There is a very real tendency, particularly in certain circles of American thought, to believe that somehow, just by changing policy, wars can be ended and peace can be built. The truth is, whenever violence has been utilized, there really is no going back.
We see it with the isolationist crowd, who think that just by pulling our military forces back and no longer projecting power around the world, foreign powers and guerrilla groups will no longer have any reason to hate us or attack Americans. While somewhat separate, the Obama administration’s “Reset Button” fiasco with Russia is emblematic of this mindset.
We see it with the drug-legalization people, who claim that simply making drugs legal will end the violence in Mexico, the Southwest, and Central America. History shows that the structures and cultures that led to the phenomenon of “El Narco” were there before drugs exploded in the U.S. in the ’60s and ’70s, and the growing diversification of the cartels will allow them to survive the erosion of the drug market.
But ultimately, the point is that once blood has been spilled, whether for ideology, political agenda, ethnic feud, or money, there is no way of putting that blood back where it came from. Dead is dead. Death affects people. Violent death more than anything else. Violence changes the path of a nation/society irrevocably.
Before Daash/ISIS became a cause du jour, the next designated Mongol Horde, many reminders of the growing violence in post-American Iraq were dismissed with “Well, we shouldn’t have been there anyway! The Iraq War was a mistake!” None of these sentiments have any practicality in the long run. Whether one agrees with the invasion and subsequent counterinsurgency in Iraq or not, the fact remains that it happened, and the effects will be felt for decades, possibly centuries, to come.
Power structures were shifted, old hatreds were inflamed, and new ones built. Trying to withdraw into a cocoon and think that’s going to fix matters, put everything back the way it was, is the act of an infant. There is no going back. There’s no putting that genie back in the bottle. The situation has to be dealt with as it is, not as one might wish it should be, should certain different actions have been taken in the past.
Mistakes should be learned from. That is, in many ways, the whole point of learning history: to learn from others’ mistakes instead of having to learn from your own, to avoid your mistakes by having knowledge of the historical ones. But all too often, the mistakes are pointed to as an accusation in lieu of actually approaching the situation objectively and attempting to find a solution.
Of course, the solution is never as simple as “Bring all the boys home” or “Legalize the drugs.” No human problem is that simple. Warfare, particularly guerrilla and proxy warfare (which is emerging as the dominant form of conflict/power projection in the post-WWII world), is particularly complex.
Every conflict has a long pileup of history, economic factors, feuds, and politics underlying it. There’s no simple way of ending any of them. And once a faction is involved, it can’t magically become uninvolved, no matter how badly it might want to. All actions have consequences, and they have to be dealt with, for better or worse.
(Featured Image Courtesy: Aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, by Timothy O’Sullivan. Courtesy HankeringForHistory.com)