Among the Abrahamic religions, multiple arguments have been put forward by philosophers and theologians to prove the existence of God. I’m an atheist and don’t think any of these arguments are convincing. In this post – the first in a series I will do concerning the existence of God – I will demonstrate why I personally don’t think these philosophical arguments are very convincing.
Human nature, as I define it, is the set of cognitive and behavioral patterns that are innate in human beings, regardless of culture and specific upbringing. These are patterns passed down to us by evolution. With humans, though, we seem to be unique in our ability for metacognition – thinking about our thinking and our behaviors. Does that give us the ability to change our innate human nature?
Today, June 6 of 2019, is 75 years after the June 6, 1944 Anglo-American amphibious invasion of Normandy, France. But what did those brave men fight and die for?
Since at least World War 1 the idea of war as being all about glory and heroism has seen massive disillusionment. Most people, I think, would agree that war is not a good thing, even if some think it a necessary thing. But technological arms races, both during war and in peacetime, generate a plethora of technological advances. That raises the question: should futurists and transhumanists welcome war in order to usher in greater and faster technological advances?
In this post, I am going to write a response/review of Jordan Peteron’s 2017 lecture titled Biblical Series I: Introduction to the Idea of God, which is available to watch on Youtube.
I’ve written an article on Medium looking at the U.S. relationship with Israel from a geopolitical perspective.
In the past week, Tweets by Minnesota’s 5th congressional district representative Ilhan Omar have sparked controversy about the link between antisemitism and criticism of Israel. Particularly Israel’s influence on American lawmakers through lobbyists. Due to the dark history of antisemitism being linked with conspiracy theories about Jewish control over banking and other financial arenas, this is a conversation that requires tact and nuance.
However, those are not the conversations I’m attempting to start here.
What I’m interested in is what the U.S. gains, in a geopolitical sense, from its association with Israel. I’m careful here to say association and not alliance, since there is no formal treaty-based alliance between the U.S. and Israel.
The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End by Robert Gerwarth, Copyright 2016, Farrar, Straus, Giroux. 464 Pages.
The great conflagration of World War I lasted from July 28, 1914 until the armistice of November 11, 1918, when hostilities ended to both grieving and fanfare. Last year, as the centennial of the end to the War to End All Wars, many in France, Britain, Germany, the United States, Canada, Australia New Zealand, and all over Europe reflected on this great and solemn occasion. It was a chance to both remember the human tragedy of The Great War and to celebrate our forebears who fought bravely in places like Flanders, Gallipoli, Verdun, and the Somme.
For many in the west, the story of the twentieth centuries baptism of fire ends on November 11, 1918. Or, at least, that is the conventional wisdom. Following the armistice, it was merely a matter of hammering out the details before the Treaty of Versailles was signed less than a year later on June 28, 1919. Those a little more savvy might recall that not every belligerent had the same government or borders following the war as they had going in, and that Treaty of Versailles left unhappy some figures who would become important later on. What many in the west are unaware of, though, is that the years from 1918 until 1923 were just as brutal and deadly as the years between 1914 and 1918.
I have finished writing the second installment of my novel series (still needs proof-reading by others, formatting, cover art, etc). I am about to go on a week long vacation. When I get back, I hope to do more blog posts.
In the meantime, I have created a quiz to test people’s knowledge of science, philosophy, and history, if anyone is interested. Let me know how you do.
Knowledge is Power
There is an old adage that knowledge is power. People being able to acquire facts and information gives them power over those who wish to control them. This is the cornerstone of first amendment rights in the United States. Preventing the government from having arbitrary power over the people by way of knowledge about the private lives and thoughts of people is the cornerstone of fourth and fifth amendment rights in the United States. Other governments – places like Nazi Germany and those in the Communist bloc – attempted to disempower their people by banning certain books and speech critical of their ideology or governing regime; by controlling people’s right to assembly (ie banning other political parties); by regulating or persecuting certain religions; by controlling and censoring the press; by spying on their people; and by forcing people to testify against themselves through torture and indefinite detention. The Khmer Rouge, for example, feared a knowledgeable populace so much that that would condemn and even kill people who wore glasses because ‘intellectuals’ were considered to be corrupted by modernity.
The point being, knowledge is generally viewed as a good thing in a liberal democracy. It allows us the opportunity to make informed decisions about who governs us and then hold them accountable. But is there knowledge which should not be known? Knowledge that could potentially be harmful if it gets out?
This is an argument as old as time, but a particular instance comes to mind – the Bible. For much of the Church’s history, the Bible was read only by the clergy (and other higher status individuals), who could read Latin. The teachings could then be interpreted by the clergy and taught to their parishioners. This allowed for a single orthodoxy to be run by the Church bureaucracy. In the first 1500 years of Christianity, there was only a single schism in the church (not counting the Western schism, which was more political than theological). However, vernacular translations of the Bible in Greek by Erasmus and in German by the likes of Martin Luther were printed, helping to ignite the protestant reformation, the result being that the Church split into numerous churches. During those early days of the printing press, it was hotly debated whether it would be a good idea to let the people have access to the Bible. There are still those who think it was a bad idea.
A more contemporary source of perhaps forbidden knowledge is the internet. Conspiracy theories, fake news, and other such nonsense aside, the internet is arguably the greatest means of spreading knowledge to come into existence since the printing press. The biggest obstacle one might find in their way online are paywalls and subscription fees, and even those are usually easily bypassed or avoided. But what about information like how to make bombs or 3D printed guns? Sure, most people are probably responsible enough to either not use this information, or even if they do, use it for benign purposes. But if that information is available on the internet, it is available to everyone – even those who would use it for malicious or self-serving purposes. I am not trying to make a political argument for banning these things, but generally a more philosophical argument – would humankind be better off if this information had never become available in the first place? Or is there something intrinsically good about such information being available – ie knowledge is power?
What about hacked or leaked information of a private or personal sort, like pictures of a politician doing something we might find disgusting, like cheating on their spouse or doing drugs? Does our knowledge of this lapse in character or poor judgment outweigh the privacy of the individual perpetrator? What about leaked classified information about government wrongdoing that could damage national security or put agents in the field in danger? This argument is made just about any time information about government wrongdoing is made available to the public, whether it damages national security or endangers field agents or not, which further demonstrates that the government is afraid of people becoming knowledgeable. But what about in cases where public knowledge is demonstrably dangerous, even if the government is in the wrong about something? Where is the crossover point, where the information becoming public knowledge becomes an unacceptable risk?
There is knowledge of a different kind on the internet – pornography. Social conservatives often argue that access to pornography has a deleterious affect on people’s minds and morals. There may be merit to this argument. Pornography can cause addiction, isolation and unrealistic expectations about romantic love. And what about the fact that after a terrifying experience, such as the false alarm about a missile strike in Hawaii, people seem to seek comfort in pornography? So, should pornography be included in the category of knowledge that humankind would be better off without? Or is it part of the knowledge as intrinsic good? Even if we argue that pornography is not harmful, psychologically or sexually, is there an argument for it being good? Or perhaps there is a cutoff point – pictures of naked people alone, or video of people having missionary position sex, is acceptable, but people doing other sex acts is not. Maybe if it’s only shown with people having safe sex – like the proposed condom law that failed in California – then it is acceptable. Once again, I’m not trying to make a political or civil liberties argument one way or the other, but I’m asking, philosophically speaking, would humankind be better off (psychologically, sexually, morally) if pornography didn’t exist, or if only certain types of pornography existed?
Opponents of Political Correctness contend that it is a form of censorship that stifles society from having important conversations. Political Correctness is defined as “…the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.” However, Political Correctness is often used as a way of shutting down conversation. For instance, bringing up crime and race, race and intelligence, or that men and women might have differences in preference when it comes to career path choices (as opposed to systemic barriers to entry in certain careers dependent on ones sex or gender identity) are often hot-button issues. I’m not making any claims about the truth of falsity of these topics, but Political Correctness dictates that even bringing them up is taboo. People who bring these issues up will often find themselves on the receiving end of criticism, and sometimes even threats of violence. Opponents of Political Correctness will say that if these subjects aren’t even up for discussion, then there is no way to find whether the claims are true or not, and if true, find the causes of these problems and be able to work out solutions. As a result, the problems will persist and get worse while people continue to pretend that they don’t exist. The truth value of these claims is not based on reason, facts, or evidence, but on how the topics make people feel. Things that are uncomfortable to discuss then become, essentially, forbidden knowledge. Do these subjects belong in that category, or should they be up for discussion?
The issue works the other way, too. There are plenty of people who would prefer not to have LGBT issues taught to children, while proponents of Political Correctness are often in favor of doing this. Whether one believes that sexual preference or gender nonconformity are choices, pathologies, or just part of the spectrum of human experience, they are still phenomena that occur in the real world; they are still impulses that dictate the lifestyle of real people. Refusing to teach people about these issues will not prevent them from being exposed to them, and will only leave people less knowledgeable about real world issues. It is a form of political correctness that attempts to pretend that something isn’t real, which stifles dialogue and does nothing to weigh truth claims about causes, effects, and society based on reason, facts, and evidence, but once again based only on how the topic makes people feel. Thus, not teaching people about the LGBT phenomena is relegating these issues to the realm of forbidden knowledge. Are people better off not knowing about these issues, or is knowledge still power in this case? Does knowledge necessitate acceptance – if a person is taught about LGBT people, will that person necessarily be accepting? Does acceptance necessitate knowledge – can you not accept someone’s lifestyle if you are ignorant of it? And, if this should not be forbidden knowledge, at what age should people be taught about LGBT issues? What is the best way to teach them? And what exactly should be taught, as there are competing theories?
I think probably the place where the most people will accept that some knowledge may be better left unknown is when it comes to the potential end of the world. Nuclear weapons are the first thing that come to mind. During World War II, there was a concerted effort by the United States and Britain to develop atomic weapons. Doing so opened up a Pandora’s box that still affects us to this day – the doomsday clock was just recently reset to 2 minutes to midnight (doomsday). When the Soviet Union tested their own nuclear weapons in 1949, the term Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) soon came into vogue. Would it have been better if humankind had never learned how to develop nuclear weapons in the first place? What about the argument that Mutually Assured Destruction has prevented cataclysmic wars between major powers, as was the case in WWI and WWII before humans split the atom? Does that make knowledge of atomic weapons a net positive for the human race, even if the potential destruction of civilization as we know it as the hair-trigger whims of a few powerful people?
Nowadays, we also have to worry about possibly an even more insidious weapon of mass destruction: biological weapons. What makes this even more dangerous is that they are so cheap and easy to develop (particularly compared to nuclear weapons), a single person could do it in a DIY lab in their garage. It’s so easy a person could develop or release it on accident. Instructions on how to do it could easily be made available online (and probably are in some dark corners of the web). And once the disease is out, it will not distinguish between friend and foe – at the very least, an atomic weapon could potentially be contained to a single geographical location. This, of course, brings up the question of whether it has been a good thing or not that humankind has acquired knowledge about how genetics work – with knowledge of genetic manipulation, it’s not that difficult to make a dangerous pathogen. Our understanding of genetics and genetic manipulation has yielded amazing things for humanity, but if it ultimately spells our downfall, was any of it worthwhile? Or would humans have been better off never knowing?
And now, possibly in the not to distant future, we might have to worry about Artificial Intelligence. As it is often popular to say in AI circles, Artificial Intelligence could be the last thing humankind ever invents. So, does that mean that AI technology should be forbidden knowledge? Is humanity better off not discovering Artificial Intelligence? What if developing AI is the only way we can actually ensure that we don’t wipe ourselves out via other means? Unlike most of what I’ve talked about here, AI is knowledge that we have not yet acquired – it is still theoretically within our power to keep this knowledge forbidden, whereas other things I’ve discussed are already available. It may be that development of AI is inevitable, but it could be that we would have been better off never even considering it.
Let’s say that someone you knew bought a 1968 Shelby Mustang GT500KR back when they first rolled off the assembly line. They loved this car and took very good care of it. Whenever a part began to go bad, it was immediately replaced before anything could damage the car. They kept this car for the past 50 years. Over that time, 90% of the parts in that car were replaced with new parts. They now want to sell the car to you, and they say that it is an original 1968 – are they telling you the truth? Or is it now a completely different car than the one they bought 50 years ago?
This, of course, is a modern re-telling of the Ship of Theseus. The reason I ask is because this applies to more than just objects, but also ideas. Ideas mutate and evolve over time. Some aspects become obsolete, emphases are changed, new thinking is added, and sometimes ideas are rejected completely. Like switching out the different parts in our muscle car, these changes are due to the emergence of new information and technology, along with the growing and shifting social, political, and philosophical milieu.
And when I say “fighting for” something, I don’t necessarily mean physically fighting for it, but also advocating and arguing in favor of, and being willing to align oneself and take a position for, a particular set of beliefs, ideals, and principles.
Christianity, for example, as it is understood nowadays, is very different from its original conception – so, is it still the same thing that the early followers had in mind when they were persecuted for their beliefs? Is Christianity still the same thing that the Medieval people had in mind when they persecuted others in its name?
What about the United States of America? Certainly the country is very different from the one the founders understood – now slavery is abolished, women have equal rights, our government involves itself in the affairs of every other country. So, when someone says they are fighting for America, what does that really mean?
And, more interestingly, will people in the future think what you believe is worth fighting for now had been worth fighting for at all?
What comes immediately to mind is the Confederacy during the American Civil War. They believed they were fighting for something noble and just, and now most people think their cause anywhere between misguided all the way to despicable. But what if the Confederacy had won the American Civil War – would their cause be seen as righteous and just, the way the Union is often portrayed? Which raises the question – will the way the future judges us be based solely on which ideas win out over the others, or will the future be able to judge what we fight for objectively and see an idea, even if it “loses” the fight, as better than one that may have “won” the fight?
It also brings to mind the people fighting during the 30 Years War – many atrocities were committed, thousands killed through warfare, disease, and starvation, ruinous destruction wrought on the people of Europe, and yet nowadays most people don’t even know that this war happened, much less what it was even about. But the people fighting it (or, at least, funding it) thought it worth the catastrophic consequences. Which raises the question – are your ideas worth fighting for is they will simply fall by the wayside in history, forgotten by posterity? What if they only remember what you did for your cause, but not why you did it? How will you be judged?
What about humanities greatest experiment with implementing an idea – Communism in places like China and the Soviet Union? Untold millions suffered and died for this grand experiment, the world being brought to the precipice of thermonuclear annihilation, only to have it all fail. Now that we are in their future, with the Soviet Union in our past, would we deem Stalinist or Maoist Communism to have been worth fighting for? At the time, many people certainly believed in those ideals enough to kill and die for them. Now, it seems, all of that suffering was for nothing.
So how does one know what to fight for now, given that it may be forgotten by posterity, or deemed misguided or even evil? Is it worth killing for a cause that will be judged so harshly by our descendants? Worth dying for? What if the ideas you believe will make the world a better place get put to the test, and it turns out that they make things worse for everyone? And if these questions are paralyzing, what if not fighting for anything is even worse than fighting for the wrong thing?
Is there something worth fighting for?
[Featured image is from Kharkov in the Soviet Union, 1933, during the Holodomor, where estimates of 2 million to 10 million people starved to death due to Communist collectivization policy.]
Disclaimer: this post was inspired and largely (but not completely) influenced by the book “America’s War for the Greater Middle East” by Andrew Bacevich, a former military officer who started in 1969 in Vietnam and ended as a Colonel after Desert Storm, and has since become a military historian who is critical of American militarism (but possibly not for the reasons you think). For a much more in depth look, read his book, or listen to it on Audible (~15 hours) like I have done over the course of a few weeks (while falling asleep after long days of being a biochemistry graduate student).
With the 2016 election coming up, militarism is something I’ve seen a bit about (with the limited time I’ve been able to devote to politics and current events). I am a self described libertarian (or self confessed, depending on how you view libertarians), so I have no illusions about my anti-war stance. That makes seeing pro-war people much easier – to someone like me, everyone seems pro-war to some extent. That being said, liberals make Trump and Cruz out to be warmongers on the scale of Hitler or Mussolini, and libertarians make Hillary out to be worse than either of them on war, for reasons I’ll go into.
So, the American adventure into the Middle East didn’t start on September 11, 2001. America has been involved with the Middle East since the British after World War I (1914-1918). But the real intervention started during the cold war (1946-1990), most notably after the Iranian coup in 1953 when democratically elected Mosaddegh was overthrown with American help to put American friendly Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in charge. The other notable American intervention was their undying support of Israel after 1948, which saw occasional disagreements, but remained an ally due to A) geopolitical Cold War reasons, B) cultural reasons, such as American Christians identifying more with European Jews than with Middle Eastern Arabs, and C) religious reasons (particularly by the evangelical Christians, who saw Jewish occupation in Christian prophecy).
Although the Israel/Palestine conflict has often been held up as the primary conflict in the region, nationalism has been an enormous part of Middle Eastern culture, although this has sprung from the Israel/Palestine conflict in many ways since the Balfour Declaration during World War I, but even more so since World War II and the winding down of European colonialism (i.e. post-colonialism in Asia, Middle East, and Africa). This has taken two forms. The first has been Arab nationalismArab nationalism, which seeks a pan-Arab nation. Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi (leader of Libya from 1969-2011) was a self-proclaimed Arab nationalist who had run-ins with the USA as early as the 1980s. The second was Islamism, which started as early as the 1700s with Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, 1800s with Sayyid Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī, and modernized with Sayyid Qutb for people like Ayman Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden.
The events in the Middle East that ramped up America’s interest in the region primarily started in 1979. The first was the Iranian revolution that overthrew the Pahlavi regime and implanted the Ayatollah Khomeini regime. The second was the siege of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. And the third was the Soveiet invasion of Afghanistan. The first and the third had immediate influence on American foreign policy. Iran was at best an American ally, at worst an American colony – such was the motivation for revolution. The third was an immediate threat by then arch-enemy Soviet Union, yet it was also motivated by the Iranian revolution. The American Cold Warriors thought that Soviet intrusion into Afghanistan would quickly and easily bring the Soviets into Iran and give them more control over the Iranian oil fields. This prompted the Americans to give arms and aid to the Mujahedin fighting in Afghanistan, despite the fact that most of them held anti-American views.
Osama bin Laden, a rich citizen of Saudi Arabia, was a huge benefactor in the Soviet-Afghan war. He made many friends with the Taliban by funding their war and participating in the conflict.
The Afghan war happened all during the 1980s. Also in that time was the Iran-Iraq war. Hitler used gas on the Jews during his atrocious, inconceivable, and damnable holocaust. Yet the only two times gas was regularly used on the battlefield was in World War I and during the Iran-Iraq war. The American government sided with the chemical weapon using Iraq, which used chemical weapons on both the Iranians as well as the Shia and Kurds that lived within Iraq (the minority Kurds received American sympathy afterwards for a time, but the majority Shia got the cold shoulder). The Americans looked the other way on the cruel practices of their allys. Even after the USS Stark incident, the American government sided with Saddam Hussein.
And this hardly covers the Iran-Contra scandal, in which Oliver North, working within the Reagan administration, sold arms to Israel, which then sold the arms to Iran, in order to get Iranian help in freeing American prisoners in Lebanon as well as illegally make money under the table for the Contras in Nicaruagua to battle the Sandinistas – which may have also involved the cocaine trade.
The Gulf War (ie Desert Storm), which came only shortly after the Iran-Iraq war, in which America sided with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, happened for three reasons. The first was obviously for oil. Even in the early 1990s the politicians weren’t yet embarrassed enough to admit that, and the public wasn’t yet conscious enough to realize that nations outside of the United States had issues of their own that might influence global trade. The second was because the United States was still embarrassed by what had happened in Vietnam. For more on that second issue, I definitely recommend Andrew Bacevich’s book – I could never make the case he does in this space.
But the real reason is to exercise foreign policy. Here comes the doctrine:
1) Despite the fact that the Nuremberg trials found preemptive war a war crime (Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union preemptively in order to prevent a Soviet invasion of Germany), America will exercise previously decided war crimes and demonstrate that they are necessary and that laws against preemptive war is exempt, but only for America; this is because new technology makes those old preemptive war ideas obsolete, but only for America (which now exercised unrestrained power, with the Soviet Union collapse). 2) America alone has the willingness and capability to exert its diplomatic and military power, now that the cold war is over.
The first is somewhat self-explanatory. It says that America will do what it wants, when it wants, as long as it perceives a threat to its interests. The second has a bit more impact. If America tells you to do something, you had better do it, because nobody is coming to rescue you, and you have no chance of defeating America. It is a lesson taken to heart by the American military machine. This is a conceit seen plainly in America’s involvement in the Iraqi no-fly zone, Somalia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. I could spend an entire blog post on each of these, but it would probably do you better to just click the links and read about them – particularly the Iraqi no fly Zone. I remember hearing about this as a kid, but I simply thought that the Americans and Iraqis had agreed that Iraqis won’t fly in these zones – it turns out that Americans were shooting down Iraqis in these zones and that the Iraqis had never agreed to this; in other words, it was a continued war that few realized, but that went on for more than a decade, along with draconian sanctions that caused the suffering and death of literally millions.
It was an American version of the Siege of Leningrad.
The attacks of September 11, 2001 came as a surprise to everyone aware enough at the time. I think, personally, I was not quite aware enough at the time, despite being sixteen years old. I was in homeroom when I first heard that something was going on, which must have been sometime between 9:30 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. I also remember, throughout the day, rumors that other attacks had happened, in places like LA and Chicago. Obviously, none of them came to pass. I was an asshole in my teens, and about the biggest emotion I remember from the time was boredom. I remember hoping that this would upset each classes normal schedule. The only two classes I remember specifically were my English class, with a teacher I hated, in which the normal class routine went as scheduled, which disappointed me. I also remember my last class of the day, which was creative writing, and we got to sit and watch the news for the whole class period, with the expectation that we would take notes in our journal and then write a few pages about how we felt afterward. That seemed like a sweet deal to me, since it meant we didn’t really have to do anything except watch TV. I remember, after getting home, wishing that every channel on TV would stop talking about the 9/11 attacks and get back to more entertaining programming (the coverage of the 9/11 attacks went on for more than a few days on many channels – and yet I was so far up my own ass I didn’t realize that this meant it was kind of a big deal). I remember complaining about seeing the same footage of the twin towers falling over and over again on TV, rather than showing something I would rather see (reruns of the Simpsons, anyone?). Needless to say, I had no idea the level of impact the 9/11 attacks had, and would have, on both American and world affairs.
The invasion of Afghanistan came soon after. Support for George W. Bush had skyrocketed. Everyone was a super patriot. American flags were everywhere. Nobody questioned that most of the hijackers were Saudi Arabian, nor that Osama bin Laden, the easily fingered ringleader, was also Saudi. And everyone had forgotten that the Soviet Union’s adventure into Afghanistan had ended in disaster. The idea of Afghanistan as the “graveyard of empires” was already in the aether. But it was only a decade after our supposed Vietnam redeeming victory in Desert Storm, and our purported success in the Balkans during the 1990’s, and to boot this was a just war against people who attacked us first.
There was success in Afghanistan at first. The Taliban, having seemingly forgotten the guerilla tactics that won them victory in the 1990’s after the Soviet-Afghan war, attempted to face American forces head on. They were obviously defeated over and over again. But after the distraction of the impending Iraq war had swayed the American attention, the Taliban, alongside al-Qaeda, rediscovered their guerilla/insurgent roots. America forgot about Afghanistan as Iraq loomed on the horizon.
Afghanistan is a war that makes sense to many Americans. Osama bin Laden had been given asylum in Afghanistan after being banished from Saudi Arabia (some time spent in Sudan in there, too). Osama bin Laden was given asylum by the Taliban, whom he had helped during the Soviet-Afghan war. The Taliban had been helped by al-Qaeda in the 1980s and 1990s. Osama bin Laden was in Afghanistan when 9/11 happened.
Although I also imagine that many Americans don’t know that Osama bin Laden is Arabic, but the Taliban is not, and that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are not the same thing. Either way, I think most Americans would see Operation Enduring Freedom as a just war, regardless of their ignorance on the war aims or the local culture being faced; or what it would actually require to ingratiate ourselves; or whether the culture even wanted what the west was offering, despite the propaganda that says everyone wants what Americans have.
However, the war in Iraq was a hard sell. The justification was 1) that Saddam Hussein harbored Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) with the implicit assumption that he had the willingness and capability of using them against the United States (or, at the very least, US allys such as Israel) and 2) that the Saddam Hussein regime had ties to al-Qaeda, despite al-Qaeda despising regimes like Saddam’s for not being Islamic enough. Many in the American public did not buy this, particularly liberal leaning people.
I was one of those liberal leaning people. I remember in March of 2003 when the war began, I had a debate with my co-workers at a restaurant I worked at. It was me and one of my managers against just about everyone else working there, with the two of us voicing our disapproval with the Iraq war – the conversation stayed civil, but it was an ongoing debate throughout the evening that I was working there. This is about the first time in my life I remember ever being political about anything, but I remember being very charged up about the issue. I don’t think I really knew much anything about politics at the time, except that I was against war, especially unjustified war. That is a position I maintain to this day – I am a libertarian, but above all, I am against war.
The Iraq war started in 2003 was supposed to be “shock and awe.” That phrase became somewhat of a punchline after what happened in Iraq, but given what the actual aims of the war were, it makes sense. One has to understand that all sorts of justifications for the war have been attributed to George W. Bush. All of them have some truth, but were almost certainly not the war aims. The first, that I’ve heard from numerous liberals, is that George W. Bush only wanted to go into Iraq because his daddy wasn’t able to finish the job. This is a very pedestrian motive that certainly fits with the liberal notion that GWB was an infantile minded rube that would throw around billions of dollars and human lives for petty feuds like a Roman Emperor. There might be some enmity harbored by the younger Bush, but I hardly see this as a primary motive. Another two motives, which I will combine into one, and one in which I myself bought into for a long time, is that the way the Iraq war went is exactly how the Bush administration wanted it to go – a long-term occupation that benefits a) the military-industrial complex and b) the oil companies. America’s prolonged presence would simply mean bigger profits for arms manufacturers, nation builders, and oil companies.
I don’t discount any of these motives. Primarily the war profiteering motives. I’m sure there are many businesses that saw their profits climb substantially during the Iraq war. But I am saying that this wasn’t the primary motive for this war. Once again, I attribute two motivations: 1) establishing the idea of preemptive war, and the American prerogative to do it and 2) demonstrating that America can easily overthrow a regime and implant a new one.
Let us imagine that the Iraq war had been a resounding success. Imagine if the American military had gone into Iraq and overthrown Saddam within a matter of weeks and installed a functioning democracy a month later. What do you think Syria, Lybia, and Iran would think? What would they do if America had threatened to do the same thing to them that America had done to Iraq?
That is what the American government wanted to achieve. A military preeminence that gave them the Big Stick that Teddy Roosevelt talked about – do as we say, or you know what will happen. Iraq was to be the smoking gun the government could hold to other countries, showing that they mean business. It was supposed to permanently throw off the humiliation that was the Vietnam war, showing that the American military had the teeth to back up its hardline diplomacy.
The biggest failure, as far as the Bush administration is concerned, is that we didn’t win with ‘shock and awe.’ That was the plan. We were supposed to be in and out quickly. We were supposed to take that smoking gun from the chest of Iraq and point it at all over the Middle East and ask who is next. Regimes such as Assad and Qaddafi were supposed to quail at our ability to overthrow regimes and give in to our demands. The fact that the military-industrial complex profited mightily from Iraq may have been part of the plan, or simply just an opportunity that arose, but we can say for sure that that the real war aims were a failure.
At least maybe the first military aim. America has not shown that it is capable of easily overthrowing regimes. But America has shown that it is willing to engage in war preemptively. George W. Bush codified this with Iraq. The Obama administrations have taken this to the next level in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Syria, and West Africa.
But what has changed the most between George W. Bush and Barack Obama is that war itself has become too unpopular. So the new war is the use of drones and special operations, with little approval or knowledge by the American people. This allows the regime to announce minimal ‘boots on the ground’ while obfuscating how militarily involved the US government is.
The American public has forgotten about our wars. The liberals that protested George W. Bush have mostly stayed silent on Barack Obama’s military actions, no matter how much they inflict on war crimes. Foreign affairs have been only a side note to the 2016 elections – Trump’s supposed banning on Muslims entering the US ignores the gargantuan crisis in Europe and the actual conflict in Syria; the focus on ISIS ignores the greater Middle Eastern crisis in places like Libya, Egypt, and Afghanistan; both Trump and Sanders promising to close America off from foreign trade is advertised as being America First without any clue of how economics works.
The majority of Americans are behind the drone program without understanding the effect of blowback. The majority of Americans agree with the torture program with no self awareness about how this makes them the bad guy – or at the very best, the good guy that everyone hates.
No matter how you vote, just try to think of yourself as NOT the bad guy.
I recently finished listening to Dan Carlin’s sixth and final episode of his amazing Hardcore History series “Blueprint for Armageddon” about World War I. It’s not hyperbolic to say that this six part series, totaling almost 24 hours worth of listening at almost two years in the making, is a masterpiece, and I can’t recommend it enough – and right now it’s still available to listen to for free. Not only is it a masterpiece because it was so well done, but also because World War I is still affecting our lives today more than most people realize.