The tragic consequences of innocence

The Norman Transcript April 08, 2006 01:41 pm — For The Transcript Innocence can be both a virtue and a vice. It is a virtue as it conveys the idea of purity, blamelessness or faultlessness. It is a vice when conveying the idea of naivet?, guilelessness or lack of knowledge. Innocence takes on a negative character when it is associated with the initiation of war without deep and extended reflection on its costs and consequences. This is surely the case when those who start wars do not know and thoroughly understand their "enemy." America fitted this category when it carelessly intruded into the affairs of Southeast Asia, and repeated this error when it swaggered into Iraq motivated by confidence and certitude reinforced with comfortable assumptions that did not correspond to reality. Before any "leader," legislator or citizen advocates war there are five principles that should be carefully analyzed and thoroughly understood. (1) The length of any war is unpredictable. (2) The cost of a war cannot be ascertained in advance. (3) The casualties of war -- the wounded, killed and the extended care for the disabled -- can never be calculated beforehand. (4) Who will "win" is uncertain. (5) The consequences of war -- social, financial and political -- are always incalculable. Experience should teach us all that dramatic changes lead to where we know not. And how long it will take to get there is equally uncertain. Did those who assaulted Fort Sumter anticipate four years to Appomattox? Did the Kaiser think it would take nearly five years to reach Versailles? And did Hitler anticipate that it would take five and a half years to end World War II? They never anticipated the real time involved, for belligerents are usually filled with ambition, pride and exaggerated sense of power and nationalism. Wars always cost more than anticipated; they are too wasteful and filled with too many contingencies to reckon. War material is expensive and the costs rise with the increasing sophistication of destructive weapons. Shamefully we are reaching a point at which costs are becoming a matter of indifference. No one -- at least no one outside the "defense accounting department," assuming that they know -- can tell us for sure what our Iraq foray is costing, but some "experts" estimate our debt is rising a billion dollars a day. The present generation will not likely pay off this debt; it is doubtful the next generation can do so either. Where this prodigality takes us financially can only be guessed, although massive debt tends to have a negative effect on the economy and business activity generally. It would be illuminating to have a practical mind like that of Benjamin Franklin analyze this problem; or the conservative mind of a classical economist. But scrutiny by a heretic like Thorstein Veblen, although instructive, would shake the foundations of Wall Street and the White House. War reveals its true nature in casualties and destruction. Down through the centuries untold millions have been killed in wars. In the ancient world many individual battles took more than 50,000 lives. Gaius Marius a century before Christ led the Romans against the Germans killing as many as 100,000 in one battle. A little later in the Social War, a three year struggle to defend the Roman Republic, 300,000 men were killed. Since then have been Napoleon's senseless campaigns, half a million lost in the American Civil War, Verdun, Stalingrad and hundreds of other mutilating battles. The distinguished English historian Alan Bullock estimates World War I claimed more than seven million lives and that World War II claimed 40 million. The total deaths in war from 1914 to 1945, including the Russian Revolution and the Spanish Civil War, carries the measure of human brutality to more than 58 million killed in that 31-year span. There is a dreadful correlation between the lethal nature of war and the

growth of technology. It the human race cannot outgrow its childish immaturity, its preoccupation with bourgeois pleasure, its fear of those who want to share the resources of the world with the deprived, its reluctance to identify and resolve real problems -- not the fictitious ones dreamed up by anxiety ridden "adults" who have not outgrown their emotional childhood, and if it cannot get a clear picture of the consequences of uncontrolled nuclear energy, then there will not likely be anyone around to record future statistics. Many of these limitations and shortcomings are a product of innocence, and one of the most relentless consequences of innocence is ignorance -- lack of knowledge, lack of awareness, lack of concern. This is especially critical in positions of leadership, especially politics where issues quickly turn into ones of justice and suffering, and in war ones of life and death. In the present disorder, a fundamental portion of which has been brought on by American assertiveness, the question comes to the fore, have our leaders risen above their innocence in the case of Iraq? Even before the dust of the election had settled in 2001, the "Presidential Advisory Clique" -- Cheney, Rice, Woflowitz, Powell, Armitage, Rumsfeld, Scowcroft and others including the chief executive himself -- had been planning war in the Near East. They understood that Israel's future was threatened and was therefore problematical, and that our need for oil is critical, but did they understand and had they studied the culture of Iraq? To what extent had they mastered the geographic, industrial, agricultural and cultural characteristics of the country? Did they know the land area and how it shaped the lives of the people? Did they even conceive the concept of "Iraqian anthropology?" Had they studied the history of the country, the population size and distribution? And was there any realization of the powerful impact of Islam on the Iraq mind, especially in law and values? Did the leaders of the "war cabinet" have competence in Arabic, Kurdish and Tukoman -- the languages of the country? And how many of them could name even one Iranian poet or other intellectual? The fact is we were led into the Iraq War by those suffering cultural myopia. Motivated by pride and presumption and burdened with innocence, they thought the people of Iraq would welcome us, that they wanted American democracy with its privilege of voting. Few things illustrate the political naivet? of America more than equating voting with democracy. Voting is a mechanical process for recording sentiment; its value depends upon the maturity of its participants. Democracy is a philosophy. It is an ethical-psychological attitude permeating both individuals and their collective behavior emphasizing cooperation, fair-mindedness, sharing responsibly and privilege along with mutual concern and regard for all. Several generations are needed to cultivate democratic sensibility. To think it can come ready-made at the point of a bayonet is the product of an ill-read and innocent mind. A clique is a small group bound together by narrow and selfish interests. The war clique -- the "war cabinet" - in Washington that gave us the Iraq War seems now to want to impose our will on Iran. This could lead to the Iran War. Should it develop the form is conjectural -- selective bombing, massive bombing, ground troop invasion or some combination thereof. The future of such an uncertain and hazardous venture hinges on our maturity or innocence. The latter can bring tragedy; the former can contribute to world order. The choice is ours. Lloyd Williams is a retired educator. His column will stumble along for a few more issues. Copyright © 1999-2008 cnhi, inc.

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