You know what? I just don’t want a war.
It saddens me – no; it horrifies me that my students who are 14 and 15 and 16 years old have never lived in a United States that wasn’t at war. It’s a good swath of my adult life that this country has been at war; but almost all the years before that – I was born right around the end of the Vietnam War – I have known a country that has been relatively peaceful. We had the Cold War throughout my youth, of course – the Russians were the bad guys in pretty much every movie I saw until I was in college – and we sent troops to Panama and Grenada, Africa and Serbia; and there have been troops stationed all around the globe throughout my life; but we hadn’t invaded a country and torn down its government until I was a teacher. Until after 9/11.
I remember it well. One of my strongest memories is of hearing that we had invaded Iraq, two years later, on a pretense that I didn’t begin to understand, let alone believe; when we did, I remember writing angrily in my journal that I was afraid we would colonize the country, that Bush the Younger had brought us back because Bush the Elder hadn’t finished the job, and now we would never leave. I was almost right: we left, eventually, but because we did so, now we will never do that again. Because as soon as we left Iraq, ISIS rose, and became the new villain in every movie from now until – well, probably forever.
That’s why I don’t want a war. Because mark my words: any country we invade, from now until the end of this country’s reign as the world’s most violent nation, will become a permanent victim of this nation’s military colonialism. Because we need to “stay until the job is done.” Because we need to “ensure stability.” Because we need to “prevent the rise of terrorism.” You know: all the reasons why we still have troops in Afghanistan after seventeen goddamn years of occupation. Because something has to justify the continued expenditure of trillions of dollars to feed the military-industrial complex.
The same reason why the military wants to keep our forces in Syria. To ensure stability in the areas not controlled by Bashar al-Assad. To prevent the resurgence of ISIS.
And may I just say: god damn that group for giving our military the only justification it will ever need, forever. But I also have to say that I understand their motives. After all, we are invaders. We are colonizers. We attack governments that are not our enemies, under the thinnest of pretexts, devastating every inch of infrastructure in the country, and then we occupy and act exactly like the tyrants we are supposedly removing from power: we paint the nation black with corruption and graft, we put our cronies into positions of power regardless of their suitability for the role, we act with complete impunity while arresting hundreds if not thousands of “insurgents” and “terrorists,” many of whom are surely innocent, and plenty of whom are thrown into dark holes from which they never escape, where they are brutalized and often tortured. You know where ISIS started, right? Right: in American-run prisons.
Some country did that to my homeland, I’d fucking be a terrorist, too. Well: I wouldn’t. I’m a pacifist. But I’d probably get arrested by the CIA for the things I’d write, and the things I’d teach my students. I might even end up in Guantanamo Bay.
They’re still there, you know. 45 prisoners, some of them detained since 2002. Sixteen years in prison thousands of miles from home, many if not all of them victims of torture; none of them given due process according to our own nation’s laws, let alone the laws of their various home countries. Because we call them terrorists, and prisoners of war. A war older than my students.
I do not want another war.
It’s hard for me to say that, because the two impending wars (assuming John Bolton and Mike Pompeo don’t get their way and lead us into a war in Iran), in Syria and North Korea, would both, in some ways, be “good” wars. Both those regimes are guilty of unspeakable crimes. The North Korean dictatorship has killed millions of people, mostly through starvation, over the last seven decades; 500,000 Syrians have been killed and 100,000 more are missing under the Syrian regime and the civil war that has ravaged the country since 2011, when a dozen young men were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and executed for painting anti-government graffiti on a wall in Damascus. Syria especially frightens me, because the steps leading to the current atrocities have all been ones that I could see our government taking in this country: it began with people talking about overthrowing the government, which led to arrests; the arrests led to protests, which led to a police and military crackdown; and then the revolution started. After that, the arrests turned to a machine: tens of thousands were detained, imprisoned in terrible conditions, beaten regularly, hung from manacles, starved and mistreated, and then executed. I have trouble thinking that American soldiers would emulate Nazis, with cattle cars and death camps and gas chambers and ovens; but I can certainly see them beating people, holding them without trial, even executing them; all of those things have happened in CIA and military prisons over the last seventeen years of this current war. Could they happen in this country, to our people, if those people were deemed enemies of the state?
I’d say yes.
That scares the hell out of me. Particularly when I listen to stories about Bashar al-Assad responding to accusations of war crimes with, essentially, “Fake news!” When he dons a suit and carries his briefcase to work the day after the U.S. targets his chemical weapons facilities, because bluster and bluff are how he has managed to hold onto power – along with his backing from Russia.
It just keeps getting scarier, doesn’t it? You know Assad’s been reelected twice? Sure. He wins around 98% of the vote, every time. Biggest electoral victory in history. And the biggest crowds at his inauguration. Huge crowds. Beautiful inauguration. The best. Believe me.
I don’t want us to go to war in Syria because if we do, we’ll never leave. We’ll keep troops there forever, the same way we’re keeping them in Afghanistan, because we somehow think that our troops are maintaining stability: even though, as a foreign invasive force, I have no doubt we are creating the same instability, the same violent resentment of our presence, that we have to stay in the country in order to suppress. See how perfect that is? As long as our troops stay there, there will always be a need for our troops to stay; and as long as our troops stay there, there will always be attacks that stoke up the dogs of war back home, so they keep supporting those troops, supporting those troops. Look at how the Republican party, the party of fiscal responsibility and small government, was happy to sign away the biggest budget and one of the biggest deficits in history, a budget which expands government in every possible way – because that same budget increased military spending. That’s it, that’s all they got: more money for the military. And did you listen to them talk about it? “We have to make sure we handle our readiness issues,” I kept hearing. Because apparently the largest and best-equipped army in the world is not quite ready enough to do violence, should they be called upon to do so. We have to be ready just in case. To protect our freedom.
I don’t want to go to war in Syria because doing so will cause some further instability somewhere else in the region: the Syrian civil war was at least partly caused by the rise of ISIS, which wanted to conquer Syria for its caliphate; and ISIS was partly created by our invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, which broke al Qaeda and then created a power vacuum to give the remnants of al Qaeda room to grow into ISIS. Of course, al Qaeda was partly created by our support of the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan, because they resisted the Russian invasion; and also by our support of Iraq in the 80’s because Iraq opposed Iran – which was our enemy because the Ayatollah Khomeini blamed us for installing the Shah, after we overthrew the Iranian government in the 50’s. Because that government opposed our support for Israel. It never stops: it’s an unbroken chain of broken countries, broken governments, broken people turned into refugees, and then into terrorists and extremists, by us and our allies, simply because we won’t. Fucking. Leave.
I don’t want a war in Syria because if we are in another ground war when 2020 rolls around, then President Trump will get reelected just like Bush did in 2004, because Trump’s not any less popular than Bush was in 2004 (And I heard today that Joe Biden is thinking of running for the Democratic nomination, and all I could think of was John Kerry in 2004, and Al Gore in 2000, and to a lesser extent Hillary Clinton in 2016: because when we run these same kinds of Democrats, we get – Bush and Trump. And even if he won, well, Biden certainly supports the military, doesn’t he? Sure.), and because Trump will pull the same bullshit that Bush did: you can’t change commanders in the middle of a fight, and those Democrats don’t support our troops and aren’t willing to bankrupt the entire nation in order to ensure our troops are entirely, eternally, apocalyptically ready for any battle at any time in any place, including every battle at once. Just in case North Korea gets uppity while we’re suppressing Syria and Iran. Even though clearly the Democrats are just fine with bankrupting the nation in order to feed money to the military-industrial complex, because they signed that budget, too.
I can’t stand it any more. My former idealism, believing in the essential goodness of the government, especially the American government, is gone now, shattered by the eagerness with which all of our elected officials beat the war drums and spend, spend, spend, to send Americans into danger and to kill thousands upon thousands of innocent civilians in other nations, in drone strikes, in air strikes, in strikes designed to degrade the enemies’ capability to cause damage. My love for my country is gone, because what kind of country is this to love? The only nation to use nuclear weapons – also on a civilian populace. The only nation to prefer carpet bombing to putting “boots on the ground,” because we’d rather cause collateral damage (read: dead innocents) than put our precious soldiers at risk. Don’t get me wrong, our soldiers are precious – but so are the innocent people we bomb. So are the soldiers we kill, even if they aren’t innocent; they aren’t our enemies. When was the last time we fought a nation that was actually, actively, the enemy of this country? 1945, wasn’t it? Al Qaeda was an enemy and a threat, and I suppose ISIS is, as well; but the nations where they live are not. Nor was Vietnam. Nor was Korea. And look how well those worked out. And while we’re talking about Southeast Asia and incessant airstrikes: you realize our years of carpet bombing Cambodia in the 1970’s helped give rise to the Khmer Rouge? Killed 1.5 millions Cambodians, that group did.
That’s my nation. It has always been my nation, because right now I live in a city that used to be a thriving metropolis for the indigenous people of the Southwest, the Hopi and the Navajo and the Pueblo peoples. We killed them, too. And then used their desperate attempts to resist our invasion and slaughter of innocents to justify increasing the size and aggression of our military, so that we could keep our people safe while our people were stealing the lives and the land of other people.
And then people say that the military protects our freedom. Holy crap. Tell me: what threat to our freedom existed in Afghanistan in 2001? Sure, there was an existential threat to some number of our people, no doubt; but we have lost more soldiers in the war than people who died on 9/11. Afghanistan has lost – well, everything, really. And maybe that’s al Qaeda’s fault. But we were the ones who invaded. In order to protect our freedom. It amazes me that people can even say that with a straight face. I suppose now our freedom is somewhere in Aleppo, and sometime (before the election in 2020), we’ll have to put boots on the ground in order to protect it. We really should stop letting that freedom roam around like that. Especially in the Middle East.
I don’t want a war in Syria even though Bashar al-Assad is guilty of war crimes, even though he has used chemical weapons – because I can’t for the life of me understand why the chemicals sarin and chlorine are absolutely forbidden, but when the chemicals are gunpowder and lead, and TNT or phosphorus or napalm or any of the thousand other incendiaries and explosives that burn down entire nations, are no problem whatsoever. Assad has killed thousands with chemicals, and hundreds of thousands with guns and bombs and starvation; and we attack him for using the chemical weapons? It makes no sense. But even though his atrocities demand justice, I do not want a war. Because there is no possibility, none at all, that a war can create justice. It has never happened and will never happen. The “best” war I know of, World War II, which stopped the Nazi death machine, still did not create justice, because there can be no justice for 6 million victims of the Holocaust, and because the war against the Nazis gave them the cover to hide their actions for years, and because we were the ones who firebombed Dresden and used atomic weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and because our alliance with Stalin allowed him to retain power and kill 10 million of his own people, which also helped give rise to Mao and the Cultural Revolution that killed millions more. That’s not justice. That’s not a better outcome. I can’t say we shouldn’t have fought the war, because I can’t say anything other than the Nazis had to be stopped: but I can’t say that and not also say that the genocides in Rwanda and Darfur, and Cambodia, and North Korea, and China, should not also have been stopped. We didn’t fight those wars. So have we really saved people with our wars?
I don’t think we can. I don’t think that anything good can come of war. I think that we don’t really grasp the quintessential truth of the phrase “War is hell.” Especially not because we never think what that makes us, every time – every time – we start a war. We make hell. Every time.
And we call ourselves saviors. But we’re not: we’re the devils.
I don’t want another war. Not ever again. Not for any reason. Not even a good one.