War Begets Retribution Begets War


Vern Loomis - TRANSCEND Media Service

2 Apr 2024 – Look at a territorial map of the world. The lines drawn encompass all the habitable territories. There are no beckoning frontiers left on the planet. One must look beyond Earth to find livable unclaimed land. While the moon and Mars have been contemplated as sites for human expansion, they are even more remote and inhospitable than our own planet’s Antarctica and offer no realistic relief to population, political, ideological, or economic pressures. We are dependent on the Earth for our sustenance.

Using its dwindling resources (and human lives) to violently redraw national borders or spheres of influence is a zero-sum game. Modern warfare increasingly renders large swaths of the planet uninhabitable, destroying the only home we have. Every missile fired, every bomb exploded, is one more footstep on a path to the abyss. Every war hastens the demise of human existence.

Every war makes it more likely that the Earth will become uninhabitable before mankind can even think to journey from it in a meaningful way. Unless the inclination towards idiotic warfare is redirected, we will bring about our own extinction, and the billions spent on sending hardware and probes to distant moons, planets, and solar systems will provide nothing more than curious relics gifted to a faraway life form more intelligent than our own.

In an Owlcation article, Paul Goodman provides eight major reasons for war: (1) economic gain, (2) territorial gain, (3) religion, (4) nationalism, (5) revenge, (6) civil war, (7) revolutionary war, and (8) defensive war. Perhaps a ninth could be added: male hubris. Our leaders tend to be male and their aggressive, masculine affectations are often featured (or attempted) to convey the appearance of strength: a shirtless Putin on horseback, Bush’s “Top Gun” landing on an aircraft carrier, Dukakis manning a machine gun atop an Abrams tank, Trump at the wheel of a semi-truck, and so on. It’s more than just for photo ops. Presidents, premiers, prime ministers, dictators, etc. are compelled to look and act tough; a willingness to wage war further embellishes the look. The “look” can be rewarded even in democracies when large segments of a fawning populace seek vicarious power through support of a “strongman” leader who brandishes military might to demonstrate strength.

Whatever the underlying reason, every war begins through an aggressive act. Even a civil or revolutionary war requires a precipitator, however justified its reasons. An aggressor initiates the violence; a defender hopes to blunt and repel it. The aggressor cites and often disguises the reason for war. In the course of long-drawn-out hostilities, roles can be reversed; defenders become aggressors and aggressors become defenders (such as with Israel and its adversaries). Resistance to tyrannical or oppressive rule, as in civil or revolutionary war, provides the only framework for aggression that can conditionally be humanistically justified. All other aggressive acts of war unconditionally feed the appetites of a usually older and connected ruling class, to the demise of a younger and unconnected populace, whose lives will be spent to appease that hunger.

Little to Gain, Much to Lose

Who might benefit and who will lose when leaders violently attempt to move borders or spheres of influence in a finite world? The unconnected young soldiers of both the defender and the aggressor will sacrifice themselves in battle. Civilians on both sides, who have nothing to gain, will lose everything: lives, homes, and habitat. It’s only the aggressor’s elite and connected coterie that might gain, and their gain (if it comes at all) is just a little more of what they already have. The powerful might swagger with the perception of a little more power; some of the connected might further indulge themselves with a little more war-acquired material wealth, but that is all.

Smart hustlers know the potential payoff from a crime must outweigh its risk. There’s little to be gained, and much to lose when committing a superfluous crime that will not enhance one’s lifestyle. It’s a truism that powerful leaders seem unable to fathom. The elite and connected lay ruin to the lives of the unconnected in wars of aggression, that if successful, bring significant reward to no one, not even to themselves. At best, their already powerful and privileged lifestyles will expand a little through victory. If defeated, they might lose some, or even all of that excess. So, why then bother? Young opposing soldiers will maim and destroy one another on battlefields, civilians of at least two nations will die, and essential environments will be ruined over an aggressive endeavor that brings life-changing benefit to no one. Win or lose, the unconnected stand to lose everything while the connected stand to gain nothing that will enhance their lives in a meaningful way, even in victory.

There’s Always a Pretext

Ambitious aggression is never admitted as such. There’s always a “We were left with no choice,” or “It’s for their own good” or “It’s by the will of God,” kind of disclaimer to every aggressive act. Justifications abound: In the Middle East, all parties claim to be defenders and devout followers of God, even as they attack and destroy one another. In Europe, Russia was forced to invade Ukraine because NATO was expanding its membership and manipulating elections. In Asia, China was forced to save Hong Kong from democratic anarchy (and will likely be forced to rescue Taiwan from the same fate). The prevarications have similar endings: when the aggressive acts have run their course, the unconnected (those that survive) will have lost so very much and the connected will have gained so very little (if anything at all).

The United States is not exempt from misrepresenting its aggressive acts. Indeed, through all of our country’s history, we have never openly initiated a war of ambition or greed. Were it with England, France, Spain, Mexico, or the indigenous inhabitants of this continent, our nation’s violent expansions have either been forced upon us or sanctified by God’s will. The call to justified warfare hasn’t been a now-and-then occurrence; since our country’s inception almost 250 years ago, it has experienced just 21 calendar years of peaceful coexistence. More recently, the United States did not invade Vietnam; it came to their assistance upon abandonment by France. The small island of Granada provided more than an opportune grandstand venture (18 North Americans died and 8,337 medals were awarded), it was stormed by U.S. troops to depose a murderous regime and to protect US students. Afghanistan and Iraq were not invaded and occupied to preserve or expand upon US influence, it was (choose one or more) retribution for Al-Qaeda’s attack on the USA, to defend against international terrorism, to stabilize the Middle East, or to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Payment Pending

Perhaps some gratifying retribution was achieved in the Middle East: Al-Qaeda was temporarily eviscerated and Osama bin Laden was eventually killed, but what else? More than 900,000 human lives and trillions of dollars of destructive firepower were unleashed to ostensibly make the world a more secure and better place, but have 20 years of “stabilization” done so? Has the threat of international terrorism been quelled even a little? Despite the nearly million lost lives, are there now fewer people in the Middle East who would like to vent hate and terror (retribution) upon the United States?

Twenty-plus years and many lives later, the United States has stepped away from the “remaking” of Afghanistan. Did anyone (the connected or the unconnected) gain anything substantial through two decades of war and destruction? Will Iraq be different, or are lives being needlessly wasted while awaiting another “Afghanistan” moment for stepping away? Upon our leaving, what will have been achieved? The unconnected will have again lost everything; a million ordinary lives will have been laid to waste, but for what, and for whom? Have the elite initiators and sustainers of war gained something of value through the transaction? Have their already empowered lifestyles been meaningfully enhanced?

War Is an Aggressor’s Sucker Bet

Their lives were privileged and comfortable before the war. Will Vladimir Putin and his supportive comrades relish an even more luxurious lifestyle upon possible victory? If the aggressor manages to move a borderline, will anyone benefit in a meaningful way? The lives of ordinary Russians and Ukrainians will certainly not improve through the death and destruction they’ve been made to take part in. Putin and an elite class of sycophants might feel the temporary rush of an adrenalin infusion (as when one’s favorite team wins a football game), but their lifestyles will not change. The elite and the connected will continue to be elite and connected. It’s only the manipulated and unconnected populace (those who survive) that will find their lives altered in a meaningful way, and it won’t be for the better. On both sides of a border, the unconnected will be left to bury the dead, console the maimed, and live on in the rubble. When it’s finally over, their powerful leaders will earnestly acknowledge the unfortunate suffering as if it was a brave and self-chosen patriotic sacrifice. Descending from comfortable towers, the connected will grandly commemorate the fallen heroes, eulogize the surviving warriors, and then climb back to insulated palaces to solemnly enjoy the same kind of lavish and staff-assisted dinner that was enjoyed before the initiation of war. It’s the same as it ever was; the bet, even if won, holds no significant reward.

In October of 2023, Hamas felt justified in sending armed gunmen across the Gaza/Israel border to kill and torture more than 1,400 people (mostly Israeli civilians). Did their violent foray stand even a small chance of bettering the Palestinian lives that Hamas supposedly governs and protects? Did Hamas leadership gain anything beyond the emotional reward of delivering retribution? Retribution begets retribution. Will Netanyahu’s justified counter-retribution somehow better the lives of its citizens? Do the uncountable Gazan casualties inflicted by Israel enhance the likelihood of a peaceful coexistence with its neighbors, or do they just ensure the next iteration of Hamas (or Hamas-like) retribution? Thousands upon thousands of the unconnected are dead and dying, homes and cities are being destroyed, and nothing of significance will be gained through the aggression, not by those who initiated the violence, and not by those who sustain it.

It’s Always Carried Forward

Long ago and far from the familiar ravages of war, an atrocity happened. Masked gunmen violently boarded a school bus in Chowchilla, California and forced 26 children and their driver into get-away vans. They were driven to a rock quarry and buried alive inside a metal storage container to await ransom. Miraculously, they managed to dig their way to freedom and thwart the kidnappers who were soon captured and sent to prison. The whole ordeal lasted just 27 hours and none of the victims suffered serious external injuries. But it didn’t really end for them in 27 hours because all did suffer serious injuries, but of the internal sort. Plagued with what today would be labeled PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) their lives were forever impacted. Decades later, beyond the developmental scaring and persistent nightmares, nearly all maintained a visceral need to see justice (retribution) dealt to the perpetrators. They couldn’t put it down.

Compare the 27-hour Chowchilla atrocity to the holocausts of war: missiles and bombs, flesh-burning fires, limb-tearing injuries, burials under rubble, children, parents, and siblings turned to corpses before the eyes of their survivors. It’s not for 27 hours; the physical and psychological trauma goes on for weeks, months, and years. It’s not just 26 victims who will never be able to let it go, it’s hundreds of thousands of children and adults who will carry the trauma forward, and with it, either an active or a dormant need to seek retribution.

It’s possible, perhaps likely, that Putin will be successful in violently moving a border line that separates Russia from Ukraine. The lives of hundreds of thousands of young soldiers and civilians will be erased in his effort to redraw a map and control just a little more territory. Nothing of great value will be gained through the adjustment by either the connected or the unconnected of either side, but much will be lost. Those still living will carry the violence and trauma of an idiotic war forward. It won’t be easily silenced; the siren call for retribution will linger long after the last bomb has fallen.

There were more than 1,400 fatalities in the 2023 Hamas inspired attack on Israel. Thousands of Israeli survivors now harbor the trauma of that violence and carry the virus-like need for retribution forward. Thus far, more than 32,000 Gazan civilians have been killed and more than 70,000 wounded in Israel’s attempt to deliver (and spread) their vengeance. Yet millions of Gazans will survive the current holocaust, carry its trauma forward, and seek to vent it in the next round of “justified” retribution.

In Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East, thousands of U.S. and Western alliance bombs have been (and still are) dropped, officially to oppose terrorism and promote international stability. The missiles and bombs fall upon not just militarized combatants (who see and promote themselves as martyrs resisting decadent Western imperialism), but also upon civilian men, women, and children who happen to be in the targeted area. The trauma inflicted by threat and violence will be carried forward by all. For some, the desire for retribution will be internalized in a dormant form of hate. For others, the need will find expression in overt acts of violence aimed towards Western entities. The violence that avails itself will be seen and portrayed as wanton acts of terrorism that must be met with still another justified volley of judiciously aimed Western bombs and missiles. Retribution begets retribution and it’s always carried forward.

If a Missile Explodes in a Village and No North American Hears It, Does It Make Any Noise? 

After 20 years of Middle East warfare, the United States has become less enthusiastic towards exposing US soldiers to the likelihood of death; less willing to leave sons and daughters near harm’s way for dubious causes in faraway lands. But the military now has a go-around; it can “leave” without going away. The US has the technology to deliver violence with minimal human presence and minimal loss of US lives. It can boldly fire its “guns” from afar. As President Joe Biden reassuringly stated in his August 16th, 2021 Afghanistan withdrawal speech, “We’ve developed counterterrorism over-the-horizon capability that will allow us to keep our eyes firmly fixed on the direct threats to the United States in the region, and act quickly and decisively if needed.” It’s primarily a reference to drone launched missile strikes, but can also include missiles or bombs released from manned aircraft. In other words, we might still destroy half a village, but no ground troops need be present; no North Americans will see the carnage up close, and no US lives will be lost. Who will even notice?

Biden’s assurance of a counterterrorism capability that can deliver retribution (or “pre-retribution”) without endangering North American lives raises questions. With such a reduced threat to the lives of US service members, will anyone bother to keep an eye on the decision makers who have their “eyes firmly fixed on the direct threats to the United States?” Who will determine what constitutes a direct threat to the United States? And will our vaunted over-the-horizon military capability oppose and extinguish terrorism, or will its presence inspire and propagate it?

Biden’s recent vow was reminiscent of the 2001 pledge made by President Bush to “hunt down” the perpetrators of 9/11 that began our 20-year foray in the Middle East. “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.” is what President Biden forcefully said in reaction to the August 26th, 2021 suicide bombing that killed 13 US service members and 169 Afghan civilians just outside the gates of the Kabul airport. So, while one war was finally ending, another war was already beginning. Three days later, near the same airport, a US drone fired a missile into a car suspected of carrying terrorists and possible bomb making material. The over-the-horizon mistake has been well-publicized. 10 civilians, including 7 children, were incinerated. No one knows if their relatives and friends will ever have the wherewithal to hunt us down and make us pay, but our president must know this: they will not forgive, they will not forget.

That single big mistake in Kabul showcases an obvious flaw of “over-the-horizon capability” in fighting terrorism. Missiles and bombs, even when on target, kill or injure more than the intended target, and too often, the target is not quite where or what it was assumed to be. Yes, labeled terrorists die, but so do civilians, lots of them. Documents obtained by The Intercept indicate that in the years 2011 thru 2013, nearly 90% of the people killed in Afghanistan drone strikes were not the intended targets. It’s commendable that “over-the-horizon capability” will save North American lives, but should we then be so willing to accept foreign civilian casualties in their place?

Conservatively, since 2001, at least 1,700 civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen have been killed by drone-fired missiles alone. Including manned aircraft, the U.S. has conducted about 100,000 airstrikes, killing at least 22,000 civilians, and perhaps as many as 48,000. Over those two decades, we averaged about 14 airstrikes per day to account for the fatalities. That’s a lot of “violence, cruelty, and terror” unleashed by a country supposedly fighting terrorism.

At some point, do we begin to hear Nietzsche’s warning? Have we become what we supposedly went there to confront? Or is that the wrong take on a famous saying? Perhaps we haven’t become a monster, maybe we were a monster upon arrival. Maybe we are the monster that others fight, who then become monsters themselves. We were already an alien presence. Now, using our “over-the-horizon capability,” US has become an even more foreign interloper, an enemy that remotely fires missiles into towns and villages. To North Americans at home, a missile attack has the momentary significance of a prime-time news blurb: “An American drone strike today killed two suspected Yemeni terrorists.” To civilians in the area, it will be more than a news blurb. Family members will have been killed and grossly wounded before their eyes. Their homes will have crumbled and nothing much will be left for them. That no US troops will have been present, that no North American lives will have been lost, will only enhance the perception: US is an invisible lurking monster dropping death and destruction from the sky. Perhaps two suspected terrorists will have been killed on such a day. Perhaps three times that many “monsters” will have been born.

We will not forgive. We will not forget. They will not forgive. They will not forget. How will it ever end? Maybe it won’t. Maybe there’s no US need for it to end; we’re not really there anymore; we’re over the horizon.


Vern Loomis graduated from Michigan State University in 1972 with a degree in psychology. He bounced around for a couple of years, then began an unrelated career in the field of architectural engineering from which he retired in 2018. He uses some of his newly found free time to pursue an old interest in writing. Thus far it’s been political/social commentaries on publications including The Dissident Voice, Counterpunch, and The Humanist. He lives in southeast Michigan with his wife and daughter.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 8 Apr 2024.

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