The Art of War


John Wright


The news media has been having a field day with the recent abuse of Iraqi war prisoners by USA military police. This was followed even more recently by the beheading of a USA civilian working in Iraq by Al Qaida. Escalation of abuse is easy when either side feels wronged in a conflict. Assumption of moral high ground is used reliably and repetitively, indeed with great imagination, and escalation of abuse is to be expected. It will fuel further atrocities based on feeling increasingly wronged by the other party. After all, war is hell, isnít it?

When any nation or group decides that killing is appropriate to achieve a political or economic objective it is sensible to understand that using prisoners in any way might be perceived as kindness, compared to killing them. I could examine these actions from a legal perspective such as the Geneva Convention rules for prisoner of war treatment but that type of endless harangue leads nowhere. I think it more important to step back and look at the way we have conducted war and the nature of our adversaries. Perhaps there is some kernel of wisdom to be gained for future use.

History often provides us models of behavior and subsequent results that help us understand the errors and strengths of our predecessors. In the matter of events that might lead to war, it all boils down to one or two realities Ö either they have something we want that we are prepared to go to war to get, or, we fear they will take something from us so we go to war to protect ourselves, or both. One might see colonization in the past as undeclared war, in which the natural resources of one area were coveted by another stronger party, and simply taken or used by that party.

There never was any acceptance of belligerence on the part of those conquered. Military dominance was used as necessary to break the will of the conquered, not to lead them to some form of enlightenment. The Spaniards stole the gold and implanted a new religion in Central and South America so the locals could whine about their fate forever after in poverty. The British enslaved the Indians as laborers for tea, jute, etc., and they and the Dutch raided Africa for gold and diamonds, creating slaves of the local inhabitants. We simply killed most of our "Indians." No local government or military infrastructure was permitted that would allow the locals any power.

From the campaigns of the Romans to the crushing of Germany and Japan in World War II, there has been one and only one formula for success. That formula requires the elimination of any military capability and the complete demoralization of the adversary, such that they will not even consider renewing the conflict. Moral high ground? There never has been any moral high ground. It is asinine to even use the words and utterly dishonest.

Today our leaders are attempting to convince us that the threat of terrorism is a new form of war that we must fight with unending military and police effort. Were they right this world would be in for endless conflicts, such as those engineered in the story 1984, by George Orwell. East Asia, Eurasia and Oceana were perpetually in military conflict, with alliances changing periodically. These actions fueled the economy and eliminated excess people and kept the political considerations of the society forever in the forefront at the expense of individual pursuit of happiness.

The comparison, which at first seems strained, is really pretty obvious. All you have to do is consider the end results in terms of their effects on individuals. If our leaders are right in their thinking then we have no secure future, period, especially when we realize that there will be no "final" solution to conflict. We also have no hope of privacy or individual rights as "legal" encroachments on our rights ultimately leave us with no rights, all in the name of combating terrorism.

This ugly fact has risen to be the reality of our time in history. It has nothing to do with military capability to stop terrorism, here or within the nations we attack. The missing ingredient from all our efforts from the Korean War, through Vietnam, to the present is the idea of total dominance leading to peace. It seems like we have forgotten the "Art of War."

One might play the game and claim that efforts for world peace in the past fifty years have caused us to evolve to scenarios of contained, limited conflict, always with the good of the world in mind. You might mention Kosovo as a perfect example of cooperative military effort by multiple nations, through the United Nations, to end tyranny and abuse of an ethnic group in Bosnia. Indeed, I was proud of the fact we had the character to do something to end the reign of Milosevich. Alas, that effort stands alone as the high point of international cooperation on behalf of human rights. All the rest of our conflicts, starting with Korea and China in the late 1940ís are not related to that type of moral high ground.

I fear that I am digressing. The point I wanted to make is that there never has been any good reason to fight war as we did in Korea and Vietnam. What we are doing today in Iraq is a perfect example of what not to do. Think about boxing. Do the opponents wait after each hit for the other person to recover enough to continue the fight aggressively? No, they go for the knockout. It is fundamentally stupid to give your opponent any opportunity to strike back. Thus it is that our conduct in Iraq is so pathetic. Letís take a look at what we have done.

First, we lied about the capabilities and intent of a sovereign nation. Second, we humiliated them by forcing United Nations inspections, which showed no evidence of weapons of mass destruction that were, in fact, Saddamís right to possess. Third, we ignored the United Nations and various individual nations efforts to keep us from going to war in Iraq. We ignored our own citizen protests. We chose to make war with two feeble alliances Ö Great Britain and Spain. That we had the arrogance to choose war in the face of overwhelmingly negative world opinion clearly says we felt so strongly about our "security" or "peace" in the Middle East that we would do whatever was necessary to eliminate Iraq as a belligerent power.

Well, sometimes you do have to stand tall and do what is necessary even when no one supports you. And sometimes your real goals are hidden behind false proclamations. Even the actions you take might be confusing and in conflict with each other, at least on the surface. For example, notions of turning a backward Islamic state into a properly functioning democracy within a year of conquering them in a military sense, operated by the citizens of that country, were and are utterly foolish and frankly unbelievable. The same is true in Afghanistan. That is why we are still a strong military presence in Afghanistan and why we will be in Iraq for years to come unless we come to our senses.

The "Art of War" demands the utter subjugation of the conquered. That hasnít happened. And we whine when they kill our soldiers and civilians. It is clear to me that our leaders were and are completely familiar with history. They know full well that actions taken in Afghanistan and Iraq are and will remain inconclusive in terms of results. They knew from the outset that there is no way our approach to creating a new democracy could work. That means we had a different agenda.

The history of the conflict between Israel and Palestine has made clear to any thinking person that there will be no peace in the Middle East unless we either get out of that region or completely overwhelm it. So what could our agenda be? Is it all about oil? Is destabilization the strategy for keeping the Middle East oil producers from joining together and dictating our economic future? Is it working? Have you visited your gas station recently and noted the price increases?

If we were concerned about oil we could have "de-nationalized" the oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, etc. through direct military control. Yet we do not take that definitive action. Instead, we have continuous conflict and damaging inflation, not to mention the ongoing accumulation of major debt from waging our "limited" war. This is a no-win scenario for USA citizens. Who, pray tell, is the benefactor of all these "strategies" and actions?

I am not comfortable proclaiming any party as a benefactor. Indeed, the mess we are in does not appear to have a winner. We do, however, have plenty of losers. We have not engaged in definitive action, right or wrong. We are not following all that has been learned in the past about the "Art of War," and we are paying a dear price for our stupidity.