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War is not Hell; War is Worse

President Obama’s decision to respond to the horror and conflict in Syria makes me think of that line in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” where one of the characters says, “This is as strange a maze as ever men trod.”

How do you watch children and women and people of all ages being gassed to death, writhing in convulsions and gasping for air, and not want to immediately do something about it?

And yet, how will throwing a few bombs at Assad’s air force do anything to change the dynamic or stop the carnage?

I believe President Obama is a man who truly wrestles with all of this. He obviously is counting the political costs, but I do believe he is a man with a conscience. I think he wants to do the right thing, but I’m not sure he knows what is right in this instance. His “red line” comment was careless and not well thought through. It put him in a spot where he is forced now to back it up in some way.

But let’s not pretend the Congress and especially all of the Republican/Tea Party leaders are not playing politics with this as well. Many on the right are just using the conflict as another way to attack President Obama and somehow shame or discredit him.

I watched some of the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing this week on President Obama’s request to put together some kind of military response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons on his people. Some of the questions and comments by some of the members were just pathetic; nothing but petty attacks on the President. Just the same old carping on and on about the most useless, inane stuff that had no relevance to the real issues; it was just mud being thrown at President Obama.

The major players in this decision seem to me defeated. Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, are all aging men who seemed in the hearing to be bone weary in answering the committee’s questions. And the President himself is getting swaths of gray hair with each passing day. He seems at times drained by the ordeal; his eyes are often bleary and empty, his voice robotic, his words jaded.

I have heard nothing yet that sounds like a convincing argument for any kind of military attack on Syria. At first, when I saw the news videos of those little children helplessly trying to breathe, trying to stay alive after being poisoned with gas, I was ready for the U.S. to go over there and level Assad’s palace, destroy their entire arsenal of weapons, vaporize their planes and air strips, and just wipe the place clean.

But after coming out of that trance of anger I then began thinking we have no business in this fight. Let Syria and the rest of the Middle East settle their own problems. Yes, there will be bloodshed, and brutality of all kinds, and senseless destruction. But how is our presence in the conflict going to change any of that.

And who are the rebels fighting Assad anyway? We still don't know.

The old TV series M*A*S*H, is a show set in the Vietnam War and showing, with comedy and drama, the struggles of the men and women fighting it.  In one scene where Hawkeye, a surgeon, and Father Mulcahy, a priest, are talking about war there is this exchange:

Father Mulcahy: War is Hell.
Hawkeye: War isn’t Hell. War is war, and Hell is Hell. And of the two, war is a lot worse.
Father Mulcahy: How do you figure, Hawkeye?
Hawkeye: Easy, Father. Tell me, who goes to Hell?
Father Mulcahy: Sinners, I believe.
Hawkeye: Exactly. There are no innocent bystanders in Hell. War is chock full of them—little kids, cripples, old ladies. In fact, except for some of the brass, almost everybody involved is an innocent bystander.

The chance that more children and women, the elderly and other innocent bystanders, not to mention our own pilots and perhaps our other soldiers, will be senselessly killed if we get involved in Syria’s conflict is without question. And for what purpose?

Whether it’s chemical warfare or conventional warfare or nuclear warfare the result is always the same. People die. People die horrible deaths. People die in their homes. People die trying to run away. People die with their children cradled in their arms. Buildings are flattened. Cities are destroyed. Whole cultures are disrupted and thrown into chaos.

In George Orwell’s harrowing novel, “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” the message of “doublespeak,” where the meaning of words are distorted or even reversed, rules society. And so the people come to believe: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

If we want something to fight, that is it.


© 2013 Timothy Moody

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