Wednesday, October 27, 2010

History and the war in Afghanistan: when will we learn

According to U.S. military and intelligence officials, drawing from the latest assessment of the war in Afghanistan, the military campaign to dislodge the Taliban has failed. This comes as no surprise: When was a war against guerilla's ever won?

Take a look at history, both recent and ancient. It is rife with examples of guerilla's outlasting the martial efforts of superpowers. So rife in fact that winning such a war has become statistically impossible. It seems that the US military are finally admitting that, again, the statistics are bolstered with a win for the home team.

Last week I read that schools in the UK are considering dropping history from the school syllabus. Way to go to prevent young people to learn from mistakes made in the past. Mistakes like trying to fight against those that are defending their homes and who know the lie of the land better than anyone and above all: feel they have nothing to lose. Way to go to waste more young lives in future wars that are doomed to have no other outcome than a withdrawal and leave a shattered people to pick up the pieces, both at home and abroad. A war like this leaves only losers.

When will military advisors, who brief powerful leaders, ever learn to read a bit of history before beating the drums of war? You can fly in as many bombs as you like, you can throw as many soldiers against the mountains or the jungles or the deserts as you like, the guerilla is going to charge, run and hide until you are blue in the face and when you run out of steam, they will still be at it. It's like mosquitos in summer, no matter how many you swat, every night that buzzing whine in your ear will return.

History is more than just knowing names and dates. History can be used to teach us something. We can take advantage of it to better ourselves. We learn as children that if we touch a burning stove it hurts. It seems however that as soon as we become part of a powerful nation's elite, we forget the ability to learn from past mistakes. Politics begin to dictate military decisions and we rush headlong into a situation where there is no escape from other than with a severely bloody nose. And we do it time and time again.

When will we ever learn not to squander young lives in hopeless wars? We send people into space and we set up Large Hadron Colliders for God's sake! We are smarter than that! The ultimate question is: When will we learn to use our brains to find other solutions to our problems than fighting wars?

The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. 
  - Sun Tzu

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