Lessons of war

It’s understandable that war fever has swept the country. After cycling through shock and sadness, anger comes next. We want justice, maybe even revenge. After all, what’s the point in having the strongest army in the world if we’re not going to use it to respond to something like this, right?

Notwithstanding everything Bites has said in this space criticizing violence and militarism, as much as Bites has pleaded for a U.S. foreign policy that doesn’t arouse so much hatred of our country, Bites wants Osama bin Laden’s bloody head mounted on the wall of the U.S. Capitol as much as anyone.

Yet before we’re driven by these emotions to support President George Bush’s proposal for an all-out “War on Terrorism,” let’s take a clear-headed moment to reflect on some other recent wars and the lessons they offer.

World War II may make us all misty and nostalgic, but let’s remember that it cost millions of lives and took a couple of nuclear bombs to end. And that was when we were the only people who had toys like that, unlike today, when anyone with a few million rubles in bribe money can get one.

The lesson of the Vietnam War is one the anti-communist hawks still can’t figure out. They think it had something to do with “fighting with one hand tied behind your back.” But here’s a platitude that’s a little closer to the truth: Millions of people who hate your guts and have lots of places to hide will kick your ass every time. And with radical terrorists scattered all over the world, we’re talking about lots of places to hide.

Oh, and the other big lesson in Vietnam, as well as the infinitely more appropriate Soviet-Afghan War: terrain matters. Fighting in jungles and steep mountains just isn’t the same as bombing bunkers in the desert. Let’s not forget that the Soviets were pretty bad-ass in their day too, and they’re right next door to Afghanistan.

The Persian Gulf and Serbia wars may not have been much, sanitized as they were and packaged for easy mass consumption by public relations professionals, but they still have a few things to teach us. Namely, just because you can name the evil-doer and put his face on TV doesn’t mean you can catch him, even if you have his address.

But it seems to Bites that the two most important lessons lie in our country’s current war: the War on Drugs.

The first: Just because your cause is noble and your resolve strong, that doesn’t mean achieving your goal is possible. No matter what you do, you’ll never rid the world of drugs or terrorists. As long as we insist on imposing our values and interests on the world, people are going to hate us. The more of them you kill, the more their families and allies will hate us. People who hate us will always try to hurt us.

And they’ll always find ways to hurt us, which leads to the second, more chilling lesson. Despite our best efforts, illegal drugs continue to flow into our country by the ton. That kinda proves my first point, but it also makes my second: We’re not as tough as we think we are, and our enemies aren’t as stupid as we’re now assuming.

After planning for years to hit the most high-profile and emotional targets in this country, do you really think these terrorists didn’t consider how we might respond? Do you believe this is the only card in their hand and now they’re just waiting for us to wipe them out? Or might a massive U.S. response play right into their hands?

If tons of heroin and cocaine can slip into this country without detection, why not some anthrax, smallpox, Sarin gas or a briefcase-sized nuclear bomb? If a recent German investigation showed there had been more than 100 “sleeper” terrorists living there for years, waiting to be called into service during the jihad, how many are in this country?

Our thirst for vengeance is only human. But even if you don’t agree that the best prospect for creating a more peaceful world is to adopt foreign policies that make people hate us less, then consider that in this crazy world, maybe it’s the only effective weapon in our arsenal.