A Missed Opportunity to Talk About War
by Wim Laven
“We will bankrupt ourselves in the vain search for absolute security.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower
For months the deadline loomed; on August 2nd the USA would reach its limit on borrowing. Hard times and ugly arguing took place, but in the end an agreement was reached. Call it what you will: a compromise, a resolution, “the President Surrenders” read a New York Times headline, and etc. I’ll just call it a disappointment.
I never once heard mention of military spending, the cost of running military bases all over the globe, the cost and inadequacy of our combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, or anything else about our failed military policy. It is a triple whammy: we spend more on these campaigns than anything else, they are not working, and challenging the status quo guarantees political death — perhaps the only truth in American politics. What will it take to honestly talk about the military industrial complex in America?
“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.” — Adolph Hitler
The truth about war is rarely told; war is a brutal, harsh, and traumatic reality. Lives are changed; soldiers and civilians die. One truth is that in today’s American conflicts far more deaths are civilian than combatant. In WWI about one in twenty deaths was civilian, today about one in twenty is combatant (the tables have turned) — a harsh and traumatic reality — for all the killing we do little is achieved; no wonder we don’t talk about it!
“In war, truth is the first casualty.” — Aeschylus
There is a certain underlying belief, in this country, that war is inevitable and that violence (“strength through superior firepower”) is the best response. It is a strong mythology, taught from a very early age, and rarely challenged, but largely inaccurate. The opposing truths: violence rarely ends with the same success as nonviolence, that the bases the US has in 135 different countries have done little to slow the prevalence of war and even less in the way of making anyone safer through combat operations. The success, if there is any, of combat operations is almost always a short lived one.
“I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.” — Abraham Lincoln
There is a rich history of the efficacy of nonviolence, and the ability of peace-building and peace-making operations to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. Violent conflict can be avoided and/or ended and enduring positive change is made. Many of our military leaders are aware of, and open to, this reality. Gen. Petraeus is one modern example, he routinely requested more non-combat operations when he spoke to Congress, he said they were less costly in human life and monetarily. Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke prolifically about the continued need for disarmament, the human cost of war, and the need to “compose difference, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose.”
“We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower
Make no doubt about it; the military-industrial complex is alive and well. On any day, week, month, or year, in the last six decades, more money is spent on military operations than anything else — indeed, than everything else COMBINED! There are war profiteers, and in principle this creates a problem, not just in transparency (“what are the real interests?”), but also because it creates contradictory goals. If a business is profitable, then the business will seek to maintain profits; decisions on peace and war should never be left to private individuals, businesses, or corporations, directly or indirectly (campaign contributions and other such influence) the human tendency toward greed is simply too problematic.
“There should be an honest attempt at the reconciliation of differences before resorting to combat.” — Jimmy Carter
I had hoped, so desperately, that financial crisis — even ruin — could have forced the issue. I don’t know what it will take, how much worse things will have to get, to face the emergent issue of this generation: violence was not, is not, and never will be the answer to our problems as it tends to be found at the source and cause of them. The best truth to this is exposed in our military itself, where non-combat operations are so much more effective.
“The basic problems facing the world today are not susceptible to a military solution.” — John F. Kennedy
We are in a world with serious problems that could be addressed, we have the resources and the means, but we refuse to make them priorities. What we spend on combat operations for one week could feed all of Africa for a year; what we spend in one month could pay for every college-aged person on the planet to get a bachelors degree. So, what has the return on investing in violence been anyway, and are we ever going to actually talk about it?
Wim Laven is an adjunct instructor of Conflict Resolution at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. This article was distributed by PeaceVoice.