The recently released movie Black Hawk Down raises interesting challenges to those who think theyre supporting American GIs when they support U.S. government decisions to send them into battle.
In 1993, the Clinton administration sent U.S. soldiers into the capital city of Mogadishu, which was in the midst of a civil war, to capture a Somali warlord named Mohammad Farrah Aidid. The Somalis fought back, ultimately shooting down two Black Hawk helicopters and killing 18 American men. Soon after their deaths, Clinton ordered the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Somalia.
All too many Americans, even while regretting the loss of American soldiers in battle, fail to ask a fundamentally important question: Have American soldiers been sacrificed for a worthless, perhaps even immoral, cause? The attitude always seems to be that Americans soldiers die for freedom simply because theyre fighting on the orders of the U.S. government. But unfortunately, such is not always the case. Consider Somalia. What were those 18 American soldiers doing in Somalia in the first place? They were there because President Clinton ordered them to help feed people who were starving to death in that country.
Three questions arise: First, is it a legitimate role of government to feed starving people (either internationally or domestically)? Second, is feeding starving people in the world a cause worth sacrificing American GIs for? Third, does that mission have anything to do with the freedom of the American people?
I would submit that the answer to all three questions is No. For one thing, helping others means nothing unless it comes from the voluntary heart of individuals. When people voluntarily donate money to feed starving people in the world, thats what genuine charity is all about.
But government charity is founded on a totally different premise coercion, which is contrary to voluntary action. A political system in which government taxes people in order to distribute the money to the needy is not charity at all its actually anti-charity and anti-freedom because its founded on force rather than voluntary action.
Thus, despite any lofty suggestions that those 18 American men died in Somalia for freedom, the truth is that the U.S. government sent them to their deaths for a worthless cause.
It wasnt the first time. Consider Vietnam, a country thousands of miles away, where 60,000 American GIs lost their lives. Their mission? To kill communists. How many? No one ever really knew. All that mattered were the daily body counts, confirming that American GIs were killing communists. Fortunately, the American people finally questioned whether killing communists was a cause worth dying for (or, more accurately, sacrificing American soldiers for), and they successfully demanded a withdrawal from the Vietnam War.
How about World War I, in which tens of thousands of American men died on European battlefields? What was their mission? It was a lofty one: To make the world safe for democracy and to finally bring an end to war.
Not only were those aims not achieved, however, U.S. intervention in World War I actually contributed to the conditions of chaos and instability that gave rise to Adolf Hitler and World War II as well as to the rise of the Soviet Union and the threat of international communism. The American men whom the U.S. government sent to Europe in World War I did not die for freedom; they died for nothing.
Recently eight U.S. servicemen lost their lives on some icy mountaintop in Afghanistan as part of the U.S. governments new nebulous, undefined war on terrorism. Their mission: to kill terrorists. How many terrorists must they kill before victory is declared? Unfortunately, no one really knows, not even U.S. officials.
It is the duty of soldiers to follow orders, not to question the mission that they are sent on. Thats why the soldiers on those Black Hawk helicopters in Somalia died. Its why those soldiers in Vietnam died. Its why those GIs in World War I died.
But it is the duty of the citizenry to question and challenge the missions for which their government sends their fighting men and women into action. As Americans have learned the hard way, the U.S. government sometimes sacrifices American GIs for worthless causes. How many more American soldiers must die in Afghanistan before Americans begin challenging their mission there?