Is the psychic cost of collateral damage is too great to fight certain kinds of wars?

I served in Vietnam in 1969-1970 and saw the results of both “collateral damage”, when our troops killed non-combatants either accidentally or in a fit of frustration-fueled rage, and the viciousness of the Vietcong against their own people. Now, watching a show about my old unit, the First Cavalry Division fighting in Sadr City during the Iraq war in 2004, I see that the enemy has changed only in outward physical appearance–heavier beards and bodies–but displays the same fanatic brutality and willingness to use their own people as shields and suicide squads. While the Islamic Jihadis and “Buddhist” communists differ in appearance and philosophies, their brutal and atavistic tactics, and their rationales are similar, as is their contempt for freedom and the envy that really drives them (high-minded justifications for envy aside). Those ruling over such people have never embraced and probably never will relate to the concept of self-government.

Neither Islam nor Communism believes in a loving God who wants a relationship with His people and rules through justice and mercy. Only a people who believe in such a God are capable of self-government without tyrannizing those who are weaker. The United States was founded on such principles, and while we have applied justice and mercy very imperfectly–as befits our sinful human natures–we have at least tried to do so, and have been getting better at it. There are many here who decry our flaws–since their standard is a perfection that doesn’t exist and never has–but name a single Islamic- or Communist-ruled society that doesn’t trample on individual freedom!

I say it is time to for us to get real about who is capable (not simply desirous of) of self-government and to whom–which nations and systems–we can afford to try to bring liberty to. The psychic cost to our nation’s soul, and to the souls of the legions of young soldiers we send into battle, of witnessing and even being drawn into the killing of non-combatants, has not been worth what has been accomplished. Are the kinds of wars we fought and are fighting in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan actually producing a groundswell of liberty to offset the alienating of generations of young people in those countries and the furthering their misery? Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a quagmire of fear and oppression, but have we made it better? Or are there many who hated Saddam now hating us? The dreadful Taliban in Afghanistan have captured so much U.S. equipment from our “allies” that many of their units are as well armed as our own soldiers. We opened schooling to girls again, only to have a better equipped Taliban come and kill the teachers and kidnap the girls.

It is time to say “certain kinds of wars we will no longer fight.” I am merely a former soldier and informed citizen, not a military or political policy expert, so the following questions are just to start the discussion:

  • What then, should be our criteria for fighting “wars of liberation” and what historical justifications are no longer (if they ever were) valid?
  • The stated rationales for starting the war in Vietnam and continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is “fight them there rather than here” and “stopping the spread” of Communism–Jihadism–whateverism. Were those ever valid? Are they valid in this world, where the U.S. is unequivocally the militarily mightiest?
  • Can a people who have never known self-government, and who have lived under or worship a religion that prizes complete submission of the individual to religious forms and rituals, adapt to and prosper under our kind of liberty? Will the more radical among them ever allow it?
  • In the one case I can think of where the U.S. broke down an oppressive feudal system and successfully transplanted democracy–post WWII Japan–we were ruthless in prosecuting the rulers of and suppressing the old system, forcing an unconditional surrender and disarming their citizenry.¬†Do we have that kind of resolve, and belief in our system anymore?
  • Since the answer to the last question is a resounding “no”, I say that our further efforts to transplant democracy in barren soil will fail.
  • The Communists won Vietnam because they were a native movement who proactively sought the logistical assistance of outside powers (China, Russia) and were willing to do whatever it took, including shedding their own blood, to be victorious. If there is any realistic hope for transplanting democracy/self-government in tyrannical soils, won’t it require the same elements from the native populations that was demonstrated in Vietnam? Of course it will, and I have not seen it.


What is your tribe?

Today I was watching a sermon by Tony Evans, my favorite preacher. When he said “if you are under fire from the enemy, you don’t care about the color, class or culture of the man fighting next to you, as long as he is shooting in the same direction” people in the congregation, both white and dark, stood up cheering. When I saw those people, I said “that’s my tribe!” Yes, I belong to a tribe…and so do you. Humans are tribal. One of the most important understandings you can come to in this life is establishing what I call your “hierarchy of identity.”

Whom do you identify with most? What is the basis of your identity? Is it what you were born with or into–skin color, geographical location, economic class, family faith or secularism? Or have you consciously chosen your hierarchy of identity? I was born into a white, jewish, middle-class family in Philadelphia, Pa., but I don’t identify with any of that. In descending order of importance, I identify as a Christian (believer in and beneficiary of the atonement of Jesus Christ); a father of my three daughters, a husband, a citizen of the United States. Those are the identities that I labor to represent well. While I am also male, heterosexual, caucasian and middle class, I don’t labor to represent well those traits nor do I promote any superiority about them–they just are. You could say that’s an indication of how fortunate I am, since those traits automatically confer great advantages in this society. I agree…and so what. I am what I am, you are what you are. What matters most is what you can become, which is a function of what you believe OR what dominates your hierarchy of identity.

Those people cheering for pastor Evans’ words–most of whom were black Americans–are my tribe because they identify¬†first as Christians, rather than by their skin color. I have no idea what their economic class is or where in the Dallas area they live. I don’t know if they are married or are parents, but none of that precludes us from being members of the same tribe, as I define it, which is the first level of my hierarchy of identity–Christian believer.

The “tribe”, as I define it, is the main filter of your worldview. Specifically for me, I filter everything that comes through my sensory apparatus as “either agrees with Biblical truth (or at least doesn’t contradict it), or opposes Biblical truth.” If the sensory input is the latter, then I know it’s false. That doesn’t mean I disregard it. My goal is to recognize the errors and to be able, when the opportunity arises, to refute, debate, oppose, ridicule or persuade–as appropriate–those who are spreading and preaching that gospel. What are some other prominent tribal identifications that present gospels in opposition to Biblical truth?

Skin color being the most visible, it is probably the most prevalent. There is also gender (feminism, transsexual), sexual preference, political affiliation, and other religions, notably Islam. So as I said, my goal is to recognize the errors and to be able, when the opportunity arises, to refute, debate, oppose, ridicule or persuade–as appropriate. So when is each appropriate? My system:

  • When their counter-gospel results in aggression–including violence and frivolous lawsuits–against members of my tribe, as with militant jihadism, militant LGBTQ activism I prefer debate, but since those tribes don’t want to debate, I am fine with ridicule/satire, opposing and refuting.
  • When their counter-gospel hurts members of their own tribe, as with gender-change surgery, I want to refute and oppose, but not ridicule, since many of the victims are children and their misguided families.
  • When their counter-gospel tries to recruit and persuade, I try to debate and oppose.
  • When their counter-gospel victimizes the helpless, like babies in the womb, I want to expose/debate, oppose and persuade.

This list of tribes and strategies is neither exhaustive nor final, though I do hope it will serve to inspire and educate members of my own tribe.  Does identifying with your tribe lead you to become a better person?