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The American way of war

By Dr. Michael R. Bowen
web posted December 10, 2001

Recently the news media reported an interview with an Afghan truck driver who had been smuggling fuel to the Taliban. He and his fellows, traveling with several trucks, had been driving by day and hiding by night. One night they had been rudely awakened by rifle barrels in their faces, and they were handcuffed and hauled away to a nearby sand dune while the leader of their captors spoke into a radio. Moments later the convoy of fuel trucks was destroyed by aircraft. The attacking soldiers then removed the handcuffs and told the driver and his men to get lost. The soldiers did the same. From the descriptions of the soldiers' equipment, uniforms, and methods, it was deduced that they were American Special Forces personnel.

It was a very gratifying read. Our commandos appearing from nowhere, destroying enemy assets, and disappearing again. That's the way to rattle their cages!

But to see what's really great about the story, try imagining how things would have been if the truckers had been Americans and the attackers Taliban, or any of the many other peoples with whom we have been at war throughout our history. The convoy would have been destroyed all right, but with the crew inside it. Since these were American soldiers, the crew was captured, handcuffed, and then released after the mission had been accomplished.

In the bloody Spring of 1945, a strange westward migration took place in Germany. As the Soviet army closed in from the East, and the Allies from the West, Germans hurried to place themselves in a position to be captured by the Americans. They knew well what would happen if the Soviets captured them: rape and murder. But if the Americans captured them, they would be fed. There would be no rape; in fact at least one American soldier was executed for that offense. Can you imagine the Nazis or the Japanese executing a soldier for rape?

For years, in Europe and in Asia, the appearance of a body of young men with weapons meant murder and rapine. Unless they were GIs, that is: in that case it meant chocolate bars, chewing gum, cigarettes, spare rations. One of the most moving Norman Rockwell paintings from the period was a Thanksgiving magazine cover showing a little Italian girl in ragged clothes, a plate of GI rations on her knees, saying grace. Draped over her frail form is an American serviceman's jacket. And of course we went on to repeat that little scene on a titanic scale all over Europe and Asia after the war.

My father recalls being camped outside Manila the night before an attack to drive out the Japanese. Two starving girls came into camp, trying to sell themselves for food. Those young men, deprived of female companionship for who knows how long, knowing that it might be the last night of their lives: what did they do? They gave those girls food and clothes, and sent them on their way unmolested. They were mortified that someone had to humiliate themselves the way those girls did.

It's not necessary to pretend there's never been an American atrocity; it's still clear that Americans don't fight for plunder and domination. Some of our causes have been less enlightened than others, but a review of our history shows that, more and more, our battles have been fought to save others or to defend ourselves, not to enlarge our power or riches. Our enemies, thinking us fools, have again and again found to their great surprise that although we are magnanimous in victory, we are relentless in war. They have been surprised because they thought the two attributes are contradictory, and that is the essence of their misunderstanding of America. We fight, and fight hard, because we hate war. It's not a sport for us, not an opportunity; it's a very dirty job that must be done to prevent something worse: the loss of our liberty.

We're already free; we can't become more free by invading other countries, or even by just randomly blowing up parts of them. We have nothing to gain from war, but everything to lose from not fighting back. Once we have secured our freedom, we'd just as soon go home. That's why the worst mistake another people can make is to force us to take up arms. And that's why an American victory is the best defeat our enemies could ever know.

Dr. Michael Bowen, a former Naval officer, has a private medical practice in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. He writes the weekly Tuesday column "The Basics", and occasional guest columns, too, for http://www.americasvoices.org/, a conservative political opinion and educational web site. His columns also appear in other popular Internet sites, including http://www.opinionet.com/ and http://www.etherzone.com/. Email him at MBowen@americasvoices.org.

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