War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.
~ Jimmy Carter – US diplomat & Democratic politician (1924 – )
The assertions that former President of the United States Jimmy Carter makes in the above statement are worthy of discussion. When, if ever, is waging war really necessary? Is war evil in itself or is the evil actually found within those who incite war? If war is always evil and never good, can good really come from it? What is the morality of war? What is considered “just cause” for declaring war? Can war really be a road to true peace? Can the high cost of war be justified? Can we ever really measure the true cost of war? Can we ever end the occurrence of war on our planet or are human beings doomed for all of time to use war as a tool to further their desires?
On 21 October 2011, I was listening to the radio coverage of President Obama’s announcement stating that, after eight years, seven months and one day, the United States had set a deadline to completely withdraw all American troops from Iraq by the end of the year. He promised the nation that all of our troops in that country “will be home for the holidays.” I mumbled to myself, “About f@¢king time.” I thought about my friend who was killed in a firefight in the early days of the Iraq War and felt sick to my stomach. I thought about the people who I know who brought the war home with them and are still fighting its effects. I thought about my own young family members who are currently serving America overseas in the military. I then recalled a photograph I’d seen online only the day before of a young Marine Sergeant who had been radically disfigured in Iraq. The photo was the wedding portrait of the 24 year-old Marine and his 21 year-old bride. The picture was heartbreaking. I read the comments made by those responding to the article. A couple of readers commented that the marriage lasted less than a year. I felt both sad and angry as I looked at that picture – sad for the newlyweds, angry at the circumstances that put the young Marine in a situation which so dramatically altered his life. “F@¢king War! It just f@¢king sucks! War Sucks!”, I shouted.
The War in Vietnam was a defining event in my life. In my early years, I could probably be described as “hawkish” regarding war. My use of language betrayed my politics. I frequently used the word “commie” as an adjective to describe things that I didn’t like. I can’t even begin to guess how many times I used the phrase “nuke ’em til they glow” as a solution to foreign policy problems created by despots and dictators. I considered anyone who didn’t want to dump huge sums of money into the military industrial complex as soft on national defense. My entire educational path was laid out in a way so that I could also join in the patriotic cause of fighting against the communist scourge. Viewing the movie “Apocalypse Now” became one of my New Year’s Day traditions. I had very little respect, and even less tolerance, for those whose opinions on national defense bore even the slightest whiff of pacifism.
Then something happened – my circle of friends, acquaintances and colleagues expanded in two ways. First, it expanded to include those actively serving in the U.S. Armed Forces as well as Veterans who had served in combat during wartime. Second, I began to associate with civilian victims of war. The knowledge that I gained through my interactions with these two groups of people demanded that I make a critical evaluation of my long-held opinions. One of the most important things that I took away from analyzing my belief system under the light of my newly found understanding was this: reality primarily exists in the gray areas; black and white reality rarely exists when it comes to human beings. I also learned that a wise person is willing to question the so-called party line and won’t immediately believe everything they’re told. Approaching the “facts” of human behavior with a healthy dose of skepticism until said facts are verified is not only prudent, it can literally be a matter of survival. In the end, I discovered that the influence of long-held beliefs which are rooted in half-truths can be difficult to shake off. With a great amount of effort, I began to work my way loose from the close-mindedness that had, for a very long time, impeded my ability to see the world from another person’s perspective. My existing opinions about war and national defense did not withstand the level of scrutiny made possible by my evolving worldview.
I’ve noticed that Americans really love stories with happy endings. If the ending can’t be a happy one, then a heroic, inspiring ending or an ending that provides insight into the “human condition” seems to be the next best thing. I’m not sure if the fondness for these types of outcomes is unique to American culture or not. I’m willing to guess that one could find other cultures that have this same predilection in common with Americans. I would, however, speculate that in the case of Americans, this desire for happy endings is fueled by a seemingly inherent need for resolution. For instance, we hear the story of the young soldier who returns from war missing both legs and an arm. In spite of his challenges, the young man pushes forward with great determination to reclaim his life. We shout “Hooray for him!” and are inspired by the bravery and tenacity that’s shown by the soldier. In the end, the story is resolved in a way that makes us feel good because it’s inspiring and heroic. We tell a friend about the story, maybe send it out in written format via email to everyone on our contact list. Then, unfortunately, because our personal need for resolution is satisfied, we’re not motivated to move past the “feel-good”. We go back to the humdrum of our lives without asking the hard questions about what really created the circumstances that led to this young man’s current condition. Or how about the story that has none of the preferred endings but instead has an ending that is sorrowful, hopeless and unresolvable in any meaningful way? I might seem jaded but I think that perhaps, when confronted with a painful story that ends in a way that doesn’t provide a sense of satisfactory resolution, the majority of people tend to throw up their hands and say “Isn’t that horrible! What shame, so sad,” and then go back to sitting on their hands as the memory of the momentary unpleasantness quickly fades from their minds.
It’s very troubling to me how such a significant percentage of civilians in the U.S. seem to be disconnected from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Worse yet, there seems to be an increasing distance between the small community of military personnel who are bearing the burden of war and American society in general. I attribute this much more to a lack of information and poor understanding than to apathy or blind self-interest. Recall that from 1991 to 2009 – some eighteen years, there was a blanket ban that prevented media news coverage of honor guard ceremonies that marked the return of our war dead arriving in flag-draped coffins at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. This effort on the part of government to play down the loss of American lives helped to remove the cost war from the forefront of people’s’ minds. I remember that during the Vietnam War, the count of those killed in action, missing in action, and prisoners of war, was featured daily above the front page banner of our local newspaper. The politicians got smart and realized that out of sight helps to create out of mind. An uninformed public is unlikely to express outrage over a war they know little about. Now, in the two years after the ban has been lifted, we’ve still seen very little news coverage of arriving coffins carrying our war dead. The media knows that junk news, mindless gossip and sensationalism sells better than the ugliness of war. When the media spends more time rehashing the latest snarky comment made by the political personality d’jour than it does reporting on the challenges faced by Americans serving in an active theater of war, it contributes to a general disinterest in how war affects our society. Further, if we are so disconnected from the war inflicted suffering experienced by our fellow Americans, how much more are we oblivious to the effects of any war that does not directly involve the United States?
I have come to understand that the cost of war is always too high for those involved, no matter the outcome. Consequently, war should always and only be considered the absolute final option in an effort to protect the many from a ruthless aggressor. Further, any decision to enter into war must be based on accurate intelligence delivered by reliable sources. Finally, if our government sends a man or woman into war to serve on the country’s behalf, then both the government and the people must be willing and prepared to stand by that service member and provide adequate aftercare for them when they suffer the wounds of war, both physical and mental.
“Why War Sucks” is not a cheerful blog. It’s not about happy endings – it’s about the misery of war; it’s about the high cost of war. This blog is intended to expose the horrific underbelly of war. Neither “feel-good” nor warm and fuzzy will be found here. I don’t expect that there will be a multitude of people breaking down doors to read my blog considering that it focuses on topics which the majority of people find extremely unpleasant and disturbing. I can only hope that those who do take the time to read my posts would become more aware of the realities of war and how war impacts both our nation and the world. Then, with increased awareness, I envision that my readers will transform their knowledge into the type of action necessary to hold those who have the power to wage war to the highest standards of leadership, morality and accountability.
On a side note, I was talking to a long-time friend and told him that I intended to create this blog. Tongue in cheek, he asked me if I was turning into a pacifist. I had to laugh. If I lived to be 120 years-old, it wouldn’t be sufficient time to work off my rough edges well enough so that any thinking person would consider it accurate to label me a pacifist. I’m too arrogant, stubborn, impatient, hot-tempered and I like my guns too much to ever reach a conversion point. I will say, however, that I do admire the pacifist’s ability to remain calm when personally offended as well as the ability to stay true to a philosophy of peace, even when others sometimes take a not-so-peaceful exception to that philosophy. I also can learn a lot from the pacifist about not making anger the default reaction to ignorance. Live and learn I guess – if you live long enough anyway. ĀṜ – 25 October 2011
Tyler Ziegel & Renee Klein, high school sweethearts, were married on 7 October 2006. This photo was taken prior to Ty being seriously wounded in a 2004 suicide bomb attack while serving as a US Marine Sergeant in the Iraq War. Ty received burns over his entire body and had to endure fifty reconstructive operations to repair his injuries. He spent nineteen months recovering at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. A plastic dome, with holes where his ears and nose used to be, replaced his shattered skull.
This wedding portrait of Ty and Renee was taken by photographer Nina Berman. Though it’s difficult to imagine why, Ty actually had to fight with the Department of Veterans Affairs to receive fair disability compensation for his injuries.
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