On January 3, 2008 a friend forwarded a bit of Internet fodder, with the Subject header line supplication, "Please Read." I did. It was a bit of correspondence/essay attributed to a Dr. Vernon Chong, a USAF Major General (Retired). It turns out it has been kicking around since 2004. It is not uncommon for these things to spring up from time to time, sometimes redundantly, if not repeatedly, among the small motley circle of my friends who exchange items of interest. Or at least they are of ostensible interest. We are motley for our wide spectrum of political views, which range from Libertarian to Liberal (if not quasi-anarchistic) to those of one of us—an eternal trickster, if not provocateur, who gets a clearly perverse, if benign, delight in offering up bits of casuistry such as Dr. Chong’s. This last is simply to stir up the pot, and see what happens, especially if one of us makes the mistake of taking seriously the intent of the sender (or his credulity). This last go round for the maundering of the alleged Dr. Chong was passed along by one among us, who espouses a strange mix of middling liberality and staunch chauvinism (he is one of the few, if not the only one, among us, who served in the armed forces, albeit in the Medical Corps—during the late unfortunate hostilities known by our enemy at the time as The American War.
I won’t dignify or substantiate Dr. Chong’s remarks either by repeating them here (never mind the absorption of bandwidth) or even by providing a URL of the various sites on which they might be found on the World Wide Web. If you must waste your time by first reading them, I’d suggest entering some combination of Dr. Vernon Chong (or even include his rank) in Google, or your favorite search engine.
I do think it’s remarkably telling that, in the midst of what has become a surprising, if not exciting start out of the gate of the 2008 Presidential Nomination Follies, with newspaper headlines trumpeting the decreasing lack of importance of the war in Iraq that this should appear among a group of us comfortable, late middle-aged (some of us are, in fact, still working actively for a living) bourgeois Northeasterners of various political stripes. For some, indeed, the continuing bellicosity of various Muslim factions in Iraq, and the continued presence of well over 100,000 American troopers in that nation is not only an issue, front and center, but even if it settles somewhere into the middle or rearward reaches of our consciousness, we are well aware that the more pertinent, or seemingly more salient issues—and in particular the economy, which worsens by the moment—are intimately tied to the effects (and costs) of the five years and counting that our military forces continue to be deployed in the former biblical kingdom of Assyria.
What follows is my response to this innocent attempt to evoke some interesting intellectual discourse among our stalwart little group of citizens, bound more by affection and friendship if truth be told than by any real desire to debate (which seems only to get us into trouble, especially as we each of us seem to lapse into emotional conflict rather than the desired dispassionate reasoned debate). I’ve cleaned up and edited a bit the spontaneous effusion I sent immediately back to the entire list of recipients.
Whether or not you read Dr. Chong’s "essay" is not important. Its argument, if it can be elevated so precipitously as to be called that, is contingent on one quasi patriotic, hyper-emotional assertion, about which the author goes on at such length as to permit saying that it is attenuated to the point of etiolation, if not beyond.
There is only one fault with this argument. However, it is a fault that is fundamental, if not elemental, and hence makes the rest of this argument, which I’m loathe to call it, as it is so badly articulated, built as it is on a false premise, not only dubious, but time ill spent in the reading. Perhaps this rhetoric is deliberate, blatantly bent on appearing persuasive, as opposed to expressing a truth, any truth.
The fault is the unsubstantiated assertion that we are at war.
We are, I would assert, not at war, not at the moment. And no more so than we were at the time of this essay of Dr. Chong’s, that is, some time in 2004.
However, we are at this time (January 2008) policing an insurgency among a people who only half want us to be there for any purpose whatsoever.
In precipately, and pre-emptively, engaging in war with a sovereign nation, however disreputable and odious its government and leaders, and irrespective of the relevancy, applicabicability, or the verifiable condition of the stated causes we had for engaging this enemy at the time, we did unleash all the pernicious forces disposed throughout the unfortunate country known as Iraq.We removed the government and nominally disarmed, and certainly disbanded, the military forces of that nation, along with the entire organizational structure of those armed forces and all bodies of police and other keepers of the peace. As a consequence of our ill-considered (if they were thought about at all) policies as victors, the forces we unleashed have been free to wage terrorist acts upon one another, enter into internecine deadly conflict with one another, not to mention the repeated assaults on the U.S. troops we stubbornly keep in place on the proviso that were we to withdraw, just as precipately (and we now hope rapidly, so as to minimize further losses to our own forces), we would leave the countervailing factions to enter what is likely to be catastrophically bloody and chaotic civil war amongst themselves.
Whatever actual war we began and fought ended very soon after we started it, certainly within a month or two, or perhaps three.
Since then all acts of violence perpetrated on our troops, as well as on the opposing elements of the internecine forces that have always been resident in Iraq, plus those elements that have entered the fray from third party nations—with or without the sanction and support of those nations—since we neutralized the legitimate military and police organizations of Iraq immediately after defeating them in war, I would suggest are not acts of war. They are acts of violence that, in any other "civilized" nation, operating under any reasonable body of laws, whatever their basis: British Common Law, Napoleonic Code, or even laws formulated and legitimized by political bodies in governments adhering to certain religious codes, like the Koran), would be considered criminal acts. The perpetrators of these acts, these criminals, would be sought, neutralized, imprisoned, indicted and tried under those laws.
I would submit further that the litany of acts proffered as acts of war by this alleged Maj. General Chong (retired) against the United States since 1979 are, in the main criminal acts. Furthermore, one may go back, to earlier dates than these, if one must, as I would include other acts of terrorism — some political, some strictly criminal — performed mainly against military U.S. forces deployed in foreign countries, or U.S. citizens both at home or abroad.
Even acts, like the attack on the U.S. Panay, readily put at the feet of the military forces then under the government of the Emperor of Japan, that were meant to provoke our country, if not precipate engagement, were not sufficient to escalate our diplomatic or military posture such that we would, as a matter of policy, engage in war with an enemy that had a recognizable and coherent body of government formulating and implementing military engagement as an intentional act of war. Otherwise, the preponderance, if not the entirety, of these acts remain as they so patently and clearly are, as I said, criminal acts. All of which should have been, if they were not, prosecuted as such.
Every sovereign nation, whatever the prevailing religious beliefs of its citizenry, embraces a code of conduct and a body of laws that is meant to deal with criminal behavior. The maintaining of the social fabric demands of humans that they formulate codes for such a purpose. Crimes against individuals, or against a people, against institutions or corporations, are disruptive and potentially threaten the stability of any political entity, even a whole nation.
I submit that were all nations, in the interests of peace, and the maintenance of domestic tranquility (as I believe the phrase goes) were to concentrate on containing such acts of criminality, and indeed were to cooperate on whatever necessary basis to act in concert and to share intelligence, mainly of a forensic or probative nature, all such acts of criminality, widespread, and with the great frequency we have experienced them over whatever arbitrary span of time Maj. General Chong (or whomever) cares to define, would ultimately be contained to the point of manageability.
Terrorist acts are criminal acts pure and simple, and they should be dealt with as such, even if the dealing requires extensive applications of force and the resources to apply them. Widespread rioting, looting, and hooliganism in the modern history of all countries, including our own, have sometimes required to mobilization of national defense forces. These circumstances have never defined a state of war, even internally. And arguments prevail for calling our great Civil War as being, in actuality, a War Between the States.
We should be loathe to find wars where they do not exist. Even to a rhetorical abhorrence for application of the soubriquet of war (so enamored by our government, with various "wars" on poverty, drugs, even crime itself). War may be, Clausewitz cleverly defined it, a continuation of diplomacy (or politics) "by other means," but it is tantamount to mass murder, and the surest unequivocal sign of the failure of civilization, per se. It is, in short, not some manifestation of civilization, but its denial.
I don’t swallow a word this semi-literate, manipulative individual has offered up for purposes that can only be called inflammatory and ill-considered, never mind poorly reasoned and poorly argued.
Incidentally, Chong is, indeed, a real person, though he did not, apparently, write this letter, but passed it along to an email correspondent. The original letter, with a different original opening set of paragraphs, was allegedly written by an attorney and sent to his sons.
When, Oh!, when will we stop sending this crap to one another? It’s not worthy of lengthy discourse, never mind intelligent debate, if such were to be what it inspired.