The events of this week have turned my thoughts to war. President Bush, Condoleeza Rice, and Donald Rumsfeld all spoke in Salt Lake of the necessity for “winning” the war on terrorism. United they stated that there is no alternative other than absolute victory. What I wonder is whether they, or more importantly, the American people, realize what is required to “win”.
There is no doubt that America and its allies won World War I and World War II. In each case, on all fronts, our enemies deemed themselves divine rulers and militarized their populations right down to the children. The enemy was not only ruthless and aggressive, they spoke as the hands of the almighty, and their countries believed them. No atrocity was out of line, no diplomacy could stop their bestowed destinies. They were on a path to world conquest. It is not much different from the Islamic extremists the United States is locked in a struggle with today.
How did we defeat them? To me the answer is simple. We beat them until they begged for mercy. We bombed their cities, then bombed the rubble. We deconstructed their societies and faith in their leaders brick by brick until there was nothing left. The surrender of Emperor Hirohito was also a dethroning of a country’s divine ruler and an end to a form of worship. Hitler died at his own hand. Mussolini was hung and his corpse beaten in the public square after the hardships his country faced. These victories were delivered to the American people via newspaper and newsreel.
The Vietnam war changed the face of war in that the public became intimate with its intrinsic horrors. The image of naked children running from napalm dropped by Americans was reprinted in every newspaper in the USA. It is an image that burns the cost of war into the minds of anyone who has seen it. As a result, American efforts have been carefully tailored to be more appetizing to the general public. “Surgical strikes” are somehow technologically possible, where bombs only seek out evil-doers and those who wish harm to America. Every bullet finds only the guilty.
Yet the images still come. Dead, blinded, and limbless children. Destroyed homes. Family members crying in anguish over their loss. Transmitted all over the world, the horrific internals of war makes the overall effort unpopular.
It would seem to me that if this administration truly desires victory in Iraq, they should act as the bigger bastard. A roadside bomb equals the loss of a city block, a penetration into secured barracks equals the flattening of the town square. The bombings lose their precision and in turn are escalated to the point of destroying an entire civilization. Is that what was advocated this week by American leadership and applauded by the American legion? Is America ready for the wholesale killing of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people? The victory of World War II came at the cost of 62 million lives. Iraq will spill into Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Israel, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. The entire middle east will not only be soaked with oil, it will be soaked with blood.
That is what victory demands. There are no other ways to “win” a war.
I do not believe Americans can support such a proposition and neither do I. Since John Murtha proposed withdrawal from Iraq, the debate has been locked in a stranglehold between “stay the course” and “timetable for withdrawal” with no movement towards peace in either direction. This lack of resolution bothered me last year until someone contributed the idea of asking the Iraqi people through referendum on my wiki, which is what I have been advocating for ever since. The Iraqi people can take responsibility for their future, but if they continue to need our help, they should ask for it. Whether or not they slide into civil war is something that Americans cannot prevent by standing in the middle.
War should be robustly debated and declared formally by our congress. If Americans are not willing to bear the humanitarian and financial cost required for victory, then such a declaration should be very rare indeed.