It has been revealed that former Sen. Bob Kerrey led a Navy unit that killed 13 women and children in a Vietnamese village in 1969.
Mr. Kerrey has claimed that he and his men were returning fire in the night and didn’t know they were killing civilians.
The argument over whether his actions were justified misses the point.
It has been said over and over that in war terrible things happen sometimes. I agree, but why don’t we draw the obvious conclusion from that?
If war produces such terrible events, why do our politicians keep dragging us into wars?
We were told we had to “draw the line” in Vietnam. Well, we drew the line and the communists crossed it because we couldn’t stop them. Over 47,000 Americans and God-only-knows-how-many Vietnamese died there, and still Vietnam fell to the communists.
But that hasn’t stopped our politicians from rushing Americans to fight or otherwise be killed in Panama, Iraq, Kosovo, Lebanon, Colombia, and plenty of other remote places in the world. Not one of these little adventures achieved the goal the politicians gave for going there in the first place. Or haven’t you noticed that Saddam Hussein still sits on the throne in Iraq and drug-dealing still permeates Panama?
What is war?
The politicians tell us how essential each war is — and they try to make us imagine heroic young men marching in parades, winning glorious battles, and bringing peace and democracy to the world. But their stirring phrases are meant to keep our eyes averted from what war really is.
War is your children or your grandchildren dying before they’re even fully adults, or being maimed or mentally scarred for life. It is your brothers and sisters being taught to kill other people — and to hate people who are just like themselves and who don’t want to kill anyone either. It is your children seeing their buddies’ limbs blown off their bodies.
It is hundreds of thousands of human beings dying years before their time. It is millions of people separated forever from the ones they loved.
It is the destruction of homes for which people worked for decades. It is the end of careers that meant as much to others as your career means to you.
It is the imposition of heavy taxes on you and on other Americans and on people in other countries — taxes that remain long after the war is over. It is the suppression of free speech and the jailing of people who criticize the government.
Often it has been the imposition of slavery by forcing young men to serve in the military.
War allows the politicians to goad us to hate foreign people and races — whether Arabs or Japanese or Cubans — so we become insensitive to cruelties inflicted on them. It is cheering at movies or news footage of “their” pilots killed in planes, of “their” young men blown to bits while trapped inside tanks, of “their” sailors drowned at sea.
Other tragedies inevitably trail in the wake of war. Politicians lie even more than usual. Secrecy and cover-ups become the rule rather than the exception. The press becomes even less reliable.
War is genocide, torture, cruelty, propaganda, dishonesty and slavery.
War is the worst obscenity government can inflict upon its subjects. It makes every other political crime — corruption, bribery, favoritism, vote-buying, graft, dishonesty — seem petty.
If government has a role to play in foreign affairs, it isn’t to win wars, to assure that the right people run foreign countries, to protect innocent foreigners from guilty aggressors, or to make the world safe for democracy — or even a safer place at all.
If government has a role, it can be only to keep us out of wars — to make sure no one will ever attack us, to make certain you can live your life in peace, to assure you the freedom to ignore who is right and who is wrong in foreign conflicts.
The only reason for military power is to discourage attackers, and — if they come anyway — to repel them at our borders. Such things as stationing troops in far-off lands, meddling in foreign disputes, and sending our children to foreign countries as “peacekeepers” only encourage war.
To make America safer and to assure that we stay at peace, we don’t need to put more weapons in the hands of government employees, or to reform military purchasing methods, or to make more treaties with other governments, or to increase the military budget.
In fact, we need just the opposite of these things. We need to make it as hard as possible for politicians to involve us in war. And we need to discover a defense system that relies as little as possible on the normal workings of government.
Government is no more able to achieve military goals than it is to end poverty or stop drug use or run our health-care system. And it’s time we started questioning why we allow politicians to continually drag us into unwinnable and fatal conflicts.
More important than asking whether Sen. Kerrey’s actions in Vietnam were justified is the question: Why was he there in the first place?