The Fallout of War

The American public is now seeing a thumbnail of the fallout of war, things that the press has heretofore kept out of the sight of the average American at home. We have wanted to believe in glory, in a war movie rather than in the blood, gore and savagery of war itself.

Somehow I recall the progression as being the carefully-edited newsreels at the movies, plus nightly radio reports on World War II that my dad and grandpa used to listen to faithfully. My mom and granny avoided all news of the war if they could, preferring to condemn all war while living as though it didn't exist. And so went World War II in my home and in my second home (granny's place in Arizona when I lived in California). Yes we had the trappings of war in California along the coast, not only the air raid sirens but the black window shades, covers for auto headlights that probably could be seen for a thousand miles from the air, but we did what we knew how (which certainly wasn't much when viewed from hindsight).

From the newsreels we progressed to the television news, also on tape in the early days (no satellite in the 1950s). There was a skirmish called the Korean conflict, people were being killed, maimed and perhaps tortured, but it too was "over there" and didn't affect daily life in the USA. We didn't even have rationing as we had in WW II, or rancid butter. Korea didn't affect the average American citizen much, and outside of thousands of deaths of American and Korean soldiers, it was just another conflict in a world where conflicts and/or wars always occurred somewhere yonder across the sea.

It was during Vietnam, primarily the ten years of 1963-73, when the American people appear to have gotten sick of America's incursions into foreign lands to lose thousands of its youths to the brutality of senseless wars, only to back out in a negotiated retreat and let the families of the dead and maimed suffer in silence.

Contrary to what the media, the neocons and the liberals would have Americans believe, the far right has been just as opposed to war as any flaming liberal whack job who hugs his or her tree. It is the far right now that has spoken up the most vehemently against the invasion of sovereign nations by the US, and the liberals take some political stage and parrot some of the indignation first expressed by the constitutionalists and the defenders of the American policy of nonintervention other than in cases of a clear and present danger.

Nine-Eleven did happen. Inquiry is still going on (just as it is over the grassy knoll in the JFK assassination) and 40 years from now, the average American citizen won't know any more truth than they know today about who knew what in Washington circles in advance of that dreadful day. We know Americans and foreigners died, about three thousand in all, in the crash of four airliners, the collapse of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon. Those supposedly at the controls of the planes aren't talking, they're quite as dead as the rest of those who lost their lives in this outrageous attack on civilians, on American soil.

We're also being given glaring hints that our government knew much in advance of the attacks as to what al-Qaeda was intending to do by way of a major terrorist strike, and had the emergency plans in place as well as the documents for Congress to rubber stamp . . . that mess of a misnomer called the USA Patriot Act and its clones.

For what? To drum up enough outrage, real outrage, to allow the US to order the military into two foreign countries, and while Osama might have used Afghanistan as a terrorist training base with several camps, there's nothing to say he didn't use Pakistan and several other Islamic nations as well.

Yes, Americans wanted revenge on the perps, the masterminds of terrorist atrocities. This time around it wasn't "over there" and Americans were willing to fight anyone who dared to attack US soil and take out helpless US citizens. Well, the kind of wars we last fought in Korea and World War II are over and have been for 50 years. We're into terrorist subterfuge, stealth strikes, helpless targets, fanatic suicide bombers, and determined Islamic clerics who want to take the world for Allah. It's a new kind of warfare to Americans whose movies still largely focus either on World War II (conventional) or intergalactic conflicts (sci-fi) but not on what's really occurring. And we still want the movies, not the real thing.

Unfortunately, the real thing is now the fallout we're seeing via photos and satellite, foreign newspapers and others who are unwilling to hide the truth of war, its brutality and degradation of the value of human life. War is the lowest form of human group activity, not some heroic venture of the novels and the movies. It is the worst in man organized into a killing machine and either intentional or unintentional torture, or both. The American psyche may be able to take it at the movies, but Americans at home in the USA are not a people who can stand to see what war is really like when it enters our homes through television. It becomes too real. The problem is, war is indeed real, it is ugly, painful, barbaric, savage, bloody, the ultimate in disregard for the sanctity of life and respect for human beings. War is not just Hell, it is Hell soaked in blood, dismembered limbs, body parts, open guts and the agony of unspeakable pain from the wounded.

The idea that any nation carries on a "gentlemanly" war when the whole object of war is to kill as many people on the other side as possible to win the conflict is somewhat ludicrous. In fact, in the war between the states (1861-1865) the South attempted to be gentlemanly and it cost Robert E. Lee the war! To win is the only object of mass killing of persons because of their beliefs, nationality, race, culture, or the insanity of their leaders.

Perhaps now that the entire world is involved in everyone else's business and photographing it, we will learn that to have a wartime mindset in battle is to change from a rational human being into a brutal killer without conscience because your job is just to kill. That's it. Kill.

The hatred that has to accompany any killer mindset is going to slop over into the mistreatment of prisoners and other barbaric acts, such as torture, leaving people homeless and without food or water, brutalizing anyone in the way, and just random acts of revenge on anyone from the other side. Combatants are not the only victims of war, yet war seems to be man's second oldest occupation, next to farming.

Exactly why man cannot resolve issues without war is perplexing. There are ways of taking out evil leaders, and without a leader, war just doesn't erupt like an unexpected volcano or begin shattering the earth like a 7.9 quake. Even more perplexing is why, after a conflict is over, the combatants take vengeance on noncombatants, which has been the history of afterwar or extrawar during military campaigns. When Genghis Khan came through a town, his soldiers lined up as many citizens as he could locate, then his soldiers would ride in pairs down streets where noncombatants were lined on either side, and systematically lop off their heads with their swords.

Hate. Brutality. Savagery. Some empires were masters at it. Rome's method of execution by crucifixion was one of the most painful and horrid ever devised by the human mind, allowing rotting bodies to fill the air with the stench of death and the horrid sight of rotting corpses. And that didn't even take a war to produce, it was just a way of dealing with lawbreakers! The Assyrians took out their lust for blood by excoriating humans, skinning them while they were alive to begin with, dead when finished, and then hanging the skins out to dry.

No beast of the earth has instincts more savage or brutal than man, a flawed, marred, evil creature with no ability to change his base nature by himself.

We've thought, because we were told in school and by the media, that Americans were above this brutality, which is prima facie evidence of our lack of education about the bloodiest war even fought in America, the so-called "Civil War" which was anything but civil. I prefer to call it either the "War Between the States" or more accurately, "The War of Northern Aggression." Nevertheless, a day's study on the internet about Sherman's march through Georgia will reveal just how outrageously brutal the North was toward the South. War doesn't have to be that brutal and "reconstruction" doesn't have to be that degrading, but both occurred on American soil. We really haven't been all that nice in the past, so it should come as no surprise that we're really not that nice now. It comes more as a shock to see that we've made utterly no progress, in fact, we've regressed because now our women no longer simply stay home and wait. They're on the combat lines and in charge of prisoners of war, generally men in other nations.

If any nation in this present day world had any respect left for America and its self-proclaimed righteousness, no nation will after what has happened due to our brutal tactics in the Middle East. The world will not see this as the acts of a few soldiers who weren't properly trained, but as the fallout and trickle-down of a policy of brutality that originated at the top with the signal to begin the war.

The fallout is yet to come, and when it does, our leadership will have led our innocents, millions of us who pleaded not to get into this fray but to covertly take out terrorist leaders, as just collateral damage in their own war of revenge against the self-proclaimed leader of the "free" world, the United States.

Is any nation that engages in total barbarism fit to call itself the leader of the free world? Is there any justification for going into a sovereign nation and commencing military operations against its army, regardless of how "brutal" its leader was?

Everyone hates a bully. The world used to call on the United States, guardian of the deadliest weapons in the world, to take down bullies and rescue the innocent. We did not go where we were not invited and did not stay after our job was done. Until 1945. Since that time, the US has gained a large increase in enemies around the world and an increasing hostility at home to its practices of intervention where it wasn't wanted.

There are memorial services held each year in Hiroshima and Nagasaki over the dropping of the atomic bombs in 1945 that ended WW II. Surely, if the purpose of war is to kill, then that was the fastest way to do it, but the fallout (literal and political) hurt the US and the wound has never healed. What we've begun in the Middle East now will have to be finished some way or the US will be finished forever. There is no "I'm sorry" satisfactory for humiliation and death of the innocents and mistreatment of prisoners of war. "They do it to us" is not acceptable as an excuse simply because the US has proclaimed a moral high ground too long, we were above such conduct.

How long . . . how long . . . until the fallout is radioactive?

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Dorothy Anne Seese's picture
Columns on STR: 7

Dorothy Anne Seese is retired and lives in Sun City, Arizona.  She majored in political science at UCLA in the mid-1950s.  Her website is here.