13 May, 2008

Politicians hide themselves away

Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.
 ~Adolph Hitler

Politicians hide themselves away
They only started the war
Why should they go out to the fight?
They leave that role to the poor.
Yeah

      War Pigs, Black Sabbath
  
 Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. I am sure I am not the only one who was raised to believe this. It is a line from a poem by Horace which translates roughly to, "It is sweet and right to die for ones country." I don’t believe it anymore, but it took me 17 years three continents and two wars to fully realize the error of my ways.
I am not a pacifist. I recognize that there is a time and a place for the use of violence; but I also know that it doesn’t solve anything. You can’t change a man’s mind by beating him into submission. But there are some good reasons to use violence; in the defense of the innocent is one of them, in my book.
I joined the army right out of high school back when most of the people with whom I am going to college were not yet born. The Iron Curtain was still up and the Cold War was still really, really cold. We were still supporting Bin Laden’s troops in Afghanistan to help them repel the Soviet invaders. I had not yet met a soviet soldier. I was extremely idealistic about the moral virtue of my country.
When I saw the wall between East and West Germany, I got so very, very pissed off. I was 18. I vowed that I would devote my life to learning the art of war that I might be used as an instrument of freedom. De Oppreso Libre. To Free the Oppressed. I did not think I would need to concern myself with the rightness of the use of that force; I believed in my government.
I believed they would only send me to honorable battles. I believed they would use force only when force was necessary and that they would not shirk from using force when force was required. I believed that my country was worthy of the sacrifices I was making.
The first indication I had that I was wrong was Tiananmen Square. If there was ever an obvious oppression of the ideals of freedom and democracy in my lifetime, it was then. And my country did nothing more than offer a stern disapproval. Not so much as even a condemnation of the tyrannical actions of this despotic government.
Why? Because they were then and still are our most favored trade nation. Americans could not have their cheap wal-mart crap if it were not for the slave labor of China. For financial reasons, not moral reasons, we did nothing in Tienanmen Square. I was ashamed.
Then Iraq invaded Kuwait. It was no different from China invading Tibet, except this place had oil. Oh, and also the fact that we had put the ruler of Iraq in power as a buffer against Iran. Oh, and Ambassador Glaspie had told Saddam that we would stay out of his Arab conflicts. But then Saudi Arabia asked for our help. So this time we went to war. Again, for financial reasons.
I started to realize that wars are not fought for moral reasons but rather political ones. Like I said, I had been idealistic when I joined. Politics is war without bloodshed but war is politics with bloodshed. But you can’t change a man’s mind with a gun. The most you can do is to kill him. And they were asking me to pull the trigger.
When we went into Albania to fire missions in support of the air war on Kosovo I got a first hand look at what happens when violence is used instead of words. The conflict in that region (like the conflict between Sunni and Shia, actually) has been going on for over 1300 years. Atrocities have been committed by both sides. The only thing that changes is who is in charge.
We waded in on the side of the Albanians (Muslims, actually. The Serbs are mostly Russian Orthodox; go figure). The people I talked to we so happy that America was going to help them overthrow the tyrannical Serbs. The Serbs, on the other hand, had been happy that the tyrannical Soviet Union had fallen and let them overthrow the tyrannical Albanians. The Soviet Union had helped the Albanians overthrow the Serbs who had been in charge since the Ottoman Empire had fallen. And so on and so on ad infinitum. The violence never stopped.
So us going in with guns blazing was sort of like a parent catching his kids fighting and then holding the big one’s arms so the little one could kick him in the balls.
As soon as the Albanians had the upper hand, the atrocities and revenge killings started. It made me sick to see what I had been a part of. And I knew that it would continue to happen.
Nietzsche warned that we should take care when hunting monsters lest we become them. We ask our soldiers to live in the abyss of which Nietzsche cautioned. The only thing that a soldier has to guard against the ravages of what he has seen and done is the knowledge that it was necessary. That it was the right thing to do. If you ask a soldier to commit atrocities and then he does not have that knowledge, that certainty, that moral shield, he will go mad with the anguish of his guilt, if he is decent. Or, if he is not, he will become the monster.
I put in for conscientious objector status after my unit returned from Kosovo. I had been a soldier for 15 years and had fought on two continents. A diarist here recently commented that it might be fear that caused a soldier to put in for CO status after seeing war up close. She might be right. I was never afraid to die until I started thinking that I was killing for the wrong reasons.
I don’t really believe in Heaven, but I believe in karma. I believe that there are cycles of existence which we incarnate, playing different roles each time. As a warrior prepared to sacrifice myself for my beliefs (or make my enemy sacrifice for his, which was my first option) I felt that my death would be well purchased. I felt that I was making up for past transgressions; I was trying to be noble. Instead, I came to realize that I was no tool for freedom. I was just a tool. I was not willing to kill or die for the whims of a decadent nation.
How can anyone not fear for a life that is lost in vain? But more than that, how can anyone not shudder at the thought of killing for no reason other than politics? That is just not a good enough reason to kill. I cannot say, "My country, right or wrong." My country should make sure that it is right. Instead, my country has let itself become decadent. It let itself be led by its most base instincts into committing atrocities. Greed and Wrath are not good enough reasons to kill.
Applying for CO status seemed to be the only honorable thing to do.
I was branded a coward by those who had not never heard nor fired a shot in anger. But though I have done many things which make me ashamed, this was not and will never be one of them. It was the hardest thing I ever did.

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