Monday, September 15, 2014

The Oversimplification of Hawks and Doves

Today begins Peace Day Philly's week of activities and events leading up to the International Day of Peace. As can be expected, it is a full schedule of mediation workshops, volunteer opportunities, films, music concerts and other performances, and talks by peace activists, all free and open to the public. 

This holiday began with a 1981 Resolution by the United Nations General Assembly. Today it continues to be celebrated all around the world. (Check out this website to find events near you.) 

This year's Day of Peace comes in a timely manner, just days after President Obama announced plans to bomb in Syria. Obama stated: 

“Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, [ISIS] through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.”

Of course this actions has many critics. Medea Benjamin, founder of Code Pink held a protest outside the white house. On Democracy Now she said, 

"I think President Obama has been hounded by the media, by the war hawks in Congress, mostly from the Republican side but also from the Democrats, and is going into this insane not only bombing in Iraq, but also talking about going into Syria, at a time when just a couple of months ago the American people had made it very clear that we were very tired of war." 

But are Americans tired of war? According to polls, a solid majority of Americans do support more airstrikes in Syria. Of course as Jon Stewart pointed out on the September 12 episode of The Daily Show (4 min, 30 second in), half of Americans can't even identify Syria on a map. 

Some formerly anti-intervention Libertarians such as Rand Paul are beginning to change their stance, much to the glee of those eager to increase military involvement. In response to this article in the Washington Post, John McCain tweeted, "It's gratifying to see all these doves turn into hawks!" 

I first heard the terms "dove" and "hawk" as they are applied to those for or against military engagement in 2002, during discussions over whether the Iraq War was justified by the supposed "weapons of mass destruction" held by Saddam Hussein's regime. Over 100,000 Iraqi civilian deaths, 4,800 allied forces casualties, and $1.1 trillion in US war spending later, we all now know that there were no weapons of mass destruction, and as awful a dictator at Hussein was, the destabilization of the region has only made matters even worse for the people living in Iraq. 

Now here we are, out of the frying pan and into the fire. Except to most Americans, this all might as well be a video game or fictional tv special. The violence, destruction, upheaval, and grief is happening so far away. It directly touches the lives of so few Americans. 

Looking at polls, not just the Pew poll mentioned above, but CNN's recent polling of American opinions regarding the threat of Isis and how the US should respond, I find myself pondering what the terms "hawk" and "dove" really mean. The terms never set right with me. 

To start off, the dove as a peace symbol comes from the most violent, horrific event in the entire Bible. After using a great flood to exterminate the entire human population (except Noah and his family) including babies and children, plus most life on earth, the (supposedly benevolent) God sends Noah a sign in the form of a dove holding an olive branch to signify that his global massacre is over, and now life can start again with the ark's survivors. What the hell does such a story say about achieving peace? Every time I hear a so-called "hawk" on television or radio say of the "terrorists" that we should "kill them all" or "wipe them off the face of the earth" I am reminded of the Biblical flood and the Judeo-Christian God's solution for dealing with the failings of humankind. 

In contrast, why do we call people who are quick to go to war "hawks"? Because hawks are efficient predatory birds? Indeed they are, but like all predatory animals, hawks only kill because they need to in order to survive, they only kill as much as they need, and they only go after the easiest targets in order to minimize risk to their own health and safety. They are in harmony with the ecosystem, picking off just enough of the weakest prey animals to keep those populations from getting out of control and depleting the resources of the local environment. How wonderful it would be if humans were more like hawks! 

Alas, humans are humans. And one of the many dumb things we do as a species is to simplify incredibly complex, life-and-death situations and strategies into black and white labels such as "doves and hawks." 

I do not know how much of a threat ISIS is to US national security (although I suspect not much.) I can't even begin to guess what will be the long-term impact of ISIS on international relations whether the US becomes heavily involved in the fight against the Islamic state or not. I read conflicting opinions on people who actually spend their careers studying these issues, and if they can't agree, how can I hope to know better? Had I been asked most of the questions on the Pew and CNN polls, I would like to think I would be honest with both the pollster and myself and answer "I don't know." I wish more Americans were enlightened enough to realize how often we express strong opinions on matter of which we know little, and yet which will have serious consequences on the lives of thousands, or millions of our brothers and sisters. 

What I do know is that any military intervention, even if the net result is less long-term suffering and greater security, causes death, destruction, pain, grief, and lingering animosity. Nobody should have a glint in their eye, a smile on their face, or feel "gratified" in a smug way when he or she speaks of bombing "the enemy". It should always be regarded as a gravely serious and risky undertaking that if we do, we do only because we are convinced we must. 

Look to the hawk. 

1 comment:

  1. "It should always be regarded as a gravely serious and risky undertaking that if we do, we do only because we are convinced we must."

    It really bothers me when politicians do this. My father and husband are both veterans--my father of the Iraqi conflict, my husband of the Afghani. Neither of them look at the prospect of another war with glee. If anything, they are heartbroken at the lives that will be lost and the damage that will be done. Because war is a terrible, terrible thing, one that should be avoided whenever possible and never celebrated.

    Our soldiers and service members know this. How do our politicians miss it?