The Privilege Of Watching War

Submitted by James E. Miller via Mises Canada,

Iraq War the Third is now in its nascent stages. Last week, after a slew of confused press reports, President Obama ordered a number of airstrikes in the Northern territory of Iraq. This was called a “humanitarian intervention” to protect a cultish religious sect known as the Yazidis from warring Islamic jihadists. But as war journalist Eric Margolis points out, the strikes were more likely “aimed at bolstering US-backed Kurds against the advancing Islamic State forces.” And, of course, oil played a role in strikes as well. In times of war, truth in reporting takes a backseat to hidden agendas.

Obama assured us little people that he wouldn’t escalate conflict with boots on the ground, telling reporters, “American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq because there is no American military solution to the crisis in Iraq.” On that remark, let’s hope he’s right. What possible good could come of invading Iraq again? The last tango in the desert failed miserably. Liberal democracy did not bloom on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates. It’s hard to establish Anglo-Saxon norms in an artificial country formed by Europeans technocrats a century ago.

As American-made bombs decimate the Iraqi landscape once again, neoconservatives in Washington D.C. are busy salivating at the prospect of being relevant once again. The usual suspects of chicanery – including but not limited to Elliot Abrams, John Yoo, and Frederick Kagan – are all weighing in on the decision. Suddenly, they have forgotten that, as architects of W. Bush’s Iraq crusade, they played a helping role in destabilizing the region for the fanatics of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to take over.

It’s amazing the level of cognitive dissonance displayed by the media while reporting on this latest dustup. The men and women who agitate for non-stop war will continue to use their voice to push for more action.  Rarely is a mic afforded to anyone longing for peace.

How long the latest rash of missile strikes will go on is anyone’s guess, outside the president himself. Obama assures us he “will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq,” but let’s not be fooled: airstrikes are an act of war, and U.S. troops never really left Iraq to begin with – they merely switched names. This is a continuation of nation-building and endless war. And we’ll have the pleasure of playing spectators from the comfort of our couch, watching the evening news.

The prospect of renewed war has little effect on the public anymore. We have been desensitized to the violence because it seemingly never stops. Material capitalism has created a state of luxury never known to mankind before our current day; yet it renders our sympathy for the plight of others flaccid. We watch movies and play video games and pretend to know what war is like. But in reality, we can’t begin to understand how it feels to live under the threat of bombs and shrapnel every day.

As Americans, and Westerners, we are gifted with the option to not partake directly in war, but play the casual observer. It’s a privilege; and not at all like the class privilege egalitarians are constantly harping about. To see explosions go off in foreign lands, destroying homes, mutilating children, killing family members, is a jarring sight. But as long as it’s a pixelated image on a computer screen, it fails to have the same heart-wrenching effect as if it were occurring just a few feet away. It fails to invoke the emotional intensity that is the most potent weapon in battle. It fails to show the emotional impetus that is behind vindictive combat.

How lucky we are to be far removed from the cries of a mother whose child was collateral damage in an air strike. How lucky we are to not have our brothers and sisters disintegrated before our eyes. How lucky we are to not have our parents taken from us by stray bullets. How lucky are we not to have a generation of orphans, angry over the death of their mothers and fathers and wishing to exact revenge.

The new Vice News documentary on the growing Islamic State in Syria provides a candid but eerie look into the internal deliberations of West-hating Muslim fanatics. These aren’t ordinary folks happy with careers and raising families. They live for jihad. They feed children propaganda on why American and European infidels must die. What’s discomforting about this mindset is that it’s not completely unjustifiable. At one point during the mini-series, a pious man dedicated to the cause of the Islamic State declares, “we are going to invade you as you invaded us. We will capture your women as you captured our women. We will orphan your children as you orphaned our children.”

Can it really be denied that a century of meddling in the Middle East hasn’t created this sentiment of seething vengefulness? Who are we, as Americans and citizens of militarily-dominant countries, to sit back and ignore this type of anger, when under the same circumstances, we would feel the same way? Such unfettered rage demands reflection: how blessed we are to not live in such a maddening state. And how fortunate we are to have an ocean of distance between us and pit of despair known as the Middle East.

It’s truly unfortunate how the suffering of others helps us to understand the blessings wrought by domestic tranquility. The other day, I shared an elevator with Eli Lake of The Daily Beast. Well-respected as a foreign policy analyst with high-ranking connections, Lake is one of the biggest agitators for war in the media. Seeing him up close was quite a revelation. Clad in nicely-fitted dress clothes, I was struck by Lake’s protruding belly. It was reminiscent of when I ran into Bill Kristol months before in the same elevator. Same clothes, same overweight figure.

These men have the benefit of filling their gullets at rubber chicken dinners while begging for death and destruction across the globe. They don’t don military garb, pick up AR-15s and take care of business themselves. They would rather stare into a television camera and make the case for other people’s children to go off and die in war.

Is this really human progress? Have we reached the pinnacle of human existence where men can live comfortably cheerleading for mass murder? Did anybody think to question this outcome of secular materialism before celebrating its benefits?

For now, the warmongers will get their wish. Obama’s airstrikes aren’t short-term. They will go on until the Iraqi government gets a handle on the jihadists wreaking havoc in the country; the probability of which is quite low. As Daniel Larson writes, “it will be only a matter of time before there are demands for escalation and deeper involvement.” Such is American foreign policy. We pay for it without actually paying the true price of anxiety and bloodshed (families of dead and wounded veterans are an exception). As long as war is kept at arm’s length, it will continue to happen. We will avoid the true price of government slaughter, until the consequences finally reach our shores, just as they did on September 11th, 2001. By then, many will mourn the relative peace we were so lucky to have enjoyed.