WAR MEMES

Posted in Rants on April 5th, 2011 by Ed

Every time the U.S. engages in one of its periodic made-for-TV post-Vietnam wars military adventures I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. We see the same images, hear the same arguments, and watch the same cheap partisan bickering (or, if the president in question is a Republican, we see the same hyperbolic jingoism and accusations of treason). The best part is that every time we start a new, uh, mission we get to start fresh and run through all of the same memes from scratch. In our brief involvement in Libya we have already covered my favorites:

1. "We must arm the rebels." You may remember this meme from conflicts such as…well, basically every country in Southeast Asia and Latin America. And the Middle East. Lindsey Graham is among the many GOPers giving this one the hard sell lately, and why not? The logic is flawless! Anybody who says they want to remove Ghadaffi from power must, by definition, be a U.S. ally because we want him out of power too. When two groups of people have the same goals that makes them allies. So we should help our allies out even though A) they have no leadership or organization of any kind and 2) we haven't the slightest idea what they'll do or how friendly to the U.S. they'll be once in power. This worked extremely well in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Bonus: if you arm the rebels, there won't be any need for U.S. ground forces!

2. The "human shields" argument. I think the U.S. has to pay royalties to Israel for this one, as it may not have invented the technique but certainly has perfected it. The U.S. engages in an overwhelming show of air power using ultra high tech weapons; eventually someone with a camera finds a burnt out building with a bunch of civilian corpses lying around; the aggressor then accuses the Bad Guy of intentionally putting his people in a position to be killed in order to score a propaganda victory. This was extremely popular in Gulf War I and we are seeing it again in Libya. Brilliant! Rather than admitting that perhaps America's gee-whiz super high tech precision Smart Munitions might not be as laser guided and pinpoint accurate as the Pentagon (and endless cable shows full of nose camera footage of bombs flying into open windows) may have led you to believe, we decide that the more likely alternative is…uh…that the Bad Guy must have stuffed likely targets with civilians to ensure a high body count! So the possibilities are A) a civilian target was unintentionally bombed or B) Bad Guy wants video of smoking corpses and thus pre-positions a few hundred poor saps in targets of legitimate military value. Let me check Occam's Razor and get back to you.

The reason I find the "human shields" excuse so morally repugnant is that it transfers blame for unintended casualties to the victims. Israel does this constantly: "We execute precision strikes but the Arabs use people as human shields. Blame Hamas, not us." Rather than having the balls to stand up and say, "We believe that we are in a just war and regrettably accept that civilian casualties are unavoidable in modern urban warfare" the aggressors hide behind laughable excuses and redirect responsibility for their own actions.

Good times. Too bad we can only enjoy these memes every few years. If only we were involved in wars more regularly.