Lesson on War

LESSON ON WAR:  Empathize with your Enemy

“One of the most fearsome ideas to emerge in the course of the 20th

century was the idea of total war – the belief that the most effective

way of winning wars was by the obliteration, or the threat of obliter-

ation of the civilian population of the enemy’s town and cities by

means of an annihilating attack from the air. . .civilians have more

and more frequently been made the target of wartime bombing, as

death, destruction and demoralization have grown increasingly inter-

twined in the search for rapid victory. “

Guernica and Total War, Ian Patterson, 2007

It seems to me the above assertion describes what’s happening today. Multiple countries are bombing Syria. They include Russia, U.S., France, and possibly Britain with assistance from Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

In the film “Fog of War”, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara outlines 11 lessons about war he had learned.  He was 85 at the time (1916 -2009); therefore, these learnings encompass WWII, Korea and Vietnam.  The film was released in May, 2003 – two years after September 11 and in the midst of the Iraq War’s beginnings.  I wish to hold up the first lesson he discussed. Empathize with your Enemy.

In his reflection, McNamara commented, “we must try to put ourselves in their skins”.  If our foreign policy used these words as foundational could it not, would it not have a profound impact on decisions made and actions taken?

We’ve all had opportunities to listen to the ongoing debate about the current war ISIS is waging and the responses of countries in the European Union, Middle Eastern nations, along with the U.S. led coalition; a coalition that is fluid. Russia, at this writing, seems to be ready to join this coalition rather than to lead the coalition Putin formed with Syria and Iran.

We know now that the U.S. preemptive strike against Iraq was based on fallacies that rendered it militarily unnecessary, politically indefensible and morally repugnant. The toll of human lives lost and those who were maimed for life, that of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi soldiers and civilians, we like wise witness today in Syria and in other countries targeted by ISIS; recently in France. In addition to military conflicts draconian cuts to domestic programs within the U.S. continue.  Domestic needs that go unmet affect the education of children, the health care of many and the services available for those who are poor.  Another major concern is the resettling of millions of refugees and migrants; many of whom come from Syria. These human costs are surely a significant part of the picture yet they are not the whole story.  The use of sophisticated weaponry has destroyed symbols and monuments of ancient civilizations along with devastation of earth’s resources.

Finally, don’t the words of former Secretary of Defense, Empathize with your Enemy, have a familiar ring?  We, who identify ourselves as disciples of Jesus and, and in fact, all peoples of faith, have heard the words: “Love your Enemy”. In today’s wars, what is the purpose of Christian Europe’s and the United States’ responses? What strategies have been chosen to ‘win’ the war against ISIS? Against Syria? What are the plans to ‘resolve’ conflicts in the Middle East? What goals are realistically possible? Have you heard or thought of alternative viable goals? Let’s think outside the box before war becomes global!

What role can each of us accept, own and execute? Let’s shift the paradigm! Contacting legislators and President Obama to express our position is a start. Speaking and listening to others can stimulate our thinking. A first hand resource is a speech Obama gave in 2014. It’s his foreign policy to deal with ISIS. https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/09/10/statement-president-isil-1

I conclude with a perspective which appears to be growing: “For western governments to reflexively visit further violence on that region (the Middle East) represents not a policy but an abdication of policy. It’s past time to think differently.” Andrew J. Bacevich is a retired US colonel, and author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, due out in April.