The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

Sometimes, some places, war is necessary; Syria is not one of those times or places

Published in the Gettysburg Times, 9/6/2013)

The question hangs in the air like the oppressively humid heat we’ve swum through this summer, and cloaks the “news” networks with an emperor’s robe of non-information as they all seem to read from the same press release, and turn phrases of one into clichés of the other.

Should we attack Syria? What will be our point? Will not doing it make us appear weak?

The answers are, in order: No; employment for our arms manufacturers; and what is this, junior high?

It’s a shame President Obama used the “Red Line” phrase, which he copied from an earlier discussion about Israel’s perspective on Iran’s potential possession of a nuclear weapon. The trouble with Red Lines is that as soon as you draw them, some bully will step over just to see whether you will really do what you said you would.

Too often, the bully wins the public relations war, like a high school student who has taken enough abuse and finally breaks the bully’s nose – whereupon the bully complains to the principal that he was attacked without provocation. No one actually saw the fight, only that one antagonist had a busted nose. Case closed.

And our record of participating in other nations’ internal troubles is not confidence building. In my own lifetime, I can remember when we supported a rebel named Fidel Castro in his effort to oust his country’s dictator, General Fulgencio Batista, from power. It would add a democratic nation to the western hemisphere, we were told.

How did that work out?

We went to Vietnam in the 1940s, first only with money, but that escalated over the ensuing decades, with the only winners in our nation being Lockheed, McDonnell-Douglas, Chrysler and other military suppliers. We buried a lot of our children in that conflict.

How did that work out?

We could spank Syrian President Bashir al-Assad for using chemical weapons, but it won’t stop the killing. Assad’s ruling family is the smallest of a multitude of factions now shooting at each other, and some of them are decidedly anti-U.S. If there eventually is a winner, there is absolutely no guarantee it will be any more friendly to its neighbors – and us – than Assad.

So few of us actually know anyone who has been to war, or, worse, not come back. Except for the occasional salute at a baseball game, or a moment of illustrated silence on the network evening news, we never put a face to the “heroes” we send to fight and die.

Most of them are not heroes, and too many of them only signed up because there are no opportunities at home.

A young lady who graduated high school just ahead of my son and daughter joined the U.S. Air Force. She expected scholarships, training as a medic, and a paycheck. There were not many of those opportunities in the rural area in which we lived.

Then Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and we volunteered to evict him. The lass lived in abject fear for weeks; she had not, she thought, volunteered to go to war. She just wanted an education.

We used to rely on National Guard primarily to help out with natural disasters or, as those of us of a certain age can recall, enforcing racial segregation – and then, enforcing desegregation. Only since the start of the post-9-11 Iraq War have we turned it into Regular Army.

I served 20 years in the Navy. I’m proud of that, and of all the other men and women who put on a uniform and go out to meet those who would do us harm.

We must not commit our youth and our treasure merely to join the killing spree in Syria for no better reason than we do not like the weapon we are told Assad has chosen to kill his own country folk,


  1. Thank you for articulating – and articulating well – these thoughts. The junior high bully is a perfect analogy.

    • Thank you, Anne. I just can’t see any way a military action could end well for any of the parties, including us, except the arms sellers.

  2. John, you said what I’ve been thinking but much more eloquently. I especially like the historic references. I think most people envision a situation like the first Gulf War, eight weeks and we’re done. When that war ended a friend said, “We’ll be back within 10 years to get rid of Hussein.” I doubted it, but he was only off a couple years. That “Mission Accomplished” invasion has led to 10 years of expanding terror.

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