Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Okinawa Dreams #7: Fights Not Worth Fighting
It is easy to forget that Veteran’s Day began as Armistice Day. It was not a celebration of living troops or military might, but a holiday meant to provide the country a time to reflect on how terrible war was, through the lives lost and how it should not happen again. Over time, it has moved to becoming the exact opposite, becoming a place where you should support any and every way the US enters into, simply because proud, fine, young men and women are fighting in it!
For me, the lost spirit of Veteran’s Day is captured well in the song “The General” by the band Dispatch. For those unfamiliar with the song, it talks about a ancient hold military general, who is scarred and decorated from a life of war. One night before a big battle, he has as dream that shakes him to his core. The next morning before his troops, he shocks them by ordering them all to go home.
He says that in his dream he saw the spirits of those who have already died in battle, and even seen specters of their grieving mother, and that they reveal to him that the fight is not worth fighting. He says that he will continue the fight, but that everyone else should go home. At first the men stand fast, unsure of what they are supposed to do, but eventually, one by one, they melt away. The General, left alone prepares to fight the battle alone.
War sucks away life. It sucks it away in the actual destruction of lands, lives, bodies etc. War kills life in a very literally and visceral sense. It also sucks it away in a more indirect sense. The US war budget sucks resources away from everything else that is meant to keep people alive, healthy, educated and safe. By pooling too much of your resources into machines and means of war, you not alone cannibalize yourself and your society, but you also run of risk of simply exporting violence and waging war simply because you have the means to do so. Part of the causes of World War I was that the dominant European nations had built up their armies and had modernized them until the point that they were glorious, shiny and deadly, and that they itched to use them. Un nota na tentashon, nahong na rason, as they say in Chamorro. In the time since, while it is rarely ever publicly spoken, most of the US large wars against puny opponents are far more public relations stunts as opposed to strategically important battles. The post-Cold War and post-Vietnam battles of the US are all to be just as much about showing off, testing out your expensive gadgets as they are about defeating avowed enemies.
World War II for Japan and Vietnam for the United States both produced a large number of peaceful veterans. These were people who had fought in wars, but come back convinced that it was not the right way to live, that it was in so many ways the opposite of how life should be. In the minds of many of these veterans, while their rhetoric is “no war” or that they are “against war,” this does not mean that war is never necessary. There are wars of liberation, there are actual wars of national defense, in which you could argue fighting is justified. The problem though is that every country who wants a war, always says it is justified. They always say it is in some national defense, that it is not some callous aggressive act, but rather something that is sadly necessary because of the circumstances. Afghanistan and Iraq were both nations that the US invaded with incredible force, on some flimsy logic of defending itself, when neither nation held any actual military threat to the US.
In Japan, I met several veterans from World War II who argued the same position as the General in the song mentioned above. One elderly man protesting in Henoko had fought in Japan’s imperial wars, and said that he was fighting against the expanding of the base in Henoko since it would help lead to more wars. He argued that since he was old and crippled and couldn’t fight, no one, especially a young person with their life ahead of them should have to fight for him. Instead, we should build the world through peace so that no one has to leave their families to fight against their neighbors. It is an idealistic position, but a beautiful and ethical one nonetheless. It is a one that I wish more veteran’s had, after seeing how terrible war can be, they not then celebrate the signing up of more bodies to fight and kill or oppress more people, but rather make it so that less and less people have to experience what they went through. The true message of Veteran’s Day should not be that we should unconditionally support the troops, because that makes them the perfect pawns, the perfect tools for perpetual war. You should instead support them in terms of peace, and in terms of opposing wars and keeping them from being forced to give up their lives, or take the lives of others in fights that are most likely not worth fighting.