When will we declare victory in the “War on Terror?” How will we know if we have won? When there have been no terrorist attacks for a month, a year, a decade…100 years? Is this really a war?I think that we are in a struggle with a nefarious, cruel, cunning, daring, and brutal enemy that wishes to do us great harm, but that is not quite a war. No state, no army, no battles, just a series of atrocities and crimes. John Kerry was ridiculed for saying that we should strive to get terrorism to the point where we deal with it through police actions – how the Europeans look at it – and he is right. Here in the USA, we hardly know what war is, and perhaps the Europeans still remember it for what it is.
No, we declare a war on terror so we can have war fever, wave flags, feel that we are fighting back, doing something! We slip easily into that sort of logic, it seems so natural. The response to September 11th was fear and shock, and then a boiling patriotic desire to hit back. Well, we hit back against the Taliban, and rightly so. The perpetrators were there, they would do it again, it was their base – simply self-defense, but not much of a war. We needed a real war to keep the war-talk going, so we invaded Iraq.
I’m not saying that our government cynically decided to do these things because it wanted to whip up war fever, no, not the way the Argentine junta did it by invading the Falklands to divert attention from their parlous failure with the economy and their murder of thousands of Argentine citizens. No, I’m saying that our government slipped easily into the war mode because it’s so easy to, because it served their purposes, because our leaders have no imagination…and a host of other bad reasons that get used again and again throughout history.
Problem is, war justifies everything – secrecy, wire tapping, sloppy budgets, accusations that your critics are traitors – and it makes it very hard to see your enemy for what he is. I know we have had some success against Al Quaeda, but Iraq is a huge diversion, and we’ve muddied the waters so much, I despair of a sensible approach to protecting ourselves in the future.
Can’t stop thinking of 1984…the war was always on, only the enemy kept changing from time to time. It was hard to remember whom we were fighting, and who were our allies. It didn’t matter – the war went on.