Winning Hearts and Minds?

Over the weekend we learned that a veteran US soldier, a 38 year-old staff sergeant with a wife and kids, who  had served three deployments in Iraq, walked off a US military base in Afghanistan, shot and killed at least sixteen people, mostly women and children, as they slept in their homes.   This comes after soldiers accidentally burned copies of the Qur'an, which in Islam is the Word of God in the way Jesus is the Word of God for Christians.

Success in Afghanistan, if such a thing is possible (and no outside military force from Alexander to the Soviet's have seen success), depends on winning the hearts and minds of the people.  Such a thing is not helped by such incidents.

We are now ten and half years into this war and we're no closer to success than we were ten years ago.  President Obama tried to refocus attention on the country, trying to do there what had been done in Iraq, but Afghanistan isn't Iraq, and there is growing weariness in the American populace for continuing a war that I though dubious when launched, and continue to believe is dubious.  I'm a supporter of the President and believe he found himself in a problematic situation when he took office.  But if, as it appears to be happening, there's a softening of war support in the Republican Party, perhaps there's a window for us to pull back.  The only problem is that we will leave a broken nation behind.  The Taliban is poised to take back the country from a corrupt leadership that we helped put in power.  Although Al-Qaeda might not return as it did before, the dreams of a more equitable country where women have greater access to education and civil rights will likely be lost.

Afghanistan wasn't supposed to be another Vietnam, but it is.  So, how do we get out in a way that will win hearts and minds?

We Americans have this blind belief that not only are we right about things, but that we can impose our vision of the world upon others.  It's never worked, except perhaps in Japan after World War II.  It won't work in places like Afghanistan that are culturally resistant to Western ideals.  In time, it might change, but we can't impose it, and we're learning the hard way.

My sense is that this sergeant has been sufficiently traumatized by his time in the military that he lost control of reality.  I grieve for the people who lost their family members in Afghanistan, but I also grieve for this man's family, who have lost one they love.  How many more American women and men must be traumatized in a way that leads to violence over there or back home?

Is it time to come home?  Yes, that time came long ago.  This should also be a warning to those who want to go into Iran.  Do we want to be occupying another Muslim country ten years hence, trying to win hearts and minds, while losing our own hearts and minds?


Jeff said…
I would like to set aside the tragedy of the situation (not to mention the 'statistic' of the war) and ask how you handle the deeper issue of how we deal with the evil other people do?

It seems to me that this is the never adequately resolved question of modernity. The generation that saw the turn of the century before this one just past had many pacifists among its leading thinkers who later compromised their positions in the face of great evils. (Bonhoeffer and Niebuhr come to mind) Against the back drop of the doctrine of Progress, Darwinism, the Industrial Revolution, and the first World War as a war to end all wars and then the subsequent depression, and and the failure of the League of Nations and and an even greater war, what lessons can that generation teach us as they struggled with this question, "How do we deal with the evil others do?"

Gandhi said that there weren't any innocent bystanders that violent action was better than doing nothing but that non-violent action was superior. Simone Weil lived (and died) similarly in solidarity with the oppressed. This doesn't seem enough to most people ("Why don't you do something?"), but prayer, solidarity, and appealing to the consciences of the powerful are the tools God has given the meek.

I think we error when we think we have power. The only defense I offer for the path of non-resistance is that this is the example set by Jesus and he calls me to follow him. I've just never really understood Christians who believe otherwise -Augustine included. It seems to me that they have confused Christendom for Christianity, and allegiance to the nation with allegiance to Christ.
John said…

Perhaps humans are hard-wired to violence? We hear the call to non-violence, and some of us are just unable to put aside the violent instinct. Even in the abstract we look for opportunities to justify violent responses, always raising the "what if" questions, always seeking some justification permitting us to hang onto the option to violence.

The notion of radical non-violence is truly incomprehensible to many, perhaps most, perhaps all? To others, such as myself non-violence is a way of life which we were blessed to be born into. I have never had to fight, never had to defend myself, my family or my home. I have never been so savaged that violence became the only reasonable response. So peace making was easy for me.

But there is a deeper truth to my pacifism. I tell myself that I have embraced call to radical non-violence, but in response to the "what-if" questions I want to point to others who will pick up the fight, so fear not, if need be there will always be those who hear and respond to the call to arms. I assuage my conscience by disclaiming violence, weapons, and war, and I assuage my fears with my awareness that others will do the dirty work. Some pacifist, eh? I admit I would be hard pressed to vote for a pacifist as president.

So I have to admit that my pacifism is notional, a fragile reflection of my faith, hope and trust in the way of the Lord. And it is in truth it is more a product of the gentle and abundant life I was blessed to be born into.

So how do I respond to the evil others do? I try to name it when I see it, and to respond with strength and with a sense of certainty that there is a peaceful response to be had. Not mere peace, but among peaceful options, there is a somewhere to be found an option which best addresses the circumstance. It is disingenuous to avoid violence based on the claim that violence only begets more violence, because that's mere pragmatism, intimating that if it were guaranteed to work, violence would become an acceptable option.

So I call out against violence and search for the more successful peaceful option. And when I am a bystander, such as in Syria and Afghanistan and Pakistan, I pray for God to intervene in the hearts of people to show them a way forward toward wholeness and healing.

But I have no illusionary expectation that miracles will sprout like flowers in spring.

So I vote for leaders for whom violence is never the first response, and always the least desirable one. And I abhor the thought of war as a process which can be won or lost. War is the purest evidence of failure, and it is something to be endured, and only as long as it takes to terminate the violence. Then it's back to work on peace making.
Robert Cornwall said…

I am a wannabe pacifist. I believe in non-violent responses, but am a Niebuhrian in the end.

I recognize that violence often breeds violence, and thus we have an unending cycle of violence.

Bonhoeffer, I think, is a worthy person to consider. He embraced the views of Jesus and Gandhi, but in the end, acting with an attitude of repentance, he joined the resistance, believing that there was a greater evil in letting Hitler succeed. He gave no theological justification of this, but accepted judgment of God for what he believed he had to do. I think that's where we're at. Sometimes, we seek to prevent a greater evil by using tools that are less than godly. We do so recognizing that we need to be in a state of repentance.
David said…
The country could win my heart and mind by extending the right to life, liberty and the free pursuit of happiness our system was supposedly founded on.

We are not powerless. We're, on average, apathetic, lazy and stupid. The German people and their average soldiers, during their war against the world, were much more innocent than we today.

No one wanted war, except the war pigs, the fearful, and those invested financially in the machine. Yet we went to war. We're a pitiful example of God's love and of our founding principles.

I have a lot of respect for you Bob, but I felt let down by your tepid support for it on the way in.

Any violent response to terror, other than to halt immediate threats, has to be banned.

Shooting drones at homes miles away is criminally cowardly.

It's all about money and power Bob, just like our other "wars".

What would have happened if we didn't respond in the ways we did? What the hell were we scared of?
This isn't rhetorical. And, let's not pretend we were "protecting the powerless".

John's correct. Our brains' chemical responses to threats and stresses aren't optimal for a modern world. War is the easy way. We need to "change our own hearts and minds" somehow. I propose we give Afghanistan a contract to grow us many tons of the finest marijuana, in order help them pull themselves out of their misery, and to help pacify each of our own heart and minds. Then perhaps, we could all get a bong. Its worth a try. The freedom to utilize this resource should be considered very American. Yet, as Ms Clinton famously stated, "the drug war will never end. "There's too much money in it".
David said…
Okay, I actually read your column.

Did you pick up the "trying to win hearts and minds, while losing our own hearts and minds?" somewhere? If not, touche. Touche anyway.

By the way, producing a high quality cannabis would be more morally justified vs. a blind eye to poppy cultivation by several orders of magnitude. It would pass zero (no harm) and result in significant benefit from the very start. It would be a blow against modern tyranny. I should have said, I'd buy from Detroit growers too, if I could that is.

I went to a party on East Jefferson Monday night. Mike Whitty (Dr. Detroit)'s 70th birthday. He was in town (he currently resides in San Fransisco). He has been highly involved in many Detroit area social movements since the late 60's

Here's what he said on the occasion (I had top edit this to protect the innocent (sorry for the bad view- I was too close). Anyway, the speech is heartfelt-

I actually concur. I was convinced 40 yrs ago (and convicted a couple years later) that prohibition of otherwise harmless behavior is a destructive sin (see local examples here- Our Christian religion, and our country's constitution clearly emphasize this.

By the way, here is a slideshow idea I had. Needs polish. Do you remember the song from the concert?-

And here is where we can join the effort, or at least become somewhat educated-

Prove to me this modest organism isn't a sacred plant. Here's 3 of many greeting cards that seem to celebrate this beneficial gift;
Matthew 1:12, 1:29 1 Timothy 4:3

Often I hear from detractors, that God's love should be enough to satisfy us. However, His love comes in the way of physical gifts as well as spiritual. It may be in the pure beauty and wonder of the world and our own assistance (which is registered and noted by changes in brain chemistry and mind response). It may be in the form of uniquely shaped and multifunctional molecules which easily sooth and inspire our "hearts and minds".

This has been a 40 year, 7 trillion dollar war on our own people. We are so pathetic.

I know I risk being a bore. Otherwise, I don't care what people think. I was asked to leave Somerset Mall after a couple hours petitioning (I always wondered what my neighbor 3 doors down did for a living. He's head of security there (I wont say what he said as he escorted my out. But I was smiling). I went to Wall-Mart and stayed till dark. I had many great discussions about our society with wildly diverse, and perfect strangers. Now that the weather is nicer, this petitioning thing is often very joyful.

What might happen if we end prohibition? Could history repeat itself?

In the year following the reinstatement of the right to drink, homicides in Michigan dropped 70%. Even though alcohol abuse is clearly problematic, unlike other substances!
David said…
Note, I left a splice of sound I shouldn't have on the original movie. Here's the reedited link.

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