It’s almost impossible to make it through a week without seeing Americans debating in public forums about whether or not the U.S. should go to war. To bomb or not to bomb ISIS. That is the political question of 2017.
While I sympathise with the desire to fix a problem that has clearly grown out of hand, people forget that fixing a problem was how ISIS was born in the first place. So before you launch into your arguements for why war is the best be-all-end-all solution, let’s take a moment to reconsider.
To better understand my line of arguement, let’s briefly change the topic to discuss another touchy issue: imperialism and slavery.
If you’ve ever taken a business class, you’ve probably heard the word “offshoring” before. In a nutshell, it means that a certain process physically takes place in another location – usually another country.
Many people think of offshoring as a new corporate evil, but offshoring perhaps first began in the 1600s with the British. From the 17th into the 19th century, Britain wisely off-shored slavery.
Thus, Britain itself never experienced actual slavery the way the West Indies, and the southern United States experienced it. It was a distant horror, and the British basked in the financial security it provided at home.
Some people knew better and lobbied for change, but if more people had known better, slavery would not have lasted as long as it did. It lasted because offshoring has a way of desensitizing us against the worst realities.
Following in Momma’s Footsteps
Having withstood slavery on its soil, the United States, particularly the south, is extremely segregated.
Even in liberal Atlanta, immigrants tend to keep to ourselves regardless of race and ethnicity. Likewise, different ethnic groups tend to single-file their way into their own communities.
The Confederate Flag, which is a constant reminder of the south’s commitment to slavery, is still freely frown in shops, in front of houses, on the antennas of trucks, and even welcomed on stage. To boot, the KKK recently won a case to sponsor a major highway in Georgia. Believe it or not, this is life in the south in 2017.
But there is one horror America has successfully off-shored for years. And that horror, is war.
America is called many things by many people. But the one word I will use to describe America for this article is strategic. America is strategic not only because of its economy and political decisions, but because of its location.
America has the resources to fly across the ocean to strike at will. But is located at a distance that makes its allies, much easier – and therefore, much more frequent – targets. Britain, France, Belgium, Germany? All sitting ducks.
In fact, the only two times war and international terrorism really made it across the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean to kick America in the balls was Pearl Harbor and September 11.
Compare that to the many times Europe has been attacked in the past few years, and it may put things into perspective. The most recent attack in London alone was the fourth in just three months.
This is not a new phenomenon. I first noticed the pattern after double-checking what countries were a part of the Allied Forces in the World Wars. I noticed every time America was listed, it showed that they were usually quite late to the party.
I don’t doubt that many other countries would have loved to be fashionably late as well, but location didn’t afford them that luxury.
The end result was that America could swoop in, clean up the mess, play mediator, and head home with minimal damage compared to her allies.
A century later, and it still works.
The Cry for War
The resulting problem, however, is that it leaves American citizens with a very naive concept of what war is. Americans have no idea what it’s like to be under constant attack.
Disorganised homegrown terrorists pursuing selfish interests are one thing, but ISIS and those affiliated with them is quite another.
This is not to say that homegrown terrorists are never affiliated with ISIS. Many are. But it’s important to differentiate between the political impact of a crazy White Nationalist shooting up a church because Black people upset him, as opposed to an act that is part of a complex, ever-expanding, and highly organised terrorist group fueled by religious fanaticism.
Both are equally terrible in America, but only one could lead to World War III across the globe.
And yet, with World War III looking more and more like a possibility in our lifetime, on social media, in casual conversation, in blog posts, and in the news, many Americans are calling for war.
The cry for war knows no party affiliation. Republicans and democrats alike are calling for the dropping of bombs.
Many either seem to forget, or don’t know, or perhaps don’t care, that the greatest casualties of war are not soldiers. It’s the women and children, the elderly, the families, the civilians… who are caught in the crossfire.
Caught in the Crossfire
I’ve never personally witnessed war, but I’ve witnessed civil unrest, and that’s as close as I ever want to get.
In 2009 to 2010, I was still a university student in Kingston, Jamaica. Around this time, riots broke out in the city over America’s request for the extradition of a local drug lord. Two Jamaican parishes – Kingston, and Saint Andrew – declared a State of Emergency that lasted for an entire month.
The end result was an official death toll of more than 70 people, millions of dollars in property damage, the removal of our Prime Minister from power, and an unwilling amendment to our constitution.
During the riots, classes continued as usual and attendance was expected, but there were days some of us skipped based on news reports that affected our area.
The nursing students at my university had it the worst. Many of them worked at the local hospital as interns, and had far more gruesome stories than the initial news reports. “Bodies are coming in by the truck loads,” one told me during lunch, one day.
She then went on to describe the struggles the hospital faced of taking in all the bodies. She talked about the blood and the fecal matter left sitting on the beds of vans and trucks that brought them in, how she had to plug them up, and then the trouble of finding storage.
It was not a job for the faint of heart, or weak of stomach.
The Realities of War
The following year, I met a soldier who had been on duty during the riots. He was also a former resident of the community most affected by the unrest: Tivoli Gardens.
He had moved out of the neighbourhood some years prior, after the gang leader told him to hand over his 16 year old sister, or be gone in 24 hours. And since he knew the community well, he was the perfect soldier for the job.
“It was like being at war,” I remember him saying of the unrest. “The worst part is, the gangs have guns we can’t use. They’re not legal in Jamaica. So we fire a shot… ‘POP!’ And they hit back with ‘BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!'”
He talked about bodies stuffed in barrels, fourteen year old boys firing machine guns, and truckloads of the drug lord’s supporters rushing through the community wreaking havoc.
But he also spoke of the women and children who tried to leave, but had nowhere to go – the people caught in the crossfire.
I never forgot his story, and thinking back to it now, it illustrates an important lesson we should all keep in mind.
It’s easy to talk about dropping bombs, and blowing a country and its people off a map. But we should take a moment to consider what that really means for the people involved. For the soldiers who will die in battle, and the women, children, and the elderly, who may be unable to defend themselves.
If you truly support and sympathise with Belgium, and France, and Britain, and Germany, then don’t forget that when America drops bombs, those allies are always closer, always the easier targets for retaliation.
But, no matter where ISIS drops its bombs, the intended target for that message is almost always America. One of ISIS’ most recent statements said:
America, you have drowned and there is no savior; you have become prey for the soldiers of the caliphate in every part of the Earth; you are bankrupt, and the signs of your demise are evident to every eye… There is no more evidence than the fact that you are being run by an idiot who does not know what Syria or Iraq or Islam is.
America’s location has kept it relatively safe for two World Wars, but technology has made location little more than an inconvenience. We are a far cry away from the limitations of World War I and World War II. And as the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome have proven, no nation is invincible.
So while I do agree that something must be done, I don’t agree that that something is war. We should be more careful what we wish for, when so many innocent lives are on the line.