When I was a child, I imagined that wars were started by two men who were mad at each other. Each, wanting to defeat the other, would repeatedly run and get his friends to help him fight the other, with both groups growing exponentially as each friend called many other friends to join the fight, culminating in accumulation of guns, artillery and bombs (I never quite figured out where that stuff came from) used against each other, all because two guy were pissed off. Yup, that’s what I thought when I was five.
Karl von Clausewitz once described war as “the continuation of politics by other means”. Not too far from my childhood definition, actually. Bush decides that Saddam Hussein has gotta go, not for any particular reason, but, apparently, he needed to show that he was doing something in response to 9/11. In this case Bush didn’t have to call his friends to fight for him, since he happened to have his very own army.
Gwynn Dyer once noted that we don’t use young men in battles because of their strength or stamina so much as their willingness to die or become mutilated for what is vaguely described as “patriotism”, the best reward they can expect for having done so being a piece of metal, stamped into a particular shape with some particular words on it, symbolizing this, that or the other, to hang on their uniforms. Young men throughout history have been willing to trade body parts for ornamentation.
Older men are not nearly naive enough to allow their futures to hang on the decisions of some unseen politicians who will never know, or care, what their names were. They prefer to sit in their government offices forecasting, directing and assigning targets for the young men to risk their lives attacking. These older men simply turn a faucet, open a spigot, lift a sluice, and young men (and now women) spill out at their command, weapons loaded, fear in their hearts and hatred for the “enemy” (whomever they are told he is) wrenching in their guts.
War, in other words, is old men sending young men to die, for reasons rarely questioned by the young and even more rarely answered by the old.
George Patton once said, “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other son-of-a-bitch die for his”. Conspicuously absent from this comment is whether either of them are fighting for any particular reason.