War is tragic, we all know that. Soldiers are struck down in their youth before they have a chance to do more than dip their toes into the adult world. Civilians (children and mothers, the elderly) become innocent victims when they find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some people die due to secondary causes since during wartime, many of the ordinary functions of government are suspended, leading to starvation and disease.
Wrong choices are made in the heat of the moment, which warring nations regret for decades afterwards. During the Cold War, we supported almost any dictator who would declare himself anti-Communist. The harsh face of Africa today is partly due to these decisions.
Laws are passed when we’re at war that would not be tolerated at any other time. Many of these laws have to do with secrecy, ethnic profiling and privacy issues. During World War II, we rounded up U.S. citizens of Japanese descent and put them in camps, where they were unable to communicate with their families for years. The government has just redefined the parameters of the Freedom of Information Act, meaning that less classified material will be released to the public. This kind of secrecy builds distrust, as people ask themselves, “What are they hiding?”
Inhuman, immoral experiments are done in the name of keeping up with the enemy. After the second world war, we let Nazi doctors into the country to continue their evil experiments, in the cause of fighting the Soviets. Experiments were done on human patients without their consent, in order to prepare ourselves for possible nuclear attack.
A country can become psychologically devastated. After Vietnam, where killing women and children became almost routine, our soldiers returned home shattered and disillusioned and America lost its taste for conflict. This is probably why we did not take out Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War: American soldiers would have been lost and the conflict would have changed from a clean strike to another messy, seemingly meaningless conflict. Only now do we realize we should have finished the job, but we didn’t have the heart for it then.
There are more subtle tragedies, as well. During a war, it is no longer possible to be “on the fence.” You’re either for your country or on the side of the enemy. The time for intellectual dialogue is over.
This is confusing to those who can’t stand the idea of innocent lives being lost, and feel we ought to be able to reason with the Islamic terrorists. It reminds me of the old saying, “Know Thy Enemy.” Any reasonable enemy would never have committed the terrible deeds of September 11th or the ones still going on today, all of them affecting the lives of innocent civilians.
When Hitler first came to power, a number of English intellectuals felt it should be possible to sit down like civilized human beings and reason with him, to make him see their point of view. This was a dismal failure, since Hitler was a psychopathic fanatic and such people never see reason.
I understand how “peaceniks” feel, since in the best of all worlds, I would feel the same way. But this is war, so I’ve hopped off the fence and hung an American flag from my porch. I’ve taken sides and I’m ready to do my part to help us win. In wartime, I can’t see how we have any other choice.
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