Towards the end of Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars, there’s a detailed description of an hour long meeting that the author had with President Obama at the oval office. He recounts the scene with such detail, that I felt as if I was there in the room. The body language, attitude, charisma and humor.
At the end of their meeting, Bob hands Obama a passage from The Day of Battle by Rick Atkinson, which I found both inspiring and saddening.
…for war was not just a military campaign but also a parable. There were lessons of camaraderie and beauty and inscrutable fate. There were lessons of honor and courage; of compassion and sacrifice. And then there was the saddest lesson to be learned again and again. That war is corrupting. That it corrodes the soul and tarnishes the spirit. That even the excellent and the superior can be defiled. That no heart can remain unstained…
Obama reads this quote, and responds by pointing Bob to his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.
No matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldiers courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing dedication to county, to a cause, to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such. So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly irreconcilable truths.
That war is sometimes necessary.
And that war in some level is an expression of human falling.
War used to be such an dominant part of my reality. But now feels so distant. I’m not wishing for the stress, worry and fear that came along with that. What I am worried about is living in a country where there’s such a lack of concern and connection to where its own soldiers are fighting, or to the major fronts that see daily battles. From reading this book, I’m invigorated by Obama’s seeming concern to gather as much information as possible in order to make the best decision about the continuation of these wars. I see little hope in finding a policy that will not cost the US military many years and high involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. To make things right, they must work with local communities, build trust and a solid social infrastructure, using counter insurgency techniques. However, with the general public so disengaged, how the heck are they going to pull it off?