Anyone who’s seen Casualties of War (1989 w/ Sean Penn and Micheal J. Fox..look it up) knows that war sucks.
It is to no one’s great surprise that the Wikileaks video of Young Americans giggling as they waste people has created an uproar of aghast commentary online… This piece in the NYT is a good counterpoint.
I too was taken aback when I read the transcript of the offensive words. I haven’t seen the video but I don’t have to. I own Modern Warfare 2 and so I know what it feels like to have the power to terminate the enemy with impunity from afar as if playing a video game. And believe me, the current state of gaming technology really delivers a visceral experience that gives one pause. The thrill of being a virtual soldier is always tempered by a lingering discomfort: I can’t help but think of all the souls that have been dispatched in such a manner. The fact that the visuals of the game so accurately reflect the Youtube videos that began to surface a number of years back depicting the realities of modern warfare really adds to the experience. And make no mistake, the discomfort helps define the thrill. It is a guilty pleasure. It’s complicated. And so is this whole business of warfare.
So before you jerk your knee and give yourself a black eye over the Wikileaks video think about the fact that a good deal of what defines the world we live in is a direct result of technologies driven by Warfare. In “The Cash Nexus” (http://nyti.ms/aUZbvT) Niall Fergueson posits that the entire market economy and modern financial and political systems evolved to advance the financing of war and that these mechanisms led to industrial and financial innovation to the point that I can post this opinion online using email sent via a mobile phone.
We don’t have to like this reality. But one must consider the wider picture before getting in a huff and declaring that the U.S. and its allies must pull out of Afghanistan or never should have gone to Iraq. The underlying issue is that to end war the entire basis for Civilization must be reconsidered and it sure as hell isn’t going to happen overnight or ever for that matter. Conflict between human societies is as natural a disaster as hurricanes and earthquakes. Natural disasters are always a threat and while we more or less understand how they occur we are quite bad at determining, in a truly preventative manner, when they will occur and with what severity.
As for war, one thing that WW2 made clear is that when total, it can be very effective at stopping a conflict. Promise to annihilate the enemy and then do it. Japan didn’t surrender until it became Land of the Burning Sun and Hitler didn’t cave until the Allies knocked on his door in Berlin. And then what happened? Germany and Japan, stripped of their need to finance huge war machines became industrial powerhouses. Can anyone imagine threatening a nuclear ultimatum to a rogue state such as Iran or North Korea and then excuting the threat, city by city until they capitulate to ALL our demands? Not likely.
But that seems to be the choice we have: Total War – Fight ’til only the winner is left standing; or Asymetrical War where Goliath keeps his soldiers as far away from the conflict as possible and inflcts disporporationate casualties on David giving him no choice but to use guerrilla (read “terrorist”) tactics that will hopefully eat away at Goliath’s psychological armour enough to bring him down.
To be honest I’m more concerned about what’s going on in the political economy and what that could entail over the next 40 years… the World as we know it is on financial life support. Most seem to just have faith that things will work themselves out but we are arguably in a bigger mess than what followed the 1929 Crash and subsequent Depression. No one thought then that the insanity of WW2 could ever be unleashed. But it was. It would be unwise to give in, once again, to such complacency.
Just keep your eye on The Discovery Channel for their latest “End of Civilization Porn” show of the month (End of Oil, Meteor Crash, Environmental Catastrophe) to get an idea of what the world could look like if everything we take for granted can no longer be protected by the military. I was as terrified of going to war as a child as I am today. I am glad that the volunteer armies of the West are dedicated to protecting Western Ideals so that I don’t have to however messy the process of war and the very freedom that it is protecting.
Warfare is inhumane. Yet nothing is more human than War.
Except maybe sex.
Who am I kidding? They are the same thing.