12 Escaping the War Trap
LIKE most Americans weaned on Western tales, it was my belief that whenever sheep herders appeared on the horizon of a range, the cowboys were required, by the natural forces ruling the universe, to unlimber their weapons and fight the invaders to the death in order to save a precious way of life. It was a shock to discover recently that those perpetual small range wars were based upon a misunderstanding of basic scientific facts. Not only could cattle and sheep peacefully coexist on the same green pastures, but when left to their own devices, they formed social bonds. They actually liked each other. Each group grew bigger and stronger together than they had alone. It is quite possible that their human counterparts would have also.
The difficulty was that the human beings involved did not understand the basic facts. The sheep herders or nesters believed fervently in the need for fences and closed ranges; the cattlemen believed with equal passion in open ranges. Both groups thought that their way was the only way their vital animals could survive and that war on their opponents was thus unavoidable. They were dead wrong.
Similar unconventional and irreverent thoughts could be applied to many other costly American conflicts, those that are usually called "wars" in the history books. That rather grand conclusion stems not from pacifist principles, because I believe that armed force, regrettably, has a place in the world. It is instead based upon a reflective assessment of past major armed conflicts in terms of whether or not the issues were worth warring about, and whether or not there were peaceful options. Of all the American wars, in my opinion, only World War II, and perhaps Korea, seem to have been unavoidable. As for other conflicts, there have always been peaceful options, which were ignored in the heat of war passion. Either that, or our national actions were based upon greed or intolerance.
In particular, there was no need for wars to win the American Southwest or Cuba or the Philippines. These were acts of conquest, with no redeeming features, no cause worth celebrating.
It is highly debatable that there was a need for the American nation to enter the European war of 1914-18, the outcome of which was decided before we entered. The deaths of 116,000 American boys might have hastened the final result, but only by a few months.
In the seemingly unavoidable Second World War, there was no need to imprison 110,000 loyal Americans in concentration camps, a blot on American honor eagerly incurred because of the Japanese ancestry of the victims—and because of a fundamental error of fact based upon fear. The belief was that they were working for the enemy nation, that there was no difference among the Japanese wherever they lived. There was never any evidence of native Japanese disloyalty, a fact known to the FBI and duly reported but ignored by leaders in the passions of the times.
We tore apart American society for years and lost 58,000 American youth in Vietnam. There was no need for that horror, based upon a wide array of misconceptions, from which we have not yet recovered.
There is no need for the war on drugs, which is based on fundamental errors of fact, not least that it is impossible for users of hated drugs to live peacefully side-by-side with nondrug users, like cattlemen and sheep herders in the old West. I worry about how many of our boys and girls in uniform will have to die and how many basically decent American citizens of all ages will be imprisoned before our leaders understand the fundamental errors of fact upon which this needless war is founded.
The American nation can kick the drug-war habit but first it must realize that it is addicted to war in dealing with drug problems—in much the same way that too many of our citizens are addicted to drugs for coping with personal problems. Proof of that drug-war addiction among leading Americans appeared shortly after I read that news item on range animals with its evidence of yet another needless American conflict. It was the report America's Habit, by the President's Commission on Organized Crime. The report kicked up a storm of protest in the center of American society unlike anything I have ever seen. Even though the drug warriors are dominant, the opposition from both conservative businessmen and old-fashioned traditional liberals continues to this day. They constitute a minority voice but a strong one.
If our nation and our people are to escape the drug-war trap, we will be rescued by that sane, rational center of the political spectrum. Now is the time for it to continue that unity produced by revulsion to the vision created by the presidential commission report—a revulsion kept alive by the excesses of the scared summer of '86. Middle America's leaders must push for an open declaration by the government that the drug war has failed and that if we continue down the warpath, many of our most cherished national values will be torn to shreds.
Moreover, the government must recognize and admit that waging the war is the single greatest impediment to solving the problem around which it revolves: the abuse of drugs by our people. Thus, not only is the war unneeded, but also it prevents even modest solutions to the conflict and to healing its victims.
The two words "drug" and "war" are now so joined in the minds of our leaders that they tend to think of them as one, drugwar, something like damnyankee in certain regions of the country. A new word might be coined; perhaps "drugpeace" will do. That word and the ideas associated with it could form the foundation for the profound ideological change that must take place if we are to move down the road away from war and toward a vast range of peaceful options.