Monday, September 27, 2004

Wars of Occupation: A Brief History, with Scorecard

What does the future hold for America in Iraq? Well, no matter your preference regarding candidates, you would no doubt like to see a relatively peaceful outcome in as near a future as can be arranged, and in which there is the absolute minimum loss of innocent life (that includes American soldiers). I think that's a fair assessment of everyone's aspiration at this point, in spite of the fact that the Bush administration and its followers would like to tag those who speak out against the war as ignorant (at best) and treasonous (most frequently).

But this is a time for facing reality, and reality, as we all know from our personal lives, is not always comfortable or amenable even to our most ardent wishes and purest intentions. Santayana told us that those who choose to ignore history are condemned to repeat it, so perhaps we are well served to cast a glance at the history of wars of occupation. The perspective obtained might tell us more in a few moments than an entire evening of probing websites or channel-surfing the news shows. Here, then, is a sampling of wars of occupation from the history of mankind, with a brief recount of the final score.

Combatants Outcome for Occupying Force

Trojan War
Athens vs. Troy Not good: after at least ten years of war (maybe more) and innumerable losses of men and money; Athens prevailed, sacked the city of Troy, and went home, depleted and exhausted

Persian War
Persia vs. Greece Not good: the Persians, who had the dominant empire of the time in size, economic strength, and military power, were routed at Marathon. As one historian points out: The final victory [for the Greeks] must have seemed a miracle. A handful of independent cities, who were not prepared at all, and who hastily formed an alliance with enormous aversion, had humiliated the mighty Persian empire. Persia would never again be even a modest power in the world--at least not until OPEC was formed.

Peloponnesian Wars Athens vs. Sparta (et al) Not good: decades of war, internal strife, and economic decline resulted from the Athenians' arrogant attempt at occupation and imperialism. Their attempt to spread their version of "democracy" throughout Greece ended in tragic defeat and humiliation (to witness how closely the past evokes the present, see the account of this war here: The Peloponessian Wars

The Roman Occupation Rome vs. Palestine Not good: the struggle for Jerusalem took the Romans 7 years and untold loss of life and resources. If that weren't bad enough what followed was one of the early blows in the fall of the Empire: the bloody and maddening fight for the fortress that has come to be known as Masada.

The Napoleonic Wars France vs. Europe Not good: the "scorched earth policy" of Napoleon naturally bred hatred from enemies (which comprised nearly every nation in the world at that time) and hypervigilance from the little demon himself (he has become a cultural symbol of paranoia). After Waterloo, France would never again be a power in the world, and would soon enough see itself forced under the yoke of others' tyranny and finally relegated to the status of "Old Europe."

WWI and WWII Germany vs. the World Not good (in fact, disastrous): the Kaiser and the Fuhrer, in their turns, each discovered the consequences of relying on power and dominion to further wealth and territorial possession. They were each forced into insupportable alliances, overstretched economies at home and ravaged supply lines abroad, until Germany met the final defeat that would push it into a mendicant's corner of "Old Europe."

The Cold War USSR vs. Eastern Europe and the U.S. Not good at all: The Russians, like other occupying forces before them, overextended themselves beyond the limits of their economic and military capacity, and finally were undone by the inertia of their own lumbering tyranny. The same lesson was repeated for them in Afghanistan.

Korean War U.S. vs. Korea Ambiguous, but ominous: the U.S. took on what it perceived to be the spread of Communism, less than ten years after the nation was still recovering from the losses and strain of WWII. The war was fought to a bitter, bloody stalemate, which persists to this day as the Koreans amass (for real, it would appear) WMDs.

Vietnam War U.S. vs. Vietnam Disastrous in the extreme: the U.S. again grappled with the spread of Communism, apparently somehow buoyed by their tie in Korea. The result is well known to most Americans alive today: 50,000 dead, hundreds of thousands wounded, traumatized, and impoverished--and that's just for the losers. "Never again" cried the politicians of every party affiliation and allegiance at the time. Never again, indeed.

Invasion of Kuwait Saddam vs. Kuwait About as ugly as it can get: Saddam had his eye on Kuwait and the UAE for a long time, and, supported by American military and financial might given to him some ten years before, he made his move, sure of his standing in the eyes of the CIA as a "benevolent dictator." He discovered that, as Cervantes said, "greed always bursts the bag," and that even the CIA will lose patience with a man who doesn't understand his limitations.

So, what have we learned? It seems as if wars of occupation do bring some short-term benefit for the aggressor--as they did for the Romans, Napoleon, and even Hitler. But war creates a dynamic of diminishing returns, and history proves this: war tends to quickly deplete the society whose government makes it the cornerstone of its foreign policy.

So, does occupation, for whatever professedly noble, altruistic, or even religious reason, ever work? Has it ever worked before? You be the judge: if this history makes sense to you, and supports the continuance of the current war of occupation, then god bless you and your Halliburton stock options. But if history tells you a different story, then let that inform the kind of ballot you cast on November 2.

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