Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What Is the War on Terror?

We say we fight a "war on drugs" or a "war on poverty" and it's easy to understand that we are not talking about a war between two armed forces.

When we say we are fighting a "war on terror" it's not clear what that means. Who are we fighting, how do we fight this war and how do we know when we "win"?

Some people talk about the war on terror as if it's equivalent to a traditional war where two armies fight as directed by a centralized command and control structure. If we can destroy the other side's army and their command and control structure - then we win. Of course this can never happen in the war on terror where there is no single army and no centralized command and control.

We should be fighting a "war on hate". Terrorists are motivated by what they have been taught to hate. They (whoever they are) don't just hate Americans, they have been taught to hate anyone who is not part of their group/tribe/religion. A successful war on hate will be based on education, primarily from parents, teaching children that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion.

That sounds simple - why hasn't it happened?

The major reason why war is never ending is that we divide humanity by identifying with a group. We may be part of a group, by accident of birth or by choice - which causes, or actively promotes - mistrust of those outside the group, feelings of superiority, learning to hate the "other" and eventually dehumanizing them to the point of convincing ourselves that killing is justified.

If we want to live in a peaceful world we also must recognize that the existence of the military/industrial complex depends on the world being, or perceived as being, a dangerous place where vast sums of money must be spent on the latest weaponry to "keep us safe". We want peace - we need to promote peace, they want to build weapons - they need to promote war.

When we are dealing with individuals who are willing to strap on a bomb and detonate it in a crowded marketplace it's easy to see how misguided the notion of a war on terror is. We aren't going to stop suicide bombers with more bombs or by putting more American soldiers in harms way.

We would be much better off promoting what we want (peace) than fighting against what we don't want (war). We can do that by spending our money and efforts on a campaign using television, radio and the internet to educate children (and some adults) that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion, and then showing the courage of our convictions by helping them build schools and hospitals and get started in small businesses. This has to be a global effort that transcends religion and borders.

B tells me I need to read the book Three Cups of Tea.

Wishing you and all people - Peace