I can’t recall the book now, maybe it was Black Hawk Down, but I remember years ago pausing to consider one of the more fascinating observations I had ever read. The well-traveled author said that Africans (or at least those native to the story) were the only people on Earth who ran toward gunfire rather than away from it. I gave that idea quite a bit of thought, and subsequently theorized that the average speed and direction of bystander flight to/from gunfire was an accurate and egregiously underutilized metric to predict larger societal outcomes.
For instance, societies that sprint toward gunfire would tend to exhibit extremely high time preference to the point of valuing immediate street entertainment over the more distant considerations of life without intestines or a jawbone. Societies that sprint away would be conversely more inclined to delay gratification and invest in the future–like tomorrow morning. The latter category would naturally tend to be far more peaceful and prosperous than the former. Of course those societies that tended to shuffle about equivocally during violent exchanges by strangers would produce outcomes somewhere in the middle.
It wasn’t until later that I realized how plainly this applied to larger conflicts as well. Governments that sprint toward international gunfire will tend to exhaust their treasuries, their liberties, their habitats, and their most valiant young men. Those who keep a safe distance from foreign conflicts tend to host laughing grandchildren in their home for Christmas.
And that idea lead me to some very cursory research.
Of the ten most populous countries in the world, only one has suggested it may sprint toward Syrian gasfire. Eight others have issued no official statements on Syria whatsoever, and one has addressed the issue by casting doubt on the situation’s highly doubtful narrative.
It’s interesting to note this broad majority approach to the internal affairs of distant foreign states, and how vividly it contrasts with the single outlier. I was very tempted to speculate on the difference being a function of wealth. Just as only the plutocracy feels sufficiently well insulated to dissolve its national borders, only rich countries can afford the vainglory of a moralizing militarism. But that can’t be all of it.
Japan is a large wealthy country, and yet one that remains purely contemplative about landing marines at Jablah. China also possesses an increasingly formidable military capability, but it too seems focused to the point of distraction on its own self-interests.
Maybe there is something in the American psyche quite like the Somali one–both dazzled by shiny shell casings. Or maybe it’s not truly Americans at all that guide our policies on war and peace–or at least not Aliyah ineligible ones.
Perhaps those eight other countries asked what the Syrian civil war had to do with them, without a single compelling answer percolating to the surface. Or perhaps they’ve taken note of the returns on our Iraq and Afghanistan adventures. Both countries are still at war, with both boasting year-to-date casualty figures actually approaching Syria’s. Why not just bomb someone there? At least it wouldn’t upset the old routine.
For that matter what makes Syria imperative? Earth is perpetually stocked with wars. Significant armed conflicts are presently ongoing in Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Sinai, Nigeria, and Yemen. Surely we’re not going to just let our troops rot in their barracks while deadish people are posing for photo ops in all of them.
Maybe the use of chemicals is our trigger event. I have no doubt that’s an excruciating way to expire; and nothing at all as pleasant as absorbing a rifle round through the gut or feeling about for your own skull fragments in the wake of a grenade. Honestly, I don’t see a clear distinction.
What I do see is that there is enormous incentive for Assad’s enemies to stick a gas-carrot in front of America’s face so that the bills and body bags associated with removing a regional rival may all be sent west. And once our dead have done their work, what then? Assad is aligned against ISIS; a group that would never use gas owing to its unacceptably humane effects. They and/or al-nusra front would be his successors, not any laughably so-called moderates. So who are the ‘good guys’ in Syria? And how many dollars and dead should Americans invest in seating them? And what, besides gravesite bromides, will our people get back from the endeavor?
I’m actually quite concerned about the peace scare that seems to be sweeping through the American government. Our officialdom has become a troop of Africans looking for gunfire to sprint toward. And they seem frantic enough to start their own in its absence. China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and Syria have all been put on some form of notice. Can we run five directions at once? And what if photos of dead people emerge in Djibouti?
What worries me the most is the complete absence of cost awareness being expressed by the howlers. It’s the arrogance of believing pain is only a sensation for others. Tax dollars and soldiers lives are wholly extraneous to politicians with blood in their eyes. But it’s not just theater losses that should be considered. Escalate a situation far enough with capable adversaries, and citizens and cities can be erased like a white majority from California.
China and Russia are of course nuclear powers. Though fortunately both seem mature enough to manage our tantrums. Kim is another story altogether. It is already presumed that North Korea can deliver an EMP strike on America. Are we certain this could be disabled during a raid on Pyongyang? I guess we’d have the rest of our short lives to find out, as 290 million American dead would be the consequence of error according to congressional testimony.
I’m not a pacifist and have no use for those who are. Men should fight for what’s actually important: their home, their family, and their nation. Just let me know when Russia or Syria gets around to threatening those things. In the meantime I’ll be shuffling in the opposite direction.