Tuesday, May 29, 2012


I see more and more strikingly young veterans in my classes these days. Men and women still in their 20s who've already seen multiple deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, the Balkans, Djibouti, etc.

It seems to me that our wars over the last 50 years look less like previous American wars and more like the colonial wars of the British Empire in the late 19th century. They are mostly small ferocious wars for the sake of large and arcane political designs and commercial interests, what Robert Louis Stevenson called "The Great Game."
Those wars then and our wars now are fought by young people from poor and marginal backgrounds desperate for a new start, who find themselves shipped to some far corner of the earth that they've never heard of until they arrive there.
 The Iraq invasion and the Afghanistan War, like the Spanish American War (also an imperial adventure), were fought with a military manned primarily by the poor and by immigrants (not all of the veterans in my classes are citizens).

 I don't really consider myself to be a pacifist. There are times when picking up a gun and fighting are necessary. But, the older I get, the more I agree with Chris Hedges who said that war is a betrayal of soldiers by politicians, of idealists by cynics, of the young by the old.
Contrary to Clausewitz, I see war not as another form of politics, but as the failure of politics. Hannah Arendt said that the resort to violence is always a confession of failure, that your cause has so little credibility and authority that you must resort to force in order to win. I've always said that the great genius of democracy is that people can struggle for power with a real chance of winning without having to kill each other.

 Over time, I'm becoming less and less patient with those who want to paper over the absolute pacifism in the Gospel with "Just War" doctrines.

We fight our wars the same way we live our lives; not as we should, but as we can.

No comments: