Back in the days of $16 barrels of oil (it really was that low only a decade ago) when all the brouhaha began in the wake of the 9/11 hysteria and the “Axis of Evil” speech, some of my colleagues were discussing what ought to be done in light of our Afghan invasion and the all-but-certain Iraqi imbroglio.
I listened to erstwhile political allies discuss how we should invade, occupy, and otherwise “teach them a lesson.” It was clear the Afghans and Iraqis on the ground would pay the price of the tutoring.
As the heretic I am, I suggested we allow the Taliban to turn Osama over to The Hague as they’d offered to do under condition he be tried in a court of law with evidence open to the public. It seemed less expensive and preferable to war, which always costs more and lasts longer than we expect.
My colleagues were outraged. Clearly I did not have enough pro-American bloodlust running through my heart. I said that I was definitely against war as a solution to a problem that two earlier wars—the Soviet War in Afghanistan and the First Gulf War—had created. But I added that if America went to war, it ought to be done the effective way.
“What way was that?” they asked.
“The Boer War way,” I said.
For those unfamiliar, the Boer Wars were conflicts over political control and independence waged in southern Africa between 1880-1881 and later from 1899-1902. The second war is what’s pertinent here. The British weren’t amateurs in those days. When they wanted a piece of land, in this case one held by Dutch farmers, they took it in the most menacing way possible.
To wit, they built a series of concentration camps to intern the region’s civilian population. Women, children, and babies were all included, often with cruel and sometimes mortal results.
As unremittingly brutal as this method was, the British won the war, took the territory, and held it profitably for the next several decades. It was only when the British went weak and lost their mettle that they surrendered the prize.
This shocked the table. Did I really mean to erect concentration camps all across Afghanistan and Iraq? Yes, but not the later German model—the original British version. In other words, detention-only.
It was obvious if war began we would be engaged for at least a half-decade and probably more. Even if peace came quickly, the examples of Japan, South Korea, and others show that once the American boot is planted on foreign soil it takes firm root.
So if that was to be the case there was only one way to do the job: Round everyone up, send them to reeducation camps, and free them on a strictly limited basis over a lengthy span of time. Malefactors wouldn’t need to be rounded up, because everyone would already be corralled together. We merely wouldn’t ever release them. And we’d do it as humanely as possible rather than hire low-rent trash who’d sexually humiliate our war prisoners while their friends photographed it.
Given use of our ample indoctrination methods such as subliminal television programming and psy-ops techniques, one scarcely need use physical torture. The slave who doesn’t know he’s a slave is the most loyal of them all.
The first thing unloaded from Navy amphibians those years ago should not have been anti-mine gear but television antennae. Get the fanatics sitting on the divan, and they’ll forget all about Dervishing their way through a column of troops. Eventually most of the populace could have their thinking reordered for them. Certainly we could have picked up some trollop off the street and transformed her into the next Middle Eastern Snooki.
My colleagues were incredulous. Why, the public would never stand for such an outrageous policy.
I agreed. I had not said what we could do, merely what we should do to be successful. War is a despicable business, but if engaged it must be won.
Quickly the conversation moved away from my incendiary suggestion. In politics there are realities which cannot be spoken even in private. Some topics are off the table even in the backroom.
As it is, we didn’t do any of those things. No detention camps, no mass indoctrination, no nothing. Nothing but bombing, big and small. And all that did was leave several types of holes.
What do we have now in either Afghanistan or Iraq? A few new “embassies” waiting to be bombed. A few hundred thousand of our own people with severe psychological trauma and trained to use high-powered artillery. A few million more enemies than when we arrived.
The whole thing is cracking at the seams as the troops begin to crack themselves. Who can blame them? I deplore the killing of 16 allegedly innocent people. But I’ve read of massive “collateral damage” that makes 16 seem insignificant. I’ve seen reliable reports of intentional slaughter with trophy-taking. That’s by us, the “good guys.”
I wonder at the stresses of the common soldier on his third or fourth tour, his home being foreclosed upon, friends killed before his eyes, and in the midst of a throng of natives for whom he has risked his life but who scream at him that he’s a murderer. Perhaps such soldiers think to themselves, “So I am sacrificing everything to help you, and I’m still a ‘murderer’? As I have nothing left to lose, perhaps I’ll show you how a real murderer behaves.” Unlike most, I won’t judge him for what aloof politicians forced upon his psyche.
We’ve wasted over ten years trying to give higher principles of governance to people who can’t even read. They largely have no idea why we are there. Their lifestyle, despite its electricity and other accoutrements, is a prehistoric one. Half-measures were never going to work with them.
We ought to have avoided the entire swath of backward people, or we ought to have gone all in to dominate them and used soft-authoritarian measures to pacify them into submission. We did neither.
Americans are now bored from these wars with nothing to show for them. Had we been willing to go Boering from the very beginning we might have spent that money and time on creating something worthwhile. Or at least something compliant and innocuous.
Such a merciless proposal may seem ridiculous. But far more ludicrous is the path we wound up pursuing.
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