February 03, 2012
Never Ending Cycle
I would generally agree that people today value the costs and benefits of violence and war differently than they did during the Cold War or during the age of imperialism. I not only agree that in these previously periods the US considered itself as a “force to be reckoned with,” but also that humans have come to think about war differently. War has changed a lot over time from both soldiers and society’s perspectives.
In previous wars, if a soldier wanted to kill the enemy he had to stare him down and kill him, or at least witness the guy first-hand before shooting at him. Today, with the increasing developments of military technology that notion is gone. With drone technologies, that solider can now sit comfortable in his base hundreds of miles away and with the press of one button, annihilate his enemy. This is a very dangerous change: the human aspect is gone from war. Soldiers no longer need the courage to watch the life leave their enemies eyes; rather, they merely push a button and watch a cloud of dust rise. Americans are much more willing to use drones than to risk American lives to fulfill a mission. In the future, I think we will see a lot more fighting using technology instead of soldiers. Americans place a lot of emphasis on their soldiers' lives, but have less qualms about using technology to fight wars.
Another factor in the shift in the evaluation of war is that our generation has never felt the full effects of war. During the Cold War, people lived in constant fear of attack; the stress was palpable. Today, we have no first-hand experience of war. The Iraq war is not on US soil and therefore falls in the background, having no direct affect on the everyday lives of Americans. This factor makes people more open to the abstract idea of war--as a way of asserting political power-- since people do not know its full effects.
I think that the fundamental attribution error can also have a dangerous affect on our society. The fundamental attribution error is a theory that our personal failings can be explained by attributing them to situational factors, while other’s failings are attributed to dispositional problems. With war, this theory can be dangerous because it can cloud our opinion of events. We say that the peace process and wars failed in the past because leaders mishandles situations; their personalities and approaches to conflicts were the source of failure. Today, rather than taking the blame for failure in war, we attribute our failure to situational factors like terrain or rogue civilians. If the US accepts responsibility for its mistakes (such as not having correct information with regard to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction), then we are far more likely to learn from our mistakes.
Nobody wants to go to war, but Americans are also unwillingly to let attacks on US citizens go unanswered. After 9/11 Americans were angry and wanted revenge on anyone associated with the attacks. Professor Stam pointed out that compared to the amount of motor vehicle accidents in a year, the number of Americans killed in the 9/11 attacks was very small, yet it still warranted a United States response. I think a big problem that this country and many countries have is that no act of violence can go unanswered; there always must be a response. The US had many reasons for invading Iraq, but one reason why Americans were initially so supportive of the war was due to the anger Americans felt. Regardless of how society weighs the costs and benefits of war, an attack always demands a response. The response does not have to necessarily constitute war, but it will constitute violence. So, the vicious cycle continues: violence begets violence, even if people know its destructive nature.
Is there less tolerance for war? Probably, but there is a distinction to be made between war and violence. In today’s society, we tolerate more violence. From violent video games to crime shows, people are exposed to violence with such frequency that eventually people become numb to it. While most people in the world are probably against war, the truth of the matter is that they probably are not against violence in certain circumstances. Sometimes the only way to fight violence is with more violence. Many dictators do not respond to diplomacy, but the threat of violence can elicit a response. Even if society today claims to be less tolerant of full fledged war, I believe that society will always keep violence and war on the table, even if it is a last resort.
January 28, 2012
Our Values are Changing When it Comes to Warfare
Today, especially in the United States, there is less and less tolerance for war. Take, for example, the lead-up to the Iraq War and compare it to more recent opinions on the state of American intervention in the Middle East. After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers on September 11, 2001, Americans overwhelmingly expressed support for intervention in Iraq. Despite the fact that Saudi Arabians instigated the attacks, the general consensus in America was that we must band together against a dangerous future enemy in order to stop potential future threats from becoming realities. And the way to do this, so we thought, was to engage in a preventative war with Iraq. Available evidence today shows that much of the premise for war was false when we entered Iraq in 2003. Nonetheless, we could not have known this at the time, and the Bush administration honorably pursued its duty to protect the United States from its enemies. Evidence that Iraq was concealing weapons of mass destruction has been virtually rebuked, but the unity of Americans during a time in which we were scared of future terrorist attacks from the Middle East pushed us toward the only logical option: war. We did not want Iraq to obtain dangerous weapons that could be used against us on American soil. So, logically, naturally, and rightfully, the Bush administration used the preventative argument hat it would be easier to oust Saddam Hussein before he had fully developed these capabilities than to pursue that outcome after he had succeeded in deploying them in his arsenal.
Of course, we know that today, a majority of Americans question the acts of aggression that we used in Iraq without being truly “justified”. In 2003, nearly 75% of Americans were supported the war in Iraq. However, by 2009, polls showed that 58% of Americans believed that the invasion of Iraq was a “mistake” – and this number has risen significantly in the past few years. The irony that I see here is that most Americans were supportive of the war at the time it began. But as the war dragged on, and we were not out of Iraq within a few months as intended, we completely changed our minds. We chose to blame the Bush administration rather than America as a whole. We refused to take ownership of a bad situation, a common and dishonorable quality that too many Americans display today. Nevertheless, there has been a reversal in American views of foreign relations in the last ten years. Although people today tend to argue that beginning the Iraq War in the first place was a “mistake”, this is nothing more than a normative view based on the information we have today that was not available back in 2002. This revisionist history suggests that things did not turn out as planned, and that the war might have been avoided or pursued in a different way. However, we have to deal with what is, not what could have been. And those who reminisce on the woes of the past do nothing positive for the future of our nation. Complaining about what happened in the past regarding the war is not a way of encouraging future successes. This sentiment only furthers negative views that Americans are war-prone and war-driven, and have no respectable values – especially in criticism of Republicans.
Based on my previous argument, I believe that people today value the costs and benefits of war differently that they did during the Cold War or during the Age of Imperialism. In both of these periods, America and the Western world viewed itself as a force to be reckoned with by all. While we still take this position today, we are less likely to forcefully assert our dominance because we are worried about the public perceiving the nation as war-obsessed. The fact that America was so sure of itself during the Cold War is not bad. In fact, this is what gave us the will to contain the Soviet Union, contain the spread of communism, and emerge as the sole superpower of the world. Partially motivated by the fear that the communists were going to take over, Americans found the strength to counter and prevail over an equally-significant power. We were certain that the benefits of going to war (even without much direct combat) would be best, and would far outweigh the costs of such a war. Today, on the other hand, Americans live in a state of fear of being viewed as powerful and uncaring dominators by the rest of the world. While it is important that we maintain peaceful relations with our allies, it is equally important that we protect ourselves and maintain our position of dominance. To many Americans today, the risk of going to war in order to create a better outcome for the entire world is just too dangerous. We would rather sit happily at home (and in turn, possibly see nations surpass our greatness) and do nothing. The same comparison can be made for the world situation during which imperialism was an important matter – but with a different British approach. The British Empire was bent on attaining as many colonies as possible in order to ensure that they maintained their economic dominance throughout the world. Britain and the other European colonizers recognized the possibility of increased influence among nations as worth the risk of creating conflicts. Whether this is ethical or not is not the question. But it is clear that values of the costs and benefits of war are certainly changing in the minds of all peoples, and especially Americans, and not necessarily for world peace and security.
January 27, 2012
Nature of Warfare Prompt (Jan 27- Feb 5)
In FLS, chapter three's analysis of war infers that people across history have had similar thoughts and values about using violence to achieve national goals.
-Do you think that people today value the costs and benefits of war differently than they did during the Cold War or during the age of imperialism?
-As Prof. Stam implies in (an upcoming) lecture, the outcome of warfare is just the "same damn thing after another." In what respects do you agree/disagree?