When The Lights Go Out….
I was in a forum, sometime in 03, which was pretty mixed politically, and people were saying “We need to leave Iraq. We need to go back home and mind our own business.”
And then… someone said something I still remember. I remember the sound of it and that chill feeling you get up your spine when an unpleasant truth is spoken.
“If you leave now, you’ll come back when the lights go out. You’ll come back from a severely crippled America. You’ll come back in far worse circumstances, when things are more against you and it’s impossible to win.”
Well, thank heavens we’re not there yet. Thanks to the men who’ve fracked and who’ve exploited our energy resources against the express will of those who want to “skyrocket” our prices. And thanks to the men and women who has floundered and fought and struggled to survive, instead of subsiding quietly into a collective torpor where the state is going to take care of everything.
Thanks to them, the lights are on, and America is still working. Oh, not as it was. Oh, not full throttle. But the lights aren’t flickering, and we’re not Detroit.
We’re not there, but neither are we where we were in 03. And the president says we’re not going back, which of course, after five years of this most of us recognize as a sure sign that we are.
I have no idea how the news are going to dress it up. The spin I’ve heard was that this is Bush’s fault, because he created a power vacuum and he didn’t have a way to fill it. He didn’t have “an exit plan.”
I’m here to tell you the fault was of those demanding an exit plan. The fault is of those who demanded a set date for the end of the war. A set date to withdraw. A set date to let the Iraqis be themselves, to leave them to their own fate.
But Sarah, you say, wars have ends.
Yes, they do. But not like that.
I’m not going to say I was enthusiastic about going into Iraq. Unlike Bush, I’m not a compassionate conservative. (He wasn’t my horse in the race in 2000.) I’m not even really a conservative. I’m a person who errs on the side of freedom and who hates the golden-bricked road to serfdom to the state with a passionate, visceral hatred.
I believe not in isolationism but in overkill. I believe that when attacked a country should do only one thing: retaliate hard enough to make the other guy afraid to do it again.
I don’t believe in bombing aspirin factories. I believe in bombing to the stone age. I admire Israel’s habit of sending notices to their enemies to evacuate targeted sites. I admire it, but I wonder if it’s sane. And if it’s part of the reason the enemy won’t relent.
Oh, I am in general on the side of people. I hate the loss of life, particularly young life. When I first heard about war I was four or five, and I asked my father why all the children weren’t evacuated before a war started.
Dad told me about some of the evacuations in WWII. He didn’t tell me about the young man he grew up with who’d been evacuated from France to the family of (VERY) distant relatives, probably because he hadn’t thought of it in those terms. Antoine was just Antoine. It wasn’t till he visited with his children and grandchildren five years ago that the whole thing was put in perspective for dad.
But he also didn’t tell me that yes this should be done all the time. Instead, he told me war was a terrible thing and I should pray it never came near me.
I was, I think, too young for him to explain how war works.
War is a terrible thing. War is like a combine going through a field on an erratic path, cutting wheat and rose bushes, potatoes and trees at random, and pulping them. Sometimes war spares the wicked and takes the innocent. Sometimes war seem pointless, like, say, WWI, even to the people fighting it. (It wasn’t. But the peace was almost pointless, it was certainly forced, and it was only an hiatus in the war.)
War is a terrible thing because wars are clashes of cultures and because human cultures, while they’re not innate and they can change, don’t change suddenly or in any significant way unless they’re under extreme trauma. And even then the word is out on whether they change markedly and permanently or just sort of change, for a while. None of which matters, since in the end, changing for a little while and stopping attacking people that aren’t attacking it would be a vast improvement on the Middle East.
Here’s the thing, though – sometimes it’s best to have a terrible and SHORT and decisive war than a prolonged, lasts forever, claims lives, claims generations war.
It doesn’t seem that way to us, of course.
I think a lot of the pacifism of our culture and a lot of the crazy, sappy, silly nonsense that the war in Iraq has been subjected to is that we’re not just the children who came after WWII. Oh, no. We’re the children who learned about WWI and II in school from people who didn’t experience them. This means the academics have got hold of them, and if there’s one thing academics do, really well, is to take the moral high road. They might be people, in colleges, giving their opinion on things they never experienced, but they have thought really hard, and they have read books and they’re morally superior, anyway. And you should listen to them.
And so generations of children have been taught about the horrors of the world wars but not of the alternative. And they’ve been told about the spots where the cold war got hot, but not about the spots where it didn’t, or the places where the west cut and run and let the other side win. Places like Cambodia. Places like North Korea. Places like the Soviet Union itself.
This feeling of “peace at any cost” has settled in. Be quiet. Don’t make waves. War is a horror.
I’m not going to tell you war is not a horror. Or that we should have more wars.
What I’m going to tell you is that war is inevitable. It’s a result of humans being flawed creatures, not angels. It’s a result of humans being tribal. Sometimes a tribe’s internal culture will spin out of sanity and become convinced that, yes, indeed, the most important thing for its members’ happiness is to kill everyone else. Sometimes a tribe will want mastery over a resource, a place, an area that is, alas, also wanted by another. And sometimes a tribe can be convinced that no, this is not what you want. Given sufficient firepower. Given enough losses. Given enough pain. (Whether that breaks it or not, I don’t know. Japan did stop its ideas of mastery and superiority, but its birthrate is dismal. Shake the magic eight ball and ask again.)
The point I’m trying to make is that your choices are never between war and an ice cream social where feelings are discussed. Your choices are never between war and holding hands together and singing kumbaya.
War comes. It comes because we’re humans. It comes whether it’s declared or not. And it comes whether a ceasefire is proclaimed or not, weather a peace treaty is signed or not. The peace treaties of the end of WWI didn’t hold, because they weren’t real. The causes of the war weren’t gone, and the war would return as soon as another generation grew up to man the machine guns.
You declare war, usually a recognition of what is already happening. You don’t declare peace. You negotiate peace. And for peace negotiations to work, they must remove the cause of the war, or at least make one of the sides to the war give up on its claims. This is usually only achieved through massive losses that hurt the other side. If you’re not hurting, why would you give up on what you want to those other guys?
So I wasn’t crazy about the Iraq war, because I thought we should have gone in and really created a power vacuum. Bomb Saddam and his family into the stone age. Bomb every presidential palace. Destroy their oil wells or, not to be wasteful, take them over and occupy the area around them. And then let them figure out how to crawl out of the hole by themselves.
I wouldn’t like it – but I like it better than what we have now.
Bush was a better person than I. He wanted to go in and liberate the Iraqis and win hearts and minds. He almost managed it too. With his hand forced by the opposition, with demands for an exit date and an exit, he almost managed it. While being called names, he almost managed it.
And then came Obama, who is my generation, and was taught by people who thought wars could be stopped with Woodstock. He thought we could retreat, because the country was stable, and because ending the war looked so good on his resume. He didn’t get that the only way to wage war without massive casualties and destroying the place was to stay long. Stay long enough for a couple of generations to grow up. Create a tradition of democracy. Build the culture from the inside out.
No. He wanted to declare a peace and have a victory dance. And – and this is the important part – this is one act he thought would never explode in his face, because to him peace is like that. You plan it, you declare it, you leave. And peace stays. Because if you’re not fighting the other side also won’t.
This is war theory as explained by squirrel high on methamphetamines, but it’s what he was taught. It’s what most people my age were taught. I think I told here the story of a beginning writer at an impromptu workshop at a local con reading a story of a dead Iraq (female) soldier watching her own funeral. The story was weird, because it was all bathos and memories of walking in the beach and playing with her little sister and nothing about volunteering to serve. Nothing about honor, or duty or tratidion. I don’t know any military person who doesn’t think of those. But worse of all, the writer was crying as she read it, and when we told her that the story had some issues, she cried even harder. “But I have to write this story,” she said. “I have to write it, because otherwise the war will never end.”
She was my age. At the time, late forties. And stories were things that could end the war. A short story about a fighting woman, dead in the war, would make everyone change their mind and stop fighting. Or at least it would make the US change its mind, and of course, little browns peoplez would never continue the war once the evil imperialists left, right?
This is what we were taught, and the incurious, the fantasist, the idiot believes what he is taught.
There is a reason spreading despondency and doubt was considered treason. But we’ve let treason walk and talk, and teach school and write stories. What do you call that? What but monumental stupidity? Oh, not in letting them do it, but in letting them claim this is the only truth, letting them corner the narrative, going along to get along. Letting them think stories and bathos will end a real war, and not stopping them and telling them they’re wrong and what’s more, their beliefs are dangerous — or pointing at them, laughing and making duck noises.
We’re going back. We’re going back when the locals have no reason to trust us. We’re going back without allies. We’re going back when Europe is on the verge of flames. We’re going back with the world burning and our economy in ruins.
We’re going back because there are worse things than that – like letting the horror that is ISIS and its seventh century culture take over the Middle East and possibly swathes of Europe.
So we’re going back. And the illusion that peace can be declared from on high is going to cost us rivers of blood. The blood of people far better than the fantasists who pushed for and declared “peace.”
Will we learn? Shake the magic eight ball and ask again.