By Karl Homann
On September 25, 2014, I saw in the Stadtmuseum of Salzburg an exhibition of black and white photos, which depicted the effects World War l had had on the birth city of Mozart. Suddenly it dawned on me that 100 years and a couple of months had passed since its beginning in 1914. And I asked myself whether anything had changed.
Bertrand Russell said: War is not about who wins, but about who is left. I am one of those “left,” a child of war, left after WW II which followed only 25 years after the first; “left” with bloody feet, at the age of four and at two o’clock in the morning, after walking barefoot through the sticky blood of my mother, of my one-year-old brother, and of my grandparents who had been shot in front of me.
THAT is war! Not the thing we see on TV as if it were a game in a video arcade: the little radar square of the target followed by a large cloud of greyish dust – no ear splitting explosions, no screams, no blood and guts spilled on a cold stone floor. Nice and precise; clean and antiseptic; far away and somewhere else.
And so we carry on with “playing at war.” In the seventy years since the end of the Second World War, there has hardly been a year in which there was not a military conflict somewhere on earth. We all remember the big ones: Korea (1950), Cambodia (1955), Vietnam (1961-1975), Iraq (Desert Storm, 1991), Bosnia (1990s). We invent catchy and dishonest names for them, like “Operation Power Pack” (Dominican Republic, 1965), “Operation Just Cause“ (Panama, 1989), “Restore Hope” (Somalia, 1993) etc. so that our military meddling in the affairs of others in fact sound like games in a video arcade.
We conveniently forget smaller events such as “Operation Urgent Fury”. If I stopped here, not many would remember that I am referring to the “glorious” victory over the “mighty” island of Granada (1983) and its 90,000 inhabitants by a bully of 300,000,000. I don’t forget because I vacationed on Grenada a couple of months after the invasion. I saw the T-shirts with Reagan’s mug shot and the cynical inscription, “Thank you Mr. President for liberating us.” And I have read Margaret Thatcher’s message she sent to Ronald Reagan on the very morning of the invasion, Tuesday, October 25, 1983:
“This action will be seen as intervention by a Western country in the internal affairs of a small independent nation, however unattractive its regime… I cannot conceal that I am deeply disturbed by your latest communication. You asked for my advice. I have set it out and hope that even at this late stage you will take it into account before events are irrevocable.”
When Thatcher telephoned Reagan twenty minutes later, he assured her that an invasion was not contemplated.
Reagan later said,”She was very adamant and continued to insist that we cancel our landings on Grenada. I couldn’t tell her that it had already begun.
So, Operation Urgent Fury turned into “Operation Urgent Lie.”
And now we are dealing, of course, with the aftermath of Iraq (another “urgent lie”) and Afghanistan. We will continue down this path for as long as we tolerate a death culture that kills unarmed teenagers on our streets and ambushes policemen in their line of duty; for as long as we cheer at the execution of a human being in state-sanctioned murders (death penalty); for as long as we believe in such asinine slogans as “guns don’t kill; people do;” for as long as those who invade other countries without cause or with blatant lies are not hauled in front of the International Court of Justice for crimes against humanity because they believe themselves of superior moral standing; for as long as those who clamour for war have not waded barefoot in the blood of their own family, as I have.
We are hypocritically disgusted with Putin over his aggression in the Ukraine and Crimea, yet he had some egregious role models to follow.Now we are dealing with Al-Qaeda and the ascendency of ISIL in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt and Libya and are rightfully dismayed by their vicious cruelty. But they are our creations. We are reaping what we sowed. Al-Qaeda was formed at some point between August 1988 and late 1989, with origins traceable to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Of course, in our willful ignorance, we didn’t learn.
And ISIL or ISIS was formed by the merger of different Iraqi insurgency groups in 2006, not as the political narrative of some “news” outlets want us to believe, after Obama withdrew US troops “prematurely” from Iraq. No, it happened at the very height of the Iraqi war.
What will we do next? Will we go after ISIL and its affiliates in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, North Africa, Somalia and Nigeria all at once? Or will we let the arch villain Iran do it for us? How ironic!
Heraclitus of Ephesus (535 – c. 475 BCE), “the weeping philosopher,” wrote: War is father of all and king of all; and some he made gods, some men; some he made slaves, some free. Who are we?
In answer to my earlier question, have we learned anything since 1914? No, nothing! We are still playing at war for the same dishonest reasons and lies as we did before. Twelve-Step Recovery Programs define insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Could the same definition apply to our insane addiction to war?