As I, a former soldier and veteran of the Middle Eastern war, (recently reflected) on Memorial Day, I cannot help but think we do a major disservice to those we are honoring by failing to address whether they died in vain. The purpose of those wars is ostensibly to take the fight to the enemy to prevent terrorist activities in the “Homeland” and to defend our freedoms and way of life. However, the American people have apparently failed to come to terms with why Osama bin Laden perpetuated 9/11 and why ISIS, which filled the vacuum left in the wake of America’s Iraq invasion, continues to attack and threaten westerners.
Osama bin Laden issued his second fatwa on February 23, 1998, purporting to justify a declaration of war against America for the following three reasons: 1) The US was using military bases in the “holiest of places”, Saudi Arabia, to 2) Continue to bomb Iraq after the first Gulf War, leading to the death of what he has said were a million people (many people say it was “only” 500,000), and 3) US support of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Prof. Robert Pape of the University of Chicago has studied all suicide terrorist attacks in the world from 1982 to 2015 and he has concluded that nearly all are a reaction to military intervention, such as the bombing, droning, or otherwise invading of another territory. In the wake of the ISIS attacks in Belgium, the group stated it attacked Belgium because it had been a part of the coalition fighting that group in Iraq between the summer of 2014 and 2015.
However, in none of the numerous reflections or memorial services I saw, read or attended (Memorial Day weekend), including the Carmel service or the Indy 500, did these deeper issues of how to prevent more soldiers from needing to be memorialized on this day arise. Some say merely thinking about their death is memorial enough; I say thinking if they even needed to be placed in harm’s way would ensure that they are not just made footnotes in history but building blocks to a more peaceful one.
Maybe American and western foreign policy is a major cause of terrorism and maybe the US military completely disengaging from any activity in the Middle East, much less the rest of the world beyond our easily protectable shores, would actually do more to bring about peace and freedom in the Homeland with less risk to the military than following the same interventionist foreign policy that stirs up enemies where there were none before?
Vietnam is now a major peaceful trading partner with the United States. Would Al Qaeda and ISIS attack western civilians and fight US soldiers if we took our balls and went home, like I teach my children? Would you need to suffer through long TSA lines if there were no active threats? I say we try another path, because this one of the last 15, if not 25 years, has failed Americans, soldier and civilian, miserably. What is the old saying about insanity?
In closing, I just started reading Michael Scheuer’s “Imperial Hubris.” He was the head of the bin Laden unit of the CIA. He quotes Ayman al-Zawahiri from late 2003: “We thank God for appeasing us with the dilemma in Iraq after Afghanistan. The Americans are facing a delicate situation in both countries. If they withdraw they will lose everything and if they stay, they will continue to bleed to death.” The “they” at the beginning losing everything may merely be the power brokers in DC and on Wall Street; the “they” at the end are definitely the soldiers like my first battery commander, Captain Bruce Evan Hays. May he rest in God’s peace, and may the American people keep the power brokers from continuing to send more soldiers to their potentially needless deaths.
Eric S. Morris