The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Jim Scofield

May 21, 2013

Jim Scofield | War on terror has claimed many victims

— We Americans are not the sole victims we seem to picture ourselves in the various terrorist attacks that have occurred here, as if these were purely the acts of some gratuitous, demented Islamic conspiracy.

We have helped in setting up a revenge cycle with our wars and our combat assaults in the Middle East.

It’s certainly a sad truth that Americans killed or injured, whether in the vicious 9/11 suicide plane attacks or in the recent Boston Marathon bombings, are innocent victims of these murderous assailants.

However, we must see that we have left, numerous times, more victims in Iraq, Afghanistan and the many other Middle Eastern and African countries that we have invaded or raided. In that way, what we isolate here as our grievances and grief are a type of vengeful “blowback” (as one American writer put it) to what we have been doing on a massive scale in those foreign countries, where our military actions have left hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq alone, plus many thousands in Afghanistan.

People in those countries may not view a Western country like the United States intervening, even in the 1992 first Gulf War against Iraq, as justified. That whole area suffered under British military forces and wars in the early 20th century, only to be replaced by the U.S. areas we both dominated and where neither belongs.

Unfortunately, we rarely care about the casualties wrought by our wars in other countries. The 6,000 or so American soldiers these wars have killed are a terrible toll for us, though, along with the many tens of thousands wounded and disabled.

With our Memorial Day this month, we perhaps should note that many of the veterans of these wars have not fared so well in follow-up medical care, in the amount of post-traumatic stress disorder they have suffered, in unemployment and homelessness.

Also, we would honor them more by reviewing the actions that got us into such a global, perpetual war by not threatening further wars against countries such as Iran or Syria, and setting our country on a more peaceful course.

Whether intentional or not, Memorial Day celebrations promote further war, glorifying military service beyond the sad lot it is and falsifying war achievements.

It is difficult to see that terrorists are anywhere near the threat to America as was the nuclear-armed, huge army of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Yet we are as much militarized now as we were then.

And our leaders have set us on a course where our drones and special forces can raid and kill in any country the president and his advisers secretly decide, all in the claim of protecting us.

The original al-Qaida, mainly now in Pakistan, probably number in the dozens or low hundreds, and it is in “its weakest point in the past 10 years,” according to recent congressional testimony of the director of the National Counterterrorism Center. There are small namesake bands in other Middle Eastern countries, but they lack the capacity to strike outside their areas, or 7,000 miles away in the United States.

Many of us fear that our indiscriminate militarist direction may be creating more enemies instead of protecting us. Both Presidents Bush and Obama have seemed to operate under the illusion that if we kill enough people we will be safe.

This so-called war on terrorism has allowed our leadership to not only keep these wars going for more than 12 years, but to extend them to Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and secretly into Iran, and who knows where else?

The pretense that we represent democracy in the Middle East is too obviously fraudulent when we support the despotisms in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Emirates and Bahrain, and supported the dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt until the success of the “Arab Spring” made us change sides; and that we have left Iraq, which once had a thriving middle class, decent health care and education, a shambles, with millions displaced and Sunni and Shiites killing each other.

We have legitimized torture, even made it popular, according to polls. We hold suspects for years without charges or trials, many known to be innocent (for example, half of those in Guantanamo).

Indefinite detention, a clear violation of our Constitution, has become standard.

There seems no chance that the Obama administration or Congress will officially review the lies that got us into Iraq or the policies that authorize assassinations, torture and unconstitutional surveillance.

Nor does there seem to be much chance that we will reduce our wasteful spending on wars and start using our resources constructively to repair our decaying infrastructures and depressed economy.

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

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