The Rock is Black, the Tank is White …

The rock is black, the tank is white ...
The rock is black, the tank is white …

W.J. Astore

As the drums of war sound ever louder for some kind of attack against Syria, apparently because the President mentioned a “red line” when it comes to chemical weapons, I’m left staring in despair at my black rock and white tank.

And so the following ditty popped into my head:

The rock is black

The tank is white

Together we learn to hit and fight

It’s not a beautiful sight …

(Some of you may recall the real lyrics here: The ink is black/the page is white/together we learn to read and write.)

It’s amazing to think that we may yet again be attacking a country in the name of maintaining America’s “credibility.”  Apparently, when the President draws a red line, he has to enforce any violation of it, else he and his fellow countrymen will be seen as weak and impotent.  Even before the President launches the cruise missiles, he’s already under attack by more rabid souls like Senator John McCain for not being tough enough, meaning he won’t kill enough people and he won’t destroy enough Syrian military and governmental facilities.  In the name of what exactly?  Showing American resolve?

When you think about it, drawing a red line and telling the enemy you’ll hit him if he crosses it leaves the initiative totally in his hands.  He can decide if and when the time is propitious to cross that line, forcing you to put up or shut up.

Well, no American in government can shut up, so off go the missiles to show we’re not to be messed with.

Together we learn to hit and fight … it’s not a beautiful sight.

Syria (Maybe) Used Chemical Weapons — And the U.S. Sits in Judgment?

Nick Ut's famous photo of children fleeing napalm in Vietnam (NPR)
Nick Ut’s famous photo of children fleeing napalm in Vietnam (NPR)

W.J. Astore

The Obama administration’s outrage over the possible use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government smacks of hypocrisy.  We might recall that the U.S. refuses to become a signatory to a ban on cluster munitions, which are particularly dangerous to civilians and children in the days and weeks following their deployment.  Or that the U.S. remains by far the leading weapons dealer in the world today, accounting for more than half of the world’s trade in arms.  Or that the U.S. has been profligate in its use of firepower (including depleted uranium shells) in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Given these facts, and especially the profits we make from dominating the world’s arms trade, there is something quite morally obtuse about our nation’s posturing about the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria as a cause for war.

The outrage against chemical weapons stems from World War I, when western nations were at pains to kill or wound one another by chlorine gas, mustard gas, phosgene gas, and similar chemical agents.  More than a million casualties of World War I were chemical casualties.  Western nations who had found plenty of excuses to gas each other during the war came together after the war to ban them.  And rightly so.

But then again, why not ban all chemical weapons?  Just think of the massive quantities of napalm (chemical incendiary), Agent Orange (chemical defoliant), and high explosive (yes, more deadly chemicals) we rained down on the Vietnamese in the 1960s and early 1970s.  Heck, bullets are propelled by a chemical reaction.  Let’s ban all these too.

And if we do that, then maybe, just maybe, our nation will have the moral authority to act outraged in cases like that of Syria today.