"And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars..." (Matt 24:6)
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The debate on whether Canada should join the new U.S. National Missile Defense (NMD) weapons system is off to a bad start. MP Art Hanger said, "the proposed NMD system would protect North America from attacks by rogue states." The rogue states he names are North Korea, Iran and Iraq. I think he missed one: the United States. I don't say this to be provocative or controversial. I hate rant journalism. Just listen to the evidence.
Last year, the U.S. used NATO rather than the United Nations to back its war against Yugoslavia, though the UN Charter says only the UN can take international military action. The U.S. also refuses to pay its huge debt to the UN. It failed to ratify the new International Criminal Court alongside states such as Libya, Iraq, China and Israel. Same thing with the anti-land-mines convention. It didn't ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. It did sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, but never implemented its provisions.
The NMD itself is a kind of rogue action since, as even the U.S. admits, recent disarmament treaties will have to be suspended or cancelled if it goes ahead. It's also failed to ratify a host of other conventions, such as the Law of the Sea and women's rights. Along with Somalia, it hasn't signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child because it doesn't like the provision keeping kids out of the military. Sometimes, pundits say, "Oh this is just the U.S. following its isolationist traditions." But it isn't. Isolationists don't send planes out to bomb all over the world.
As in 1986, when the U.S. bombed Libya over an unproved claim that Libyans had been responsible for a bomb set in a Berlin nightclub that killed a U.S. soldier. Or last year's bombing of a Sudanese factory over an unproved claim that it made explosives used against U.S. embassies. You can exempt the bombing of Iraq in the Persian Gulf war if you want, since it had a UN cover; but not subsequent attacks, for which the U.S. says it no longer needs UN resolutions. The U.S. has backed coups in Iran, Guatemala, Chile and Brazil, among others. It was behind assassinations or attempts against leaders of China, the Dominican Republic, the Congo and Fidel Castro"five or six" of which the head of the CIA acknowledged, though far more are known. It defied World Court rulings on its war against Nicaragua and has invaded the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Panama and Haiti. The U.S. has also used chemical weapons such as Agent Orange in Vietnam and radioactive shell casings in the Gulf War. For that matter, it tested nuclear weapon fallout on its own military and civilians, without telling them, in the 1950s. It is the only country to ever use nuclear weapons in war.
Not only does it act like a rogue state; it has the psyche to back it up. I'm thinking of the hysteria over the Cuban child, Elian Rodriguez. The U.S. assumes that, as a nation, it has the right to decide whether this boy will return to his father in Cuba, and Americans are debating iten masse! It dominates their presidential politics and their news. Anything else barely exists in the public sphere. It's demented. (I grant this paragraph verges on rant. It's the best I can manage.)
It's as if you have a psycho in your neighborhood who bullies everybody because he's paranoid and grandiose, then he starts placing cannons around his house and you earnestly argue about whether to help him or try to dissuade him, when all along you're simply terrified of the guy. What we have here is a world in denial.
When 17,800 runners kicked off the recent 26.2-mile Boston Marathon, most weren't thinking about the Battle of Marathon, some 2.5 millennia ago. Nor are many who try on "trench" coats thinking about the 10 months of slaughter in the trenches of Verdun in World War Ior the Nazi night-bombing of London apartment blocks when they pick up a "blockbuster" novel or video.
These terms come straight from the sharp experience of warand signal how deeply war has taken root in human consciousness and culture.
"War has had an enormous impact on our language without most people being aware of it," says linguist Anne Soukhanov, the US general editor for the Encarta World English Dictionary.
"Rarely does an important work of military history go out of print . The reason for this is simple: The history of war represents fully half the tale of mankind's social interactions," writes Caleb Carr in his introduction to the Modern Library War Series.
If this assessment seems overblown, note how many times a reference to "doing battle" turns up in daily conversation. Try to find an action movie that does not develop the theme of "arming the hero" in the opening 20 minutes. Or a sports memoir that can get through a chapter without some allusion to war.
War also leaves deep traces on cities and landscapes. Fields of white crosses from Ypres to Verdun testify to the human devastation of World War I. Parts of the battlefield of Verdun are so wasted by molten metal that even weeds won't grow, more than four-score years after the last shell exploded in battle. In Paris, you can still see signs on public transport that assign seating to those "mutilated" in war.
To count the cost of war, you need to notice what's no longer there. When centuries-old stone houses turn abruptly to blocks of concrete in the Spanish city of Guernica, it's because a civil war passed that way. The A-bomb dome in Hiroshima is a starker reminder that war can blot out a city in an instant.
Historians say the last century has been the most violent ever. Two world wars focused the full force of science and technology on waging war among nations or targeting specific groups for extermination.
Nor was the killing restricted to high-tech weaponry. Tens of thousands of Rwandans were killed at the edge of a machete. Some 250,000 children under the age of 18 are involved in war in 30 countries, according to experts on the subject.
"In World War I, nine soldiers were killed for every civilian life lost. In today's wars, it is estimated that 10 civilians die for every soldier or fighter killed in battle," say war correspondent Roy Gutman and David Rieff in their book, Crimes of War (W.W. Norton, 1999).
In describing religion as a "sham and a crutch for weak-minded people," the governor of Minnesota has drawn criticism. But he has also attracted enthusiastic defenders who turn the attention to faiths checkered history.
Callers to my national radio show solemnly intoned the same hackneyed charge. "Religion has started most of the wars in history!" they declared.
The only trouble is that the idea that organized faith provokes most of humanitys wars is utterly untrue.
Consider, for instance, the history of the United States. Since 1776, we have fought ten major conflicts. None of these struggles focused on religious priorities or doctrinal disputes. In fact, prior to our Cold War battles against officially atheist Communist powers (North Korea, North Vietnam) we fought all our wars primarily against powers (England, Mexico, Spain, Germany) that shared with us a commitment to some form of Christianity. The War Between the States, by far the deadliest conflict in our past, centered on political and moral differences rather than religious or doctrinal ones. The boys in blue and the boys in gray who killed more than 600,000 of one another not only worshipped the same God, but often did so from the same hymnals.
Beyond the borders of North America, the bloodiest, most ambitious conquerors in human history accomplished their deadly work with little reference to religious priorities. Pure lust for power drove Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar (and his Roman successors), Attila, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin. None of these tyrants made serious attempts to impose their faith on victim nations.
The twentieth century provides little or no evidence to support the contention that religion causes most human conflict. The greatest and costliest struggles of the uniquely blood-soaked hundred year epic which just concludedWorld War I, World War II, the many "hot" conflicts of the Cold Warcould scarcely be defined as religious disputes. Even Hitlers targeting of the Jews for annihilation bore little connection to faith-based concerns or hatreds. The Nazis killed according to ethnicity; they spared neither Jewish atheists nor Jewish converts to Christianity.
Relatively minor wars of the last hundred years (the Arab-Israeli conflicts, the struggle in Northern Ireland, the fighting in the Balkans) may contain unmistakable religious elements. But these struggles claimed only a fraction of the victims of horrific battles between co-religionists (the unspeakably bloody Iran-Iraq war), or genocidal tribal conflicts (in Rwanda and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa).
Is there any evidence that before the advent of the worlds great and enduring religions, human beings behaved in a less warlike or murderous manner? Looking at the warring empires of the ancient world, where did religious imperatives play a key role in their struggles? Egyptians and Babylonians, Assyrians and Persians, Athenians and Spartans, made little effort to force their rival powers to accept their distinctive godsbut this didnt keep them from slaughtering one another over the course of thousands of years.
Of course, its easy to find disgusting examples of brutal butchery committed in the name of a loving God. The Crusaders, for instance, massacred Moslems and Jews (and, in fact, other Christians when they sacked Constantinople) all in the name of some holy purpose. Following the Protestant Reformation, The Thirty Years War brought about a bloodbath in the heart of Europewith an estimated one-third of the German population slaughtered by the contending armies. But even such struggles conducted in the name of faith contained elements of power politics and greedwith Catholic France, for instance, incongruously allied with the Protestant side in the Thirty Years War.
Describing wars in simplistic terms as "religious conflicts" inevitably leads to confusion and misstatements. If some clergyman tried to convince the public that religion through the ages has been a force solely for good, with no history of cruelty or hypocrisy, thoughtful people would rightly dismiss his arguments. The statement that "religion causes most wars in history" is similarly one-sided, ludicrous, extreme and ignorant.
Crawling through a field in hostile territory, a soldier spots an enemy. What does he do? He might fire up his palmtop computer, pinpoint the exact GPS coordinates of the foe, and pipe the information over a satellite phone network back to headquarters.
A U.S. Army battle laboratory in Colorado is working to apply such personal tech breakthroughs to the combat zone. Select troops have already tested prototypes with the labs Joint Expeditionary Digital Information (JEDI) program.
Besides a rugged palmtop computer, the JEDI arsenal includes a mobile phone, a lightweight GPS receiver and Viper rangefinder binoculars, which can display the geographic location of targets as far away as 4 km (2.5 miles).
A soldier with the JEDI array can send data to his superiors via satellite almost instantly, said Capt. Chris Eubank with the U.S. Space and Missile Defense Battle Lab in Colorado Springs.
Commanding officers can alert JEDI troops to hostile forces by beaming information from headquarters to the field. An icon would mark the location of the enemy on a map displayed on the palmtop.
The palmtop runs Microsoft Windows software using a 233 MHz Pentium II processor, packs 32 MB of RAM, and has a touch-active screen. The mobile phone can automatically dial up, connect to headquarters via a satellite hookup and transmit the necessary data in less than two minutes.
Somalia 1992. Haiti 1994. Bosnia 1996. Kosovo 1999.
The "humanitarian" military campaign has become a distinctive feature of U.S. foreign policy in recent years. But is it really humanitarian?
Not at all, writes Noam Chomsky in his new book, The New Military Humanism (Common Courage Press). Indeed, the scholar-activist finds scant evidence in human history of wars fought out of a sense of compassion.
The U.S., with its long record of aggression, epitomizes the hypocrisy of nations that have instigated wars under altruistic pretexts, he argues.
In Kosovo, several factors, none of them humanitarian, motivated a military campaign that had the very effectmass expulsion of Kosovar Albaniansthat it was supposed to prevent, Chomsky says. He cites the recurrent need to stimulate military spending as one major motive for the war.
In all essential respects, the United States global behavior is the same in the post-Soviet era as during the Cold War, he contends. U.S. interest in defending its unjust share of wealth has not changed, so why should we assume its modus operandi is now somehow nobler? The only difference in todays one-superpower world is that the United States has many more opportunities for low-risk intervention.
Every instance of American military intervention since the collapse of the Soviet Union has been utterly self-interested, in Chomskys view. Thus, the 1992 Marine landing in Somalia, allegedly to rescue thousands from starvation, was actually an elaborate effort to showcase U.S. military capabilities. Operation Restore Hope may also have taken as many Somali lives (between 7,000 and 10,000, the CIA estimated) as it saved (10,000 to 25,000, according to the U.S. Refugee Policy Group).
The 1994 occupation of Haiti did restore the elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Chomsky acknowledges, but only after Washington had facilitated his overthrow by "a murderous military regime." Whats more, the United States forced Aristide to accept "an extremely harsh version" of its economic regimen as the price for his return to power.
Chomsky thinks humanitarian intervention may become more frequent in a one-sided world with no effective check on U.S. military power. International law will matter not at all, Chomsky predicts, pointing to Washingtons cavalier dismissal of World Court opinions and the UN Charter.
"Defiance of international law and solemn obligations has become entirely open, even widely lauded in the West," he writes. Rampant lawlessness on the part of the worlds leading nuclear power is perversely depicted, Chomsky adds, as a "new internationalism that heralds a wonderful new age, unique in human history."
Tension between the United States and Russia is greater now than at any time since the end of the Cold War. But about the only people who seem alarmed by it are the American nuclear soldiersor missiliersand their Russian counterparts.
At 1 A.M. on a pitch-black night, a dense fog settled over Vanden berg Air Force Base in California. On one remote hilltop, a group of missiliers gathered. A missile was about to be launched. Nuclear launch officers have rehearsed the procedure for decades. But this night was a live launch, albeit without the nuclear payload.
They launch a Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile60 feet tall and weighing 200 tons. Built to carry three thermonuclear warheads that can hit and destroy any three cities in the world in just half an hour, the Minuteman 3 is the mainstay of Americas nuclear arsenal.
Exactly 28 minutes and 39 seconds after launch, the exercise ended with the three warheads, none of them armed, exploding over the Quadulan Islands in the South Pacific. According to the Air Force, all three struck right on target.
If the Cold War is over, why is the United States still doing such tests?
"The Cold War was a unique war," says Eugene Habiger, a retired four-star general who has a great deal of experience with that conflict. "When the war ended, the loser didnt really lose. We still had this massive military might on both sides staring each other in the face," he says.
Both sides still have the capacity to destroy the planet, Habiger says. When the Cold War ended, America and Russia agreed to cut in half their arsenals of 12,000 nuclear weapons. But soon enough, relations with Russia began to disintegrate, and no further reductions were authorized. "The fact that we have not been able to get down to lower and lower levels of nuclear weapons is troubling to me," he says.
For the men and women working at a missile silo hidden in the wheat fields of Wyoming, this destructive power is a daily reality. "What we could do is possibly end civilization as we know it," says Captain Bob Highley.
The 10 missiles in Highleys silo each carry 10 warheads. Just one thermonuclear warhead carries 20 times more destructive power than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.
Halfway round the world, Russia also has a secret nuclear world. Russia even has a brand new intercontinental ballistic missile: the Topol M.
Last year, Crile went along as Russian missiliers went through a drill. A truck with a missile launcher moved through the woods on full-combat alertready to stop, tilt its rockets to the sky and launch within minutes of receiving an order.
Habiger says that the Topol M is a very accurate missile, capable of hitting a U.S. city in less than 30 minutes when launched from Russia. Both sides can launch their missiles within minutes, he says.
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