Sunday, September 16, 2007

To End a War

Listening to American politicians debate how to (or whether to) end their role in the Iraq war has left me wondering if any of the discussion makes sense.

How do you end a war? When is it over?

This is a crucial question.

One of the tragic flaws of the whole War on Terror (and the Iraq War, which has been lumped in with it) is that there is no clear way of knowing when it's done. Terror is an abstraction. There is no fixed target or enemy. There is no measurable means of claiming victory and bowing out, as there would be in a war over, say, territory. Hence, the war can never end.

Maybe we can say that very classical wars--and only classical wars-- have measurable endings. Everything ends with the treaty.

Yet World War I didn't end with the treaty because of the revenge it imposed on Germany. Instead, that "end" fed animosity and led to the rise of Hitler and World War II. So it really wasn't much of an "end" at all. And what about Bismark's war before World War I-- did the "end" of that war not feed directly into World War I?

How far back can we go?

Treaties in and of themselves don't end wars.

More war doesn't end wars either. Many people believe that World War II ended because of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. But this atrocity only created detente.

No, the Marshall Plan ended World War II. The Marshall Plan was the stake driven into the heart of a long line of wars that wouldn't end. Afterward, there was peace.

Because the real war was not in the guns and bombs: it was in the hearts and minds of the people. When the shootings and bombings stop, you have detente. To end a war, you have to end the hatred and quell the thirst for revenge.

On both sides.

That's what the Marshall Plan did. It built the foundation for peace. It reduced the likelihood of continued misery. It created hope. It forged a bond of forgiveness and respect.

Ending a war means listening, talking, admitting mistakes and atrocities, making amends, rebuilding, giving, forgiving.

This can only happen at the negotiation table.

And that is the tragedy. That is why this war will never end.

America doesn't negotiate with terrorists.


At 4:17 PM, Blogger Brian said...

This makes me a little sad and a little afraid. The drumbeat towards conflict with Iran is getting louder each day, a course that would be insane for our country and the entire Middle-east and South Asia.

We've been watching Ken Burns' "The War" at home over the past few days (God bless TiVo), and I'm struck with the feeling about, even with the nuances that Burns provides on the "really, really bad parts", one cannot help but feel an enormous contrast between "the necessary War" that was WWII, and the utterly unnecessary conflicts we're engaged in now.

Yet, as many have said "they declared war on us".

Even six years later I lack the clarity to really parse what's happening in the world.


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