Thursday, March 15, 2007

War is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things

For the longest time we had a poster on our wall that said "War Is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living things" [War Is Not Healthy: The True Story].

The sentence seems trite if you didn't live though the 60's but it's taking on more and more significance every day. The point is that war is hell. People die. Innocent people. We better not forget that.

But there are people who do want to forget. They want to purge war of all of it's ugliness and remember only the bravery and the glory. In Canada the movement to glorify a deadly First World War battle—the battle of Vimy Ridge—is gaining ground. In this battle there were 30,000 casualties and the front advanced a few miles. There was no strategic gain. This was a war that should not have happened and a battle that wasted thousands of lives. It was not glorious and it should be something to be embarrassed about, not celebrated.

But there's an even more important illustration of our tendency to forget the horrors and the mistakes of war. Tuesday's Globe and Mail has an article about veterans protesting a sign at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. The issue concerns strategic bombing in World War II and it's a hot button issue in Canada because of a documentary televised several years ago.

The goal of Bomber Command during World War II was to destroy German cities and reduce Germany's will to continue the war. Nobody was under any illusions about the consequences because London and other British cities had been bombed in 1940. They knew that flower gardens would be wiped out and so would little children [Strategic bombing during World War II]. The image below is of bombed out apartment buildings in Hamburg in 1944. People used to live in those buildings. Thousands and thousands died during the firestorms created by massive bombing raids by British and American forces during 1944 and 1945.

These are facts. The controversy is about whether the bombing raids were effective. There are many who say they weren't; in fact, there seems to be a consensus among historians that strategic bombing of Germany did not have as much negative effect as the High Command believed.

Thousands of Allied airmen died in planes over Germany. Many of them were Canadians. The Canadian War Museum has a display dedicated to those airman. I have seen it. I have shown it to my children. My father was a pilot during World War II.

There are plaques and pictures describing the planes and the crews. One of the plaques is titled An Enduring Controversy. It reads,
The value and morality of the strategic bombing offensive against Germany remains contested. Bomber Command's aim was to crush civilian morale and force Germany to surrender by destroying its cities and industrial installations.

Although Bomber Command and the American attacks left 600,000 Germans dead and more than five million homeless, the raids resulted in only a small reduction in German war production until late in the war.
This is what the controversy is all about. The Royal Canadian Legion objects to this plague because it calls into to question the morality of strategic bombing and the morality of bomber crews who served during World War II.
Last year, the veterans complained that the panel made them look like war criminals. Art Smith, a veteran leading the attack, said, "Ten thousand crewmen didn't make it back. It really distresses me that people want to knock their memory." A former member of Parliament, he lobbied for a private member's bill to force a rewrite of the text.
Guess what? War is hell. War is immoral. You can't pretty it up by ignoring the truth. Bombs killed women and children. Lots of them. Their lives may have been wasted because nothing was gained by their deaths.

We owe it to our sons and daughters to leave that plaque just the way it is. We need to remind them that war isn't healthy for children and other living things. The children of Iraq and Afghanistan know this.

14 comments :

  1. I am a biotechnology student in South Africa, with the dream of someday studying evolution, and without trying to sound like some kind of whacked out fan; finding you're blog has been a true blesssing at this point in my life.

    In relation to the posting, so few people today seem to remember what war is at he end of the day, everyone has become extremely blase about the issue. Most confusing to myself and fellow South Africans, is America's intentions in Iraq?
    The fact that Mr. Bush could use words like, "purging the evil", is extremely worrying. The more I look at this situation the more it appears to be front for something. If the richest man in a town, suspects that another man is guilty of possesing a weapon with which he intends to kill, does that automatically allow the rich man the right to kill his family? Why has everone so easily accepted this? Why have the American people accepted it? Are people in your country asking these questions or are most hiding behind a masquerade of patriotism?

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  2. I'm terribly sorry, I only read your profile now and realise that you're Canadian. My apologies.

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  3. No need to apologize. Your questions are of concern to everyone no matter what country they were born in. I don't know the answers. I don't think anyone does.

    Thanks for the kind words about Sandwalk. There are days when I don't think anyone out there is reading my articles.

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  4. I came to think of MASH, where Aland Alda says that war is not hell, war is worse than hell, because the people who must suffer hell presumably deserves their fate, while the victims of war are mostly innocents.

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  5. The attitude problem is even far worse in the US, as Larry knows. The very suggestion that Americans haven't been always and everywhere the Very Goodest of Good Guys is met with an extraordinary level of vituperation. This makes a depressing and dangerous combination with the militarism of our society and politics.

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  6. Steve, what's the general attitude concerning Viet Nam? 58,000 American soldiers were killed in that war (not to mention an occasional innocent civilian).

    Does everyone now understand that all those lives were wasted in a losing cause? Or, is there some kind of rationalization that makes it all seem worthwhile and glorious? If so, what is it?

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  7. Oh, fear not, the 30% or so of hardcore Bush supporters still think it was grand and glorious (the only "rationalization" being that by definition we're always the good guys, and after all we were fighting dirty Commies!), and most of the rest try not to say otherwise too loudly for fear of calling down the wrath of the crazies.

    To give you an idea of how utterly degraded our "supporting the troops means supporting any war the politicians send them into" public discourse is, both Obama and McCain recently were forced to apologize for stating the straightforward fact that military lives (almost nobody in public life in the US seems to give a rat's about Iraqi lives of course, but I digress) have been wasted in Iraq. Now McCain is a dangerous warmonger, but as a Vietnam POW he also really knows the reality of war (unlike the chickenhawks in the Bush administration). If even an ultraconservative veteran like McCain hasn't earned the right to say that without recriminations, what hope is there for any rational public discourse on this war or war in general? It's incredibly depressing.

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  8. If you think war is unhealthy, try surrendering to medieval barbarians like this.

    World War I was indeed a gargantuan waste -- of time, money, materials, and above all human lives. Not to mention the fact that we're still dealing with the socio-political ripples from it ninety years later. But the fact that one war was a waste doesn't mean that all wars are a waste. That kind of thinking is stupid, because it leads to the "peace at any price" position that allowed the murder of twenty million by Stalin, twelve million by the Nazis, two million by Pol Pot, and ghu-only-knows how many by lesser tyrants like Saddam, the Iranian mullahs, the Taliban, the janjaweed in Darfur, Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Idi Amin ...

    Does everyone now understand that all those lives were wasted in a losing cause?

    Oh, absolutely. It was a waste, without a doubt. Because after the fifty-plus-thousand American dead and ghu-only-knows how many Vietnamese dead, the antiwar idiots forced the US to abandon its ally South Vietnam in the face of a renewed North Vietnamese invasion, thus sentencing even more Vietnamese to death or torture under a regime so thoroughly evil that half a million or more of them preferred to die at sea on boats made of fruit crates and inflatable tires rather than live under that regime another day.

    Oh, wait, I forgot. In your world, only the United States is ever guilty of things like that. The idea that President Bush and his allies might have actually been trying to do something good in Iraq, instead of something selfish, is totally alien to you. The USA can only do evil.

    So blind. So stupid. So determined to prove you aren't worth the effort it takes to defend you.

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  9. anonymous says,

    So blind. So stupid. So determined to prove you aren't worth the effort it takes to defend you.

    Why don't you give us your name? Is it because you're afraid or because you're embarrassed?

    BTW, I never asked you to defend me. You have me confused with someone else who pleaded with Americans to defend them. I'm thinking of people like Joseph Stalin (USSR), Saddam Hussein (Iraq), Ngo Dinh Diem (South Viet Nam), Augusto Pinochet (Chile), and King Abdullah (Saudi Arabia).

    Oh, absolutely. It was a waste, without a doubt. Because after the fifty-plus-thousand American dead and ghu-only-knows how many Vietnamese dead, the antiwar idiots forced the US to abandon its ally South Vietnam in the face of a renewed North Vietnamese invasion ...

    Thanks for reminding me how stupid you people can be. I had forgotten that the main reason for losing the war in Vietnam was because of the antiwar idiots. Now I remember. If it hadn't been for Jane Fonda and her friends the US would have won and South Vietnam would be peaceful and prosperous.

    Wait a minute ... the US lost the war and today Vietnam is peaceful and prosperous. Something doesn't compute.

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  10. Well, Larry, now imagine living and working surrounded by people like that...

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  11. Wait a minute ... the US lost the war and today Vietnam is peaceful and prosperous. Something doesn't compute.

    I should think most places could be made "peaceful" if any potential opposition were suitably "re-educated"...

    But then, in Korea the US and its allies threw back a North Korean invasion of the South and brought a second attempt, supported this time by the Chinese, to a shuddering halt.

    Now, let me see, which of the two Koreas is peaceful and prosperous and which is not?

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  12. Ian H Spedding asks,

    Now, let me see, which of the two Koreas is peaceful and prosperous and which is not?

    That's easy. The Republic of Korea (South Korea) is much better off than the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea). The United Nations (mostly the USA) rightly went to war when North Korea invaded the south.

    The entire peninsula could now be peaceful and prosperous if General MacArthur hadn't provoked China into intervening. The net result of the Korean War was to preserve the status quo.

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  13. The entire peninsula could now be peaceful and prosperous if General MacArthur hadn't provoked China into intervening. The net result of the Korean War was to preserve the status quo.

    We seem to be in agreement.

    If the Allies had been able to knock over the Communist regime in the north - without provoking Chinese intervention - they would have been able to unite Korea in a form which would have led to a prosperous capitalist democracy in the whole peninsula.

    So, following that argument, if the US had been able to invade North Vietnam and bring down the communist regime...?

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  14. Ian H Spedding

    So, following that argument, if the US had been able to invade North Vietnam and bring down the communist regime...?

    The war in South Vietnam was a civil war. Don't get confused by the fact that the Viet Cong was supported by, and subordinate to, the army of North Vietnam. There were many citizens of the South who strongly supported the movement to unify the Vietnams and determine their own destiny without interference from colonial powers.

    When American troops re-took a town in South Korea (in 1950-53) they were hailed as liberators. There were few towns in South Vietnam that behaved like that; especially after they had been devestated by napalm.

    If American forces had invaded and conquered North Vietnam in the 60's they would have been in exactly the same situation they now find themselves in in Iraq. The two wars (Korea and Vietnam) are not comparable. I'm surprised you don't know that.

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