Friday, July 06, 2007

on Iraq...again

I think I keep repeating myself on this subject time and again, but here I go still again. We are not fighting a "war" in Iraq. A war is between two uniformed armies facing each other on a battlefield or in the air. We had that kind of war when we invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein and closed out his army. Since then it has been an insurgency that has turned into a civil war fought by terrorists. However, the definition of terrorists does not seem to fit some of the people we see on television who do wear a form of uniform and thus are soldiers by definition. But they do not seem to be fighting us as much as they are fighting each other. I think our involvement in a war is over. We are basically trying to keep peace between warring factions, some of whom we basically seem to support (with exceptions) and some we don't. Thus Al Sadr keeps his army except when it sticks its head out a little too far in our direction and so do some of the Shias in the government and some of the Sunni sheiks who are on our side. In Vietnam we kept dealing with people who knew that the U.S. and ROK troops owned the day and the VC and the North owned the night. So there was a real day and night difference. In Iraq it seems to be that we own the time we spend in the various neighborhoods when we're there and the other side owns them after we're gone. So I don't think this is a war on our part, although it seems to be a mixture of covert civil war and terrorist activities (defined as actions done by those who are not part of a uniformed army).

The other thing I don't think that we realize is a nation is that we are essentially dealing with the 93rd year of a 100 Years War. We admit that we have few people in the military in Iraq who know the history of the country and, more importantly, speak the language. We here at home are even more ignorant. A year or so ago, I read for the first time (somehow I missed it when it came out), Barbara Tuchman's Guns of August, a history of August, 1914, the first month of WWI. In hindsight, it is possible to read into what she relates the international history of the world for the remainder of the 20th Century and the beginning of the 21st. In that month of August 1914, the Russians broke up the Balkan empire of Austria-Hungary; the Germans defeated and stymied the Russian advances leading to a stagnation that brought down the Tsar and led to the rise of Soviet Union and the Cold War; the French and English stopped the German drive to capture France and thus led to the treaty of Versailles and resultant depression in Germany that led to the rise of Hitler; and brought the Ottoman Turks into the war on Germany's side and led to the rigid control that empire exerted on the Middle East and led to today's mishmash of tribal and religious unhappiness.

What does that bode for the future? In her other most famous book, A Distant Mirror, Tuchman actually wrote a history of the 100 years war and she pointed out that it led to the breakdown of the feudal system and the beginnings of mercantilism, the rise of the middle class and the beginning of capitalism as well as the Enlightenment that brought new demands for the rights of individuals in a society in which rigid castes evolved and most people lived in slavery or near slavery. I would suggest at this point that the current many-years war has brought us to another transition point in the history of the world. Even in the less than a century that I have been alive, the world has gone from simple radio and no computers or television to a place where a popular writer claims the world is flat and to where I carry more computing power in my pocket daily than existed in the entire world the day I was born. My father in law was born in 1900. The year he was four, bank robbers fleeing his home town put a bullet through the door of his family home as they went out of town on their buckboard. If we go back farther in time, it was only about 200 years ago that manufacturing began and the nuclear family became the cornerstone of society. Today we are facing a variety of computer driven choices. I carried my first computer of 24 years ago out of the basement the other day. It was so heavy I damn near dropped it. I'm typing this on a computer that I can carry under my arm. We have seen a tremendous number of changes. A few years ago the cell phone came on line so we could talk to each other without having a solid, cable connection. Now we have the Iphone that seems to be combining photography, calculating, teletype, voice and I don't know what else. What's next. The point of this whole paragraph is that the last 100 years have changed earth and its societies so the our founding fathers would not recognize the United States that they put together. Nor would our great-great grandfathers recognize our homes as the same types of shelter as theirs. Our lives have gone topsy turvy in the last century particularly. Taking them back will, I suspect, require new arrangments of society, new forms of thought and new aspects of living (even the prospect of extending an individual's life span). We must talk about the future, not the past and come to a new agreement so that we may continue to meet the changes that we have lived through and that we will see ahead.


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