Before we begin, allow me to share a little perspective about writing in general and essays in particular. First Rule: It’s really easy to become addicted to writing about fun stuff that everyone agrees upon. Second Rule: If you subscribe to the First Rule for very long, your writing soon becomes pointless mush.
My son, Cameron cautioned me last week about an essay I was writing (the one below) saying that I will probably lose a reader or two or ten because of the nature of the essay. Last week I blinked and wrote a fun article chronicling a heaping handful of the stupid things I’ve done in my life. For the record, that was a pretty easy essay to write. In the course of mounting decades, we all do dumb things. That doesn’t scare me a bit. Some of the dumbness I’m even proud of. However…
The minefield of paragraphs below was not a whole lot of fun to write, nor will it be a particularly fun read. It is, however, important. And to steal a lyric from an old song by Rick Nelson, “You can’t please everyone so you gotta please yourself.” I’m writing this because I think it’s important, with the full realization that I may very well piss-off the entire readership in a single shot. The subject is War…and the Yardsticks of War. Yardsticks don’t remain the same by the way. They morph. Sometimes for the good. Sometimes for the bad.
Amnesia: Here is a fact: Pick any country on this smoky blue orb we’re standing upon and look at the wars each country has spawned, the people they’ve killed and…the weaponry they’ve used. Every single war has been a war of atrocities. Strangely, however, every country develops a convenient amnesia as to their exact degree of culpability. There’s a “joke” that went around a while back: Kill a man, or a handful of men and you’re a murderer. Kill two or three million men, and you very well might become a president or a general, or at the very least, an interesting figure in history. Think about that. Let’s refresh our memories just a bit, painful as that may be:
Crusades: A conservative estimate puts it at more than 9 million people. Keep in mind that this was approx. 1100-1300 A.D. when the population of the planet was much smaller. In today’s terms percentage-wise, it would probably equate to more than 60 million.
During the civil war in China, close to 40 million people were killed.
Russian Revolution: Over 20 million killed or murdered.
WWI: Over 8 million lives lost.
WWII: a total of approximately 66 million people died of which 6 million were Jews who were hoarded like cattle into pens and fields and then executed with such stark efficiency that the efficiency itself seems to be the most revolting of all to humanity.
Are our hands clean? Way, way down in your guts, I believe you already know the answer to this question.
Between Nagasaki and Hiroshima, we killed close to 200,000 people, mostly civilians, and achieved the dubious “honor” of being the only country to nuke another country. The myth, up until recently was that it was necessary to do this to convince Emperor Hirohito to bring the war to an end. With a bit of digging and sleuthing, it was discovered that it wasn’t Hirohito we wanted to “impress” but Joseph Stalin. Which ever side of the argument you choose to stick with, it is (and I’m using profound understatement) arguable whether impressing Joe Stalin was a viable reason for killing 200,000 civilians.
Operation Meeting House: In a single B-29 bombing raid over Tokyo, America killed over 100,000 people using over three hundred bombers…mostly firebombing though sometimes it’s a moot point exactly how you are killed.
The Civil War: At Antietam we killed over 23,ooo of our own…of us, our brothers and sisters, neighbors and fellow Americans. We killed over 60,000 of our own at Gettysburg. Americans killing Americans. The camera lens wasn’t capable of showing ALL the luminarias representing those who died at Gettysburg. What you see below is a small portion.
How We Became America: And then there’s that really uncomfortable and difficult-to-argue fact that when we came to America close to 500 years ago, it wasn’t really our country was it? We kind of elbowed our way in and then we began spreading our toes and moving westward. Put in perspective, if another country attempted to do that to us now, what do you think would happen?
The Ugliest Fact: There’s one more horrible little fact of humanity in general that is perhaps the worst of all. Through the vehicle of nationalism, every country appears to be incapable of fathoming this simple misconception: If another country does something to us, they are monsters. If we do something to another country, it’s just good strategy and good leadership. The hardest thing to swallow is that this is true of every country…every single one, not every single one except America.
Fact: America refined the delivery systems for napalm to a fine art: Napalm, by the way, is essentially jellied gasoline. Get a bit on you and if you try to wipe it off, you spread it. In Vietnam we elevated the use of napalm to such a fine art (dropping it from B-52s cruising at 30,000 feet) that the people below never heard it coming. Suddenly square miles were carpeted with fire. Did you know, however, that in 1980 the UN Convention outlawed the use of napalm? Every country signed the ban except one. You don’t have to speculate for very long to figure out which one didn’t.
Once again, when we do it, it’s necessary. If a country were to drop napalm on any town or city in America, we would be well within our rights to retaliate with every weapon at our disposal. It is a hideous and horrible and utterly unacceptable thing to even conceive of. Yes? Can we agree on that? When any country does this it is equally hideous, equally horrible and equally unacceptable. That, is where we as humans, lose our perspective. In war, whatever we do is AOK. Whatever they do…is not.
Is it possible to end this dark examination on a high point? Yes. Maybe…
This week the focus is on drones, a topic with which I am highly familiar. I have several small drones which I fly often. I have written a number of articles on their many advantages…as well as the huge number of threats they pose to life in ANY country. They are here, spreading fast and they’re not going away.
I have an acquaintance who is a drone operator, meaning he sits in a cubicle and operates a drone remotely…very, very remotely a half a world away. If you look on the cover of about every magazine this week, you will see President Obama with a huge frown on his face addressing and apologizing for the fact that two innocents were killed during the most recent drone strike.
Candidly, this is not a rarity. It is the norm. Do we report each one? We do not, nor will we ever. In every war that has ever been fought, truth is the first casualty. The good thing is we have the president of our country, whether you love him or hate his guts, standing up, acknowledging and taking responsibility for a mistake that was made. If you were to overlay this single act done by our president over any other period in history, the players back then would only scratch their heads, not understanding. War is insanity that has been sanctioned. At least we are trying to keep the numbers down. In anyone’s world of math, a drop of two million or even two hundred thousand…to two is an improvement.
A Serious Caveat about Drones: Beware. We are using them with relative precision. Used by us, drones appear like a gallant attempt at using surgical precision. The countries receiving our drone fire would not agree about our gallantry. The problem in the very near future is this: A drone doesn’t have to cost 8 million dollars and require a squadron to handle. Ten drones can be packed in the trunk of a Toyota Corolla and launched…by anyone and fly into any town or city, singly or in groups. We are, at this moment in time, without any form of localized defense.
This week alone, a gyrocopter made it all the way to the innermost real estate surrounding the White House. Fortunately, it did not contain a Sarin gas or a suitcase- nuclear warhead. It easily could have. Easily. We’ve been lucky. When you use a weapon, don’t be naive. It can be and will be used against us…anywhere and at any time. At some point, I hope the viability of war itself comes into question. There are no noble wars. There never were.
For What it’s Worth, and for those who don’t know me, I was a captain in the United States Air Force. I enlisted during the Vietnam War and flew jets, and was an LES (launch enable officer) for the Titan II missiles. My dad was an officer in the United States Navy. He was also a well-known author and the writer of Air War: Vietnam a best seller chronicling the specifics of that war.
Am I a loyal American? Damn right I am…to the death, And yet, like many many, many, many of my fellow soldiers, sailors and airmen, ones who actually served, I don’t glorify war. In all good conscience, I can’t. Look around you and you will see that few veterans do so. What we did and what we do is sometimes necessary and once chosen, we must follow orders. But we are also human beings. War is no longer a viable alternative. The world got way too small.
In WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam, America still had vast oceans to protect us. With technology those oceans shrank and the enemies changed. It’s not only arrogant to think any country is safe, it’s potentially lethal. We didn’t win the war in Vietnam. No country that attacked Vietnam has won. The Soviets got their asses kicked in Afghanistan. So did we. I don’t believe one actually wins wars in the Middle East. You just pay for them and suffer the consequences. We didn’t learn from history so we repeated it and we continue even now to do so, making the same mistakes over and over, thinking the results will change. That’s the true definition of insanity.