Another Memorial Day just passed us by. The weather was perfect. Fighter jets and military transports boomed and flashed by overhead. In New York, Fleet Week was in full swing with men and women in Navy uniforms walking the streets of Manhattan. In Litchfield, the First Litchfield Artillery Regiment in a motley of period uniforms marched by while men in their 60’s and 70’s sporting a badge or tokens of their military service in Korea and Vietnam stood silently by the roadside or gravesites remembering honorable service, their comrades and times gone by.
America’s early wars had meaning and purpose. The Revolution was for freedom and self-determination. The Civil War ended slavery. The Spanish American War was a grab for territory. The First World War was “to end all wars” while the Second was to avenge Pearl Harbor, “a date which will live in infamy”. Those wars at least made some sense out of chaos and destruction.
After that it was all downhill. The Korean War was a “police action” and Vietnam an exercise in stopping the Communist “falling domino principle”. Grenada and Panama were fits of pique while Desert Storm, with only 148 battle deaths, was not even a war. Not much was accomplished by these military adventures – we still have 30,000 troops stationed in South Korea and Vietnam is now a trading partner manufacturing cheap garments for Kmart.
Our country has just gone through 15 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq with sideshows in Somalia, Yemen, Libya, now Syria and yet again Iraq. Like in Vietnam we declared victory, declared the threats contained and withdrew most of our troops. All that remains of the massive military presence and the billions spent are abandoned air fields, army bases and deserted checkpoints. All you need is someone paint that iconic World War II graffiti image “Kilroy was here” on what’s left.
Thousands of our Kilroys were there. Some died; many were wounded while others will carry the invisible scars of post-traumatic stress disorder to their graves and to what end?
The Afghani Army, trained and paid for by the United States, has turned tail and surrendered territory to the Taliban in northern Afghanistan, forcing a resurgence of the old warlords and local militias. In Iraq the Kurds are fighting in the north against ISIS or whatever al-Qaeda is calling itself today. ISIS or ISIL, the Islamic State of Whatever, is waging war against Iraq and Syria while the Iraqi Army we trained and paid for stands by. US and Saudi planes bomb targets in both Iraq and Syria in support of rag tag forces supposedly fighting ISIS.
Iran is ramping up sectarian strife pitting the Shiites against the Sunnis in Iraq and elsewhere in the region while the Saudis lend a helping hand and cash to their Sunni brethren. We continue to sell military hardware to Israel, Egypt and the Saudis while arming with conventional weapons insurgent groups who align with our politics du jour.
In reviewing our military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region, let’s lump all of them into a generic Middle East, you come up with two assessments of our efforts. The first is “Snafu” – “Situation Normal, All Fucked Up” and the second “Fubar” – “Fucked Up, Beyond All Repair”.
Now today in the Middle East does “Snafu” or “Fubar” hold sway?
Snafu contains within it a glimmer of hope. From the get-go World War II, the war that gave birth to the term was a screwed up war; think of the false promise of Munich, “Peace in Our Time”, and the missed signals before Pearl Harbor. The inauspicious start notwithstanding - Continental Europe conquered, England besieged - we and the Allies muddled through.
Given the will and resources, putting aside differences in the face of a common enemy, success can be achieved.
Fubar, on the other hand, is a cry of despair. The natural order of things has been irreparably destroyed. Nation states no longer have borders and they exist only on maps, on pieces of paper. The apocalypse has arrived.
The only solution is to let waging forces and factions destroy themselves in a cathartic war and start anew, start afresh.
So my Memorial Day message to the seats of power, the capitals of the Middle East: “Snafu or Fubar, your choice, but leave us out of it this time” and to Washington “No more Kilroys”.