In the words of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind, Memorial Day weekend was all about "War, war, war!" In addition to the real ceremonies, the History Channel and the old movie channels featured nonstop war movies and documentaries.
This was quickly followed by the 60th anniversary of the invasion of Europe. Anyone with an appetite for vicarious war and the remembrances of war should by now be satiated.
Tales of war always make good stories, because they are the classic conflict between the good guys and the bad guys. Which is which depends on which side you are on. Unless you are a professional military man, however, detailed studies of battles, strategies and tactics are of little use. What is useful is that most neglected area of study: the political failures that lead to the wars.
Wars do not arise spontaneously, nor are they instigated by the soldiers who have to fight them. All wars begin in the minds of political leaders in times of peace. They decide they want something, and eventually they decide that the only way to get it is by the use of force. Their mental process is the same as that of the unruly child who, desiring a playmate's toy, bonks his playmate on the head and takes it. In peacetime, adults who do this are called criminals — unless, of course, they are kings or presidents or prime ministers or dictators.
Every political system has the same flaw. The human race consists mostly of idiots, with a scattering of wise people. The problem with political systems is that most make it difficult to put the wise few in the positions of power. Thus, for the most part, in every generation the world is ruled by idiots, some of whom have criminal minds.
There is only one just war, and that is war in self-defense. The unjust wars that the United States has been involved in since 1945 are all rationalized as "in defense of freedom." That is a lie used so often that today people say it automatically.
Iraq did not threaten our freedom, nor did it have the means to do so. North Vietnam did not threaten our freedom, nor did it have the means to do so. Ditto for Panama, Grenada, Yugoslavia, North Korea and Afghanistan. Those were all imperial wars, either deliberately started or blundered into by the idiots we put in office. Remember, the only freedom the American armed forces are justified in defending is the freedom of America and Americans. The idea that we are some new Crusader Nation with a mandate from God to deliver the human race from dictatorship is as nutty as Nero. We will have to be lucky not to deliver ourselves into a dictatorship.
While few wars are just wars, all are profitable — though, of course, not to the lads and lassies who fight and die in them. They are profitable to the military-industrial complex. The Iraq War is a multibillion-dollar bonanza for Halliburton Inc., and a lesser bonanza for all the other corporations scooping up the dollars, whether to supply mercenaries or to do jobs unemployed Iraqis ought to be doing.
If there were any sense of decency in the corporate world — which is to say, if frogs could sing opera — the corporations would all cut checks to the families of those young men and women who have been killed or maimed to provide them with their profitable contracts. The corporate world doesn't see it that way, though, and they are cutting checks for the people they consider their true benefactors — the politicians in Washington who made the war profits possible.
It is well and proper to remember the war dead, for they all died innocent of the sins of the politicians who put them in harm's way. That holiday was originated, by the way, by a group of ladies in Columbus, Miss., after the War Between the States. It was first called Decoration Day, because originally it consisted of putting flowers or flags on the graves of the fallen soldiers.
The best way to honor the war dead, however, is to make sure the politicians don't add to their numbers. We are currently doing a poor job of that.
June 7, 2004
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on LewRockwell.com. Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.
© 2004 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.