You are viewing this site with a web browser which does not support web standards.
In last week’s article, I wrote that “the only thing America’s confident in anymore is its military.” Predictably, I got a couple of letters from people who angrily denied this assertion—only to turn around and remind me we wouldn’t be free if people hadn’t “shed blood” for our country. This was basically exactly what I was getting at. America’s a nation enamored by its military. And judging by the way we use “war” to describe mere differences in opinion (see: the War on Christmas), I think it’s safe to say, as a people, we love a good war.
The problem with this particular fetish is that it distorts our nation’s priorities. People who play the “people shed blood” card would have you believe the only good things ever to happen to this country were purchased, Book of Genesis style, on some great unknown altar. It’s nice if that makes you feel proud of our soldiers. However, at best, it’s only partially true.
The truth is, America’s military isn’t what “made” America free. Freedom isn’t something that can be rationed like so many spoils of war. Freedom is a natural right given to us by our Creator. No military could ever “make” people free. It could only defend them from tyrants who wish to harass them and curtail their rights.
Americans apparently lost sight of this after September 11th, in the waging of the Iraq War. But it seems like a pertinent discussion now, in light of the war’s third anniversary.
To me, after three years, it’s clear the Iraq War was a failure. It doesn’t matter if peace is eventually won there. It doesn’t matter if democracy is installed, and it doesn’t matter if good things ultimately occur. It would be great if any of those outcomes came to fruition, and I’m just optimistic enough to believe that they can still. But none of them would take away from the fact that the larger military vision—this idea that we could travel the world like one giant conveyor belt, knocking off tyrants and mass producing free peoples—has completely and utterly failed.
To be free, you have to want to be free. You have to think and act free. It’s obvious that the folks in Iraq never wanted this. Maybe it’s unfair of me to say that, based on the rebellions Saddam squashed over the years. But Patrick Henry once said, “Give me liberty or give me death.” And Thomas Jefferson once wrote that governments rule with consent of the governed, and I believe that’s true even when the governed happen to hate their government. If Iraqis really wanted their freedom, they would’ve taken it. They’ve already proven against a much stronger army than Saddam’s—our own—that they’re fully capable of waging a give-me-liberty, give-me-death war.
America needs to take the military down from its pedestal and realize that while it’s important to give credit to soldiers where credit is due, there’s more to life than war and more to freedom than armed conflict. Neither of these things should be the defining, organizing aspects of our country. And yet we’ve ignored that. We’ve allowed ourselves to be taken in by a warped, romanticized view of the military, which thoroughly disregards the ugliness and necessarily evil nature of the business to which our brave men and women attend.
The basic fact of the matter, however, is soldiers don’t have world-changing, opinion-shaping powers. They’re people, like you and me. They do what they can with the mission they’re given. But they can’t be expected to just touch down in some foreign country and, voila, impose by sheer will everything we know and love about America’s way of life.
The Middle East doesn’t want the American lifestyle. They’ve proven this by electing Hamas with what elections they’ve held, and by rioting in the streets over a bunch of lousy Prophet Muhammad cartoons. It’s like Billy at the end of Gremlins. We want to give them the mogwai of freedom, but they’re not responsible enough for it—they’re not ready. We need to get over this.
Iraq never attacked us. By attacking Iraq, we’ve set off what appears to be a civil war. And now we’re ramping up hostilities against other nations in the region (like Iran and Syria), too. A lot of Americans, including yours truly, thought it was perfectly reasonable to believe that our country could change the world all on its own after September 11th. And we proved this belief by vilifying every single person or entity who disagreed with us—from celebrities and international bodies to foreign allies and everyday people living on our soil. This wasn’t a rational mindset, but we held it. We relished believing the whole world was against us. Such was the power of the madness to which we ascribed.
But the efforts to “reshape” or “democratize” the region were never really about the region. They were about us. They were about wanting to bounce back from a crushing blow to our eye socket, and wanting to feel good about the thing that we think defines us—our chief export, which was, and is, the magical freedom-creating military. It’s time to get past this way of thinking. It’s time to move on and find new ways to influence positive change on this dumb, stupid planet.
A lot of us really wanted to believe the old maxim that “might makes right” after 9/11. Iraq was relatively stable back then, and now, since the war, things have fallen apart. You can’t blame this on a select few insurgents, any more than the British could have said, “Yes, but America’s filled mostly with loyalists.” Sometimes might can make right. But sometimes the right thing to do is to simply leave well enough alone.