Friday, September 11, 2009

Conflicts Conflict

Salud, Salut, Gesund—As Long As You’re Healthy

by Mort Malkin

Conflicts Conflict

Our modern patriots would have our children go to church every Sunday, display the Ten Commandments (in stone) at our county courthouses, and pledge allegiance to the American flag at all public events. Our kids are taught that murder is immoral and illegal. [Don’t ask about the Prophet Isaiah or beating swords into plowshares.]

Promptly at age 18, they are encouraged to enlist in the Armed Forces. They are assured they won’t be assigned to the front lines [but not told that the front lines are everywhere] and that they will make the world safe for democracy [as if democracy and capitalism were the same thing]. They enlist. At basic training they learn a new morality and legality. They are taught that their M16 rifle is their best friend. At target practice, people-shaped targets are used. Just before shooting they yell “Kill, kill!” The Army is well aware of the research showing that most US soldiers in WW II were reluctant to shoot their guns in battle. Is the refusal to kill another human a part of our genome? We’ll just have to make the enemy sub-human. As the Vietnamese were called “gooks,” we label insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan “ragheads.” Perhaps teaching our soldiers Arabic and Pashto would create empathy for an enemy. Let’s not.

In Baghdad, soldiers learn to shoot first and ask questions later, if ever. They learn to drive fast, often within a year or two of a driver’s education course in high school. Survival tells them to “floor it” when approaching an overpass. 80  mph on streets and rural roads is a usual driving speed for US troops in the Middle East. Their deployment in that war zone is full of risk, and a high level of adrenalin is one of the few dependable things they experience. After a stop loss order or two, 24/7 danger seems “normal.”

When they eventually are returned to civilian life in the US – the safe, peaceful US – it seems abnormal. They are also expected to return to the morality and legalities of before they left on their foreign adventures. They no longer have the authority that goes with carrying a rifle. People don’t mosey around town with an M16. Even driving a car is subject to speed limits, only 65 mph on freeways and much less in town. In Iraq they were fighting to secure the American way of life, which they now discover is so dull. Desk jobs are especially boring. They have few options for excitement. One former soldier drives his car at 90 mph on the highway, fantasizing an escape from an ambush. Another picks fights in bars. Many of our soldiers, having survived in the Middle East, return home with an “immortality belief.” They figure “If I didn’t get killed over there, nothing is going to happen to me here.” A dangerous attitude.” The stats for suicide, divorce, and fatal auto crashes are way above those for civilians of similar ages who have not served in war. Alcohol and drug abuse may be documented by only a few hundred thousand anecdotal reports, but you better believe the real number is several times as much. As to anxiety, depression, nightmares, day fantasies, and other signs & symptoms of PTSD, the incidence is beyond statistics (BS).

Treating those who have suffered the mental and physical slings and arrows of war is a given. Looking to the fundamentals, prevention is far more promising. Let us teach the arts of diplomacy, the skills of statecraft, the techniques of negotiation – the ways of peace. We need federal funding for an Academy of Peace to balance the Military Academies of West Point, Annapolis, and Colorado Springs. We should have a Department of Peace as a counterweight to the Department of Defense (War). Edmund Burke had it right when he said, “A conscientious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood.”

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