Sean Davis, a combat veteran, outlines why the French bombing of Syria is a mistake, and how we need to end this circle and cease creating our own enemies.
“This is very visceral. The types of targets they strike right now really are symbolic. From the French perspective, something has to be done,” said retired Major General James Marks of the recent bombings by French President Francois Hollande. Twelve aircraft, including ten fighter jets, bombed Raqqa, Syria. Twenty bombs were dropped and all of the targets were destroyed.
Listen, I get it. I really do. Innocent people were brutally murdered and the world shares the pain in Paris; something needs to be done to these radical extremists. These terrorists killed 129 innocent, non-military people in “The City of Light” and injured 350 more, 99 of them critically injured. We can’t let the monsters think this violence won’t be answered in kind. We want payback. No, we need payback for what they’ve done.
The problem is the type of payback we are all looking for doesn’t exist. What we forget in these pain-filled moments of national fervor is that war is a crime. As a combat veteran of a revolution and a war and a Purple Heart recipient for injuries received by the enemy, I’m saying war is a crime. War means breaking things and killing people, and while in very extreme circumstances this may be rationalized, it doesn’t change the fact that we are breaking things and killing people.
The decision to go to war needs to be discussed after the initial pain subsides. Sending an aircraft carrier into the Persian Gulf and executing a bombing campaign within hours of an incident isn’t going to destroy Daesh, isn’t going to return a sense of freedom and safety to Paris, and isn’t going to do anything but create more death and chaos. And, ask yourself, what targets are we hitting right now? Is there any way we could have received credible intelligence this soon after the attack? Can we, as the most advanced civilization that has ever existed on this planet, justify the phrase symbolic bombing?
I reenlisted the day after September 11th, 2001 and I went to war in Iraq with some notion of payback in my head. I tried hard to ignore the fact that my government deployed me to Iraq after men from Saudi Arabia planned the 9/11 Attacks in the Philippines after training in Pakistan and Afghanistan. My need for revenge outweighed my rationale. I fought anyway and I was good at it.
We patrolled small villages north of Baghdad on foot where the Baathists lived. Saddam was a Baathist so he made sure these villages had a little more than others, like running water, glass in their windows, and semi-safe neighborhoods. That went away when he was ousted. These well-off people were suddenly dragged into the same chaos as the rest of the country. It took months, but we were able to convince most of them that we were there to help, but a very few of them who would never trust us snuck around mortaring our base. After one attack, our higher-ups called us out of the Baathist village and that night our artillery batteries said they were just practicing firing their cannons for accuracy. The bombs landed and exploded in the fields by the Baathist village, terrifying children, scaring the people, and killing the livestock. This could have been seen as H&I, or harassment and interdiction fire, but the officers in charge said it was all a coincidence. After all, H&I fire was outlawed after Vietnam. We were sent back into the village on foot the next week and of course took sniper fire. One of the men in a patrol was shot in the head and killed. They returned fire and killed the sniper causing some of the sniper’s family to take up arms against the U.S. The U.S. kills the sniper’s family looking for revenge and their family members take up arms against the U.S., ad infinitum. We create our own enemy.
My infantry squad of seven men was awarded three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and many other awards. We fought like hell, and during the war four of the men in our company were killed including a good friend of mine. Another friend was critically injured, and I left on a stretcher after being blown up by two IEDs, ambushed by three men with machine guns, and mortared on an otherwise beautiful Wednesday morning in June, 2004. That was over ten years ago. We are still in Iraq today and thinking about sending more.
How many people do you believe make up Daesh, ISIL, or the IS? Pick a number right now in your head. CNN’s Barbara Starr recently reported that “U.S. intelligence estimates that ISIL has a total force of somewhere between 9,000 to 18,000 fighters.” In late 2014, the CIA estimated between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters.
The population of Syria is 22.85 million. Iraq has 33.42 million people just trying to live their lives. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. The odds of bombs hitting innocent, non-military civilians are pretty good, and when the innocent are killed we will find ourselves with no lack of enemies to keep bombing. We create our own enemy.
I don’t know about the French jets, but I know that our jets cost the American taxpayer $68,000 an hour to operate, and sidewinder missiles cost over $600,000 apiece. If they are using their Storm Shadow cruise missiles, they cost over $1 million dollars apiece.
This is just the financial cost. President Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke about the cultural and social cost in his famous “Cross of Iron speech”:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
Listen, I get it. I really do. More than most. My anger and need for revenge changed my life in ways I’m still trying to understand. Be outraged and angry. This is not only expected, it’s a natural response, but understand the violence will take a great toll. If we commit to the heavy, human cost of war, it needs to be carefully thought-out. If it isn’t, we can find ourselves continuing an endless war, spending the sweat of our laborers, the genius of our scientists, and the hopes of our children.