The finality of death is both tragic and irreversible. Lady MacBeth laments the horror she and her husband perpetrated and said "would it were not so." But what is done can not be undone and reason enough for a civilised society to decide that capital punishment exceeds the limit of crew and unusual punishment. Yet sane thinking people do rationalise and determine that war is the only solution to a situation that they face. Even more impossible is that thought that a government of a civilised country can conduct a "limited war." Death either in a limited conflict, or total war, is just as final and as lady MacBeth discovered, was and is, impossible to live with.
Though we can easily identify a wide range of issues that might have lead the former American ally and wealthy son of an American business tycoon Osama Bin Laden to decide that total war against his enemies was the only solution, it was a grave and defiant decision. Throughout the Middle East dictatorships and authoritarian regimes are the normal form of government with the biggest and wealthiest of them all being Saudi Arabia, home of Bin Ladens and almost all of the nineteen people who gave up their lives to carry out the attack on the United States five years ago today.
For each of those men, they were not going to die just a little bit, they were giving up life and their future, to further their cause. Research into the lives of these people is remarkably shocking, for they were not idiots, or desperate crazed individuals, they were instead, dedicated well educated, mostly upper and middle class people, who decided that giving their lives was the right thing, the holy thing to do. They were committed to total war, not just an attack on some military target, but on the symbol of the economic giant that they believe is the source of world evil and they took not only their own lives, but the lives of civilians, passengers in the airplanes they high jacked and nearly three thousand folks in New York City.
The last time there was such an incredible attack on a civilian population was during World War II when the British commander of allied bombardment, Bomber Harris condemned to death the people of Dresden and Hamburg. Then United States President Truman approved the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In both cases the target was civilian and in both cases the loss of life was significant.
Arguments can be set forth for these heinous acts of mass murder, but it all comes down to one and only one thing. If killing people is what you are attempting to do, death is so final, it seems to matter little about motivation.
Consider if you will, the history of limited warfare. Though there will be military historians who will recall some excellent earlier examples, the first and to me the most disgusting form of limited warfare was the conflict we now call World War I, which at the time was called "The Great War." In this conflict they actually drew up rules to conduct the slaughter. No "dumb-dumb" bullets, no use of poison gas and after each slaughter of soldiers, a brief truce to clean up the bodies and body parts so a civilised battle could begin once again. World War I was the application of machinery to killing, the machine gun and the tank, massive artillery and the use of a new invention, the airplane.
When World War II ended there were a lot of loose ends and limited conflicts blossomed all around the globe; Korea, Malaya, Kenya and French IndoChina. Korea ended in a stalemate that is unresolved. IndoChina was a war in which the fighting was conducted according to limitations placed on the American military, it guaranteed defeat and because of democracy the war was called off.
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republic took on a limited war in Afghanistan, lost 25,000 soldiers and lost its empire in the process.
When the United States Ally, Iraq decided to launch a little war on its neighbour Kuwait, there was a slow, but limited response that cost Iraq serious casualties, but not the loss of territory, as the US decided to limited the war and after 9/11 decided to go back and finish the job.
When the Saudi Arabian lead attack on the United States took place five years ago, the politicians decided somebody had to take the blame for the event and since Osama Bin Laden was hiding out in Afghanistan it seemed like it was as good a target as any, but few actual troops were committed to conflict, it was to be a limited conflict with a lot of bombs dropped and then let the local war lords clean up on the sitting government and to hell with looking for Bin Laden.
A puppet leader and government was constructed along the lines of those used in Vietnam and victory proclaimed. The reality of course is that no victory occurred and NATO accepted the responsibility for mopping up and so far thirty-six Canadians have been killed in a pointless occupation limited war in which one in every five Canadians killed, has fallen by United States forces. Each day the so-called insurgents get stronger as killing people tends to make an army of occupation unpopular. If the USSR could not solve the problem in ten years and with the loss of 25,000, what are the odds that Canada and its 2,100 soldiers are going to have any possible success?
We all know the sham of excuses used by the United States government to launch its invasion of oil rich Iraq and how it was to be a limited conflict with "Shock and Awe" zapping the Iraq military and the civilians welcoming the invaders like liberators. Dead people speak much louder than living ones and after five years there is less stability in Iraq than just after the invasion occurred, there is no electrical power and the promise of oil to pay for rebuilding is just a promise. The Iraqi resistance is so successful that it is training and shipping troops to Afghanistan.
The cliches about war are not just silly phrases:
War is hell
The first casualty in war is the truth
Limited war is impossible and civilised people must accept the fact that if they resort to war, they must give up their civility and perhaps their sanity. In my favourite Shakespearean play king Harry asks his counsel if his cause is just, he repeats his demand several times knowing full well that war is not only a mortal event, but requires massive evidence to support the decision to commit the lives of men to such an expedition. In Iraq we have learned that the war was unjust, so much so that the head of the United Nations condemns the conflict as an illegal war.
As we look at the consequences of the unlimited total war begun against the United States five years ago we can quibble about the response and we all know, that had the American public shown more wisdom ,perhaps a better leader would have acted better, but both cliches about war apply here. What we need to realise is that replicating the acts of total war determine that those who do so, are themselves war criminals and no better than those who committed the first attack. Somewhere in all of this stuff "good" has been set aside.
The real enemy of the American people five years ago were the authoritarian governments of the Middle East and instead of condemning them and taking Saudi Arabia to task for the act of war, the unwise governmental leaders decided to make the bad guys, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan their buddies. They decided to use torture, they decided to ignore justice and what is good and launch a war for economic reasons.
History is not going to be kind to the era in which we live, each of us must share the blame for the "good" being ignored. American voters will have to bear most of the blame, but it is possible, this conflict now begun, could claim lives for decades. A slaughter has begun and both sides have no moral compass, no claim to righteousness and historians will condemn them for their guilt.