Friday, September 17, 2004

The Morality of War - Part 2


This brings us to a reasonable picture of the 20th Century; Wars and rumors of wars, to quote the Lord Jesus Christ. And humans all familiar with their leaders hip deep in warfare. This is true of America, as anywhere else. Who was our best President? Common nominees would be Washington, who fought the Revolutionary War against England as a General, or Lincoln, who was President during the American Civil War, or Franklin Roosevelt, who led our nation as President in World War 2. The American School of War was, for the longest time, a simple one: We will win. We always win. And because we win, we are right.

It is commonly thought that the U.S. had never lost a war before Vietnam. That is simply not true. The U.S. lost a war against Chief Red Cloud of the Lakota Tribe (1866-1868), and settled on the Lakota's terms. The U.S. then simply ignored the inconvenient treaty, and eventually forced the Lakota to accept a smaller reservation in present-day South Dakota. I bring this up, because it shows an unfortunate absence of chivalry and honor in American Strategic thinking of the time, and this contributed to creating a weakness of excessive hubris in the American psyche, which was shown a number of times before it finally cost us a war. We jumped to conclusions when the Maine was sunk in Cuba, because we were ready for a war against Spain (the media of that day had a bit to do with the provocation as well). We proclaimed ourselves neutral in World War I, then proceeded to sell arms to nations we favored. That does not, of course, justify the sinking of the Lusitania, but the Germans may, perhaps, be forgiven for thinking us a bit duplicitous. Then again, the Zimmerman Telegram was just stupid; Germany must have known that they were standing in a pool of gasoline, so striking a match by that act was amazingly fooolish. And of course, there was Pearl Harbor, the most announced surprise attack in history. General Billy Mitchell warned it would happen - in 1924. Naval officers from allied nations warned that the harbor waterways were too narrow. Japanese observers were known to be studying the Taranto raid in 1940. And with the 'Purple' intercepts, America knew Japan was preparing to attack the United States. And yet, we never believed they would dare to strike at our fleet... until they did just that.

The United States always brought their leaders up, to believe that American might would always be used for noble causes, and in the main, they were. The Monroe Doctrine banished European nations from the Caribbean. The U.S., working with England, rid the world of open sea piracy in the 19th Century. Our Navy opened the ports of Japan by threat of force. But for the first 165 years of our history, we were always a rising power, with our rivals almost always static or in decline. By the end of World War 2, there was no nation which could hope to face us in War and win. But the rules changed, when the Soviet Union stole the secrets to our Atomic bomb.

The morality of War changed again. What had been the necessity of defending home and family from potential invaders, had become the crusade of spreading Democracy, and then had become the advance of American power and influence against any opponent. Suddenly, then, we were back to survival . Never mind that the use of every nuclear weapon in 1950, would have been insufficient to destroy either the USA or the USSR, never mind that every military thinker believed the weapons to be monstrous, unacceptable as a battle tool (consider a weapon which would not only kill innocents as an unfortunate effect of its use, but which was impossible to use without killing innocents, and match that against the warrior's code of honor), the fact that they existed required all the strategy and tactics to be reconsidered. And that discovery made the possession of such weapons all the more desirable. China, India, England, France, Pakistan and Israel all joined the 'Nuclear Club', and it seemed the madness of Nuclear Proliferation ws going to sweep the word, then - it stopped. The door, by consent of the members inside (I suspect) was closed and barred, and anyone interested in joining was made to understand they were opposed. Perhaps the clearest example of this strange new cooperation between blood enemies, was the Osirak raid in 1981. Iraq was building a bomb, and planned to use Plutonium from the Osirak nuclear power plant. It wasn't disguised very well; the plant was supposed to be producing electricity, but in fact did not have any transmission lines going out to the rest of the country. So, Israel bombed the place. Simple enough, except for nagging stories about the US supplying satellite imagery, and the USSR warning neighboring countries not to interfere with the Israeli rading group. For a time, 'Mutual Assured Destruction' and 'Detente' actually seemed to be working. But good things never last.

(to be continued)

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