March 25, 2010

Why

Last week Melissa asked an important question that has been on my mind ever since. To paraphrase (and I hope this is the spirit behind your question, Melissa): Is the War on Terror, in its various forms, "worth it" anymore? Was it ever "worth it" and at what point do we say, "Enough, time to come home?"

She said this was "somewhat controversial," and while I appreciate the caveat, I don't think it is controversial to ask "why." We have to ask "why." We're supposed to ask "why." And I appreciate Melissa asking us to ask "why."

Now, it would be pretty easy (and boring) to go into all the political and legal discussions dealing with the why's of why and when we went, which I do think is important because much of that has been obscured (if not blatantly lied about) over the last 7 years. But I'm not going to do that here. I said in my last post, no more political discussions here (as best I can avoid it). However, if you want more information along those lines, I highly recommend going to the Honor Freedom organization's website - founded by a former Clinton aide and Dukakis student, dedicated to correcting the record about the War, i.e. why we really went, whether Bush lied about WMDs and all that. We aren't talking about that here.

But I'm not going to talk about politics here. I want to talk about the human side of the war, and the side that most of us, as American civilians, don't get to see.

To start, I mentioned briefly in my reply to her post how there were people even in WWII who objected to America's involvement in the European theater - you know, the one involving the Holocaust. I mean, how could anyone object to us trying to stop the Holocaust, right? But people did.

This is a clip from a movie I reviewed on a Movie Monday, "The Best Years of Our Lives." It came out shortly after WWII and illustrates the difficulties veterans went through in reintegration. The amputee in the video was not an actor, but an actual WWII vet. Those hooks aren't props.
I don't agree with the title of the video, but I can't change it.

Of course, today we have the benefit of 60 years of hindsight. It's really easy to say, "Of course that was the right thing to do" today. But there were a good number of people - not a majority, but a good number - who thought we were being "World Police" by getting involved in the European side of WWII. These ideas are not new and are going to exist no matter the conflict or the actual cause. And even recently, Tom Hanks famously said that we went to war with the Japanese, not because of Pearl Harbor (which he said in his new HBO series The Pacific was "The greatest military disaster in American history," not the grossest sneak attack and provocation to war of the 20th century), but because Americans were racists. So perhaps some people will never be convinced no matter what.

But I think few today would say WWII wasn't "worth it."

My grandfather was in Korea. Drafted right out of high school as a kid, he was shipped to Korea and for years all we could get out of him was that all of his buddies died and he was never getting on a plane or a boat again (and he hasn't, in 50 years). In the last 5 years or so, he's opened up a bit. My parents and aunt and uncle tried to make an effort to appreciate his service, whether or not he wanted to talk about it. They had his medals framed. They bought him one of those "Korea Veteran" hats. That might sound like a small thing, but it's the one he wears the most.

When we had SoldierMan's going away party last year, my grandpa stood and talked to him for over an half an hour. That is a big deal, he's not the conversational type. SoldierMan told me later that what my grandpa said was this:
For years, I never understood why we were there. It seemed like we went over there and all these guys died and then we came home. No one told us why. And I could never make it make sense to me.

Then one day I was in Walmart, and some Asian kid (probably a student at OU) walks up to me. He saw my "Korea Veteran" hat and asked if I fought in the war, and I said I did. He said, "Sir, my dad was alive then. And if it wasn't for you coming and fighting, I wouldn't be here today. So, thank you for fighting."

Then I knew why we were there, I knew we had actually helped those people, that it hadn't been for nothing.
That was right around the time he started opening up and talking about his time in the service. I'm convinced that student lifted a burden off of him he'd carried around for 50 years.

Now to present day. My sister's boyfriend is Army Guard. He was with the first waves into Iraq, and their unit was the first to go to Tikrit, Saddam's hometown. Even though he was in Guard, he served 2 consecutive tours, a total of 3 years in Iraq. I asked him, not long after they started dating, what his view of the war was, if he thought it was "worth it" and what he would say to someone who said we had no business being there (which he does get asked a surprising amount of times). He said:
We were one of the first units into Tikrit, almost the first truck. When we got to the town and unloaded in the town center, the people from the town came out and surrounded us, and just watched. It was pretty scary, because we couldn't speak their language, and of course they couldn't speak English. And we knew this was Saddam's hometown, so we weren't sure what kind of reception we would get.

Eventually some of the older men broke out of the crowd and started walking up to us. One of the men walked up to me and rolled up his sleeve. The skin on his arm was melted from having acid poured on it. He couldn't speak English, of course, but he pointed to it and said, "Saddam. Saddam." over and over again.

Ever since then, no one could make me believe that it wasn't worth us going there.
One last viewpoint I want to share. Our friend that I keep talking about, I guess I should go ahead and name him. His name is Steve Russell. (Full disclosure: he's our Sunday School teacher. That's how we know him. He also happens to be our State Senator, but that came later.) You may not have heard his name before, and that's fine, I'm not trying to name-drop. But it would take too long to summarize his service record. If you'd like to know, go here. But he's been in and out of Iraq since the War started. Last summer, after retiring, he went back as a civilian. He told our SS class about his experience, and I just wanted to share a part of it with you.

We were asking about what the view of the Iraqi on the street is of the Americans and the American military, and he first started by talking about the way the city of Baghdad had changed since he first got there. How, since the demise of Saddam's death grip on the economy, the government has been providing small business grants to help citizens start their own businesses. This has been a huge success.
We were walking along the street when we saw a slushy store. A slushy store, in Baghdad! So we went inside and asked the man about his business and if he had gotten one of the new government grants. He said he had. We asked him what he spent it on. He said, "well, I bought a second slushy machine, some new tables and chairs, and that monkey over there." And sure enough, there was a monkey in a cage in the window. And we said, "A monkey? That's a business expense?" And he said, "Oh sure. The kids walk by and see the monkey, and they drag their parents in to look at the monkey, and then they say, 'Mommy, buy me a slushy!' I sell lots more slushies with the monkey."
We also asked if the Iraqi people were, logistically speaking, ready for us to leave. And he said:
Well, as far as training and all of that goes, their security forces do still need some help. But while we were there we visited with the new (their equivalent to) Governor of Tikrit. And he was very courteous and welcoming. It's also important to know that now over 60% of Iraq is back under local control, we have no real influence over their day to day activities, and that's a good thing. They are taking control for running their country, and it's the first time in over 20 years they've had that opportunity, and they are anxious for it. The Governor was very cordial, but he said to us, 'We appreciate you coming here and helping us. You have been very good guests in our country. But as with all guests, there comes a point when it's time to leave. We are happy to host you as our guests, but we are running the show now."

And it's true. I gave an interview in one of the main streets of Baghdad, in the middle of an open-air market, and about an hour after that interview, a car bomb went off, killing several people. By the end of the afternoon, the people had cleaned up the street, reopened their stalls and gone on with their business. They aren't intimidated anymore. They are taking control of their streets back from the terrorists. They need us less and less. Now, as far as a hard-and-fast "we must be out by X date," that's unrealistic. We can't honestly say what progress will be made from here on out. And of course, announcing exit dates is horrible military strategy. But the encouraging thing is that the people of Iraq want to be free, they want to run their country. They appreciate us helping them get started, but now they are ready to move on and better themselves and their country.
I think it would be impossible to argue that any of the progress and freedom being achieved in that country would have happened if we hadn't gone. From a standpoint purely looking at the human element, it's impossible to say that tremendous good has not been done there.

There are many similar stories about A-stan. Even Vogue, which while a fashion magazine does lean to the left from time to time, has printed articles about the new protections and freedoms women have today that they didn't have prior to the War - they are able to own businesses, vote, even just go to beauty salons. Are there still religious whackos who hate them for it? Sure. Does it stop them? In many cases, no. I wish I could find a link to the article, but you'd probably have to pay to see it anyway. Vogue did an article about a group of women who had been mutilated - most by the typical having acid poured on their faces for playing with makeup or refusing to marry someone - who had joined together to open up a beauty salon, with complete services like hair styling and manicures. They showed pictures of the women, some of them whose features no longer looked human from the burns, styling hair and painting nails. There were also pictures of the fundamentalist men standing at the storefront, staring, as though trying to burn the place down with their glares. And yet these brave women went about their business as though the men weren't there.

So what does any of this prove? Is any of it worth the lives of our friends and our brothers and our husbands (and sisters and wives)? Can we really say for sure today? Is that something for history to decide? Is that for civilians to debate, or just soldiers? Or should soldiers "reason why"? I know that I believe, based on these stories as well as the historical record, that a greater good is being served by us being there. But it's up to each of us individually to decide whether or not that's good enough.

"War is one of the most calamitous consequences of evil. It is catastrophe. It is always ugly. It should never be glamorized, and no sane person should ever desire the conflict or savor the strife of war. There are times, however, when evil makes warfare absolutely necessary. And when we have a moral obligation to fight, we should never shirk that duty, compromise with the enemy, or enter the battle halfheartedly. As detestable as warfare of any kind might be, there are causes for which not fighting is a far greater evil." ~ John MacArthur

6 comments:

  1. WOW. Let me say that again: WOW. What a powerful post. I have to admit that I am very torn about the war, our reasons for going, our reasons for staying. In light of the recent events in our blogging community, I have felt even more torn. But you have given me so much to think about. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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  2. Great post! I do not have the military wife perspecetive but I have several friends who are currently serving and family who have served in the past and I love getting their perspective on questions like this.

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  3. This is quite possibly the best post I have read on the war...EVER. Polite, to the point, and POWERFUL! I am SO impressed!

    I struggle between being for and against the war. I struggle with it for because of where I stand politically (Libertarian leaning Constitutionalist), but I can't help but concede that a lot of good is being done there and across the world thanks to our foreign policy.

    I wasn't able to hear the clip, because my computer is being stupid, but I plan to when that technical issue is resolved. Thank you for such a great post! :)

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  4. I really like this post! I don't talk politics, but I think your post really expresses how I feel and how I think many others would feel if they took the time to read and understand this perspective.

    Thanks for such an awesome post!

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