Forgetting the lessons of Eisenhower’s address

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By Rick Howell

There was some dramatic news out of Afghanistan last week, but by now most Americans are so bored by the topic that they barely pay attention.
    The Taliban, the once and very likely future leaders of that country, attacked a resort hotel just outside Kabul. Before the five fighters were killed, they managed to snuff out the lives of 18 innocent people.
    You might wonder why a 10-year long American war hasn’t progressed to the point where that kind of thing can’t happen. But such is the continuing reality of that country. Some things truly don’t change; Afghanistan is one of them.
    Many an empire has wandered into its caves and deserts only to stumble out later, dazed and confused. President Obama is trying to put the best face on it, but he knows that however long he draws it out, we can truly only do one more thing there, and that’s to leave.
    How did we get into this? It began of course after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which we knew that Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network had carried out. We also knew that Afghanistan was where he was based.
    So, after some hesitation because he really preferred to be in Iraq, blaming Saddam for 9/11, President George W. Bush finally ordered us in. Bin Laden escaped and instead of leaving as we should have, Bush decided to do something he said he wouldn’t do in 2000: conduct “nation building” in that primitive country.
    But there’s another reason that we wound up in Afghanistan, and that’s because the military-industrial complex – those who live and profit from war, with a direct financial stake in its existence – has a habit of getting its way.
    That might sound simplistic, but isn’t it true that since World War II, we’ve engaged in war somewhere every ten years or so?
    Why? Do you really think that, every few years or so, some dreaded enemy arrives who just lives to destroy us, and we have to get him. Come on, I’m not that naïve, and I hope you’re not, either.
    What we’ve done since World War II is let the military-industrial complex grow to that point that it has its own will and power that basically can’t be matched. We’ve utterly ignored the poignant warnings left to us by President Dwight Eisenhower in his farewell address in 1961.
    Every American should take the time to read that address. Like everything else today, all you have to do is Google it, and there it is.
    Think about it. This man, who had been one of our greatest warriors, as he left office for retirement, wasn’t glorifying war or the military. He was warning us about it, and it was the last thing he wanted to tell us.
    I urge you to read it. But here’s part of it: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
    Another portion, so relevant to today: “Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose.”
    By the time Eisenhower died in 1969, we had already ignored his advice with the useless tragedy of Vietnam. We are ignoring it still.
    I can only imagine what the president would make of our “adventures” in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s good that he’s not here to see it.
    We should live up to his dream and rein in the military, swearing off “wars of choice” and staying out of places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com