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IN THE spring of 1987, I made a deal with the United States government. The deal was that I would complete Basic Training, Advanced Individual Training in communications, airborne school and be ready "to protect the country from all enemies foreign and domestic." In return, I would be eligible for the Army College Fund and a chance to achieve the American dream.
When I swore to defend my country, Mikhail Gorbachev was still our greatest enemy. So was Syrian President Hafez Assad. The Reagan Administration supported Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran, and did not complain when he gassed thousands of his citizens. Or when he bombed one of our ships, killing 37 men. I believed in it all.
Today, our list of friends and enemies has changed--and so has my perspective on what America really stands for. I thought I was fighting for the America of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness--the mythical America whose real life exploits aren't taught in grade school. Now, after following closely President Bush's Operation Desert Shield in the Middle East, I recognize these real life exploits--exploits of unprincipled mega-greed and imperialism.
AT THE outset, I should state that that I do not believe that any country has the moral right to impose its will on a sovereign state by military force. Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait was--to paraphrase President Bush--both deplorable and wrong.
I am somewhat desensitized and disillusioned by the all-too-familiar scenario: The imperialist "liberator" of the region, in an effort to extend and protect its domain, attacks a strategically placed--but militarily defenseless--country in its "backyard." Haunted by past war failures and a need to justify an awesome war machine, the "liberator" fears that the resources of the neighboring country may slip from its control.
This is the scenario that brought Iraq into Kuwait. It's also a scenario perfected by the United States, the country that wrote the book on interventionism.
On August 6, President Bush--on the advice of Gen. Colin L. Powell, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff--launched Operation Desert Shield with the intent of liberating Kuwait from Iraqi occupation.
Bush's decision has resulted in a tenuous American alliance with countries that were, until recently, considered terrorist states by the U.S. Very few Americans seem to realize the long-term implications of this action: We are going to war--pointless, expensive, bloody war.
Of course, some Americans don't have a problem waging war over the price of oil. But for me, Operation Desert Shield represents the negation of every reason that led me to join the military.
MILITARY people have an undeserved reputation for not caring who they fight and for what reasons. My experience at Ft. Bragg was quite the opposite.
The people I worked with cared. I remember my section seargant's shock when we heard that the U.S. had accidently destroyed an Iranian civilian aircraft over the Persian Gulf. I remember telling my buddies about a Harvard class on Latin America that described how the U.S. manipulated Central American governments and delivered them to the hands of right-wing dictators. Rather than confront the argument, we concluded that my professor was a typical ivory-tower, America-hater who either embellished the story or left out crucial information that vindicated the U.S.
If we were unwilling to acknowledge our country's faults, it was only because we didn't know them. We refused to accept facts that were contrary to our ideals.
Why are enlisted people so willing to give the United States government a moral blank check on their lives? While there are as many reasons to join the military as there are people who join, my reason was that I wanted the "American dream" for me and the rest of the world.
I have experienced few feelings as intense as swearing into the military. I was helping myself and my country. I was standing up for principles. America is, after all, the "last best hope."
So it should be no shock that I am disappointed to hear of Bush's sending a first-wave force of 250,000 troops to an oppressive, anti-Semitic monarchy that tortures and dismembers its citizens for thought crimes. I am disillusioned by a move that will mean certain death for thousands of Americans and Arabs alike. A move that will throw the most volatile region in the world into chaos--at an initial cost of $2.5 billion. The United States is shelling out $1 billion a month in defense of no principle other than Our Way of Life.
With the spectacle of Operation Desert Shield, Gorbachev's joining the U.S. in denouncing dictators and a dubious U.S.-Syrian alliance, I have learned that there are no abiding principles guiding American foreign policy.
I have learned that ignorance is bliss.
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