reasons. The genius of terrorism is that the few can assault the many, David can attack Goliath, but the US’ response of bringing a bazooka to kill a fly is wrong. Wrong, that is, if it were actually fighting the terrorists alone. Regime change was what was sought, replacing hostile, anti-western, hardline Islamic dictatorships with ‘democratically’ elected leaders who would be supportive of the needs of the rest, supplying them with – and allowing them to control - land, energy (oil specifically), business contracts and political influence. War is an incredibly lucrative venture financially, stimulating economic growth, as vast sections of a nations infrastructure are put to work to produce supplies for the war effort. It also – in many cases – creates great support for the Government waging the battle, as few people ever want to see their nation on the losing side of a conflict. If it were a simple endeavour, it would produce a compliant, hard working, supportive domestic population, while allowing a nation to expand its sphere of political influence, gain territory, new energy reserves, major business contracts and produce subservient foreign Governments that will always put the interests of another country before their own.
But war is not a simple endeavour. It runs at a huge human cost. Disregarding the incredible damaging effects it has on the surrounding environment, and putting aside the inevitable civilian casualties (the focus of this essay is on the fighters of war, not its collateral damage), it is the men involved in battle that suffer some of the most irreparable damage. Outside of the tremendous physical cost that war extols on the pawns that get strewn across its board, tens of thousands already having been maimed for life in the current conflict in the Persian Gulf (compared to the 5000 dead), there is an arguably even greater threat to the personal health of a soldier that is posed; that of psychological damage.
There is a certain state that soldiers are often thrust into before battle, a mindset that is encouraged by captains, admirals and generals. It is a psychological state that passes our upper human and mammalian brain and sinks to the very depths of our lower – reptilian – brain. Yet this state goes beyond the mere base instinct of ‘kill or be killed’, it mixes that most primordial of senses with a most human construct; hate. Soldiers are sent into the fields of battle in a bloodlust, encouraged not to show mercy, but kill, maim and destroy every single one of the enemy until none remain. Soldiers are whipped into a fervour in order to serve the strategic needs of others, and in this fervour they have been known to commit the most depraved, indecent and inhumane acts imaginable. They question not their urge to hate and take pleasure in the slaughter of their fellow man, but merely embrace it. And if they return from the battle, many find themselves left in a state we all post traumatic stress disorder. Milder forms of this disorder, usually known as battle fatigue or shell shock leave the sufferer fatigued, with slower reactions and thoughts, finding it hard to prioritise tasks, exhausted and unable to maintain initiative. It also can cause headaches, backaches, shaking, incontinence, heart palpitations, dizziness, nightmares, irritability, elevated anxiety, depression, substance abuse confusion and even suicidal feelings. This, bear in mind, is merely a lighter, less intense and debilitating version of post traumatic stress disorder, which is a full blown anxiety disorder that develops after exposure to terrifying events that threatened or caused grave physical harm. Sufferers not only experience similar effects to those above, but they find themselves in need of serious medical counselling in order to cope with the emotional and psychological consequences of the body being able to cope. Should soldiers find themselves lucky enough to avoid this state, they may find themselves addicted to the thrill and lawlessness of battle, and while many men and women eventually leave the armed forces of their nation and go on to lead normal lives (though the vast majority admit to frequent nightmares about their experiences), there are many that find themselves so dependent on the structure of military life and the psychological state of battle and training, that they are unable to leave.
But soldiers on the ground are only the pawns of any war effort, they can fight as hard and as valiantly as they want to (and they usually do), but they’re patriotism and determination to win will not grasp victory in any conflict. If there is no sound battle plan put in place, they lose. And when nations lose wars, the effects are devastating. One only needs to look at Germany to understand this, for it is a nation that has come to terms with what it did in the two Great Wars of the 20th century in the very recent years. The generation that was born a decade after the war are the ones finally running the country, and Germany is finally getting over its dark past. The same cannot be said for America, a nation that is still not fully able to get over defeat in Vietnam thirty years ago. When war fails, the damage to a national psyche – especially one such as America’s; built on overwhelming military might – can be massive. People become disillusioned with their Government, their military and most of all, the message and intentions of their country; for how good can democracy be against the red menace when you cannot even defeat tiny little North Vietnam?
Aside from the devastating effect on the populace, defeat in war leads to often grave consequences for anyone allied with the defeated, and the total destruction of the ideology they were fighting for. The dream of National Socialism and Fascism was crushed and has never recovered since World War 2, as was imperialism and colonialism. Communism suffered a crushing blow at the end of the Cold War, though its image was irreparably damaged as a political movement of evil long before then. Partners of the defeated suffer dreadful fates as well, Italy was stigmatised for years about its involvement with Hitler, the Eastern Bloc states fell into practical disrepair after the USSR broke up and only in the last five years have seen any kind of resurgence. Indeed, the price paid for losing a war falls not only on the head of the generals and politicians that lost, but on allies, neighbours and the populace as well.
A population is often most directly affected by a loss in war because they have been conditioned to think, not only are they morally right in what they do, but they are superior to their enemy in every way. Propaganda is one of the most important weapons a government can use in war, it encourages support among the public for the troops and their mission, and also – usually – bolsters the support for the Government itself, as well as allowing it to get away with more than usual (look no further than the Bush Administration and things like FISA and The Patriot Act here). Propaganda also often ensures a usually docile and compliant media, as the men and women involved in the supposedly bi-partisan machine often want to support their government and their nation before putting true journalistic neutrality to the test. The way the American media acted in the march towards the current conflict in the Persian Gulf is a textbook example of this, their eagerness to support their government and better their nation proved to be their undoing. For when the supply of information is so keenly controlled, and the information that the man in the street receives is controlled so very tightly, it is easy to control what people think, want and do, and thus gain support for your war, even if it is not something that is truly necessary for the nation.
Indeed, very few wars are necessary. In the last century there have only been two that the free world has needed to fight; World War I and World War II. These were wars of necessity and wars of protection, conflicts that ensured people would be free, able to live as they wanted and not fear persecution or death for their lifestyles or opinions. In these wars, the unfortunate toll that fighting takes on a soldier was an unfortunate by product. It was not something that shouldn’t be happening, it was something that would happen, because countless free men from Britain, America, France, Russia, China and a myriad of other nations threw themselves into the horror of battle in order to maintain the freedoms that we take for granted. Aside from the two wars though, we see very few that have been waged for truly honourable means. We have seen wars of politics (Vietnam), wars of pre-emption (a word that disguises the true intent of invasion (the current Iraq conflict)), wars of retaliation (the Argentine War) and wars for business (the Suez Canal debacle). These are manufactured skirmishes that serve the needs of a group of people or a government. They are conflicts that rarely operate separate from one another, but all tie into the central philosophy of creating gains for one or a few nations at the unnecessary expense of another.
Which brings us to the great conflict of our time: The War On Terror. The War On Terror is not actually a war at all. It has created wars - mainly because the countries that have been invaded refuse to roll over and submit to their invaders – but it is not, in itself, a war; for how does one fight ‘terror’? No, the War On Terror is a political tool; a finely crafted, cleverly worded disguise that allows a nation to remain at war indefinitely. The genius of the War On Terror is that its success cannot be measured. If the United States had called this global battle “The War on al Qaeda” the world would be able to assess its progress and say whether or not its objectives were being achieved. al Qaeda succeeding? Bad. al Qaeda disintegrating? Good. That would have been the smart thing to call this conflict. The psychopaths in al Qaeda were the ones that claim responsibility for the 9/11 attacks, so they are the ones that vengeance should be sought upon (though one could hardly have said that the US – through their foreign policies - did nothing provoke such retaliation against them). By calling it the War On Terror, it allows the US Government to wage war on anybody it claims is a terrorist, a definition as vague as any out there, for what constitutes a terrorist? Would it be a true stretch to call a terrorist someone who hates the United States and wouldn’t mind seeing it knocked down a peg or two? With the right propaganda and training, probably not, thus allowing conflicts against anyone that refused to toe the line that the US requires.
This is the true face of war. All war, any war. It is a political tool. The Second World War was started by Nazis with a political agenda, we free nations only fought because we had to. It was a war because we fought back, because we refused to let the forces of intolerance and – dare one say it – evil reign freely and unchecked. The Vietnam War, The Gulf War, The Zulu War, The Napoleonic Wars, all of them became wars instead of conquests because the natives fought back. They fought for their land, their heritage and what they thought was right. Other countries invaded them, seeking to enhance their political clout in the area, get their public to fall into line and give them an easy ride, to increase their economic prospects, fuel their business and create money and new land for them to exploit. Every war since humans began waging it has started this way. All of them. From the wars in ancient history between Egyptians or Kushiites, or between Persians and Greeks, to the conflicts between the Nazis and the Allies or America and Iraq, they have all come to pass because someone at the top of the tree wanted to take something someone else had. It is the true face of war; the ultimate end result of human greed. Unfortunately, it is the one thing that appears we cannot ever solve. Something that we have done since time immemorial, and something we seem destined to continue to do. For all our monetary, social and energy problems, for all the havoc we cause on planet earth, it may be the war that we and we alone create that will finally be the downfall of mankind.
Fixing it is something we will never do.