The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 26, 2013

Jim Scofield | Do we really need more 'war fighters'?


JOHNSTOWN — It’s hard to sympathize with local contractors’ beliefs that they aren’t receiving enough new military contracts, despite the announcement of several new government procurements for weapon systems (“Local firms land defense deals,” The Tribune-Democrat, Nov. 21). This is especially true if we’re mindful of how hard it was in Pennsylvania to get a transportation bill through the Legislature, even knowing the sad shape of our bridges, highways and mass-transit systems.

It’s even just as relevant to understand how Johnstown homeowners are facing un-affordable costs to repair their sewage connections. Aren’t these latter concerns worthy of some subsidizing?

One military contractor claimed that more weapons spending is necessary to “support (our) war fighters.”  What wars does he have in mind? We were hoping that “the winding down of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars” mentioned in the article would mean that our troops would no longer be needed in the Middle East.

In many ways, we have already overburdened them by sending them to Iraq, an unneeded war that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks or terrorism, despite the leadership’s claims. More than 5,000 of them died there. And in some ways, the returning vets haven’t gotten good support for their injuries – physical or emotional – with large numbers suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, nor in ample employment opportunities, the “thanks for your service” greetings notwithstanding.

It’s only too easy for the leaders to line up new enemies in the Middle East. We almost entered the Syrian war, we have been constantly threatening Iran over its nuclear program and we did launch a war against Libya.

The wars we have engaged in have hardly been successful, nor did they spread democracy. Iraq did suffer under the Saddam Hussein dictatorship, but before our wars against Iraq, it possessed a large middle class and good educational and medical services. Now it is left in a violent conflict between the chief religious groups, the Sunnis and the Shiites, viciously engaged in ethnic cleansings against each other. It also is left with millions of refugees.

It’s hard to see that either Afghanistan or Libya is better off. We have left large numbers killed in these countries, especially in Iraq.

Although the Obama administration policy is to use fewer ground troops, it has increased our strikes by drones and special forces, extending the wars more to Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

There is no meaningful oversight of this administration’s policy of these assassinations against supposed threats. Even more expansively, it has instituted a new African military command that could easily drag us into further conflicts in that continent.

The notion that we need a huge military to fight terrorism is questionable. It’s hard to see that the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan is any more than a local insurgency, not an international terrorist group. Al-Qaida is not a strong or united force, but instead is loosely connected name-sake groups.

Our militarists are using terrorism to replace the genuine threat that the Cold War was. But terrorism is not a threat to our existence as a country. Al-Qaida organizations may try occasional forays, but probably not nearly as many as the Obama administration has claimed in its effort to justify its continuing attacks against targets that don’t seem to be an imminent threat to the U.S. at all. We may have created more terrorists than we have subdued by our strikes in the Middle East, much like the legendary Hydra, which grew extra heads for each one destroyed. Certainly we have created much hatred of America there.

The real struggle of America is assuring a vital economy back home with decent jobs, health care and retirements rather than our present very unequal country where most of the wealth is usurped by the top echelon. Why, instead, are we centered on these imperial ambitions in the Middle East?   

And why have we turned more and more to glorifying our war adventures, despite their sad and limited outcomes? Wars produce rabid, unreasonable reactions, which make thoughtful democratic debate difficult.

George Washington long ago argued that “a large-standing army hath ever been considered dangerous to the liberties of a country.” And a later president, Dwight Eisenhower, like Washington a former general, warned against “the conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry” that would “endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”

Jim Scofield of Richland Township is a professor emeritus of English at Pitt-Johnstown.