War on Terror: a Retrospective

This piece was written back in 2009 and it’s already dated not just by the clumsy writing but the topic as well. I mean, how cares about the War on Terror anymore? People have moved on to more important questions like ‘who do those TSA bastards think they are?’

The War on Terror: a retrospective

If wars age in dog years in a democratic society, then the War on Terror has just turned 70. Not a bad place to be, considering that at 70 you’re senior fare eligible and can still make it up the stairs. Since it’s exceedingly difficult to reward a war’s longevity with a gold watch, maybe we should instead celebrate the occasion by pulling some chairs up to the fire and having a good old-fashioned chat, you know, to see if the war has accomplished anything.

Before any effort is spent exploring the merits of our Long War, it may be worth pausing for a moment to consider who it is that we’re fighting. This is a question seldom asked in the history of warfare, because the answer has tended to be fairly obvious: the people who are killing you. Unfortunately, this war seems to be the exception, and our experience waging it has driven home the point that if you don’t know who you’re fighting in 2001, chances are you’re even more confused by 2010.

If the war is against terrorism itself- that is, acts of violence perpetrated for political ends- then this war will definitely have legs. To wage war against a concept has historically been a pretty hard go, and the prospects for winning a war against as nebulous a concept as terrorism are probably only slightly better than winning a war against sadness. The outlook is even more dismal if you subscribe to the school of thought that believes terrorism is rooted in poverty and war, in which case the methods we’ve employed are comparable to fighting a war against sadness by ripping kittens apart in front of children.

On the other hand, it could be the terrorists that we’re fighting, and by extension the states to which they pay property taxes on those caves we’ve heard so much about. The terrorists make for an easier, less philosophically-intensive enemy because we can see them, and we know that they’re terrorists because of the way they look at us all cock-eyed and suspicious-like. Thus, as a society we’ve proudly transitioned from fighting wars against the conventional ‘people who are killing us’ to ‘the people who we are killing.’

How have we fared in our War against Terror? So far it’s been somewhat of a mixed bag.

Here’s a brief recap: The terrorists originally passed time by shooting bales of hay with their AK47s in Afghanistan. They were bombed. Fair enough. Then, feeling in the mood for a double dip, the American government indulged itself in another round of democracy bombing, though this time in Iraq. Like Kismet, out of the smoking rubble emerged a new load of the terrorists, ready and able to serve as justification for a long-term American military deployment in Iraq. So far so good, we’re fighting the terrorists and judging by the piles of charred corpses- we’re winning.

That’s the part of the mixed bag that contains sweet-tasting candy of victory. The rest of its contents are more reminiscent of the sun-scorched mayo of regret.

Fast forward six years and all of a sudden you can’t watch a news report without involuntarily mouthing ‘what the fuck?’ In Afghanistan, NATO troops are blown up daily protecting a government that displays an aptitude for corruption that would make Richard Nixon soil himself. The government of Iraq, on the other hand, has decided to take the much more dignified though equally disturbing approach of politely waiting until US troops pull out to kick off its civil war.

What’s worse, if the media isn’t dwelling on our heroic though misguided failures, then it’s providing cursory glimpses of the terrorists in places we haven’t even bombed yet. ‘Is that the terrorists?!’ you blurt out during a news report on Pakistan or Somalia, squeezing your tin of Bud Light and spilling some on your filthy sweatpants.

Sorry man, but it is. The terrorists are everywhere these days. They’ve been able to shrug off two robust campaigns of democracy bombing and it seems increasingly unlikely that the missiles of liberty will be once again ripping the sky asunder anytime soon. Still reeling from the financial fuck-bomb of 2008, the United States- our world’s go-to terrorist hunter- will eventually be forced to pawn off all of those neat-o predator drones and water boarding sets for a few gold bars.

‘And that, my son, is how the terrorists won’ – a fitting last line to stories that the terrorists are no doubt hotly anticipating telling their yet un-bombed children. We on the other hand have no choice but to keep our doubts on lockdown and heroically stay the course. If our kids chirp up with, “What’s the waw on tewwow, daddy?” They get a, “go to your room!” Even if the war is technically unwinnable, we should still have about a decade or two of delusion left in the tank.

We’ve now arrived at the uncomfortable conclusion that no matter how many of the terrorists we bomb, they’ll just pop up elsewhere like some macabre game of whack-a-mole. Does that mean we should stop fighting? Definitely not! Of the myriad of things that our delicate North American sensibilities cannot tolerate, two tower above the rest: losers and quitters. This war may have already branded us with a scarlet L, but whether we get a Q to match can be delayed indefinitely.

Just focus on the positives. Our hearts are in the right place and the war will continue to provide symbolism that we’re comfortable with: they’re evil (we’re good), they hate us (reasons unknown) and I heard from some guy in the park that they have nukes the size of skittles (Colin Powell). Who knows, maybe we’re just ten years and another 50,000 bodies away from turning this mother around!

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