ALL WARS ARE FOUL, DESTRUCTIVE AND TERRIFYING
By Vincent Lyn
As a child, I listened to my mother talk of the Blitz. As you might guess, her telling the stories to a seven-year-old hinted that the memories of the bombing of England still ravaged her. My father told me numerous heroic stories of his brother fighting the Japanese in Southern China when they invaded three years before Germany invaded Poland at the onset of WW2. The aftermath of both wars had an extreme affect on both my parents. To the point that my mother would never ever hint at buying a German car or my father despising the Japanese for what they did too many of his family members.
They would tell me countless stories and they would make me watch movies and documentaries about the war and atrocities. I remember thinking after seeing the dead stacked like logs, “If this is what it means to be human, then I don’t want to be.” As if I had a choice.
Growing up in England we would always have complete strangers staying with us from many different countries. My father for a time would rent out a couple of rooms upstairs to university students from the Middle East or South East Asia many of whom would wear their traditional clothing. For me our home was like a tiny United Nations. In the early 1970’s I remember we had some relatives from Trinidad & Tobago staying with us for a time but also a beautiful Vietnamese women whose family were nearly captured by the Viet Cong but were able to escape to England during the war in Vietnam.
By thirteen, I had some idea of what dislocation meant, how having to flee your home was profoundly sad and frightening. I did not understand why the war happened or why countries became unsafe, but I did know it happened and not rarely.
When I moved to Hong Kong in the spring of 1988 I met a young man who struggled with vodka and nightmares. He had just returned from war the Soviet-Afghan War. His country had deployed him to their misadventure in Afghanistan. He said, “No one will ever beat them.” Eleven years later, as the United States prepared to launch a war in Afghanistan, I remembered his words.
In June 1950, the first military action of the Cold War began when the Soviet-backed North Korean People’s Army invaded its pro-Western neighbor to the south. Many American officials feared this was the first step in a communist campaign to take over the world and deemed that nonintervention was not an option. Many kids in America will remember doing the drills in school, “Duck and Cover.” The idea was that when the nuclear bombs were dropped, they would be safe because of crouching under a tiny wooden school desk. Many years later there was a poem about ‘Duck and Cover” by a comedian, which ended with, ‘Kiss Your Ass Goodbye.’ This was the truth, and I was old enough to know it.
Many of you who can relate will agree that WAR has been a theme over and over in our lifetime. As an American, war has been a near-constant. The United States has existed for far more years in war than in peace. In fact United States has been at war for about 231 of the 246 years since its inception in 1776. Only 15 years out of the entirety of the 246 years the United States has been in existence have been peaceful. Only 15 years without conflict. Since WW2 the U.S has been involved in 102 wars.
Looking back over the wars we have been engaged in four distinct periods stick out to me. The first is the line period of conflicts waged to expand the borders of the United States to cover the distance between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The second is a period of conflict that saw greater engagement with the world beyond North America, up to and including outright acts of genocide and colonization in mimicry of what European powers had been doing for centuries. The third period deals with outright intervention in the affairs of the states in Europe, with the United States eventually seeking to take the reins of the global community while fighting off challenges from the Soviet Union.
Mostly recently the fourth period has been taking shape. This last period is the most worrisome of all in my opinion, as there is little direct engagement between armies and navies or between tanks and jets. The Global War on Terror has stretched on over 20 years now. According to a new report from the Costs of War project at Brown University the cost of its global war on terror stands at $8 trillion and 900,000 deaths in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq alone from 2001 until 2022.
The death toll, standing at an estimated 897,000 to 929,000, includes U.S. military members, allied fighters, opposition fighters, civilians, journalists and humanitarian aid workers who were killed as a direct result of war, whether by bombs, bullets or fire. It does not include the many indirect deaths the war on terror has caused by way of disease, displacement and loss of access to food or clean drinking water. The deaths tallied are likely a vast undercount of the true toll these wars have taken on human life. The costs in wealth and life go ever higher.
What has become most clear to me in reading over the history of the engagement of the United States in wars is that we will likely not experience the 16th year of peace for some time yet. More likely we will experience our 232nd year of War.
Personally, having been too many conflict zones I was not surprised on February 24th when I awoke from my hotel room in Syria to be told that Russia invaded Ukraine. Horrified but not surprised. In fact, I am surprised that many were surprised. The pundits kept saying, “No, Putin will not invade Ukraine.” Now they are saying, “Putin will not attempt to take back Poland or the Baltic states.” Of course, he will. The issue is when not if. And they get paid for their prescience.
An acquaintance of mine said, “Well, there are small nukes. A limited nuclear war is possible.” I thought not for those who are unlucky enough to be caught in the target zone. But this remark hints at how far he believes he is from the target zone. I have no such illusion.
There is no good war, ever. All wars are foul, destructive, and terrifying. This one is no different. Only now I know what crazy looks like, and I know no small child’s desk will protect me.
CEO/Founder at We Can Save Children
Deputy Ambassador of International Human Rights Commission (IHRC)
Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization
Economic & Social Council at United Nations
Editor in Chief at Wall Street News Agency
Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts