26. May 2008 · Comments Off on Another Country and Another War · Categories: General, GWOT, History, Iraq, N. Korea, War

Once there was a country, a foreign country which hardly anyone in the US save for a handful of scholars and specialists had ever heard of, and certainly cared little about. It wasn’t a country that had contributed many immigrants to the United States – not like England, or Ireland, Germany or Italy. It couldn’t be described as a Christian country, although there was a substantial Christian element. It was just one of those faraway foreign places that Americans really didn’t give a rip about until a shooting war started there, and American boys died in quantities in locations with strange-sounding names.

So, there was a war, and American troops were in the middle of it, along with some stout allies, a war that looked uncomfortably like a civil war, with saboteurs and insurrectionists and foreign sympathizers to the side the Americans were fighting against, sneaking over the borders – there were even other nations giving substantial aid and comfort to the side that the Americans were fighting!

This country was a wrecked and traumatized place – once it had boasted a proud and independent culture, but it had been occupied and broken to the will of the conqueror, a brutal dictator that had imposed alien concepts and practices upon it, and used their young men to fight in regional wars. But the conqueror did not think much of the fighting qualities of those soldiers – and neither did the Americans, at first. Here they were, spending their lives, their blood and treasure in defense of a people who seemed hapless in their own defense. Bit by slow and painstaking bit, progress was made: soldiers were created out of seeming unpromising materiel. Sometimes it seemed that every one of these solders had to have an American soldier at his elbow, giving patient instruction… and yet, and yet, when the war ended – the country thus painfully established was still there.

And of course, being a bloody and seemingly unpopular war, with a full schedule of blunders, incompetence and atrocities – both actual and alleged – there was the usual sort of newspaper headlines. Never mind about the successes, the space and time that was bought in American blood for the inhabitants of that country to recover, to find their own feet, tend their gardens and begin to build again. Never mind all that – good news doesn’t sell. Some of this country’s home-grown politicians turned out to be of an unsavory sort, more authoritarian than truly democratic, so there was another black eye for Americans, in propping up what appeared to be hardly an improvement on what this country had before. There is always a market for bad news, the ‘gotcha’ headline and so-called important people being cut down to size.

Seeming to be such a pointless and futile effort, wasteful of American lives and treasure made that war into an entertainment staple, after all the newsy goodness had been absorbed. American soldiers were portrayed as luckless dupes or malignant martinets, the American military was incompetent, wasteful, foolish, there was no point to the war, all these sacrifices of lives, of limbs, health and happiness was for nothing. There was no point, it was all useless, and destructive… the inhabitants of that country didn’t want or need our military to be there anyway, so what was the point of fighting? Everything would be better off as soon as we departed and left them to themselves.

Except that we didn’t. The war did end – with an armistice. American troops still serve tours there in that country, on the off-chance that the fighting might resume – although after fifty years, it just doesn’t seem very likely. South Korea is prosperous, modern, bustling with industry – as different as can be from the picture it presented fifty years ago, as different as it can be from the communist-ruled North. What would the whole Korean peninsula look like, if we had chosen to leave Koreans to their own devices, fifty years ago? Starving, poor and xenophobic, at the very least, living in darkness and want, a country-sized concentration camp.

What will Iraq look like after the passing of another fifty Memorial Days? Will it be anything like Korea; a regional powerhouse of industry, cultured, prosperous and politically stable? Will Saddam’s reign of terror be something relegated to the history books, will their present war be something barely recalled by the elders, a matter of monuments to be decorated with flowers and ceremony on certain days, while two or three generations have grown up knowing nothing but peace, security and plenty? Will there have been two or three generations of American military who have served tours at a few long-established bases and garrisons, stuck in out of the way corners of the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates. Will there be American soldiers and airmen who have come away with pleasant memories and a taste for local food and some pictures of ancient ruins and modern buildings looming over them, who made friends there? Fifty years is a blink in time – but it was long enough for South Korea to pull together in the space that Americans and their allies made for them. It may yet be time enough for Iraq, too, but its not as if we’ll be able to tell until long afterwards.

For Dad, who served in Korea and came back, for Wil who served in the 8th Air Force and came back, and Blondie who served in Kuwait and Iraq and came back – but for all those who served and didn’t come back, and who made the sacrifice without even being sure of what it was about or what it was all for, even – thank you, on this Memorial Day.

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