News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

They shoot innocents, don't they?

My colleague Dr. Silas says that reading blogs for intellectual content is like going to a roadside latrine bespattered with graffiti for words of spiritual inspiration. Blogs do not strive to put forth the best that is thought and said, but quite the inverse: they revel in the mean, the petty, the carping, the uninformed. It is in that context that I came across militarism as a recommended measure for securing the world from terrorism. A writer said that the only solution to acts of terror such as in Mumbai is military and the perpetrators need to be hunted down and killed.

The writer seemed not to notice that the 10 young men who carried out this attack did not, as was also the case in 9/11, intend to survive it. When the perpetrators will be dead by their own volition, just who is left to hunt down and kill? Or is there such a thing as double-dog dead? We still have hopes of finding bin Laden, but once we start purging the support network of those who carry out the acts of terror, we run up against complications. We have held men at Gitmo whose roles in terrorist acts are dubious. We waged war on Iraq under the reasoning that we were going after terrorists who were plotting to destroy us. The WMDs were not found and were shown not to have existed, the link of Saddam Hussein with Al Qaeda was disproved, and we ended up killing 4,100 of our own troops, maiming another 26,000 and blowing billions and billions of dollars. We are still counting. Our military has paid a heavy price for a war that was contrived from a need to posture. The American people have paid heavily both in material and moral terms.

There are times when solutions to threats against us need military action. We do need to aggressively hunt out and nullify those who plan, contribute to, and support acts of terror. But when the troops are regarded as expendable pawns to be wasted on futile missions based upon someone's need for revenge against undefined targets, there is a serious betrayal of democratic principle involved. It is one thing to send troops on a mission that has a defined and understandable objective. It is another to set troops up for massacre because someone wants to bully or exact revenge from someone else. Such missions show a profound disrespect and a devaluing of the life of the troops. Fighting at the behest of war-mongering belligerents is not the same as fighting for our country.

As an old soldier, I witnessed the deep resentment that troops have when their countrymen give them patronizing pats on the ass and tell them to go be good soldier. We don't like to bring up how close the troops came to mutiny in Viet Nam when they realized they were perceived as expendable non-entities. Gen. James Jones, the National Security Adviser designate, recalls having doubts about his role as a platoon leader in Viet Nam. "Why am I doing this?" he asked himself, and considered resigning his commission. Soldiers have lives. When they fight, they fight for their lives, as well as for the good of their country. When it appears that they are being used stupidly or for the bad of the country, soldiers have doubts. They need to be assured that their commanders do not regard them as negligible expendables.

That is one of the reasons a military man with a record of critical sentience about the role of military is a huge step in the right direction with the appointment of Gen. Jim Jones as National Security Adviser. The troops will know that their value as humans will be a prime consideration in any military actions taken.

The military has found itself facing unprecedented circumstances after 9/11. We old soldiers spent much time discussing the fact that if anyone had said, before 9/11, that 20 or so men would hijack airliners and crash them into buildings, we would be reluctant to believe. As old American troopers, we could not imagine 20 of our colleagues volunteering to die in order to massacre thousands of civilians. Neither can we imagine strapping on an explosive vest and detonating it in a crowd of civilians going about their daily lives. We can imagine going on missions that had purposes of defense and security in which the likelihood of our own deaths is likely, but that is quite different than malicious suicide.

We Americans have little acquaintance with creeds that promote violence. We experienced it within the Christian community with the open warfare and terrorism between the Catholic and Protestant factions in North Ireland. Suicide, however, was not a part of that terror campaign. We find it difficult to understand the appropriation of Islam for the purposes of breeding suicide bombers. We tend to think that the Muslim religion shares our values of peace and good will. We find it incomprehensible that people are totally brain-washed into believing that they were given their bodies to sacrifice as weapons against those who believe differently than they do.

When Colin Powell addressed the accusations that Obama was a Muslim, he asked what is wrong with being a Muslim? He was addressing the conservative predilection for assuming guilt by association, that all Muslims embrace Islamic terrorism as part of their creed. In that distinction between the manipulation of young minds to become suicide killers and the promulgation of religious values to promote peace and good will is defined the real task of dealing with suicidal terrorists. To chase down and kill all those who may harbor and tolerate terrorists leads to genocide. The military can resist terrorism and protect the country from it. It cannot provide the solutions. Unless one accepts the massacre of the innocent as tit-for-tat fair play.

We cannot punish those who are already dead. We can make sure that the world knows just what goes into the creation of suicide bombers and shooters.

Carl Bernstein who along with Bob Woodward uncovered the Watergate plot has a suggestion that might be part of the solution. As he listened to the Richard Nixon tapes on MSNBC's Morning Joe in which the president listed his enemies and called for the fire-bombing of the Brookings Institute, he said we need psycho-biographers to help us understand the Nixon types and what shapes them. Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle added Dick Cheney's name to the list. He said former colleagues of Cheney's in Congress said the man he is now is not the one they knew. Both journalists suggested that there is something about the way we do politics that creates deformed and dangerous personalities.

When Ralph Waldo Emerson was chided for not being more activist in ridding the world of slavery, he said why should he be so concerned about what is taking place in the Barbadoes? He said it is the wood chopper in his back yard that concerns him. The idea fits the matter of terrorism. Before we go punishing people in other lands, we'd better take care of the monsters developing in our own. You want to know how to find them? Begin with the comments at South Dakota War College.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States