I am going to offer you a commentary out of determined ignorance. If we are to be honest, this probably happens -- here and in the “legitimate” broadcast and print media, never mind the Internet -- more often than we are inclined to believe.
Concerning the release, last weekend, of about 92,000 U.S. military documents about the war in Afghanistan on WikiLeaks.org, I don’t believe I need to read the docs or news reports. Only a brief exposure to the stories, editorials, and letters to the editor has suggested to me there are likely no surprises here.
From the start, I opposed going to war in Afghanistan as well as Iraq. The reasons offered by our leaders were murky and suspect, whether they had to do with implicating these nations in the 9/11 attacks or Saddam’s supposed possession of nuclear weapons. President Bush and his team of Vietnam War-avoiding warmongers had lied to the country before, and the odds were high they were not giving us the whole truth this time around, either.
But this hardly distinguishes them from previous administrations. If you wade through American history, you’ll find almost every war has been initiated with half-truths and absolute falsehoods; that U.S. leaders took their citizens into battle with incomplete information (at best) or utter lies, and that between hundreds and tens of thousands of idealistic, innocent youths from the rural hinterlands and poor urban centers (led by a handful of the best and brightest) went to their deaths in Mexico, the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, and the first Gulf war for reasons that probably had less to do with freedom and liberty than power, greed, and long-range corporate strategies.
A family friend named Harold Bock, who was a schoolteacher in Coos Bay and Myrtle Creek, Oregon from the 1970s to the 1990s, told me stories about his conscientious objector status (the same as Oregon poet William Stafford) during World War II. In his teens, Harold had been gung-ho to enlist in the army, but an uncle who had served in World War I took him aside and told him about his discovery, on the battlefield, that the weapons and ammunition used by the Germans were made by the same companies that were making his own gear. That was a frightening lesson for his uncle.
A copyeditor for the Boston Globe by the name of Victor Lewis once told me about serving guard duty in Vietnam and reading a copy of Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man (however that got into his hands!), and suddenly getting the creeping suspicion that he was involved not in a war between us and them, but “them and them.” In frightened disgust, he threw the book out of the bunker.
Recall also the half-century it took to learn that a subsidiary of IBM provided the Nazis with the punch-card technology that helped them to organize their mass herd of victims -- to facilitate the genocide against Jews and other European minorities. There are easy profits to be made in every war, and you can depend on the amorality of private companies to find them. I imagine it will take decades to discover everything Halliburton, Blackwater, Bechtel, and probably dozens of other corporations have made on the backs of American and Muslim corpses on an uncertain and likely unsuccessful mission.
Critics of WikiLeaks have decried the release of the names of U.S informants among the Afghans and Pakistanis, who will likely be killed by the Taliban. Defense Secretary Robert Gates sounded that alarm on Thursday. That may well happen, but is it worse, in the end, than the thousands of participants and noncombatants who have died on both sides because the U.S. went in on an impossible mission in the first place? The criticism seems as useful and germane as focusing on the arrangement of chairs on the deck of the Titanic.
I would like to suggest that, instead of going to war in Afghanistan and Iraq (which have to date cost us 1,209 American soldiers lives and $286 billion, and 4,413 soldiers and $736 billion, respectively) in the first place, we should have engaged in trade, and simply handed over humanitarian aid -- food and medical supplies. But, you might object, that would be helping our enemies! The truth is, we helped them anyway -- with military aid to the Taliban in the 1980s when they were fighting the Russians, and military aid to Saddam in the 1980s when he was at war with Iran -- in ways that did the average citizens no damn good.
Of course Saddam and the Taliban would have siphoned off as much of that aid as they possibly could, but the average citizens of Afghanistan and Iraq would have benefited anyhow, even if by no more than not getting killed in a crossfire between U.S. soldiers and militant Muslims. Everyone would have formed a nicer image of the United States than they have today. Sooner or later, the locals would have questioned the wisdom and morality of their government on their own. Instead of manufacturing goodwill toward us and doubt toward their leaders with humanitarian aid, we chose to create stacks of dead bodies and more live enemies by coming across as heavily armed imperialist bullies. Is that a desirable American legacy? There may indeed be situations where war is the only answer, but I remain unconvinced that this instance -- or most of the others throughout history -- was one.
No question it would have been much less costly for us to have proceeded peacefully. These needless, wasteful wars have contributed mightily to the economic recession that is hurting us so badly at home. Above all, families who have lost their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers to these wars will have years to contemplate how little their ultimate sacrifice has accomplished, in making either Afghanistan and Iraq, or the rest of the world, a better place than it was before.
You may consider that pain the true and most lasting legacy of Reagan, the Bushes, and their wars.