The Blanket


A journal of protest & dissent


There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell.
You can bear this warning voice to generations yet to come. I look upon war with horror.
- William Tecumseh Sherman



The Failure of War
A response to last Tuesday
Cian S�amas Yates


I'm a little "absent" these days as I think of home, and the impending war. As an American living alone overseas, and a former soldier, I seem to be in my head a lot more these days. For a few minutes this morning, I was watching Sky News in the company canteen (we have a wall-sized TV screen always showing Sky News), and there was a tribute to the New York City Firemen who died trying to save the people in the WTC. I started to think of one of the most important people in my life, my maternal great grandfather, a man I never met, who was a fire fighter for the city of Canton, Ohio and died in the line of duty. It is his picture so prominently displayed on my mantle. My connection to him is very strong, through the eyes of me mum, in ways that I can't go into right now, but his spirit felt close to me this day.

But, I'm not into this "Dead or Alive" and "Nuke 'em all" feeling. Nor am I engaging with the vacuous moral relativism from both sides of the Atlantic and the Middle East that makes the claim Americans are equally responsible for what happened. I know there are problems with how America conducts its foreign policy, but it's too simplistic, too much a swallowing of somebody's propaganda to say that we asked for it. Nobody, Muslim or Christian, American President or Taliban Mullah, let alone most of us in the streets and homes of our respective lands, ever think that far ahead, or really understand how much we are manipulated by all sides. From the FBI and CIA and NRA to the PLO and the IRA, everyone is spinning out their particular version of what is truth. And that truth, while it may lay out a goal of a "united" Ireland or a Palestinian "Free State" or a "free" America, never does count the human cost in any way that could be considered humane. Well, I never liked a lot of the soft thinking of the left anyway, as bad as the fascist fundamentalism of the right (or those that think they're right). Unlike many people I know, and have read this past week, I've no desire to pay lip service to "the horror" and then go about espousing whatever political agenda I support. Guess I'm not committed enough, nor smart enough for that manoeuvre. Oh well. I guess one Saturday or another will be the time it all happens, after the markets close.

We used to make jokes in the army that military intelligence was an oxymoron like jumbo shrimp. I don't think it is much better these days. But why expect it from the army when civilians aren't any better? Looking at pictures of Afghanistan, I can't see anything worth bombing. Looking a pictures of men thronging the streets of cities in Pakistan, flushed with excitement as they chant anti-U.S.A slogans and burn Old Glory, I look at their clear eyes and fresh, unmarked skin. As they wave their arms, I mark their clean, strong limbs and that all fingers and thumbs are present. I know that those maimed by the landmines, or by malnutrition, aren't in front of the camera, and I wonder how many of those healthy men will be maimed or dead next year. I do understand that I'm just looking at the surface, and I can't see what may be maimed or crippled under the flesh. Then, I wonder how many have helped the Taliban dig graves to bury alive all the unwanted widows. Perhaps some, perhaps many, are not even aware of such deeds or would not care enough about such an atrocity (as we've been told - in cyberspace - has happened) to be swayed from their rhetoric, much the way Republicans speak of their sorrow at the death in America, as they point fingers at Americans and keep their arms dumps. After all, Canary Wharf isn't the same as Omagh, let alone Manhattan, right? And what goes on in Belfast or the Basque Country isn't the same as Tribeca, right? So, we can bomb them, right? But these bad bombers had good reasons. Nothing like having the good bombers with their even better reasons to point that out. An Phoblacht/Republican News tells its readership it was America's fault. American and European academics shore up the same shoddy thinking with their quote-filled comments rigid with defunct rhetoric. At least some of the lads in turbans point to divine retribution with purity unavailable in these dry dissertations that both mourn and mock America.

Does it really matter? In the end, we pick a side and we attempt to live with our choice as best we can. Some will support, and some will condemn, and some will just turn away, and some days the roles we choose will shift. All I know is that I've always flown an American Flag in my home long before the current fashion, even if it did have a Native American on it. I had one up in Belfast, and now in Limerick, I have two, an "Indian" Stars & Stripes, and a regular Old Glory, facing each other in my stairwell with an Irish Tricolour between. I am an American in Ireland who is happy to be out of the country, but who does long for "home" from time to time. I was more sad than angry to see my former home, both country and city, attacked and my former place of employment - Windows on the World - melt and fall away. No bombs will bring that back, though I do understand that is not the purpose of bombs anyway. I understand that America has to respond, though to my mind, it should be primarily through diplomacy and negotiation. Though if it is to be war, it should be a ground war. I won't go into the reasons right now, though I do understand I'm talking bloody murder let alone bloody hell. A part of me is even thinking of leaving Ireland and going back home to reenlist - I have exactly 42 days left until I am too old - but I would need a wavier on my service connected disability, and my tattoos, among other things. I'd probably be sent back to Special Forces after a re-training period, if I could get in. I anticipate they'd do much of the ops on the ground, God help them if they get caught out, but I suppose I'd make a damn good drill sergeant in any event.

My only rational for thinking the above is pretty simple. If I were a soldier on the ground, I would fight. I do not know if I would kill those strong young men I see on Sky News as easily as they might kill me, but I would kill. And, if I were a drill sergeant, I would train other, younger men how to fight, and most importantly, how to keep themselves and their comrades alive, so they could make the other fellow die for his country. There would be no grand philosophy, no rush of patriotic passion. Just an acceptance that there is no need for a reason for men to stand up, to step up and fight, and kill and die. It is what men do in this world, what we do best in this world we've created for ourselves. I know there are real men who choose not to fight. Fair play to them. But, the History Channel doesn't dedicate itself to war and men at war on a whim. And though I understand I could come up with many reasons not to fight, in my heart, it seems a pretty simple choice. Don't fight or kill or bomb unless there is no other choice (so, for me, that means I won't be picking up a gun just yet), but when you do, accept it as one of the things men do because they've failed. People don't kill each other and blow each other up because they're right or have truth on their side or it's their proper return payment. People kill each other because they're mean, selfish and stupid. It is so rare, especially in the modern Western world, that we really have to kill to survive. All the wars and death are testament to our collective lack of intelligence and creativity, to what we're willing to visit upon others to get our own way.

Witness the way people play the word games and the mind games to move their own agenda along. The "my bomb good, your bomb bad" stance, let alone the support for the notion that some people, because of their wealth or questionable foreign policy or religion, for example, actually deserve a "bad" bomb, or helped bring it about upon themselves in the first place. Such reasoning is often reduced to a kind of syllogism, often seemingly valid because it appears to follow a reasonable line of thinking, but untrue because the premises it is built upon are faulty. A premise or truth must be based upon measurable and verifiable data, not just personal or political preference. So much of what I've been hearing and reading is just more anti-American or anti-Semitic or anti-Arab rhetoric disguised as mournful sentiment. It's a grab bag of fallacies, you name it, it's there. Non-sequiturs, hasty generalizations and false analogies, equivocation here or a slippery slope there. But, mostly, it is the old post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy of false cause. There's no real truth behind these assertions, and no real morality that I can see. Just some pundit mouthing platitudes as they exploit tragedy to play the old blame game. In the end, if there's a war, we are all to blame, and we all lose. But no worries, just the same as it ever was, just like we like it.







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The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002

Republican Voices