26 November 2006

A few thoughts on war

I recently watched the film Turtles Can Fly, which is the first film that was produced in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The film centers around children in pre-2003 invasion Kurdistan, who make their living by collecting landmines and sorting mortar casings. And that, I assure you, is the least of the war-time horrors portrayed. Yet there is an odd beauty in the film, but that doesn't make the subject matter any more palatable.

Like most Americans at this point, I am troubled by the war in Iraq. As the civilian death toll is now in the hundreds of thousands and the military death toll is now above that of September 11, I find this war, which I have always viewed as illegal and unjustified, even more repugnant. Cloaking the whole venture in the language of some unwinable War on Terror makes it even more disgusting. Anyone who thinks that destroying a whole country and the subsequent killing of such a massive number of people is acceptable in avenging and/or preventing a terrorist attack that killed 3,000, is sorely mistaken. Not only does this war fly completely in the face of accepted norms of proportionality, it has no clear purpose, no defined goals, and a continually diminishing measure of success.

Yet I am most disturbed by the effects and affects of the war on Iraqis themselves. This past summer, for the first time, I saw first-hand the effects of war among Liberian refugees. In some cases, living with a destroyed economic and political system is the least of concerns. The question of survival perpetually looms large. The psychological effects of the whole affair are particularly destructive. How do children cope with having witnessed their parents violently killed in front of them? How do women deal with children that are the product of rape by armed gangs of militants? What does one do when the entire network of social support, both formal and informal, has been torn from beneath them?

In a political context, the wars in Iraq and Liberia are almost completely dissimilar. But in terms of civilian costs, they aren't that much different. Yet these are exactly the costs that are usually ignored. Even as the world adopts lofty language like the responsibility to protect, the world's superpower, through its hubris, has sparked a huge slaughter of civilians. War is, and should be, an extension of policy. But what if that policy is flawed? What if the policymakers are unwilling to deal with reality? What if the whole war policy was based upon faulty factual and legal assumptions from the outset?

These are just a few thoughts. Don't take them as me diminishing the effect of terror attacks on American soil. Don't take them as assaults on the military - they don't make war, they just implement it. Just understand that this is a little of where I come from, and outlines a few things I'm currently mulling.

1 comment:

rax said...

These are the thoughts that make me wish I could make a living as a historian and not a political scientist (to break it down in very rough terms). Sometimes all I want to do is wait until all of the hard work is over and then analyze what happened. But then I remember that that's probably a cowards way out.

Is it possible for me to me more jaded? Probably.