Saturday, August 16, 2008

War is never noble or good

but sometimes it is a necessary evil.

In America, we have this idea of war as a noble and righteous thing under the right circumstances. We imagine that things like torture and rape are aberrant acts committed by a few evil soldiers instead of seeing that in order to kill people, you have to dehumanize them. And when you dehumanize someone, raping or torturing them is nothing more than kicking a ball. They are objects to be used as such. Rape, torture, murder and violence are not the acts of a few bad apples. They are the core of war and that is what we train soldiers to do.

But we don't want to see that. We want to think that our soldiers are special. They are above that. They must have some superhuman ethical core that allows them to only dehumanize certain people and then only in the right ways. But the human psyche doesn't work that way. It's more like painting with water colors, when you mark someone with the brush of a soldier then those strokes bleed over onto the rest of their lives. They come home and beat their wives and girlfriends. Or they struggle to separate themselves from the acts they have committed and become depressed. Taken individually, not every soldier will have this struggle, but as a whole we teach them be killers. We should not be surprised when that is what they become.

If we are to be a nation that goes to war, then we should also be a nation that acknowledges the damage war does. When we first went into Iraq, I watched the horrible video of Nick Berg being beheaded. I sobbed for days after. I also watched (long before the Abu-Girab photos came out) video of American soldiers frog marching naked Iraqi prisoners. When the torture photos did come out, the scenes were not new to me. I had seen them from other soldiers already. I recognized the methods our soldiers were using as part of the KGB 5 techniques, a system of torture developed under Stalin that leaves no marks but breaks the prisoners anyways. Why the hell would we be adopting techniques used by system we debased for decades?

I am not a pacifist. I believe that there are situations where nothing but the violence of war will work to end violence. But those situations are much more rare than our history of war would lead you to believe.

And for those of us in safe countries where acts of war rarely touch us, we must be made to see the realities of war. We must get over the pageantry to see the blood and gore underneath. And that means we will have to look at the pictures that horrify us and see the videos that give us nightmares for weeks. And we have to force those in power to see them too. After watching the Nick Berg video, I sat in my therapists office sobbing about the horrors of it. And then I wondered if President Bush had watched it. I am sure that he did not. But our leaders, those who would send us into war, should be made to see it. They should be forced, Clockwork Orange style, to sit in front of the images of violence that they create with their pens and paper.

But since we don't have that power, we can make sure the images are out there. We can make sure that everyone sees the horror that war causes, even those of us far away and safe from bombs and guns. So the images may be triggering, and for those of you who have suffered from the domestic version of the violence of war, I am sorry. But you should understand how important it is for people to see the consequences of their actions. War is never noble and good. It breeds violence and inhumane treatment. That is not a symptom, that is it's sole purpose.

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