"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Brave warriors fighting for freedom -- maybe, maybe not

History professor and former soldier Andrew Bacevich, a self-declared "conservative Catholic" who served in Vietnam and the Gulf War, discusses the American Memorial Day holiday in light of the death of  death of his son three years ago in Iraq and the United States' history of imperialistic military adventures. As pointed out by Thers, Bacevich says things one no longer expects to see in the mainstream media:

As a non-American and non-veteran, I speak from considerably less authority, but I will tap-dance a little further into the minefield of our current western culture of military fetishization and beatification of anyone in a uniform. Not only are U.S. (and Canadian and British and other assorted Western soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan) not fighting for our--or anyone else's--freedom, I don't think they are necessarily any braver or more virtuous than anyone else. 
Even if you ascribe the best, most virtuous, most noble of motivations to the average U.S. Marine rifleman in Afghanistan -- that is, you assume he enlisted to "fight for freedom" not because he needed money for college or enlisted in a fit of jingoistic enthusiasm or because his father was in the service or just because he thought that "Full Metal Jacket" was a kick-ass film when he was 18 years old - consider his situation. He has been carefully, methodically, expertly trained. He is clad in ballistic armor, equipped with state-of-the-art weaponry and nearly unlimited ammunition, hot chow, top-level battlefield medical care, satellite communications, on-call air support, a massive logistics and intelligence infrastructure supporting him with every thing from hot showers to aerial photographic reconaissance. He is likely transported to the battlefield by armored vehicle or helicopter and knows that if he can stay alive, he can go home from the war when his tour of duty is over.
Consider his opponent - the mujahedeen, the Iraqi insurgent or the Taliban. He has a 20-year old Kalishnakov and a spare magazine - maybe even a grenade or two. If he is extremely fortunate, he might even have a decent pair of boots. He eats what he can scrounge, forage or steal in an impoverished countryside. He knows the terrain and local language because he has been fighting a war here for most of his adult life and will continue to do so until he dies, surrenders or wins -- just keeping his head down and running out the clock is not an option for him. Even if you attribute the most heinous of motives to him -- that he is fighting because he "hates freedom" or just "wants to murder Americans" - and presume that he is not trying to repel a foreign invader, defend his religion and way of life from "decadent and corrupt infidels"  or simply following his father (and probably grandfather) into the what has become the family business -- what make him any less brave than his opponent?

I don't mean this as criticism of those serving in Afghanistan or Iraq or anywhere else the powers-that-be have sent those who volunteered to serve their country, I mean it as a criticism of the blind acceptance that our warriors are somehow morally superior to theirs, that we are better than them simply by virtue of being us or that picking up a rifle somehow makes you a better person than anyone else, that being a soldier is somehow morally superior to being a doctor or a teacher or a farmer.

Is a suicide bombing of a police station in Baghdad really more heinous than an air strike on a wedding party? If you consider the matter of intention, yes, it is - but that makes very little difference to the people on the receiving end. And in the end, how does either the air strike or the terrorist response make any of us more free? And does anyone doubt that in the unlikely event the tables were turned -- if the wingnut fantasy nightmare scenario of a gigantic Islamic Caliphate superpower somehow came to pass and the Western world was somehow invaded and occupied -- that our tactics would be any less desperate? The history of Israel, of Ireland and of the French and Czech resistance in World War Two suggest otherwise.

Why are we so sure we are the good guys?

Update: Cathie from Canada, in response to this post raises the question "so how do we decide whose side God is on?"  Allow me to let Joan Baez answer that question with a lengthy quote from Bob Dylan.


CathiefromCanada said...

This is an excellent post, Rev -- I had noticed the Bacevich article too and drafted a post on it but I didn't really know what to say about it. Your discussion captures so many of the issues.
One comment an American made years ago on my blog was to the effect that that Americans wanted a president they could trust to send their sons only to a righteous war. I was profoundly surprised at the comment, because I had believed that people themselves, not the president, should be deciding whether a war was righteous or not -- and I think in general Canadians believe this, its why we supported the draft dodgers coming to Canada during the Vietnam War.
I wonder if that difference in our views is actually one of the subtle differences between Americans and Canadians.

Rev.Paperboy said...

I think the difference is that Americans are more willing to go to war than Canadians. Virtually every president has had some kind of military adventure on his watch since the revolution of 1776, through the war of 1812, the various campaigns against the first nations tribes, Mexico, Spain, just about every country in Central America, then the world wars, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Beriut, --- the list is practically endless. The U.S., like other colonialist powers, has always been willing to go to war to expand its empire whether political or economic.
Canada, I think to our credit, has not been willing to do this. Though we do have a long history of - as the title of the excellent book by Linda McQuaig put it - "Holding the Bully's Coat" -- we've just been a bit more obvious about it lately.
But I agree with you that whether a war is justified or not should never be left up to Presidents or Prime Ministers.