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05/12/2004 Archived Entry: "Photo Album of Warfare"

I was going to spool off a rant about the latest findings from “Photo-Gate” and the various Senatorial discussions with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, et al. It was all carefully laid out, how the now infamous Abu Ghraib prison photos were violations of the Geneva Convention, the U.S. Constitution, Federal law, the Armed Services Code of Conduct, not to mention every moral maxim for civilized behavior. But then I saw the video of Nicholas Berg's death.

Like the wake-up of 911, the 311 Madrid bombings, and the mutilations in Falluja, Berg’s horrendous execution has put this entire conflict into a class by itself. It is clear to me that this war is not like any this country has ever engaged. For that matter, it is unlike any struggle modern history has ever recorded. There’s only one epoch where history comes close to such barbarism: the Crusades, and I do mean the entire era and all the campaigns that were undertaken between the 9th and 14th centuries.

For one thing, you can strike the simplistic view that this war is ALL ABOUT oil - it plays a role in a cast of dozens of causes. And forget the weird conspiracies between the families of Saud, bin Laden, and Bush - they may be powerful, but they're not gods. As any student of history will tell you, great wars transcend many events and a myriad of things. They also revolve around whole cultures, not select families, and often take several generations to percolate to the top. For example, high school history often cites the assassination of Prince Ferdinand as the flashpoint for World War I. But once you learn about the Napoleonic Era and the first Balkan Wars, it is clear that the assassination was a culmination of a string of events that made war inevitable. Such was the case for the American Civil War, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, and a host of other military engagements.

History may decide that Bush’s invasion of Iraq thwarted a far greater crisis such as a radioactive World War III. I say radioactive for two reasons, the first is obvious. Hussein may not have had WMDs kicking around for us to find, but he and his cohorts would have eventually acquired them. The second rationale rests on the reality that oncoming war of cultures may easily turn into a world conflict with crusade-like proportions. The “Mother of all Wars” would have most certainly dragged on for years, if not decades, and involved just about every country in the world that has a gun. We may yet see something of such conflagration, but there’s a significant strategic difference now, thanks to Dubya’s intercession.

Just in case this is starting to sound like I’m turning around in support of the Bushmen, allow me to state that I’d rather cash in my keyboard before I ever allowed myself to do such a thing. I don’t like the way this war has been conducted, I don’t like the politics, I don’t appreciate the policies, and I most certainly do not enjoy the protracted bungling that has been committed by Bush and company. Rather, I hold the Taoist view that real wisdom is acquired when one can see where the extremes of an argument agree. I don’t like this war, but I see its cruel necessity. Furthermore, it was better that it began our timetable than on somebody else’s.

I’m a war games fan. I played Stratego, Risk, Go, Chess, and other games throughout most of my childhood. I’m also fairly adept at computer games like Empire and Civilization – the former is all about warfare and the latter inevitably involves war because, as we know from history, wars are the builders and destroyers of civilizations (e.g., Troy, Persian, Roman, Mongolian). The games have taught me a few valuable lessons about the principles of warfare. I learned long ago, from chess in particular, that in the commission of war, the defender has a 3:1 advantage over an attacker. Another thing I learned is that “power” can be defined in several ways, such as preparedness of assets, battlefield advantage, and timing. Americans are renown for owning the best prepared military assets in history - I'll just say "Desert Storm" to illustrate that point. A key component of the battlefield advantage is the location of the battle itself, a point clearly illustrated by the 15th century Battle of Agincourt when superior French forces destroyed themselves in a field of mud while trying to engage the feeble English forces of Henry V. And, of course, timing is absolutely vital, an element forever memorialized by the D Day invasion of Normandy. Which delivers us to why Americans are engaged in Iraq at this particular moment in history.

Of course you could trace the source for this conflict back to the aforementioned Crusades, but in real terms, they really started to come to a head in the colonial times when Europeans began meddling with ethnic boundaries, tribal traditions, and so on. Like a wandering river, trouble meanders through several wars of independence, collects its strength by the rise of the kingdoms, gains momentum from both world wars, and comes crashing into the present day when, in 1979, Islamic fundamentalists overthrew the Shah of Iran. Since then, the fundamentalist ideology has coupled with rampant poverty and mixed with the growing disillusionment of the Arabic masses. The risk for open revolt, thus an religion-inspired international war, has been festering unabated for more than two decades and has been greatly aided by the uneven distribution of oil wealth. It seems that the kingdoms of Arabia have not used the opportunity of enormous cash surpluses to diversify their economies nor to elevate the quality of life for their countrymen.

The insatiable resentment that has been allowed to swell (some say encouraged) among the downtrodden has played into the fundamentalists’ advantage. Under the guise of Jihad, various factions have positioned themselves to secure their religious prophecies and thus, ensure their longevity. One such faction is the Wahhab, which have long since scorned Western civilization and currently holds an iron grip over much of the Islamic Middle-East, including our supposed great ally, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Wahhabism is also the root Islamic philosophy that drives the fanatics of Al Qaeda. Kids from poverty-stricken families trade cards and pogs that bear the pictures of celebrated martyrs and actions of defiance. According to the doctrine of the more strident mullahs, not only do they want to banish us from their lands, they wish to wipe away Western culture from the face of God’s earth with our blood. It is written, they say. It is Allah’s will.

So, it turns out that invading Iraq was possibly a brilliant stroke that has put our forces smack dab in the middle of what I will argue is a huge zone of conflict. And if you hold true that that some history is meant to be written then possibly George W. was the man to put it into motion. By holding fortified positions within Iraq, the U.S. owns a major strategic and tactical advantage that may be pivotal in our later defense. While the precise timing is questionable, the location is perfect – Bush and Rumsfeld have the knights and rooks locked onto the center mass of an area that could have been part a contiguous fundamentalist nation whose aim would be our destruction. I predict that a new batch of leaders will be needed to help us capitalize on our advantage (e.g., drawing in the support of the international community), but as they say, in warfare, all is fluid until the last crash of arms.

Bungling aside, Bush has us fully committed and ideally situated. So, I think it is safe to say that there will likely be more battles, more torture, and many more atrocities to come. We should also expect more photos – those seem to really get the message across. -HP

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