By N.S. Palmer
A friend who’s active-duty military and who was in Afghanistan remarked that he didn’t think the Afghans could get by “without our help.”
Hmm. I held my tongue, but hmm.
My friend is a decent enough sort, but he’s in the Army and sees the world from that viewpoint. As a matter of psychological self-preservation, he must see the world from that viewpoint.
Nobody likes to see himself or herself as a villain. We always try to believe that we do what is right. If not right, then necessary. If not necessary, then what we had no other choice but to do.
When my friend thinks about the American occupation of Afghanistan, he thinks about building clinics and dispensing antibiotics to kids. As much as he can, he avoids thinking about the more common instances of bombing wedding parties, shooting kids, and urinating on the corpses. He doesn’t do that, so he tries to ignore it and focuses on any positive images he can find.
But “helping the Afghans”? Forget about making a sarcastic retort. It was all I could do not to laugh.
The Afghans did not request American “help” any more than they requested it from the Russians or the British, who previously attacked and occupied their country. They did not request that the United States install a puppet government. They did not request that their country be bombed and that their people be slaughtered.
One thing I’ve learned is that war is constant. Three reasons are most important.
First, human nature contains an aggressive and destructive impulse that war satisfies. That impulse often drowns out the voices of conscience and reason — in some of us more often than others.
Second, war is financially profitable for some people. Not for the soldiers who fight in it, and certainly not for the victims of its carnage. But bankers and weapons merchants make a killing, figuratively and literally. Smedley Butler, a Marine Corps Major General, discussed this in his book War is a Racket.
Third, war is politically profitable for government officials. It allows them to pose as courageous heroes who defend the nation. It enables them to crack down on dissent and enact oppressive laws. It distracts the population from the country’s real problems: As Shakespeare put it in King Henry’s advice to Prince Hal, “Be it thy course to busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels.” And it keeps the military busy overseas, instead of giving them free time to think about staging a coup at home.
I don’t have anything particularly wise to say to my friend about Afghanistan or America’s other imperial aggressions. As long as he wears the uniform, he has to believe in what he’s doing, and there’s no point in trying to talk him out of it. You or I would probably feel the same in his circumstances.
What I can do is talk more generally about how every person’s life is sacred; how war, killing, and destruction should be avoided whenever possible; and how America was founded to be a republic, not an empire.
War and oppression will always be around because they’re a consequence of human nature. However, from time to time, we can moderate and reduce them a bit.
It’s not as inspiring a goal as universal peace and brotherhood, but it’s what we can achieve on earth.
Copyright 2012 by N.S. Palmer. May be reproduced as long as byline, copyright notice, and URL (http://www.ashesblog.com) are included.