Saturday, October 23, 2010

War Isn't Over!

By Mark W. Danielson

John Lennon would have turned 70 this month. As a Beatle, he was an international celebrity. As a peace activist, he was feared by the United States government. Interestingly, neither could have occurred without Lennon’s lifelong penchant for speaking his mind and standing by his beliefs.
In the late 1960s and early 70s, John used his celebrity status and musical talents to rally young people against the Vietnam War. The British pop singer’s ability to do this became a serious concern for the Nixon administration. They tailed him, tapped his phone, and spent millions of dollars trying to deport him. Once Nixon was reelected, their interest in the singer faded, but the bullet that claimed Lennon’s life in 1980 never stopped his message that peace was possible. All of this is documented in the movie, The US versus John Lennon. While watching it, I found some startling parallels to our current international affairs.

Not unlike our situation in Afghanistan, our involvement in Vietnam began slowly. Although the US already had military advisors in Vietnam when President Kennedy took office, Kennedy’s official policy was that the South Vietnamese forces must ultimately defeat their Communist aggressors. Kennedy was firmly against deploying American combat troops in Vietnam, and stated that, "to introduce U.S. forces in large numbers there today, while it might have an initially favorable military impact, would almost certainly lead to adverse political and, in the long run, adverse military consequences.” Following Kennedy’s assasination, President Johnson took the opposite tactic by escalating the number of US troops in Vietnam from 16,000 in 1963 to 553,000 by 1968, and still the war went on. It’s interesting to note that 40% of the US casualties occurred after Nixon was elected in 1968.

Our ongoing war in Afghanistan can be traced back to the US military advisors that were sent to aid the Taliban during the Russian occupation. Long after these advisors left, and in response to the September 11 al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center, the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom blitzed Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, defeating many of the same people they had trained. In late 2001, the United Nations Security Council approved to establish the International Security Assistance Force, which consisted of a coalition of 46 governments including Australia, Britian, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Spain, Turkey, and the United States. At the time, the US had committed 29,950 military personnel to the cause. In December, 2009, after many coalition forces had withdrawn and with no end in sight, President Obama committed another 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan. The latest figure shows over 78,000 US troops are serving there.

The parallels between Vietnam and Afghanistan take me back to the 1960s where I witnessed countless anti-war protests while working in Berkeley, California. John Lennon and Paul McCartney had co-written the song Revolution to encourage a peaceful end to the Vietnam War. Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono later continued this message by placing banners and posters all over the world that read, “War is Over – if you want it”. Their three-week bed-in in Montreal spurred Lennon’s song, Give Peace a Chance, which became an anthem sung by millions of people during their anti-war rallies. The nation had not been this divided since the Civil War. By 1973, it was evident that superior technology and ground forces could not defeat a guerilla enemy that had unlimited reinforcements. As such, the US began withdrawing its forces from Vietnam. The Vietnam War may have been lost, but only its lessons have been forgotten.

Today, the US is heavily involved in an equally undefined and devastating war in the Middle East. I’ve written before about our nation’s apathy toward this war, but it’s worth reiterating that our young citizens are not protesting against it because it doesn’t concern them. This is easy to do when there is no threat of being drafted. However, the ramifications of their apathy extend beyond their lack of protests – it goes to the heart of their ability to communicate.

But rather than blame the kids, perhaps we should blame our high tech society, for these days, kids see little reason to verbally converse with each other. Instead, they stand next to each other or sit in restaurants, heads down, sending text messages. Somehow I doubt that a “Text-in” would have the same political impact as a 1960s “Sit-in”.

Our involvement in Afghanistan will never end until we recognize their distinct differences in ideologies. It matters not how many troops, tanks, or laser-guided missiles the US throws at its enemies, the US will always be viewed as the invader. Not unlike Vietnam, Afghanistan’s topography is too diverse and the resolve of its people too great for any foreign power prevail. The Russians figured this out after nine years. Sadly, after nine years, we haven’t.

I normally refrain from discussing political topics, but in this election year, it’s disturbing that our war in the Middle East is not being addressed in political ads or debates. How is this possible when millions were protesting against war just four decades ago? How is this possible when our soldiers are still dying over overseas? How is this possible when this war is draining our economy? These are questions worth asking in any election. Time is running out. Perhaps we should look into our past so that we can re-write our future.

Granted, John Lennon had a Utopian vision, but it was one he truly believed in. Because of this, his message lives on through the hearts of other believers. Without these people, we are doomed to eternal warfare. John and Yoko said, "War is over! – if we want it." If only the leaders of the world could give peace a chance.


Morgan Mandel said...

Unfortunately, I don't think anyone knows what's the best course to follow. We have to protect our country against another 9/11, but it's almost impossible to figure out exactly how it can be done.

The economy and healthcare are also impossible situations.

Morgan Mandel

Mark W. Danielson said...

I totally agree, Morgan. Perhaps it's time we pulled out from our overseas bases and used the resources to protect our own borders.