by Simon Black
I had the opportunity to tour Chile’s national military school yesterday. As you may know, I spent some time in the military myself in places that were not especially pleasant, so the visit was quite meaningful for me.
My host was a particular gung-ho Chilean Army officer; curiously, he told me that many of his fellow officers in Chile petitioned the government to authorize a deployment of soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan. They want to participate in the action, if for no other reason than for the opportunity to improve training at home.
Chile’s politicians wouldn’t hear of it, their response being something slightly more eloquent than “no way in hell are we sending Chileans to die in that f’ing desert.” My host seemed rather disgruntled.
“Trust me,” I said, “you don’t want to go over there… and you should consider yourself lucky that your civilian leadership has the good sense to boycott the conflict. There is nothing good waiting for you in Iraq or Afghanistan.”
Young, gung-ho soldiers just want to get in the fight and don’t think much about morality, cost, or danger… so it was incredibly encouraging to hear how opposed his government was to the idea.
I further explained that, when I was at West Point in the post-Desert Storm era, the biggest thing we had to prepare for was the conflict in the Balkans. After graduation, things changed; the embassy bombings in Africa, the USS Cole, then the September 11th incident, all revolutionized the US military’s role.
In the 1980s, there was one single enemy… and the entire US military was focused on the Soviet Union. When the wall fell, the US aimlessly wandered the 1990s as the world’s policeman until ultimately adopting the role of ‘pre-emptive strike force’ in the 2000s (assuming official explanations are to be believed).
During my own career, I realized that the military was little more than a blunt instrument for bureaucrats to achieve political gain. I remember the night before the invasion of Iraq in 2003 so clearly: as all the forces were huddled at the border in Kuwait waiting to advance, I couldn’t stop thinking about the people on both sides who were about to die because George W. Bush had something to prove.
In the subsequent years, little has come from that conflict other than shattered lives, lost limbs, and a mountain of debt.
You can peel back the onion further and question the benefits of nearly every conflict– Mogadishu under Clinton, Panama under Bush I, Grenada under Reagan, the entirety of the Vietnam War under five presidents, the invasion of Greece in 1947, the occupation of Haiti in the 1920s… Cuba, the Philippines, Mexico, etc.
There are scores of other instances going all the way back to the late 1700s. And for what? To install a ruthless, puppet dictator? To maintain the country’s addiction to oil? To expand America’s domain until it matches the size of its government’s ego?
Libya is simply the latest in an endless string of folly. This logic of “let’s indiscriminately bomb a country in order to protect the civilians” can only come from the mind of a politician who quantifies benefit in votes and awards taxpayer money to defense contractors that make warfare more lethal.
Consider that there are entire industries with some of the most brilliant minds on the planet dedicated to making the military more ‘powerful’, i.e. deadly.
Today, politicians can watch a predator drone or stealth bomber rain death and destruction on a foreign population from his plasma screen. They brag about their smart bombs (which are racking up the civilian death toll) or how powerful their nuclear arsenal is, as if the efficiency of one’s destructive power is honorable.
Donald Rumsfeld famously used the phrase “shock and awe” as a promotional tool during the invasion of Iraq. It was something for the press to latch onto and fill the country with a dreamy spin on the military’s ability to exterminate foreigners like cockroaches.
They show us videos of massive explosions and Americans shriek like chimpanzees in boastful approval. Not exactly a far cry from the Roman Colosseum, is it?
In reality, there’s nothing romantic about this; the ability to kill efficiently should not be a source of pride. And the fact that a small group of elites has the power to send thousands of people to fight, die, and kill, as well as cajole an entire society into tacit support, is a total aberration of humanity.
Our descendents will surely look back on this time and wonder how we could have been so foolish– to let these people rob our freedoms; destroy our economies; kill foreigners on their home soil; and shower themselves with Peace Prize medals… all while keeping society quietly subdued with games, tricks, and bombastic patriotism.
They tell us to wave the flag, to buy yellow ribbon bumper stickers, and to remember the fallen on days like today. Truthfully, though, the memories of the fallen would be much better honored if the government quit making more of them… and stopped destroying the freedom that they supposedly died to defend.
* If you have ever doubted that freedom is on the decline, just watch this video recently shot at the Jefferson Memorial of all places.