There is a long, black granite wall in Washington, D.C. that stands in mute testimony to the utter futility of fighting a war to win hearts and minds. It is adorned with the names of 58,272 American men and women who paid the ultimate price in the disastrous Vietnam war. The people of Vietnam suffered 1.1 million combat fatalities and over 2 million civilian deaths. Vietnam was left a ruined land from 20 years of carpet bombing, Napalm, Agent Orange and non-stop warfare. The people of Vietnam paid a terrible price in order to resist the imposition of Democracy by a foreign military power.
Fifty seven years later, the nation of Vietnam is still struggling to feed its people and climb out of poverty. In the Southern region of the country, 10 million hectares of agricultural land were rendered useless due to the spraying of toxins by the U.S. military. Between 3.5 and 5 million Vietnamese were exposed to Agent Orange during the war, resulting in over 250,000 birth defects and 400,000 dead or maimed for life. Long since forgotten by one time Chinese and Soviet allies, there have been no reparations for the poisoning of the Vietnamese people and little outside assistance. There were no victors in this useless, brutal war. Trillions of dollars were squandered and the cost in human suffering is incalculable.
Unlike Vietnam, World War Two was fought to overcome great evil and to crush the armies of Hitler and Tojo. No one was in the least bit concerned with winning over the enemy to the niceties of Democracy. The Allied Armies set out with one simple purpose; to utterly annihilate the Axis forces until the Nazis came crawling on their bellies begging to surrender. To defeat them so completely that should German or Japanese leaders ever again dare to suggest attacking the free nations of the world, their own people would be so horrified, they would rise up and put a stop to the madness.
While no sane person ever wants to see the world ravaged by war, the Second World War had to be fought. The future of freedom itself hung in the balance. Vietnam, as history has taught us, was nothing more than an exercise in political deceit and Military Industrial Complex economics. We never stood a chance of convincing the Vietnamese people that they would be better off living under the banner of American style Democracy and frankly, the idea never even seriously crossed the minds of the people who really ran the show. Why would the very people that we bombed into the Stone age want to have anything to do with us or our “wonderful” democracy? The people of Vietnam were being wiped off the face of the earth. All they wanted was Americans to go home and leave them in peace.
Today, America is once again trying to impose Democratic government by military might; this time on the nations of Iraq and Afghanistan. We have been at it for 11 years now and as each day passes, the situation in these countries grows steadily worse. Thousands of young Americans have died in combat and hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed or displaced. We entered two devoutly Muslim nations with absolutely no concept of who the people of Iraq and Afghanistan really were and even less knowledge about their culture or religious beliefs. American leaders were arrogant enough to think that the whole world was chomping at the bit for good old Democracy.
In the first months after 9/11, the United States had justification in going into Afghanistan to destroy the Al-Qaeda terror network. We now know this goal was largely accomplished within weeks but the leadership was able to escape to safe haven in Pakistan. At this point, President Bush had three choices. The insane choice would have been to basically wipe the country of Afghanistan off the map. The sane choice was to send our troops home and let our intelligence networks do their job.
To his eternal shame, Mr. Bush went with choice number three and made a badly misinformed decision to leave our military in Afghanistan in order to “free” the Afghan people. He learned nothing from the disaster of Vietnam about the impossibility of winning hearts and minds with military might. Bush learned even less about the people of Afghanistan from the failure of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan or he might have realized that they were not in the least bit interested in abandoning their centuries old Islamic way of life. They were happy living under Sharia and had no interest in secular Democracy.
This upset the Neo-cons and the war profiteers to no end and ignoring worldwide condemnation of America’s continued presence in Afghanistan, Mr. Bush continued the build up of forces. Then in 2003, he upped the ante considerably and invaded Iraq. Using dubious claims of the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that were later proven to be without merit, Bush launched Operation Iraqi Freedom on March 20, 2003. The goal was to overthrow and capture Saddam Hussein and his allies, defeat the Iraqi military and then install Democracy in Iraq, despite the fact that the people of Iraq had no more interest in Democracy than the people of Afghanistan.
In the course of these two wars, over 7000 American soldiers have died along with over one hundred thousand civilians. The nations of Iraq and Afghanistan are demolished. The infrastructure of both countries has been almost entirely destroyed. Prior to our invasions, both nations were already impoverished and a decade of war has reduced the lives of many to a hellish nightmare. Hardly a family in Iraq or Afghanistan has not seen loved ones killed or seriously injured. Children go without food, schools are almost non-existent and raw sewage flows in the streets. Despite the fact that United States has spent billions of dollars trying to rebuild what they originally destroyed, there has been little progress and massive corruption. One American re-construction project after the other stands unfinished and useless, with no hope of ever being completed. It is no wonder that these countries are turning to militant Islam and aligning themselves with Iran.
American military leaders are besides themselves over the way we are conducting the wars. We are sending our soldiers into combat with long lists of rules and regulations. Troops are required to clear all requests for artillery support or bombing missions with a military lawyer, even if they are trapped and under intense fire. If American soldiers are engaged in open battle with the Taliban and a civilian enters the combat zone, they are required to immediately break off contact and retreat. The enemy is well aware of our rules of engagement and has used them to great advantage. The Taliban will take a few local children with them when they go out to bury roadside bombs, knowing we will not attack them as long as they have their human shields. Either way, the enemy wins; by accomplishing their purpose to more easily kill Americans or by causing civilian casualties and using the media to embarrass America. While it is always desirable to avoid killing innocents, the restrictive rules of engagement are also leading to increased American causalities. It is just another reason why we shouldn’t be fighting a war to spread Democracy on the other side of the planet.
America is in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the great depression. We are 16 trillion dollars in debt and can no longer afford to finance foreign wars at the expense of our citizen’s way of life. Neither Iraq or Afghanistan pose any realistic threat to our home front. America is in no danger of invasion by a foreign military force. We are already spending hundreds of billions of dollars yearly on the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security to protect our nation internally. There is no justifiable reason to continue these useless wars.
How many more young men and women have to die before we bring our troops home? It is time we stop sacrificing American blood and treasure in a misguided attempt to be the world’s police force. It has accomplished nothing except to alienate our allies and confirm the Muslim world’s long held belief that America has no respect for religious freedom or the right of self determination.
The time is at hand for American’s of every political persuasion to demand that Mr. Obama put an end to the insanity of Iraq and Afghanistan. To let more Americans die for a failed and discredited foreign policy is nothing short of criminal. To our leaders, we say “BRING THE TROOPS HOME NOW!” To our valiant men and women who so bravely serve our nation as part of the Armed Forces of The United States Of America, we salute you as we say, “THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE.”
Conflict, Manipulation And Fear – Politics In The Modern World is a Weekly Column by Wolff Bachner about Government, Leadership and the Pursuit of Power