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A New Kind of War

Posted by Rick · November 9th, 2004 · No Comments

In April of 1775, Frederick MacKenzie complained in his diary,

Our men had very few opportunities of getting good shots at the Rebels, as they hardly ever fired but under cover of a Stone wall, from behind a tree, or out of a house; and the moment they had fired they lay down out of sight until they had loaded again, or the Column had passed. Frederick MacKenzie: Diary (April 18-21, 1775), inThe American Revolution: Writings from the War of Independence 5, 9 (John Rhodehamel, ed., 2001)

The nerve of these guys! Actually shooting from behind rocks and then ducking down behind them to reload instead of standing up to be shot at! What kind of men were these American Rebels?

At the request of Maj. Piatt, sent out a small party to look for some of the dead Indians — returned without finding them. Toward morning they found them and skinned two of them from their hips down, for boot legs; one pair for the Major the other for myself. William Barton: Journal (August 27 – September 14, 1779), inThe American Revolution: Writings from the War of Independence 534, 536 (John Rhodehamel, ed., 2001)

Obviously these were men not to be reckoned with — and smart enough to know that the old British-style of fighting, lining up and marching in formation like so many sitting ducks, was passé. There was no way the bedraggled bands of rebels could go up against the superior forces and technology of the British Army. And so, perhaps taking a lesson from the Indians, we fought like guerillas and established the United States of America.

Fast-forward more than 200 years.

A federal judge has told the President that the Geneva Convention, which has been followed by all civilized countries — including ours — for several decades, and including our handling of prisoners of real wars after World War II, still matters.

[The Justice Department] said, “By conferring protected legal status under the Geneva Conventions on members of Al Qaeda, the judge has put terrorism on the same legal footing as legitimate methods of waging war.” Neil A. Lewis, “Judge Halts War-Crime Trial at Guantánamo” (November 9, 2004) The New York Times

Now it is the Americans’ turn to complain. Instead of superior British forces fighting to control rebels, superior American forces fight to control terrorists. And because the terrorists refuse to stand out in the open, where we can shoot them down as easily as our forebears took out the British, we’re shocked. “These people are barbarians!” some of us complain. “They won’t fight normally! They’ll even sacrifice themselves to blow us up!” As if American soldiers never sacrificed themselves in battle to advance the cause of their comrades.

Please do not misunderstand me. I’m not some misguided liberal attempting to “give succor to the enemy.” I am — in the tradition of those who sat down and wrote such horrific things as the Bill of Rights just after a war wherein their very existence was at stake — a Patriot.

Ignore, for the moment, the parallel between the British treatment of the colonists that forced them to rebel and the American exploitation of oil-rich countries (driven by corporate interests) that created the terrorists.

The question is, in adapting to this strategy on the part of terrorists, will we sacrifice that which made America what it is today? Will we decide that the understanding of our Founders in regards to criminal trials for those who have not yet been proven to be enemy combatants — it’s not like they were all seized in battles! — should be obliterated? Should we decide that rules of war adopted by all civilized nations, including ours, right after World War II, are void?

What exactly are we fighting for, when we fight “terrorists”? If it’s not for the preservation of America, why do we fight?

And if the folk at Guantánamo are, indeed, terrorists, why is our government frightened at being required to prove it?

If we are to survive as a country — at least as the kind of country that (bear with me, foreign readers!) earned a position as an example and leader for the world — we would do well to remember that,

[T]he United States “can succeed in its diplomatic goals if [it] puts the same energy into promoting the rule of law around the world as it puts into fighting terrorism through military means.” It added, “The rule of law is not a nifty, self-contained, off-the-shelf democratic plan … the U.S. can impose on Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan or any other land. It is a single, consistent set of values that applies to all countries, including the United States[.] Edward Gomez, “WORLD VIEWS: ‘Godly’ America beats ‘worldly,’ the end of era of ‘anti-ideological’ politics, it’s still ‘a great country’ and more global spin on U.S. elections” ¶ 16 (November 9, 2004) SFGate.com.

The rule of law. Let’s hope we don’t adjudge it passé.

Special thanks to Bob Marcotte for pointing me to the World Views article at SFGate.

Categories: The War President


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