I saw on MSNBC.com that the first wave of U. S. strikes against the Taliban have begun this morning. The Taliban has moved 8,000 to 10,000 to the Afghan borders to defend itself. We have somewhere between 30,000 to 50,000 troops in the region — nothing like the huge buildup we had in the region in 1991 in preparation for a war against Iraq, but enough to significantly outnumber what the Taliban can bring to bear. And while the Taliban may possess U. S. trained guerillas, they also have thousands upon thousands of empovershed citizens who don’t really give a damn one way or the other since they haven’t really eaten in decades. I don’t have a doubt that we’ll win some sort of victory. I just hope that it isn’t at the cost of thousands of innocent lives.
This is just the beginning, of course. If we go back to my old analogy of terrorists being like ants, then this is just like the first stage in the battle: spraying Raid on the first colony you find, for example. This isn’t going to be a "media-friendly" war, where you can send reporters in to the battle scenes, since the strikes will probably be quick and surgical when the "nests" are found. So, just like in the Gulf War, we’ll have to rely on official military briefings for news of what’s happening.
I’ve been paying attention to the conspiracy theorists, some of whom believe that the attack on September 11th was orchestrated by the Bush Administration to shore up a sagging presidency and a weakening economy. It didn’t work for Bush Sr., of course; winning a decisive victory in Iraq gave him the highest approval rating of any president in U. S. history, but that didn’t stop him from losing to Bill Clinton in the presidential elections just a few months later. And Bush, Jr., has years to make mistakes; no, this sort of orchestration would have been better done towards the end of his presidency (and much as I dislike Bush, I doubt that he would sink so low as to engineer the deaths of nearly six thousand people on American soil just to make himself look good; the chances of being found out are too great and if he ever is found out then what happened to Nixon would pale in comparison to what would happen if Bush were found out; Bush may be a moron but he isn’t evil).
I worry about "safe" wars. We saw during World War Two, with the Holocaust, just how low humanity is capable of sinking (and I think it should be mentioned that Hitler and his crew, who were white, engineered millions upon millions of deaths of innocents, far more than extremist Muslim terrorists ever have), and we saw more of it during the Vietnam War. If the media is removed from the battlefields, will we forget that war his its horrors and its villainy and evil, since we’ll never see them? I hope not.
In one of my favorite episodes of the original Star Trek television series, "The Armageddon Factor", two planets have waged a war against each other for centuries. Their war has become "clean" and "sanitized", and computers do all of the fighting. When the computers inform the population that a bomb has struck a city, all of the people in that city go to extermination chambers to be killed cleanly. Captain Kirk destroys the computers that wage this virtual war; when asked, "What are you doing?" by the outraged leaders of the two worlds, he tells them, "I’ve made war what it’s supposed to be for you: dirty, evil, horrific. Now maybe you’ll finally make peace."
I’m worried about the innocent people of Afghanistan whose only crime was to be forced into a totalitarian regime that doesn’t care about them; I’m worried about how such sanitized conflict as this one is liable to be will affect our country’s moral fiber. On the other hand, I’m encouraged by how far out of their way the government and the media in our country seem to be going to make it clear that it’s terrorists who are the enemy here, not Islám; President Bush has visited mosques, television commercials present Arab Americans prominently, at least one interfaith ceremony involving Congress featured a Muslim Imam praying for peace. The terrorists who struck on September 11 represent traditional Islám no more than Fred Phelps or Jerry Falwell represent traditional Christianity.
I am an optimist. I believe with at least a big chunk of my heart, if not all of it, that humanity has progressed morally over the centuries. I believe that the age of the "Big Wars" has passed, that we’ll probably never see another massive large-scale combat like World Wars I or II. I believe that there will one day be world peace, but that it may be, literally, a thousand years before it is achieved.
I hope more than anything that our country has learned from its mistakes in the past with regards to this sort of thing. We have a history of going in, supporting rebels and freedom fighters, then leaving them in the lurch and having them come back years later to bite us in the rear out of bitterness and fury. Witness Saddam Hussein. Witness Osama bin Laden. Heck, witness Germany (I’ve heard more than one historian claim that if Germany had not been so crippled by the peace treaties that ended the First World War, then the Second World War would probably have never happened). This will probably be the end of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan; I really hope that we’re willing to stick around afterwards and help clean up our own mess for a change.