I watched the 1957 classic Paths of Glory starring Kirk Douglas the other day.
This brilliant picture follows an American soldier fighting in World War I. And, as bad as, if not worse than, the psychological pressure of life in the trenches and the dangers posed by German bullets and poisonous gas, was Douglas’ commanding officer.
His commander was ambitious, patriotic and utterly lacking in empathy for his own men.
At one point the commander orders Douglas to order his men on a suicide mission to take a worthless dirt pile called the “Ant Hill.”
The men barely made it out of the trenches before being cut down by machine gun fire.
Two of the soldiers made almost to the edge of their own line and one soldier was knocked unconscious while trying to leave the trench.
Seeing that the men were not making any real forward progress, the commander ordered his artillery to begin firing on his own men … a little motivational bombing.
Following the battle, the commander demanded that 100 random men be executed for cowardice for failing to take the Ant Hill.
He was talked down to just three—the three innocent soldiers of whom I earlier spoke. The men endured a brief sham trial before being promptly executed the next morning.
The cold, unfeeling machinery of authority moved slowly and steadily on. And, try as he might, Kirk Douglas could not save his men from the firing squad.
The conclusion that very bad things often occur slowly, deliberately and completely within our impotent grasp has remained on my mind in the days following.
How ironic that this movie continues to haunt me as I watch TV news people, politicians and average folks talk themselves into another Middle-eastern conflict.
I had considered writing an open letter to my president, congressman and U.S. senators urging them not to attack Syria.
I had considered reminding them how arbitrary it was to intervene in a foreign civil war because maybe 1,000 people had been killed by poison, after they sat back and watched 100,000 killed by bombs and bullets.
I had considered reminding them that any armed conflict can be justified if the proper arguments are used … and that, even though they have designated their intentions as a “Happy fun-time democracy delivery,” bombing a sovereign nation is an act of war.
I had considered pointing out the sheer cost of continuing to export state-sponsored terror attacks on anyone who looks at us cross-eyed; not just the cost in money and precious resources, but in lives during the conflict and the revenge attacks such hubris may ordain.
I had considered mentioning that, the more often we run off to bomb, sanction and invade our world neighbors, the more we marginalize ourselves as irrational psychopaths with an extreme case of little man syndrome.
I had considered urging them to put their energy into addressing America’s crumbling infrastructure, underfunded schools, homelessness, hunger, unemployment, crime—my goodness, the country to the south of us is largely controlled by murderous drug cartels, so why haven’t we declared war on them? The crime along the Mexican border poses a much greater threat to American citizens than does the Syrian Civil War.
But, then I remembered, I am just a working class citizen in the lower-lower-middle-class.
I have no lobbyist.
I have no special interest.
I have no millions to donate.
I have no sweetheart deals to give.
Perhaps these folks in the machinery of authority are wiser, more well-informed and worldly than a jack-of-all-trades-turned small town journalist.
I mean, it’s not like I won some vapid popularity contest that bequeathed upon me ultimate power over lives and treasure.
However, I am not immune to caprice. The fact that we have not invaded the African Continent with food and medicine to prevent millions from dying leads me to believe that lobbing death from afar into a nation whose government is attempting to defend itself from being overthrown is far from a moral imperative.
Would the American government not use every method of murder at its disposal if thousands of its citizens attempted to overthrow Washington D.C.? The ghosts of Gettysburg and Antietam might have something to say about that.
Even if Russia does not retaliate, even if Syrian orphans of those we murder do not, 20 years hence, kill American civilians, even if not one U.S. soldier perishes as a result, even if not one innocent Syrian is killed, even if not one tax dollar were to be used to fund such a sinister plan, is yet another foreign entanglement morally justified?
To all the politicians who support this proposal, I urge you to make haste; gather your guns, pack your pajamas, fund your own airfare to Syria and join whichever side you feel is most righteous … lest your cowardice compels you to send American children to exact your perverse notions of justice.
As for me, I hereby declare that no more war, no more unchecked aggression, no more waste or death occurs in my name—not in my name and not cloaked in the colors of my homeland.
Ultimately, whether a little motivational bombing will convince the Syrian government to stick to acceptable methods of murdering its citizens remains to be seen.