Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
For most of us, the last ten years have not involved the personal agony of US troops killed in Iraq (nearly 4500), wounded (perhaps as many as 100,000), suffering brain injuries (320,000), and suffering the psychological effects of war (about 250,000, counting those who served also in Afghanistan). And we haven’t been affected by the more than one million Iraqis who died between March 2003 and August 2007 (according to the Opinion Business Research survey). Nor have we been affected by the over 2 million Iraqi refugees reported by the BBC.
Only the willingly deceitful claim anymore that the war was for some noble purpose. My activity against the war started in August 2002 when I first became aware of the propaganda from our government. I began writing then to Sen. John Kerry reminding him of the misadventure called Vietnam in which he had participated and about which he became a fierce critic. Those exchanges were to no avail. Even a warrior who once saw the light could not resist the lure of an easy victory against Saddam Hussein’s pitiful forces that would assure the US of all the oil we needed for the foreseeable future, give us a permanent foothold in the Middle East, and demonstrate our military might for the world to fear. What an easily deluded species we are.
Kerry’s justifications for voting for war in Iraq were not much different from the views of most of those who supported the war, but all those excuses amounted to little more than we should do it because we can and Saddam Hussein is a bad guy (a judgment I have no quarrel with). That’s what powerful nations do. Kerry and all the others voted to give the President a power that Abraham Lincoln warned us against: “When you allow (the President) to make war at (his) pleasure, study to see if you can fix any limit to his power and disrespect.”
Senator Robert Byrd got it right when he said during the debate on the war resolution that “…nowhere in this constitution is it written that the President has the authority to call forth the militia to preempt a perceived threat.” And those words are just as relevant when applied to the weaponized drones that we are now using wherever the President wants to use them to kill the bad guys, along with ten times as many innocent men, women, and children.
About the time I started communicating with Sen. Kerry and other politicians, I began an email correspondence with a group of friends and acquaintances. I considered it my Committee of Correspondence Against the Iraq War. My wife June and I joined Military Families Speak Out (MFSO). Seven years earlier, our only child, after graduating from college, joined the US Army, where she served at Ft. Campbell, KY with the 101st Airborne for five years. At the start of the Iraq War she was in the National Guard. Her husband had been in the Armed Services for over 15 years. When the war started, he was in a Special Forces unit somewhere in Iraq, preparing for an expected 50 mph dust storm.
On March 24, 2003, we wrote a statement which I read to our city council in opposition to a resolution it was considering that featured praise for President Bush, while offering words of support for our troops. We asked the city council to do more for our troops, but it refused. Unfortunately, the San Marcos, Texas, City Council passed the resolution unanimously after many powerful and heartfelt statements by a handful of citizens opposed to this war, as well as the usual jingoistic support for the war by many other citizens.
Kerry, the San Marcos City Council, and many others proved that Hitler’s understudy Hermann Goering understood something vital about human psychology when he said in an interview over sixty-five years ago:
“. . . it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”
If anything, Goering over-estimated the difficulty of convincing the American people to go to war.
It is worth remembering who was on that city council ten years ago. It included the then Mayor Robert Habingreither, our recent Congressional candidate Susan Narvaiz, Bill Taylor, Jacob Montoya (who quoted the Bible in support of the war), Ed Mihalkanin, Paul Mayhew, and Martha Castex Tatum. Their resolution was intended to show that war is patriotic. But not one of these pro-war people, any other San Marcos supporter of the War in Iraq, or more than a handful of others around the nation has issued a public apology for their disastrous mistake in supporting this war, about which they had no doubts. Apparently none have crossed their minds, or perhaps they are incapable of honest reflection.
Almost all of both Democrats and Republicans in office ten years ago were willing to both go to war in Iraq and fund it to the tune of over $812 billion, a figure that is still increasing at the rate of about $19,000 a minute – more than $27 million a day. Our military budget is more than the combined military expenditures of the next fourteen highest-spending countries in the world. But Paul Ryan and other delusional politicians as well as many of our citizens who are screaming about deficits never said a word about the costs of war adding to that deficit. After all, wars are so patriotic, especially when God is on our side, that spending should not be a concern.
When most people sign up to serve their country in the military, they do so so because they want to protect the American people from attack by our enemies. They believe, as I do, that we should have a strong military to deter aggression against the United States and protect our shores, our homes, our friends, and our families from attack by foreign foes. But many become disillusioned by the tasks they are required to perform. As one Gulf War Veteran put it: “American soldiers should protect America, not attack other nations.”
What our service men and women do not sign up for is to have their lives put at risk for the political ambition of a corrupt administration, or to fight wars of preemption in violation of the US Constitution, international laws, and treaties.
Americans have not fought a war on our land for nearly 150 years. As a result, most of us do not appreciate what war is all about. That void has been filled by a recently published book about the Vietnam War by Nick Turse, “Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam.” It is based on extensive research in Vietnam War archives over the last twelve years. In a review of the book, author Chris Hedges observes:
“The almost unfathomable scale of the slaughter, the contribution of our technical, industrial and scientific apparatus to create deadlier weapon systems, implicates huge sections of our society in war crimes. The military and weapons manufacturers openly spoke of the war as a ‘laboratory’ for new forms of killing. Turse’s book obliterates the image we have of ourselves as a good and virtuous nation. It mocks the popular belief that we have a right to impose our ‘virtues’ on others by force. It exposes the soul of our military, which has achieved, through relentless propaganda and effective censorship, a level of public adulation that is terrifying. Turse reminds us who we are. And in an age of expanding wars in the Middle East, routine torture, murderous air and drone strikes and targeted assassinations, his book is not so much about the past as about the present. We have worked, consciously and unconsciously, to erase the terrible truth about Vietnam and ultimately about ourselves. This is a tragedy. For if we were able to remember who we were, if we knew what we were capable of doing to others, then we might be less prone to replicating the industrial slaughter of Vietnam in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.”
One of the problems with having a volunteer military is that many people see those service men and women as disposable, to be used for whatever purpose the President has in mind. After all, they volunteered for military service. Such a view is, of course, callous and indifferent to human life, and stands in stark contrast to the view of Karen Kwiatkowski, a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, who said, “If you join the military now, you are not defending the United States of America, you are helping certain policy-makers fulfill an imperialist agenda.” To read a confirmation of this view by a US Marine who fought in the second siege of Fallujah, see <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/22/fallujah-us-marine-iraq>.
I don’t claim to know all the truth about war, but I find the phrase “industrial slaughter” apt based on what some of our soldiers have revealed to me about our wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Mostly, what I try to do is question the actions of our public officials because I have learned that they are only as good as we require them to be. We haven’t been requiring much lately of our national leaders.
In spite of their deceit, ignoring of the constitutional requirement that only Congress can declare war, pandering to emotion, rewarding their supporters with ever more lucrative contracts and giveaways, manipulation of information about what they do, failure to adequately support veterans, failure to adequately equip our soldiers sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, and, finally, their ability to convince a majority that “War is Peace” and “Ignorance is Strength,” we continue to allow them to destroy all of the best values that we as Americans claim are ours.
If we don’t try to become informed and have the courage to act on that information, it doesn’t matter whether “Big Brother is Watching” or not. When we are complacent in our ignorance or cowardly in our actions, politicians can have their way with us without the need for Blackshirts. I hope that soon all our citizens can put aside brand loyalty, face the facts wherever they may lead, and act to hold public officials accountable, something this President is unwilling or unable to do.
After all the phony reasons for war in Iraq were found wanting, Bush and his neo-conservative advisers and supporters resorted to saying that the venture was a humanitarian mission to free the Iraqis. It is now obvious instead that it became a humanitarian nightmare, mainly because in the throes of American arrogance, our “leaders” never understood much about the culture of Iraq, the schism between the two main Islamic groups, the geo-political relations between the Sunnis and the Saudis and between the Shiites and the Iranians, the desires of the Kurds for autonomy, the nationalism felt by most Iraqis, the hatred engendered toward the US by years of sanctions and killings in the north and south no-fly zones, and the complete folly of occupation by foreign and hostile armies.
Now, some neocons (found in the American Enterprise Institute, for example) are claiming that despite all the lies that led us to invade Iraq, it was worth it because Iraq might have become like Syria, and what a mess that would have been. Such thinking is delusional, after-the-fact speculation based on nothing.
It is time for the American people to find and follow our own moral compasses and say that we will never again be led down the path of grotesque violence that creates its own kind of terror for both those we kill and those we pay to do the killing. But I fear that most Americans will not find their moral compasses. It is too convenient to ignore morality and legality when what we want most is to win and show the world who is boss.
© Lamar W. Hankins, Freethought San Marcos
LAMAR W. HANKINS is a former San Marcos city attorney.Email | Print