Perspectives on War and Conflict – Which Side is Right?
January 22, 2010 Leave a comment
As children of the 50s and 60s, growing up in the US, we had the constant fear of nuclear annihilation riding on our backs. The “Red Threat” resulted in the construction of nuclear fallout shelters, attack drills, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the “Domino Theory” warning of the advance of communism. Every American child was taught to fear, and hate, those who lived in foreign countries considered hostile to the US because of their ideologies and forms of government.
During my first visit to China in the early 1990s, I was genuinely afraid I’d be arrested at immigration due to my past US military experience. Even though I was in my late 30s, the fear of China was so deeply embedded into my psyche that I could not shake the impending feeling of doom as my airplane touched down at the Beijing airport. Even while deplaning I could not help but notice nearly EVERYONE in the airport was wearing some kind of uniform, and they were all looking at me as a spy or person who had entered their country to do them harm.
At immigration the inspector looked at my passport, and said “welcome to the People’s Republic of China.” And that was it.
Exiting the airport also meant exiting the community of uniforms, and I entered a world that fascinated me then, given the warmth and openness of the people in Beijing, and continues to fascinate me today. Occasionally a Chinese person engaged me in a debate about the differences of democracy vs. communism, but in the post Tianamen period most Chinese were concentrating on making money, working hard, and getting on with their lives.
Ditto for Mongolia. While I have to admit it was a bit uncomfortable for me to see HIND helicopters flying around, and soldiers walking around with AK-47s, I started to warm up to the idea they were defending their country, their way of life, and trying to keep enemies away from their borders. Kind of like what Americans do within our country.
In Hanoi, a name that still brings a bit of anxiety to many Americans of my generation, walking through the city and museums produced concerns that I might not be well liked, as an American, in a country we fought in a horrible conflict through much of my youth. I had the feeling everybody looking at me was wondering if I flew B52s, or had wounded or killed one of their family.
In fact, many of them do have that question. But much like other humans around the world, life is for the living, and the living get on with their lives. In fact, Hanoi is one of the friendliest cities I have been in, and continues to bring pleasant surprises every time I venture out of the hotel into the community.
The 1000 Pound Reminder
I have started rationalizing my emotions towards war. As a professional soldier I know the meaning of conflict, have been in conflict, and don’t like it very much. The enemy has no face, no soul, no name, no family, and is a slab of meat that needs to be captured or killed. Soldiers, regardless of the soft news that surrounds winning the hearts and minds, are trained to take the lives of their enemies either while advancing on their position, or defending their own position. Pretty simple.
Walking through Hanoi there are still signs of conflict. A large crater that formed when 1000 pound bombs were dropped into neighborhoods. The “Hanoi Hilton” of John McCain fame. The “Hanoi Jane” memorial anti-aircraft gun. All memories of a time many years ago when people in Hanoi were killing or being killed.
As an American I grew up hating the Vietnamese for torturing US airmen. I grew up hating Muslims for the terrible things they did to Jews. I hated Cubans for just about everything. All a result of the media telling me I should hate them. A media that continue s to drive the same message for other conflicts and cultures – broadcast by people with a lot of experience in war, such as Sean Hannity, Glen Beck, and Rush Limbaugh. They do have a lot of military experience to draw their conclusions from, right?
Now, after many years of walking through countries we have at some point in our generation been at war (Japan, Korea, China, Russia, Mongolia, Viet Nam, Palestine, Israel, Germany, etc., etc., etc…), my perspective is changing. I wonder how I, as an American, would react if the war was fought, for example, in Long Beach (California). If bombers from Manitoba were dropping 1000 pound bombs on Belmont Shore, what would my reaction be?
If I caught a Manitoban flyer who had his plane shot down while dropping bombs on my neighborhood, what would I do to him?
The answer is pretty easy. I would rip him limb from limb and feed the parts to coyotes – while I watched and laughed.
When I think of the indignities a young school girl encounters while passing from Ramallah into East Jerusalem, what can I expect her to think or feel as she passes Jewish people or Israelis each day? What if I was her father? How would I react to bulldozers wiping out my neighborhood to accommodate settlement expansions? If foreigners were occupying my homeland, would I welcome them with open arms, or find a way to fight?
How do you win the hearts and minds when a bomber accidently drops its payload on a civilian community and calls it “collateral damage?” At the end of the day, it really makes no difference if it is a mistake or not – people die.
It is all about your perspective. As history has shown, the winner ultimately writes the history. It is both enlightening, and confusing to look at the perspectives of each side. We can now look at the wars of the Romans, Mongols, British Empire, and Zulus with a detached, neutral, and academic view. Recent wars are still being written, and may not be understood for another 500 years or so. And when they are written, there is not going to be a right or wrong, only a winner and body count of the dead.
My perspective is now that war is not a good thing for the living. And as Clausewitz eloquently said, “war results when diplomats are incompetent or screw up.” Or something like that. And 16 year old children implement their failed policy with guns or explosives strapped to their belts.
All about perspective, and understanding there are two distinct sides to every argument or conflict.