The Gnarly Psychology of Unnecessary War

We have a big problem in Iraq: We Really. Really. Really. Screwed up.

The basic scenario we all know, of course. Saddam Hussein, admittedly a bad guy, was also a secularist who kept Al Qaeda and other Islamist fundamentalists out of his country, as well as Iran's dictatorship at bay. With our invasion of Iraq (see Charles Ferguson's extraordinary documentary, No End in Sight) -- to the tune of two trillion dollars, almost 5,000 American lives lost and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives lost - we paved the way for what is happening now. Terrorists too radical even for Al Qaeda have taken over the second largest city in Iraq and seem headed for Baghdad, while Iran is now more of a problem than when Saddam was acting as a buffer. 

This entire scenario could have been predicted - in fact it was predicted-- by those arguing against the invasion of Iraq at the time. Such voices were easily marginalized, however, by mainstream media simply toeing the government line about weapons of mass destruction. Government PR lackeys posing as journalists underreported the anti-war effort, painting a picture of those who opposed the war as unsophisticated peaceniks, fuzzy-brained ragamuffin types who simply didn't understand the complicated analysis and profound, wise warnings being touted by the esteemed warmongers in business suits then running our affairs.

The warmongers spoke in well-modulated tones, drowning out the voices of those who were upset by the prospect of innocent people dying for no good reason. There were anti-war protests all over the country but little good they did when basically ignored by the media hacks who capitulated, no-real-questions-asked, to the Administration's Iraqi war plans. I remember Dennis Kucinich saying there would be hand-to-hand combat in Baghdad, and the elite just rolled their eyes. Like really, how ridiculous; did he not know we would be out of there within six weeks?

So here we are. As an Iraqi woman bitterly expressed to me on my radio show a few years ago, "When Saddam and his sons were alive, we knew we had three devils. But we were waiting for them to die, and planning what we would do then. Now, with what has happened, there are devils on every corner." I think about that woman now; the militants who have captured Mosul have declared Shariah law in that city, saying they will do so in every city they capture and shooting on sight anyone refusing to acquiesce.

President Obama and his foreign policy team will decide what to do now. Do we aid the Iraqis against the militants at this point? And if we do, in what way? What if Iraq falls to the fundamentalist insurgents? I don't envy anyone having to decide what to do with the mess we have on our hands now. 

Nor do I claim to have any answers on a military level. But I know this: military issues are not the only level of the problem, and they're not the only level of the solution. Nothing the government does now - no action or non-action on its part - will change the fundamental trajectory of national tragedy - and I don't just mean Iraq's - if we, the American people, do not wake up to what has happened here. We have gone from a country that fought World War 2 with a sober understanding of the perils if not the necessities of war, to a country repeatedly prey to the militaristic prowess of a military-industrial-governmental complex we seem to have a hard time recognizing for what it is: often anything but patriotic and often anything but sane.

Like an emotionally addicted lover who will simply not admit that our partner is a narcissist with no capacity for empathy or concern for anyone's needs but their own, the American people have allowed ourselves to be played like a fiddle at the cost of blood and almost unimaginable suffering for hundreds of thousands of people. 

This is not just a political problem; it is a psychological one. And until we solve that problem - until we take our house keys back from a sociopathic establishment -- we will continue the tragic dysfunction that has taken us from Vietnam to Iraq, now already evident in heady though blessedly distant drum rolls of the genuinely insane dingaling, "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran." 

The American people have been suckers for decades now, for serious-sounding men and women in business suits spouting nationalistic crap about the necessity of applying brute force in places where it is patently absurd to do so. That crowd of well-dressed liars sent young, brave but surely terrified Americans into an unnecessary and ill-conceived war in Iraq that they planned ten years prior to Bush even being in the White House, while they sipped champagne and kissed each other on the cheek at Washington cocktail parties. They lied about yellowcake uranium, they played Colin Powell like an unsuspecting puppy, and -- oh, did I mention this? -- they and their friends made millions and even billions of dollars by prosecuting that war. According to The Financial Times, Halliburton has earned $39.5 billion on the Iraq War so far.

If karma, or the Law of Cause and Effect, applies to nations as it applies to individuals - and it does - then God help us. And it is time to admit to ourselves the painful truth: that we allowed all this to happen. Too cowed, too busy, too unconcerned - whatever we were - we allowed it to happen in big ways and small, and every individual has to decide for him or herself what he or she might have done differently in the run up to this awful moment. One thing is for sure, however: we as a generation have allowed ourselves to be played. It's hard to admit this, but things will not fundamentally change until we do.

This problem will not be solved by merely changing the political guard in Washington; it will be solved by changing our hearts, waking up as citizens, and taking responsibility for the awful fact that none of this could have happened had we not been far too eager, time and time again, to look the other way while the voices of militarism, warmongering and economic imperialism - simply by manipulating media symbols and our emotions - had their way with us, turning a great nation into fools. 

It happened in Vietnam. Now it has happened in Iraq. How many times will we allow people to die in wars that its planners later call, as Robert McNamara did the Vietnam war, "a terrible mistake"? There is, quite simply, too much blood on American hands. With a 650 billion dollar annual Defense budget and a military-industrial complex extracting from the pool of our national resources not only our money, but the blood of our young soldiers and our moral standing with God and the rest of humanity, this is just one more reason why it's time for the American people to take back our country, reclaim our democracy, and make right our conscience before it is too late. 

The process of healing - whether in an individual's life or in a nation's life -- begins with a simple, humble atonement for our errors. We need to take ownership of the problem before we can take ownership of the solution, and the biggest problem is within ourselves. With a Presidential election coming up, it's extremely important that we stop being such easy marks for tough-on-national-security arguments that only use and abuse us. Sometimes, wisdom only comes when we've faced the horrible fact that we've behaved like fools. 

In our foolishness, we acquiesced to nothing short of patterns of willful, unnecessary killing. For killing is what war is. And that is why it should never, ever happen for any other reason than the most radical necessity. Those who say this are not immature children; in fact, increasingly they're the only grownups in the room. A stupid, unnecessary war is not something to brag about; it's something for which to humbly ask God's forgiveness.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln in declaring a National Day of Fasting and Prayer on March 30, 1863, "...It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness. It is the duty of nations as well as of men, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon..."

With events like those occurring in Iraq right now, we should realize that our window of time is starting to close. Lincoln's injunction that we should throw ourselves on the mercy of God might sound crazy to the warmongers, but it's time at last for them to sound crazy to us.


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