I propose that we come up with a simple precaution against prematurely going to war. Whoever wants to wage war on our behalf must first agree to visit the country we intend to invade or bomb and spend a couple of weeks visiting with common people. Recognizable politicos would have to disguise themselves as commoners. Thus rendered incognito, they would eat at humble family restaurants, relax in coffee shops, change diapers at day cares, read stories to schoolchildren, and volunteer at hospitals or medical clinics.
Imagine how many wars we could have avoided if this policy had only been in place! I’m sure Nixon and Kissinger would have resisted dropping all those bombs on Laos’s Plain of Jars if they’d only bothered to get to know some of the people they were incinerating. Likewise, they might not have supervised the overthrow and murder of Chile’s democratically elected president Salvador Allende if they’d gone out to eat with him first.
Sometimes we know the people we bomb, but in many cases familiarity has only bred contempt. Noriega, our man in Panama, used to take orders from us, but when he stopped dancing to our piper we razed two blocks of downtown Panama City, killing hundreds, in order to drag him back to life in prison. Saddam Hussein used to be our buddy, but when he stopped taking our money and obeying our orders, we did the whole shock and awe thing not once, but twice.
The reason we so easily attack people who haven’t attacked us first is a sense of moral superiority. We’re the ones wearing the white hats. Since we don’t know much about all those phony countries over there, just crawling with towelheads, the job of whipping them into shape and teaching them a lesson gets harder every day. Now it looks like we’ll soon be adding Yemen and Iran to the list. Although not Muslim, North Korea is just itching to come on board.
Imagine our representatives and senators changing diapers at day care centers in every place we have targeted with a long-range missile or a drone. The nuke-’em-back-to-the-Stone-Age sentiment would be harder to muster in debates on the House or Senate floor. After engaging these enemies who so recently deserved extermination, we would be amazed to find they have become real people to us. It’s not easy to kill someone whom you’ve shared a meal with, or into whose eyes you have looked, even if only for a moment.
War has its beginning the moment we start naming groups of people. We all pretty much agree that it’s not okay to kill other humans, but it is okay to kill Hamas, or the Viet Cong, or the Taliban. By using a name to reduce their humanity, we can trick ourselves into thinking that we’re not really killing our brothers and sisters, but instead we’re eradicating a menace or exterminating vermin.
In talking with my fellow Americans, I’ve noticed that those with little knowledge of geography or those who haven’t traveled much often lump other countries and cultures together in the general category “troublesome foreigners.” From this paradigm, we’re their parents and they’re annoying teenagers. “Now what have they managed to do?” we mutter in exasperation, rolling our eyes and sighing, “How much is this one going to cost me?”
Is this misplaced sense of role and responsibility based on generosity or arrogance? Why do we want to run the world when we’re not doing such a hot job of running our country? Other than our obvious dependence on foreign oil, why do we care enough to invade sovereign nations who haven’t yet invaded us?
Maybe it’s the fear that if even one crack appears in the suit of armor we lug around, it will inspire our enemies to attack us. So we keep the armor, shield and spear in perfect condition, to inspire fear in those who might mean us harm. We have the mightiest military in the world, no doubt about it, but does that mean we have to use it every six months or so?
If it does, then I suggest we do what Costa Rica has done, and dissolve our military might. Can a nation without a military survive? Of course it can, though it has to walk normally and stop swaggering. We can no longer behave as if our military and moral superiority are fact. Think of what we could do with the half of our budget the military currently absorbs!
You can buy a whole book of Dan Coffey’s essays online: My World & Welcome To It.