Confessions of an Ex-Warmonger

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I
have found it somewhat strange that not much more has been made
about the tenth anniversary of the Gulf War. Most major media news
organizations are not shy in trumpeting some significant date in
American conflicts that have occurred in at least the past half-century.
Not to be a party pooper, but since there has been a void in reminiscing
about the Gulf War, I'll take this opportunity to fill that void
with the misgivings I have about it and war in general.

It
was ten years ago on Feb. 14 that myself and a hundred or so other
souls were officially assigned to a unit to prepare for the on-going
Gulf War. All of us at one-time had served in the Army either on
active duty or in the reserves. By the Pentagon recalling us from
inactive status meant plans were being made for a long-term commitment
in the Middle East.

I,
like most of my buddies, were eager to get over to the Gulf and
get this thing over with. As a soldier and ROTC cadet, naturally,
I vociferously advocated American involvement in this affair from
the time Iraqi troops took over Kuwait until the cease-fire was
signed.

I
believed as many others did that Saddam Hussein was another Hitler
and needed to be dealt with promptly and firmly before being able
to accomplish but a fraction of what Der Furher did. Here was my
opportunity to do something about it and be a part of history by
fighting in a real, live shooting-war.

Perhaps
one of the acts that turned me toward an anti-war attitude was the
West Virginia Legislature appropriating a $300 tax-free stipend
to all West Virginia Gulf War vets. Having spent the duration of
the war at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, where the only injury I
received was bloodshot eyes from watching too much CNN, I returned
home with plenty of money in my pocket I had no complaints about
the compensation I received for my time served (receiving"free"
clothing, meals, housing and transportation while being paid on
an active-duty scale and returning home with my mind and body in
tact was quite a bargain in my opinion). Even then, I thought this
"gift" from our Legislature was excessive and nothing
but a ploy for returning soldiers to help pump-prime the local economy
and remember those who bestowed us this money in the 1992 election.
Needless to say, I refused to stake my claim.

Since
then, I have come full-circle in my beliefs about when a war should
be conducted – never. I agree wholeheartedly with the late
Saturday Evening Post editorial writer Randolph Bourne who said
"War is the health of the State." Having actually been
a witness to and participant in the futility of at least one war,
I have much more respect for those who refuse to be pawns in this
game of human chess (I should qualify that by saying I respect those
who are honest conscientious objectors and not those who need to
pontificate about their potential “political viability” in a 23-page
letter). By contrast, I harbor not resentment to veterans of any
conflict and those still in uniform as I, myself, am both. However,
the resentment I have is for the "policy makers" who have
lead us into the various and sundry actions in which the US has
participated.

There
hasn't been a military
action in certainly the last 100 years
and I dare say dating
as far back as the War of 1812 in which American soldiers have fought
to "keep us free from tyranny." Veterans of wars since
then should be remembered not for the sacrifice they made in "fighting
for freedom," but for having their lives disrupted by the insatiable
appetite for the warfare/welfare state. While history is replete
of great and lesser-known men and women who have been made by war,
one can only speculate how much better the United States and the
world would be if their endeavors had been put to peaceful use.

I
should note that even though I consider wars (or at least military
actions that are non-defensive) as unnecessary, it should not be
said that I embrace the actions of strongmen like Saddam Hussein
or Slobodan Milosevic The acts of these men and others like them
at terrorizing their own people are well-documented and without
question despicable. However, by the United States attempting to
bully the bullies creates resentment toward us and empowers the
person we're trying to oust. Saddam can certainly make the case
that the real “war criminal” is George Bush I, who’s initiation
of the Gulf War has lead to tens of thousands of Iraqis being stricken
with waterborne diseases in the ensuing 10 years from damage inflicted
to Iraq’s civilian infrastructure from Allied bombing. It should
come as no surprise as to why the world has become such a "dangerous
place" is because of American involvement in the internal politics
of other nations. The seeds of Wilsonian nation-building have borne
their fruit in our military actions against Iraq and Serbia.

A
world in which all the nations embraced the principles of self-government
would be enough to make Louis Armstrong proud. However, it is not
nations that embrace principles, it is people and nations are nothing
more than the sum total of its people. A nation in which people
are free to conduct themselves in a manner which brings no harm
to their fellow countrymen is certainly more of an enticement for
people in other nations to bring changes in their homeland rather
than at the point of a gun.

As
the new millennium is still in its infancy, Americans have a choice
of continuing to support a posture of playing 9-1-1 for the world.
By doing so, we will continue to confirm Plato's fatalistic maxim
of "only the dead see[ing] the end of war." On the other
hand, we can choose to follow George Washington's advice in his
farewell address by "extending our commercial relations [with
other nations] to have as little political relations [with them]
as possible." Following this sage advice no doubt has its roots
in the words spoken by a wise man many years before Washington who
said "they shall beat their swords into plowshares and spears
into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more."

February
12, 2001

Lawrence
J. Smith is a columnist with The
Lincoln Journal
in Hamlin, W. Va.

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