Sunday, November 05, 2006

Football may be war, but War isn't football.

(Big disclaimer: I am a citizen of the United States of America. I support my government. I would normally wear the moniker of conservative without shame. I have to say this to the people who would not agree with what is to follow.)

There is some discussion about the original quote being correctly recorded that says, "War is hell." Having never carried a weapon into battle nor spending even one night "in harm's way" (except for the several weeks I served as boy's camp counselor for our church group), I am sure I am not qualified to comment on that.

I was raised in a portion of Texas that venerates Friday Night High School Football (notice the caps - as if they are all proper nouns forming a title). Our team during the years I attended Bay City High was never the powerhouse we wanted it to be. Our freshman year was the only time that I remember we went past Bi-district play-offs.

Our school would hold pep-rallies for the team. Coach Haley would come to the mic after our cheerleaders led us in a few "Rah-Rahs." He would give us a quick report on how our boys would dismantle Wharton, West Columbia or El Campo. We would cheer and send the guys, who sat slumped in their seats, too cool to be bothered by anything so mundane as our cheering, out the door to do the last minutes of preparation.

I guess the cheering was for us and not for the guys. The band got pumped. The cheering squad got pumped. The cheerleaders were so pumped up they could hardly contain themselves. And we sent our men out to do battle for school pride. We did that because, as our coaches would tell us, football is war.

It is a cool way to have a war. You have a clock, referees, cheerleaders, and fans in the stands. When the game is over there is a winner and a loser. You can have injuries and some could end an athlete's career. Coaches who do well leave for bigger schools. Coaches who do poorly leave for smaller schools or stay and teach driver's ed and social studies. (Some end up as PE teachers for the elementary schools.) It is a neat war. It has a season and rules, letter jackets, medals, state champions and glory. There is even glory for the loosing teams because they are our boys.

Football is war. But, the war we are fighting in Iraq isn't football. There doesn't seem to be clear winners anymore. There was a beginning, but what does the end look like? There are no referees and our boys come home with wounds that you can't see, much less effectively treat.

Our opponent doesn't play the same game that we play. (I am sure this was much the same complaint the British made during our war for independence.) We play on the field, but the opponent is playing all over the stadium, including the parking lot.

We forget what war is about. It is about killing, maiming, and/or beating into submission an enemy that wants to do the same to you. It is obscene and pornographic. There is no Pattonesque glory in filling an enemy bunker with explosives to rid your life of a threat.

There is one consistent quality. The winning coach gets to leave for greener pastures. Colin Powell, Norman Schwarzkopf, Dwight Eisenhower, and U.S. Grant all enjoyed, or are enjoying, the fruits of victory. How many generals did Lincoln sack before he found a winner in Grant? Pearl Harbor signaled the end of Naval careers. They paid the price, or reaped the benefits, of leadership. The warriors, however, suffered. Some died. Others wished they did.

I honor the memory of our warriors who shouldered weapons to fight for freedom. I am free to write what I do because of those who served. Among those warriors are my uncles and my father. I lost an uncle during WWII, as did many.

That being the case, I look at our current conflict and wonder not whether we should be there or whether our goals are lofty. I wonder if we should be playing the game we are playing. I wonder if we shouldn't embrace a different world view and say, "Waging peace is hell and darn worth the price."

I know that some reader will say that is what we are doing in Iraq. I know that to clean up a room you have to mess it up, also. But if we spent as much time in studying how our opponent thinks with the view of defeating them on the battle ground of public opinion or the stadium of international cooperation, would waging peace in this manner be any more difficult? It can't be more bloody. It certainly can't be more detrimental to our national position of leadership.

Next time we decide to liberate a country, let's make sure we will play the same game our enemy will play. I am not saying we should capture passenger planes and crash them into tall buildings. Capturing the planes and killing the people was not the purpose of the act. The road-side bombs that kill and maim are not intended to show military strength. The enemy wants to be recognized as a determining voice in the international conversation. They want to be seen as a vital, powerful lobby capable of making decisive moves whenever and wherever they want.

We have not proved our ability to match their will and capacity to win simply because we can "bomb them into the stone age."

Let's play a new game. Let's look for the Anwar Sadats and Jimmy Carters. Let's look for generals who can redefine the game. Let's find men and women with courage to lead army's of warriors for peace, willing to join a new battle for the hearts of a people and not their political identity.

BTW, in case you are letting your mind wander, 9/11 was not the opening kick-off. That happened during the Crusades to "free" Jerusalem from the hoard of barbarians.