In mid-December this year the Iraq war, which has run for about a third of my life finally ended.
I’m glad it’s over, but as the US is still heavily engaged in Afghanistan, it doesn’t feel so over. The reasons for entering Iraq with military force were so fuzzy and unlikely, and later proved to be false, that it has puzzled me since its beginning. The best I have been able to rationalize was that as an extension of US anger and desire for retaliation against the bombers of the world trade center we sought out any viable target for attack. With the UN weapons inspections going… bumpily Bush found another outlet for US hate.
I wasn’t alive for the Vietnam War, but I do remember the first gulf war, albeit vaguely, as I was very young and it was very brief. This morning, when I saw the news that our last convoy of ground troops finally departed from Iraq a thought ran through my head: How long was this in comparison to the Vietnam War? Upon checking, barely more than half the duration of that second epic failure in Asia. I can hardly imagine the antagonism towards the government in that time as my own anger at the overly-long inappropriate war in Iraq this time was highly potent, and remains bitter regarding our involvement in Afghanistan.
Reflecting on Vietnam, we were supposed to learn about overarching strategy and the importance of aligning tactical combat with tactical human relations and understanding. It is my belief that the result of Vietnam is what we now call “counter-insurgency” supposedly a methodology for stemming the flow of new forces and sentiment against our forces. Unfortunately we seem to be perpetuating part of the problem we had then; We are fighting fire with fire and in the process burning bridges and scorching earth. We have a vast supply of embracing love with which we could rightly smother the fires that rage “against us”.
I have a brilliant idea. Remove those armed forces. Leave the human-relations builders. If you have a gun pointed at you. And you have a gun in your hand. Might you use it out of fear? Yes. If you have a smile directed at you and you have a gun in your hand, might you use it out of fear? Maybe.
See the difference? A certain fear becomes a possible fear, maybe even a probable fear. But that still serves our purpose better anyway. Remove the guns from the soldiers hands in both the figurative and literal sense. Turn our armed forces into the smiling forces of peace and love that they should be. The US military has a fantastic program of training, intelligence gathering, and leading the world. The tactics they learn are perfectly applicable to peaceful situations and should be used as such.
As I think we’ve seen from the Arab spring, if situations become so disagreeable and unbearable in a foreign country (as we found them in our own colonial states), the people will not stand for it. They will rise up and in many cases do so peacefully and justly. And in the end justice and peace will prevail.
When we have entered into foreign conflicts we have left in our wake too much hate and not enough love. When we have been successful as in the first gulf war our interests were not benevolent or altruistic, they were economic.
Sometimes you have to endure an economic inconvenience, or even take a punch and a bloody eye and return a smile in exchange in order to resolve a conflict optimally. It’s important to realize, as I have now, that pacifism, done improperly, is as ineffective as war done ineffectively.
I have a little experience with half-failed pacifism. I took two punches to the face one time when I was trying to stop an asshole from hassling my friends’ girlfriends. While not intending to start a fight, I did use some inciting language. I was drunk, and I thought the situation was hilarious. I laughed at the guy after the first punch and succeeded only in making him angrier and punching me again, the second time a bit more on target. He knocked my ass back on the ground, from where I continued to laugh as the bartender, his friend, and some other people in the place took him outside.
I succeeded in my original goal of getting him to stop hassling us. But the failure was in that I didn’t plant in him any seed of love or any idea of positive change. By laughing at him, belittling him and invoking his own inner problems I only served to fan the flames of his violence. He probably thinks he won because he knocked me down. I know neither of us won.
Next time, I’ll accompany my peaceful reaction with love. When you love someone, it becomes much more difficult to hurt them or let them hurt themselves. That is the lesson we need to learn as a country.
I hope for the end of our War in Afghanistan and that we do not endeavor to engage Iran, North Korea, or Pakistan so hastily and lovelessly as we did Iraq and Afghanistan.