The International Committee of the Red Cross held a rare press conference on Wednesday in Afghanistan, but few people were listening. They might have heard the news and shrugged.
We don’t like hearing that our mission has failed, that a war that started less than a month after September 11th has become the nation’s longest. George W. Bush infused the conflict with World War II references, naming countries he didn’t like the “axis of evil” and claiming we could rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan the way we rebuilt Germany and Japan, leaving them in peace, stability, and prosperity. We don’t like hearing that we’ve left them in chaos and despair.
Both wars were covered heavily by the media during the initial operations, then coverage waned as news became worse and worse. They locked Afghanistan in the cupboard and only slipped her in when something with military leadership happened. Occasionally she’s get a shout-out when something silly happens, like the Pentagon being unable to account for $15 billion in funds allocated to rebuild the country. We’ve sent major contractors and corporations into both countries, misspent ludicrous amounts of money, and have little idea how many people’s lives have been disrupted or destroyed.
But the media doesn’t want to cover these stories, and most people don’t want to talk about them. When the Red Cross comes out with a plea for help, it’s time to start listening. The Red Cross provides medical care to all victims of warfare, and as such is allowed access to all parts affected by war. They have been in Afghanistan for 30 years, since the Afghans started fighting the Soviet occupation.
The Red Cross said security had deteriorated across the country to levels not seen since the beginning of the war. Numbers for those killed or maimed (which we call casualties to soften the blow) are at their highest levels, with abysmal access to health care, and Red Cross workers said the security situation was preventing them from providing care to the injured.
These are the negative costs of war, and America wants no part of thinking about them. It’s only the beginning of the war, the exciting part, that matters. And once the war drums are sounded, this American love of warfare becomes clear. Regardless of the politics surrounding the conflict, or the dubious reasons for pursuing violence and death in a distant part of the world, Americans are told that our military is fighting for our freedom, that our soldiers are killing and dying because other people hate our democracy and our liberty. And the public eats this nonsense up and regurgitates it as gospel truth. Those with a mind to question the blanket jingoism of government spinsters and their allies in the media are immediately condemned and vilified as ungrateful, un-American, and undeserving of living in such a wonderful society. If you disagree with the mainstream war-mongers, it’s damn near high treason. Some of them may want you executed. After all, if the USA is fighting a foreign enemy, they must be evil incarnate, and if you don’t think like us, you must be with them (insert commies, gays, Jews, blacks, anarcho-syndicalists, etc. here). There is so much more McCarthy in the average American than most will admit.
The willingness with which we employ our military strength makes us one of the most violent, far-reaching imperialist forces in the history of the world. The sun may never have set on the British Empire, but neither does it set on American military bases spread across the planet. Modern weaponry has allowed us to deploy military force without actual manpower, with drone aircrafts dropping bombs on villages by a pilot in an office in Las Vegas, or so-called surgical strikes with missiles that belie a precision that is more fantasy than fact. It sounds clean, but it’s still a bomb. Any other country bombing any other country is considered an act of war, but for the U.S., it’s an operation, a strike, a measure. If every use of U.S. government force upon another country were tabulated as warfare, we’d surely be the most war-bloated nation in history, but instead it’s called peacekeeping, policing, securing, defending.
World War II is one of the instances when the United States needed to fight, and has become the prime example in our minds of the necessary, noble war. The Nazi regime was a true horror of epic proportions that threatened to overrun the Western world, and the armies of Japan sweeping across the Pacific were fueled by a nationalism that would not be quenched. After the war, those who fought were true all-American heroes, and are still rightly revered as such. The outcome of the war for the U.S. was our elevation to superpower status, a thriving industrial economy, and an era of prosperity and good fortune.
For the American public, every subsequent conflict’s raison d’etre echoed that of World War II. One would think the failure of Vietnam would have squashed these notions, but when the next major conflict arrived, war hawks and government spinsters repainted the Vietnam war, not as an unnecessary catastrophe that shouldn’t have been fought, but as a war that should have been won, had the government and the people properly supported it.
While the American public is made to believe that every new conflict is a reenactment of World War II, we conveniently forget the misery and failures of other wars, and ignore those of the current one. We balk at the suggestion that we are an imperialist power–that brings up images of Kings and Queens and old Europe with aristocrats drawing lines across Africa, deliriously drunk and cackling like mad men. We aren’t that. We don’t want to invade and constantly occupy; we got that out of our system stealing all the land from the Native Americans and fighting with them in dozens of wars over hundreds of years. But even that wasn’t imperialism–it was Manifest Destiny, bringing civilization to the Wild West, not widespread death and destruction for hundreds of small-scale civilizations that were wiped out. But that’s all over, and best of all in America, it’s forgotten. Over and done with.
We’ve painted over our history, hoping to cast shadows on our sins and obscure their lessons. And we are blithely ignoring our present, refusing to engage with the problems facing our nation and our planet. Wandering blindly makes it hard to prepare for the future. We need to face our past, confront and question our current state of affairs, and become concerned about building a more peaceful, more mature America, and gain the respect of future generations.