This week, I’m thinking about shell games and war. Let’s start with war. This is probably the most damaging social convention ever devised by the mind of man. But war is a phenomenon that’s touched the lives of every American. We owe our freedoms to those who won the “Revolutionary War.” The political and economic face of America was forever changed by “The Civil War.” The pattern for the international stage as it exists today was largely defined by “World War I.” The most dangerous and malignant totalitarian threat in history was stopped by the allies in “World War II.” In these wars, combatants knew who the enemy was, and the war ended when the enemy surrendered.
After World War II, ideas about war began to change. In order to keep the American public appropriately keyed up about the Soviet threat, tensions between Russia and the United States were described as a “Cold War.” This may have been a useful term, but it began to carry us away from our understanding of what “war” really is.
Then came the “Korean conflict,” which had all the outward appearances of war; uniformed soldiers from enemy nations locked in deadly combat to seize and hold territory through military might. But our politicians chose not to call this “war.” In President Truman’s words, this was a “police action.”
In Vietnam, to the men and women who fought there, it was war. Except it wasn’t. This was another police action. Even though every American I know who discusses these conflicts refers to them as “the Korean War,” and “the Vietnam War,” for political reasons, officially, that’s not what they are.
Nor are the men and women who fought and are now fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting wars. True, at one time, they were engaged in a “war on terror.” Now, officially, they’re engaged in “Overseas Contingency Operations.”
Official documents will not speak of “retreat” or “surrender” in Vietnam. Our departure from Iraq and Afghanistan will be soft-pedaled and obscured by slick diplomatic double-talk. But let’s not kid ourselves. We can call it what we like but our enemies in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan call it “war.” The fact that America leaves the field of combat without achieving its objective is victory for our enemies. We can’t change the facts by wrapping them in sweet sounding propaganda.
Let’s not forget our “war on poverty.” After committing billions and years combating the enemy, poverty has fought us to a standstill. We’ve also fought a “war on drugs.” How’s that going for us? In both these instances, the rubric of “war,” was co-opted by politicians and applied to situations where there will never be the possibility of a capitulation.
What does this have to do with shell games? We all know the trick. The gullible mark is enticed to wager on which of three walnut shells hides the pea. The mark finds the pea when it suits the con man and sometimes, the pea isn’t there at all. This is accomplished by a technique called “misdirection.” The con manipulates the mark into focusing on something extraneous while the trick is performed. To say it another way, the con makes sure the mark is not seeing what the con is actually doing.
We might have sympathy for the innocent mark who doesn’t realize what (s)he’s getting into. But if they continue to play after knowing they’re being conned, they’re no longer an innocent mark, they’re just a chump.
Ever since World War II, war, as a reality and as a political expedient has essentially been a shell game. Politicians have used our fighting men and women in conflicts around the world exhorting the American public to support their “battle for freedom” when, in reality, these wars and pseudo-wars are fought to accomplish cynical objectives known only to the politicians. And now, our military capabilities are being wasted and degraded to the point we couldn’t fight a real war even if the future of the world depended on it.
It’s past time for the Americans to do some serious soul-searching about what war is; what it costs; what you risk if you fight without winning and what you risk if you can’t fight at all.
If there’s a “reset” button that needs to be hit, it’s the “reset” on the appraisal of war.
As a concluding note, if you hear someone talking about a “war on women,” don’t buy this bogus misuse of the term. This is another case of the con trying to get a gullible mark to look for the nonexistent pea. I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
MIKE HINKLE is a retired attorney and Edmond resident.