I have heard
many justifications for war in my lifetime, usually ephemeral and
lofty (it builds character, it unites us, and more recently, it's
necessary to spread democracy and defeat terrorism), though sometimes
more pragmatic (World War II pulled us out of the Depression, Vietnam
was necessary to prevent the domino effect). The former claims are
rhetorical and hollow; the latter are laughable; I suppose if World
War II had never happened we would still be in an economic depression
today? That massive property destruction, and government spending
and planning, bring prosperity? And why did the dominoes stop falling?
One of the
few practical benefits to come from war, I've noticed, is for some
reason never stated: war increases your knowledge of geography!
Yes, for some
reason, this benefit of war never appears in the list, but it's
certainly true. Think about it. Prior to the Vietnam War, most Americans
would probably have been hard-pressed to even identify the capitals
of North and South Vietnam (Hanoi and Saigon, respectively), much
less be able to pinpoint them on a map. As the war progressed, previously
unknown cities and towns and river valleys became very well recognized
in American households. Da Nang, Hue City, Khe Sanh, Quang Tri,
Bien Hoa, the infamous Mekong River valley, Haiphong Harbor, and
of course Saigon itself, were scenes of terrible battles and violence
and bombing, the brutal end for so many hundreds of thousands of
people, Vietnamese and American (the former in far greater numbers).
As the war progressed Americans learned much more about the geography
of this quiet backwater of a country than they otherwise ever would
have. But the war went badly, Americans tired of it, and finally
left. Today most of these names resonate only faintly for the older
generations; I doubt my sixteen-year old daughter, who is very bright,
would recognize any of the names except for Saigon. Those who do
remember these names probably try their best to forget them.
Most of what
I know about the geography of Iraq comes from my interest in ancient
history, but as a result of the First Gulf War I came to know very
well where the modern cities of Basra (in the south) and Kirkuk
(in the north) are situated. Still, prior to 2003, I had never heard
the name Fallujah. Had you? Did you know that the large Shi’a slum
in Baghdad is called Sadr City? I did not even know there was
such a slum. And I knew Saddam had an extensive prison system, but
I didn't know the biggest one was called Abu Ghraib, twenty miles
west of Baghdad.
Think of the
other names you at least recognize now, and may even be able to
place on a map: An Nasiriyah, Mosul, Karbala, Ramadi, Samarra, Tikrit,
An Najaf, Haditha (for the latter, think "Mai Lai"). The
entire fabled and troubled Anbar province.
Afghanistan, previously just a big country with a capital city named
Kabul, many place names are now well known to Americans. And probably
more of them can pronounce "Kabul" correctly, with the
stress on the first syllable.
One day Americans
will no more want to know about Haditha or Tora Bora than they do
some provincial capital in the Vietnamese highlands, but that day
is not here yet.
So there, I
have now made my own personal contribution to the list of reasons
to love war. The increasing lack of geographical knowledge among
US students has been a sad joke for so many years now, but I think
one can plainly see that by spreading the War On Terror to enough
countries and continents, this awkward trend can be reversed. And
of course, in the process, we will all become united and much stronger
for it. And we need not fear an economic depression.
Foye [send him mail] is
an independent software developer living in Austin, Texas.