When they returned from the Gulf War of 1991, some of the reservists where I work brought back photo albums of Iraq. These were images of enemy dead: smoking black hulks where human beings had once existed, tangled masses of metal and bodies, and corpses splayed out in various attitudes.  

Dismayed, unwilling to look, I listened to the comments of those leafing through the albums, and I remember wondering what went on in the souls of those whose job it was to do some of that killing. It crossed my mind that living through war had to be one of the worst things a person could go through; and then to return into the apparent normalcy of home, inescapably changed by what you saw. Being killed in a war might be much worse, but you could at least go out somewhat martyred or sacrificed in service to one higher cause or another. Do the exigencies of modern combat create a homeland populace as immured to the horrors of war as the soldiers? As this present war worsens, I have to wonder if wars create more dilemmas than they solve.

          The American Civil War, seen as very noble by many, seems to have solved the problem of a nation fragmented by slavery – but did it really? Was sharecropping so great an improvement? Racial prejudice, unabated, continued for decades to spawn lynchings, injustice, and an inbred intolerance passed from parents to children.

          As “the war to end all wars,” the First World War resulted in a truly staggering amount of bloodshed, aided by the introduction of new methods of killing. At its end, in 1919 – as many historians have pointed out – the treaty of Versailles left Germany in a situation where the rise of totalitarian leaders was almost inevitable. The resolution of this war helped create the conditions for the next.

          World War Two has been alluded to as a just war, used as an example when arguments are made about the necessity for armed conflict as a problem-solving tool. But when we consider some of the consequences of that conflict – nuclear weaponry and the birth of a Cold War – it becomes clear that even the “best” of wars have unforeseen, far-reaching, and long-lasting results.

          Korea? Look at the state of that peninsula today. It teeters on the lip of a catastrophe.

          Vietnam’s legacy, aside from the many lives lost and damaged, was once a useful mistrust of governmental explanations. When I note the fawning nature of our national news media’s war coverage I sense a serious corrosion of journalistic doubt.

          The first Gulf War did, perhaps, fulfill its promise of liberating Kuwait. But wait: if it was such a success, why are we back? It was the establishment of the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia during this war which so affronted Osama Bin Laden

          What, then, might be the future problems now being created by the U.S. actions in Iraq? Some commentators have considered it possible that we are creating scores of “Osamas” by our actions, creating an enmity toward our country that will never be eradicated. Speaking geo-politically, the U.S. has also set a precedent both by attacking a country that has not attacked it and by making “regime change” a justification for war. What if, say, Pakistan decides their neighbor, India, has a horrendous dictator for a leader and (to keep the region safe, or perhaps “to defeat terrorism”) they must effect a regime change and liberate the people of India? They can use the great solitary superpower as an example. “The U.S. did it, why not we?”

          I have only considered a few U.S. wars, but I suspect that the more insidious effect of war – all wars, but this one in particular – is the hardening of the human spirit that occurs when one side demonizes the other side, thereby justifying their domination.

          As they seek to achieve personal gains, and to settle old scores, our leaders here should pause in their prayers to consider what karmic monsters they are releasing upon not just the people of Iraq, but upon themselves and upon the collective consciences of us all.



Copyright © 2003 Thomas N. Dennis




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