Friday, October 28, 2005

War's True Meaning

The following is an excerpt from my book, America and the Mythology of Greatness

The argument that governments are sometimes called upon to resort to war to oppose an “aggressor” nation is refuted by the renowned pacifist A.J. Muste who, in his book entitled, Non-violence in an Aggressive World (1940), claimed that “The line-up in the world is read in terms of “peace-loving” versus “persistently aggressive” nations. That is superficial and misleading. It is the same reading that brought us disaster twenty years ago. The real line-up is between satiated powers, determined to hang on to the 85 percent of the earth’s vital resources which they control, even if that means plunging the world into another war, and another set of powers equally determined to change the imperialist status even it that means plunging the world into another war.” In my mind this is a very prophetic argument. He goes on to caution that as soon as a nation finds itself on the path of war preparation, it strengthens the forces on the right and moves the society towards fascism. This observation is certainly supported by the current climate in the United States with the enactment of the Patriot Act and the beginnings of the increasing curtailment of individual civil liberties. The proposal by the extremist Attorney General John Ashroft that Americans should spy on each other under the guise of national security, demonstrates the extent to which fear has been used as a tool to control the population.

In regards to war preparations prior to World War II, A. J. Muste further states, “The United States is not ready for disarmament and war-renunciation. What then shall we propose? A little war-preparation, purely defensive preparation, refined economic warfare which can be safely waged at a distance against supposedly sinful nations? Surely they are no alternatives at all (such as moderate war-preparations in this day!), or they are alternatives which lead straight to disaster.” History has demonstrated again and again that war is no solution. It simply leads the future into the ineluctable direction of further conflict and suffering. If the Treaty of Versailles had not so grievously eviscerated the German economy, the psychopathic rantings of Adolph Hitler would probably have landed on deaf ears.

The political establishment decries any attempt to question President Truman’s motivations for authorizing the use of nuclear weapons on civilian targets at a time when the Japanese were preparing to sue for peace. How many innocent civilians died at our hands by the end of that war? Is it possible that the number far exceeded the six million casualties of the holocaust? I maintain that these are questions that should be asked if we, as a species, are ever to end the cycle of devastation and destruction that comes with the rise and fall of empires that have plagued human civilization from its beginnings.

Before the war’s end, the leaders of Great Britain, the United States and the then Soviet Union met on the Crimean Sea at the Yalta Conference. Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Josef Stalin met and drafted secret agreements that in effect were plans to establish spheres of political and economic interest after the war was won. The victors planned to divide up the spoils of war, taking full advantage of the chaos that was looming over the ravaged planet. Such is the nature of war and its aftermath.

The world is changing; cultural barriers between peoples are eroding rapidly. The revolution in communications is bringing diverse peoples together. Americans can either resist this change by building a fortress around themselves or choose to join the family of nations. It is imperative that we begin to see our nation and its past as belonging to the fabric of human history with all is flaws and imperfections and not as requiring a special exalted space in it. Maintaining a delusional self-image of superiority is inimical to further development.

The story of war, unfortunately, does not end with Second World War. Many wars have followed, both large and small. They need to be enumerated: the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the proxy wars against Chile, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Cuba, El Salvador, wars against Panama, Granada, Afghanistan and Iraq. These do not include the use of weapons of mass destruction against Cambodia, Laos, Libya, Somalia and Sudan. It is interesting to note that all these countries are poor and underdeveloped with one exception, Iraq. Iraq, a nation with a significant and prospering middle class, was made terribly poor and backward as a result of both war and the subsequent economic sanctions that were imposed upon its people. Economic sanctions, in fact, have become a wholly new kind of insidious and deadly warfare and collective punishment, where innocents are the guaranteed victims, a kind of bloodless terror.

What were the provocations for all these conflicts? Was the nation’s national security ever seriously in jeopardy in any of these military confrontations? These are the questions that need to be addressed.

The Korean War was never called a war but a United Nation’s “police action” directed against the incursion of North Korea into the South. Although there was some representation by other nations, the United States played a predominant role in the conflict. The invasion of South Korea by the North Korean communists was seen as a dangerous act that threatened the spread of communism into the Asian theatre. It did not, however, represent an immediate threat to the security of the United States. The decision to intervene in Korea was essentially a political one emanating from a fear of the further spread of Communism in Asia. Furthermore, this situation was exacerbated by the decision by the United States to use its forces, under the leadership of General Macarthur, to push into the North, leading to the involvement of China in the conflict. The behavior of the United States in that conflict deserves some attention.

The conflagration went on for three years. In those years, the people of North Korea suffered grievously. As part of the overall war strategy, the dykes that supplied the water to the rice paddies in the North were bombed. In this case innocent farmers and the people who depended upon them for food were targeted. Five of North Korea’s major cities were completely destroyed. The estimates of civilian casualties in North Korea range in the millions. It is estimated that 20 percent of the North Korean population were killed during the war. Former U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay stated, “We slipped a note…under the door into the Pentagon and said, “Look, let us go up there…and burn down five of the biggest towns in North Korea—and they’re not very big—and that ought to stop it. Well the answer to this was four or five screams—‘You’ll kill a lot of noncombatants!—and ‘It’s too horrible!’ Yet over a period of three years or so…we burned down every town in North Korea and South Korea too….Now, over a period of three years this is palatable, but to kill a few people to stop this from happening—a lot of people can’t stomach it.” This is a unique insight into the mentality of those who are left with the “business” of waging war.

This behavior again constitutes what can be regarded as war crimes or crimes against humanity. The powerful are never charged with such criminality, it is only the vanquished that suffer in this way. This is not to suggest that atrocities were not committed by the other side. Atrocities seem to be a “natural” outcome of war, a time when reason succumbs to chaos and depravity. The outcome of all of this destruction was the maintenance of the status quo: the division of Korea into the North and South. It is important to know the details of such events so that we do not further delude ourselves as a nation regarding our own motivations and actions.

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