More Timely Than Ever!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Perpetuating War

In the great 1964 antiwar film, The Americanization of Emily, the protagonist, Charlie Madison (James Garner), says what Americans desperately need to learn:
We perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices.
This is worth contemplating as we see pictures of the flag-draped coffin bearing the body of U.S. Army Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, the first American to die in combat in Iraq since 2011 and the first since Barack Obama launched his illegal and unconstitutional war against the Islamic State.

Wheeler, a Delta Force member, was killed last week during a raid in northern Iraq to free 70 prisoners of the Islamic State. He was "advising and assisting" a Kurdish force, Secretary of War Ash Carter said, but joined the charge when the Kurds met resistance.

Curiously, President Obama says no U.S. "combat troops" are in Iraq, but it is evident that troops don't have to be designated "combat troops" to engage in combat. Carter (pictured above receiving Wheeler's coffin) says U.S troops will conduct "such missions directly, whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground."

Imagine if Obama had committed actual combat troops! As Gayle Tzemach Lemmon writes in The Atlantic,
Thursday’s events have thrust into the public spotlight the rather plastic definitions of "war" and "combat” with which Americans have been operating for a while now. And not just in Iraq and Syria ... [but also Afghanistan, U.S. combat supposedly having ended,] where America has sustained 14 casualties..., including four deaths the Pentagon labels as "killed in action."
George Orwell would have understood -- war is peace, and combat is noncombat.

Carter lauded the "sacrifice and decisive action of this courageous American in support of his comrades...." He continued: "This American did what I’m very proud that Americans do in that situation. He ran to the sound of the guns, and he stood up, and all the indications are it was his actions and that of one of his teammates that made the mission successful."

Much will be said in the coming days of Wheeler's heroism and courage in face of grave danger. That he risked his life to save a large group of prisoners held by Islamic State barbarians is obvious. But the point is he should not have been anywhere near Hawijah, Iraq. He should have been at home in the United States, along with the rest of his colleagues. Instead he was in a U.S.-created hellhole serving the imperial ends of hack American politicians and generals. Some people call that "serving his country."

But Wheeler's death will be highly useful to the Obama administration and jingoists at large in assuring a war-wary American public that U.S. intervention in the Middle East is not only right but also an opportunity for individual noble acts.

And therein lies the danger -- for by portraying war as an occasion for virtue, the politicians romanticize evil and lure innocents into it.

As "Charlie Madison" put it,
It's not war that's insane, you see. It's the morality of it. It's not greed or ambition that makes war: it's goodness. Wars are always fought for the best of reasons: for liberation or manifest destiny. Always against tyranny and always in the interest of humanity.... It's not war that's unnatural to us, it's virtue. As long as valor remains a virtue, we shall have soldiers. So, I preach cowardice. Through cowardice, we shall all be saved.
 Charlie had no time for  military "leaders" who later say that war is hell:
I don't trust people who make bitter reflections about war.... It's always the generals with the bloodiest records who are the first to shout what a Hell it is. And it's always the widows who lead the Memorial Day parades.... We shall never end wars by blaming it on ministers and generals or warmongering imperialists or all the other banal bogies. It's the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers; the rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widows' weeds like nuns ... and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices....
May be ministers and generals who blunder us into wars, but the least the rest of us can do is to resist honoring the institution.

Sheldon Richman keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society. Become a patron today!


AnarchoMama said...

Sheldon, great article - this cuts deeply to a troubling (but sacred) cultural value.

Anonymous said...

Sheldon, that picture haunts me every time you post it. The look on that widow's face says it all.

Sheldon Richman said...

Anon, I agree. And the contrast with the little boy is also haunting. Eventually it will be his turn.

Arnold Stieber said...

Well said! The plutocracy spends over $600M of our tax dollars each year on promoting the military - from TV ads to sports events. They want to keep us "proud" of their death and destruction business.

Unknown said...

Shelton.... Please forgive my bluntness, but you're an idiotic hypocrite. In your nonsensical pseudo article purporting to deride the perpetuation of war by the exaltation of the fallen, you've replicated the same behaviors you so vehemently declare to oppose. In an attempt to draw attention to your rather poorly written article as well as a weakly derived hypothesis, you use a picture of the Dignified Transfer of MSG Wheeler along with a photo of a fatherless child and his grieving mother at the coffin of their loved one and even reference the photo in a comment. Perhaps instead of using photos to draw attention to your "article," you should work on improving your written words (and thought processes) to a level that would allow your articles/blog/nonsense to stand on its own without being propped by the pics of slain heroes as well as pics of grieving mothers and children. Your hypocrisy sickens me.

Sheldon Richman said...

I appreciate your interest. One correction: It's Sheldon.

Unknown said...

Sheldon.... Your comment provides additional evidence of your misplaced sense of self-importance. Please be assured that I'm not interested in your opinions or your simplistic views of the forces driving wars/conflicts throughout the world and throughout the ages. Fortunately, most of us learn by approximately 5th grade that political and personal agendas as well as the narcissistic posturing of leaders push mayhem on the masses. Perhaps leaving your keyboard and actually "living" life would help you better understand the world at large and help you with your perceptions and "grandiose" ideas. Sheldon, I am, however, extremely interested in your exploitation of MSG Wheeler who was killed because he understood and respected something larger than himself. He died believing in your rights to spew your underdeveloped and immature suppositions. He gave his life to keep evil away from you Sheldon, and you thank him by exploiting his death in an attempt to provide substance to your pathetic self as well as your ill developed ideas. Shame on you. MSG Wheeler was a Cherokee Warrior, Sheldon. Did you know that? When you exploited his death did you know he left behind 4 sons including an infant; his wife who was the love of his life; grandparents up in their 80s; a brother and sisters who loved him dearly; nephews who thought MSG Wheeler was the greatest American ever; and on and on? Perhaps had you taken the time to research this great American, you would've thought of all the folks who were, and still are, devastated by his death. MSG Wheeler's Native heritage was referenced because of the simple, but profound, words of Sitting Bull who understood the heart and purpose of a warrior. Perhaps you should read them. Don't exploit MSG Wheeler's death to give weight to your hypothesis. Again, your hypocrisy sickens me.

Unknown said...

One other thing and I'll leave you alone..... I saw your reference to Palestinians on your "blog" page. I have many Palestinian friends who would be appalled at your exploitation of MSG Wheeler. Palestinians throughout the world prayed for him as he fought evil and mourned his death as they recognized the loss of a hero with love in his heart for everyone, but specifically for those unable to defend themselves. Shame on you, Sheldon.