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Should I consider it weird how none of my friends have ever joined the army?
In and of itself, I suppose this feat is nothing exceptional. I know lots of people who’ve never done lots of things. Like racecar driving or becoming an astronaut.
After September 11th, however, lots of my friends talked about enlisting like they were all but a shaved head and a new pair of boots away from doing it. Yet, to date, none of them ever did.
There are a number of reasons why this might have happened. For example, my friends could all be liars. But I don’t necessarily think that’s the case here. The way I figure, it’s only natural for young men to consider enlisting after such a massive attack on their homeland. So when my friends all swore they were going to enlist after 9/11, I think they meant it. They were ready to sign up and defend their country.
The problem was, it soon became clear the war on terror would take place in other countries.
This changed everything.
Suddenly it was a lot more appealing to root for the troops from the comfort of your couch.
I think this example proves an important point. And it’s not that I hang out with a bunch of loud-mouthed cowards. It’s that, generally speaking, people don’t like to be invaded. This probably sounds like a simple statement, but with the possible exception of the French—who have strange fetishes—I’ve got to believe it’s a universal truth.
When Americans went to bed on September 11th, a lot of us thought a full-scale invasion of our country had started. At that point, no debate about going to war was needed, because we believed the enemy was marching down our streets. Americans would’ve fought back against an invading army. I don’t have any doubts about that. My friends’ idle talk about joining the military only summed up the national sentiment back then. If there was going to be an invasion, it was going to be over our dead red, white, and blue bodies.
To some extent or another, this is probably the only foreign policy any country really needs.
There’s a reason why wars on foreign soil—particularly preemptive wars on foreign soil—rarely enjoy this sort of clarity. It’s because, without the enemy knocking down your door, it’s hard to know if a war on foreign soil is even necessary to begin with.
For that reason, for every military action abroad, there is usually an equal and opposite reaction back home. When Washington believes it must invade or attack a foreign country, it becomes necessary to convince the American people the mission is urgent or just. The upshot to this is that we live in a country where the government cares enough about our opinions to at least pretend like it cares about our opinions. The downside, however, is that wars are government programs. And like all government programs, they’re usually based on hasty decisions, false logic, and outright lies.
The Iraq War is a perfect example, though it’s far from the only one in American history. Three and a half years ago, many Americans genuinely believed U.S. cities were threatened by Iraqi WMDs. Now, though, we realize the Bush administration didn’t even necessarily believe that itself. The Downing Street Memos, amongst other documents, confirm the intelligence was “fixed around the policy.”
We don’t need to waste our time re-arguing the motives of the Iraq War. But even if we were to say, for the sake of argument, that the war happened for entirely noble purposes, the point that our leaders kind of, sort of misled us into it remains the same. You can choose to deny this if you wish (if you’re that incredibly stubborn and/or afraid of admitting you were wrong). But considering how wars—even just wars—have massive consequences, it would be a lot more helpful to look at the lessons of Iraq and… well, learn them.
In the coming months, it seems likely that our country will debate using some kind of force against Iran. According to the New Yorker, the U.S. is considering the use of tactical nuclear weapons on Iranian nuclear facilities. Whether Washington decides to use tactical nukes—which is to say, decides to use nukes—remains to be seen at this point. But just the fact that we’re having this discussion says volumes for the likelihood of it happening. After all, if my friends’ reactions to 9/11 prove anything, it’s that the truly urgent, necessary wars don’t usually need to be debated. They’re obvious, because they place enemy soldiers on your front lawn.
All other wars are essentially optional.
Last weekend, I was talking to someone about rising gas prices when they happened to tell me, “Yeah, it’s just a shame we have to go to war with Iran.” I thought this was interesting. Since when do we “have to” do anything? The U.S. once staved off nuclear war with the Soviet Union. You mean to tell me we can’t do that again? “This is different,” I was told. “These people”—the Iranians—“can’t be reasoned with.” If that’s our attitude, then I’m not so sure we can be reasoned with, either.
Don’t buy the hype. A war with Iran is most certainly not inevitable. Nor is it a good idea. Beyond the costs in lives and treasure (and the generally disconcerting precedent that using tactical nukes would set), a war in Iran would assuredly feature domestic components. So far in the war on terror, we’ve seen widespread domestic spying programs, the inclusion of anti-war groups on Pentagon watch lists, so-called “free speech zones,” and an ever widening gap between politicians and the American people—physically, as well as in terms of accountability. We’ve seen the selective use of intelligence to create threats that didn’t exist. We’ve seen leaking to smear war opponents, and we’ve seen investigations into leakers who managed to smear the war. What kind of fun stuff will the next major theater bring?
Washington’s tactics in the war on terror serve to silence dissent and create artificial support at least as much, if not more so, than they serve to actually fight the war in the first place. This has been so in the war on terror in general, and it’s been so in the unnecessary Iraq War. It will be so yet again if we attack Iran in any capacity. So don’t buy into it. Don’t be swindled. And don’t believe a war in Iran is anything less than a war on the American people.
Sadly, in a real way, that’s exactly what it is.