Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Democratic Civilization - A Good Idea?

I'm a bit more than halfway through John Horgan's The End of War (McSweeney's, 2012), which I mentioned in the previous post.  It's a good read, and goes well with David Swanson's harsher (but still valuable) War Is a Lie.  Horgan makes a good case that war is not innate in human beings, and we can abolish it if we want to.  The trouble, obviously, is that many people don't want to, and many others are fatalistic about it -- which is another way of not wanting to stop it.

At one point Horgan describes a 2010 conference on warfare at Ohio State University, mostly conducted by military historians and soldiers.  ("Soldiers" is misleading; it doesn't mean grunts, it means officers.)  The general mood was pessimistic and fatalistic, as you'd expect from such a group.  This exchange is revealing:
Equally pessimistic was the sole non-historian who spoke at the conference, a four-star Marine Corp general named James Mattis ... Mattis believes that war is eternal, because civilized democracies like the U.S. will always have enemies, whether Nazis or Islamic fundamentalists.  "The enemy is going to continue to be there, the enemy of what I call the values of the Enlightenment," Mattis said.  "The nature of man has not changed, unfortunately.  And it's not going to change anytime soon, I don't think.  So we are going to have to be ready to fight, across the range of military operations, whatever the enemy chooses to do.

Mattis apparently subscribes to the "bad apple" theory of war, which holds that even if most of us want peace, incorrigibly violent, aggressive people will keep dragging us back into war.  Two months after the Ohio meeting, Barack Obama -- who, you might recall, has declared that we will not eliminate violent conflict in our lifetime" -- put Mattis in charge of U.S. Central Command, with oversight of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Pessimism pervades the foreign policy of the most powerful nation on earth [117-8].
It's certainly ironic if Mattis does subscribe to the "bad apple" theory of war, because he's one of the bad apples.  So is the country he serves, which was built by war.  As Horgan paraphrases it, Matthis thinks that "civilized democracies like the U.S." which befriend "what I call the value of the Enlightenment," don't cause wars: it's our "enemies" who do.  But a look just at the US' record of aggression since 1945 shows this to be an absurd claim.  The Korean Civil War resulted from US interference in Korean affairs, and in any case neither North Korea nor China attacked the United States.  The US invasion of Vietnam was similar: the US stood against Vietnamese self-determination, partly because of a paranoid conviction that Ho Chi Minh was a Soviet puppet; US territory was never endangered, let alone attacked.  Our present war in Afghanistan is more complex, but it boils down to the same thing: it wasn't Afghanistan that attacked us but (apparently) the international network al-Qaeda; the 9/11 attacks were planned all over the world, including Germany (which we have not invaded for harboring terrorists), and most of the hijackers were Saudi.  Far from keeping America safe, as Obama insists at every opportunity, the war in Afghanistan is giving many people more reason to want to attack us.  "The enemy" doesn't come sneaking around to whop us upside the head; we keep creating enemies, in the name of civilization and our Enlightenment values.

I don't mean to blame all war on the US, of course.  The US is not the source of all evil in the world.  Even if we stopped committing aggression and terror, there would other bad apples besides us to make trouble.  And like us, they would claim that it wasn't their fault, it was someone else's.  They'd most likely be lying, just as American apologists are lying when they refuse to consider the possibility that our country is responsible for the crimes it commits.  That refusal, whether by Americans or by others, is the most immediate cause of war.