In my opinion, there needs to be two kinds of history classes taught to our children — one for “normal” history, and one on war itself, for war does define so much of human history. But the war history course would need to show not only the honor, courage, and heroism found on every battlefield, but also the crimes against humanity and nightmarish horror that are part and parcel of every war.
It’s said that the more one studies war, the more one hates war. This retired Navy man would agree with that statement, for I’ve studied war since I was very young and I hate even the thought of going to war. I remember pulling in to Dubai not long after Desert Storm (back in the early 1990’s) and seeing street vendors selling pictures of the “highway of death” where aircraft from the carrier battle group my ship supported obliterated retreating Iraqi troops. The photos were grisly, and by extension, I’d been a part of that. It reminded me of photos I’d seen of the aftermath of the firebombing of Tokyo on March 10th, 1945.
I didn’t blame our own commanders. If given the order to conduct the same attack, I would have pulled the trigger, too, for such is war, and war is sometimes necessary. As time has passed, I’ve found that Kuwait had been stealing Iraq’s oil (by using horizontal drilling) and by doing so had outraged the Iraqis. If that is true, then in a way, Kuwait had dared Iraq to take action, and Iraq did just that.
But regardless of who was right or wrong, seeing those pictures of what my carrier battle group had done was (among other experiences) is what made me such a believer in effective (non-appeasement, non-Trumpian) diplomacy, for it’s only when diplomacy (up to and including military posturing like Kennedy’s blockade of Cuba) fails that war becomes necessary. If there had been effective diplomacy between Baghdad and Kuwait, many men would have lived longer, happier lives. Likewise, if George W. Bush had not been so eager to invade Iraq, over 100,000 Iraqi men, women, and children would have lived longer, happier lives. Instead, Bush was eager to invade, as is shown by the fact that in his very first cabinet meeting — nearly eight months before 9/11 — the main topic of discussion was the invasion of Iraq and who would get which oil fields.
In other words, our invasion of Iraq really was a crime against humanity.
We need to study war, not only to honor the courage and sacrifice of those sent to fight, but also to rub our own noses in its horror, that the velvet glove of diplomacy should be given every effort to prevent the use of the mail’d fist within.