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Letters from Downunder

Friends and enemies

Submitted by Lindsay
Melbourne Australia!

 "Injustice, poverty, slavery, ignorance - these may be cured
by reform or revolution. But men do not live only by fighting evils.
They live by positive goals, individual and collective, a vast variety
 of them, seldom predictable, at times incompatible."
              Isaiah Berlin; four essays on Liberty (1969)

(7/2012) During the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln made a speech in which he referred sympathetically to the Southern rebels. An elderly lady, a staunch unionist, upbraided him for speaking kindly of his enemies when he ought to be thinking of destroying them. His response was classic: "Why, madam, " Lincoln answered, "do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?"

This statement is probably the most profound ever made about war and enemies, for it is undeniably true. What a pity this was the opposite of the plans the allies had for Germany and Japan at the end of the Second World War. Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin were determined to reduce both countries to unarmed, agricultural states, vassals to the victorious leaders. But it did not work out that way, for many reasons, and today both Germany and Japan are necessary partners, if not outright friends.

It shows just how little politicians and military leaders, for all their supposed superiority, are able to foresee the results of their actions, policies, and alliances. Yes, they had a goal, but such a blinkered one that the real outcome was the opposite of the one expected. But they couldn't be wrong could they? No, of course not - so wearing the same blinkers they proceeded to boost military spending, made the manufacture of armaments top priority, and rubbed their hands in satisfaction. Well, as a result they won some things, not wars as such, but the defeat of folk like Saddam Hussein, once staunch ally but latterly tyrant, and the death of Osama Bin Laden . And these were hailed as 'Victories'!

And to achieve this civilian causalities of around 70% occurred (called 'collateral damage' by those doing the inflicting) and took and still takes trillions upon trillions of dollars - money which, in any humane society would have been used for the betterment of the population.

For instance the new aircraft carrier, the Gerald R Ford already has a price tag of $12.3 BILLION, according to defense department data, and will not be ready for at least five more years. What, pray, is its intended purpose? Sink the Chinese navy? Make war on Costa Rica? Anything is possible, but it has stopped unemployment figures reaching new and impossible levels. That, I believe is a cost too far.

The greatest cost, however, is the alienation of people who otherwise would not have cared, even though their beliefs and ways of life were vastly different, but who were led to believe that the only answer was to kill Americans, and their supporters, in any way possible. And when the power of Al-Qaeda was smashed many young men began to put love of country, love of family, and love of friends above continued personal existence. Jihad lost its central control and split, like the broom of the sorcerer's apprentice, into a million tiny fragments all working to meet war with war, terror with terror.

For war has become the mainstay of commerce. Armaments are the American way of life. The most powerful armed forces in the world are there, we are told, to keep the peace - but the result has been to keep the war. A war that cannot be won, call it by any name you like. The war on terror was begun by terrorists calling themselves patriots who believed that holding the biggest club would deter any and all opposition, that if you were not for them then you had to be against them. Once that club began hammering the skulls and lives of those who were thought to be against them, reaction of a terrible kind set in.

And it was not just those of a different country, religion or way of government , but also Americans who disagreed. The idea of freedom of speech, of belief, of life was taken away, and that can only happen in a dictatorship, not a democracy. And here's the irony of it all: Those who profess to uphold such freedoms, who cherish independence, who love their way of life are the ones who, most of all, believe in the repression of dissidents.

The further to the right of politics you are, the more it seems you want to preserve your way of live at the expense of those who disagree with you. That is nothing more than old fashioned dictatorship and intolerance. The problem is that such outlook breeds more and more unrest and rebellion. Prisons are built, detention centres that inflict torture of the most horrible kind are permitted, all in order to keep the peace. Whose peace would that be?

Most jihadis today are young, male, not very well educated, not very religious, but mates, part of small groups, widely spread, lovers of soccer, and so normal they are invisible. They are the ones who need the Lincoln approach, who will respond to understanding, persuasion, and discourse. And the way to do that is to exhibit a mindset of tolerance, hope, and acceptance.

There is no quick fix to combat terrorism. It cannot be stopped by bombs, drones, or technology. Those who commit acts of self-destruction are zealots in their own way. It is their choice to die, but to deny them the right to live is to prolong their mission. The answer is to give them something worthwhile to live for.

To many outsiders, America is a nation bent on war, not on peace. It's time to change that, for there can be no return for anyone on earth if it continues. Lack of foresight has also propelled China onto the world stage, a nation that is catching up in technology, one with a population so large that if they were mobilized by their rulers they would, literally, be unstoppable. Will the hawks take them on? They'll need bigger blinkers if they think they can. I know many will say that Russia will regroup and implant communism again. Baloney. That all manner of unknown things will happen if they are not stopped by power. That they will be humiliated, their way of life destroyed. Would that be such a bad thing?

Ultimately, if America wants its way of life to be the way of life for the world, they have to show the world that it's a life worth having. That is not the picture at present. At one time the world looked up to America and envied your ability to lead, create marvels and live in peace. Neil Armstrong was a hero, a symbol of all that could be achieved for the future. Now the dream is a nightmare; the space program has been handed to China on a plate. They have launched their own space station, and will no doubt ask if there are any Americans volunteering for a place on the next. Now that's humiliation. The Afghan war costs, in three days, the price of a new space shuttle. What might have been achieved if the war had not been started? Men on Mars, no terrorist attacks, the economy in the black, employment high on productive things, not destructive ones. And world respect and admiration. There is absolutely no profit, ever, in war.

Surely must be time - it is actually long past time- to make peace, not war, to talk to the enemy, to give up dreams of hegemony and embrace reality tempered by a little humility.

Lindsay, Melbourne

Read Past Down Under Columns by Lindsay Coker