Today, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, President Obama cautiously declared, “we have overcome slavery and civil war, bread lines and fascism, recessions and riots, communism, and yes, we will survive terrorism.” Yet the psychological scars left from that day continue to split the country. Here I argue that beyond political malfeasance, understanding the realities of war can help us transcend this challenge.
Hinduism offers the oldest definition of just versus unjust war, one fought in the open, the other in secrete. The road to Iraq was paved with far more duplicity, conspiracy, and manipulation than Afghanistan. This is further emphasized by the military differences between the two wars: in Iraq, the major oversight of ignoring social relations in the country may have cost America a swift victory. Afghanistan, by comparison, was never an easy target because of its geography.
Yet the tangled intrigue of the Iraq invasion makes this kind of comparison difficult to the average person. For one thing it is too easy to focus attention on fantastic aspects – like WMDs – and ignore a simple interpretation.
George Tenet, then director of the CIA, has been criticized heavily for his famous remark to President Bush that the case for the existence of WMDs in Iraq was a “grandslam”. From the beginning the CIA and Pentagon fully denied the existence of any connections between Saddam Hussien and Al Qaeda, which was the original motive offered for invading Iraq. Rumsfeld and Cheney ignored this and ordered their own private investigation; they cherry picked allegations from tortured prisoners; at the time of invasion, 70 percent of Americans believed there in fact was a connection. Only in this climate of fear could the American public have been led into a fallacious war.
Fog of war, fear and uncertainty have immense effects on our well being and cohesion. Consider the opportunity costs of Iraq – what if that money and attention were spent domestically, would we have slipped into the current depression and unprecedented political bickering in Congress we now have? The failure to bring public figures to justice, despite such incredible evidence of their malfeasance, has likely reduced our sense of connection and trust in ourselves. Significantly, many schools have recanted from teaching civics course since 9/11. It is now essential to rediscover the virtuous image of America lost in past years. Some might shy away from discussing our role in war both just and unjust. But as the invasion of Mexico led Henry Thoreau to say, in 1940, “I quarrel not with far-off foes, but with those who, neat at home, co-operate with, and do the bidding of, those far away, and without whom the latter would be harmless.”