In this episode of Agora, TNH Executive Editor Constantinos E. Scaros says though war should always be a last resort, the U.S. can win wars nowadays without loss of lives or limbs. But Historian-Anarchist-Poet Dan Georgakas says that’s just wishful thinking.
Dan, I recently met a man who lost a leg fighting in a military mission overseas many years ago, and it got me thinking even more about our use of military force in foreign conflicts.
There are many more logical reasons not to fight than to fight, and going to war – as we recently discussed and agree – should really be the last resort.
When I think of what’s wrong with war, many things come to mind. It bothers me to think about the thousands of innocent civilians we kill – albeit accidentally. Or even the enemy soldiers that we kill. After all, they’re fighting for what they think is right, too. It is not as if they say: “We think what we’re doing is wrong, but we’re doing it anyway.”
It is also upsetting that we destroy entire economies of other countries when we attack them, which leads to devastating long-term consequences for millions who live there and have to pick up the pieces.
Mind you, I am not saying we are “the bad guy” and that our going to war with other nations is categorically wrong – I’m just saying that even in circumstances when I think our intervention is justified, these consequences are still troubling.
Worst of all, though is the fact that our troops lose their limbs, and worse yet, their lives. And that is my issue for this edition of Agora – how to fight a war effectively without putting troops in harm’s way.
Some scoff when entertaining the notion of war without combat, rendering it virtually impossible and labeling the concept woefully naïve. But I think it all depends on how the combat-less war is fought. To illustrate the point, two sports examples come to mind:
Some years ago, shortly after they had both retired, two of the greatest basketball players of all time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Julius “Dr. J.” Erving played an exhibition one-on-one that was televised.
Both superstars whose battles on the NBA courts over the years were epic, one would have thought their one-on-one would have been competitive and thrilling. It wasn’t.
Jabbar thoroughly dominated the game – it was a lackluster one-sided blowout. Why? Because Jabbar used his immense height advantage (eight inches) over Erving to slowly back his way to the basket and score easily.
More akin to combat is the illustrious career of boxer Roy Jones, Jr., who over his 25-year professional career (and still going), has won most of his fights by using his superior speed and not taking any chances on getting hurt whatsoever.
Fans who prefer the thrilling haymaker-for-haymaker exchanges seen in Rocky movies often boo Jones’ conservative approach, but the way he sees it, there’s no reason for him to risk serious injury when he can win most of his fights without suffering a scratch.
Similarly, the American military should utilize its superiority on so many levels – resources, technology, expertise – to win wars via airstrikes. Of course, those have to be combined with a strong and smart strategy, and dynamic, proactive dialogue and diplomacy.
Many generations ago, Americans had to churn their own butter, salt their meat to keep it from spoiling, do their laundry by hand, and light their homes at night using oil lamps. Thanks to the wonders of technology, none of those things are necessary anymore. And, if utilized effectively, neither is putting troops in harm’s way.
It will not be easy, it may be clumsy, and may result in innocent bystander casualties. But on the plus side, it will not result in loss of life or limb to American troops.
Much like if the goal is to cause a cherry on a tree to fall to the ground, the quickest and easiest way to accomplish that is to walk up to the three and pick it off the branch. But if that means, say, getting wet because it’s raining outside, you can sit in the comfort of your own home and shoot a BB gun at it.
You may break some nearby windows in the interim and, worse yet, injure some folks – but eventually you’ll accomplish your goal without a drop of rain landing on you. Let’s use the same principle in war, and make loss of life or limb a thing of the past. What do you think?
I think a war without dreadful casualties on all sides is wishful thinking. As you state, national security should be central to any military response to international problems. Once the decision to use the military is made, the only question is what force is adequate to do the job with the understanding that in our technological times, any military action puts all Americans in harm’s way.
The United States can easily defeat any enemy that choses to fight in a conventional manner. Our major military adversaries today, however, are irregulars motivated by fierce religious and cultural beliefs.
They often melt into civilian populations. Such irregulars can only be defeated when their native populations turn against them.
Abstractly, the U.S. military understands the nature of its contemporary adversaries. Unfortunately, it has no long-term strategy to cope with that phenomenon. So we ended up with fragile outposts in Afghanistan, whose very existence usually alienated the local population and otherwise mainly served as targets whenever the foe chose to attack. We created a “safe” green zone in Baghdad in what amounted to a castle unable to cope with the chaos beyond its walls.
During the course of the war in Vietnam, U.S. military and political leaders understood the U.S. could not prevail unless it won the “hearts and minds” of the population.
But their military actions, just like our actions in Asia, made winning popular support impossible. A pattern of lofty democratic rhetoric masking the relentless use of power has been the rule for decades.
In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower approved the CIA removal of the reformist Colonel Arbenz in Guatemala and the democratically-elected social democrat Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran.
During the same period, we rejected a proposal by Ho Chi Minh for a de facto alliance based on his fear of aggression by China. All subsequent presidents, liberals and conservatives, have followed the pattern set in the 1950s. The long-term consequences have been calamitous.
Just one result of our chronic support of “pro-American” Latin American dictators is that today tens of thousands of Central American children are crossing our border with Mexico claiming status as political and economic refugees.
Had we not ousted Mossedegh in favor the “pro-American” Shah, the mullahs now in control of Iran would have remained marginalized. Arbenz’s offense was that he wanted United Fruit to share some of its banana profits with the Guatemalan people.
Mossedegh, in turn, wanted Iran to have 50% of the profits generated by Iranian oil. I must also note that our present relationship with Vietnam is pretty much what Ho Chi Minh had proposed and could have been obtained without the loss of American lives.
We now have the idea that increased airpower, especially drones, can achieve what “boots on the ground” could not. History suggests otherwise. Despite the carpet bombing of German cities in World War II, the Germans fought ferociously until crushed by the Soviet infantry.
Before the atomic bombing of Japan, American troops had to slug their way through various islands with extremely heavy casualties. Nor did massive bombing bring an American victory in Vietnam.
The American public backs our numerous military actions out of the feeling that we are acting defensively or are championing the virtues of democracy, pluralism, and economic development.
These assumptions do not correlate with the behavior of our leaders who seem expert in manipulating feelings of patriotism but initiate heartless polices that are mindless of long term consequences.
Until the American public clearly defines what it wants our international role to be, more drones, missiles, and aircraft will be no more effective than the strategies that have already proven to be costly failures.
WHAT’S YOUR OPINION?
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