December 2, 2005

US Military: War fighters or Peace seekers?

By Luis Alonso Pérez

What is the roll of the United States Military? Are they simple war fighters ready to attack? Or are they working for true peace and conflict resolution?

These questions were addressed by Dr. Joyce Neu, the Executive Director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego, in her lecture US Military: War fighters or Peace seekers?, a report on the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference (JCOC), a program she recently attended conducted by the Department of Defense to orient civilian public opinion leaders on national defense issues. This program has been operating since 1949, and it is not sponsored by the Secretary of Defense.

Even though Dr. Neu has worked with the Danish or Swedish military in areas of conflict like Georgia or Bosnia, she hardly knew anything about the United States military. “It was a propaganda trip, in the sense of trying to inform us and trying to help us better understand our military in a very positive way” said Dr. Neu.

“When I was growing up in the sixties and seventies I was very anti war. My first positive exposure to the military was in the early nineties when I went to Bosnia and Georgia, because I started talking to senior military about the conflicts that had been going on in these places, and that opened my eyes to realizing that it’s not their problem, it’s the political leadership that decides when and where to use the military. Some administrations choose to use the military in a responsible way and others in an irresponsible way”

One of the main things Dr. Neu learned is that peacemakers and the military have one main thing in common: they are trying to solve a problem in the world. “The military are probably the last ones who want to go to war, because they understand the consequences of war” said Joyce Neu “The military doesn’t decide if they are going to war, it’s the civilian leaders who make the decision and they are just called in to do their job”.

During her trip Dr. Neu had the opportunity to talk to the soldiers, and realized that many of them enlist because they come from poor environments and don’t have the opportunity to go to college. They do not represent American society, because most soldiers come from a certain socioeconomic class.

“Whether you are pro-military or not, the fact that there are young men and women willing to risk their lives to defend this country is something to which we should all be grateful, but we should also be questioning our political leadership about how they use that military, because their lives should be of great value to us”

For Dr. Neu, this trip did not change her mind about the ongoing war in Iraq; she still feels that it is completely misguided, and believes that many military actions taken by this administration are not justified.

“I think that Iraq appears to be a plan even before 911. I believe that the war in Afghanistan was not justified; I do not believe that the way you fight a war on terrorism is by launching a traditional military defensive. I don’t think it’s making us safer, on the contrary I think it’s endangering us more because people really hate us right now and for a good reason”.

Dr. Neu is concerned for the fact that there is a growing American interest in Africa’s gulf of Guinea which doesn’t appear to be humanitarian. She feels that the military could be used for direct economic interest, because there is an interest in preventing the Chinese from controlling the oil in Africa and China has already made substantial inroads into the oil fields in Sudan, so the United States is regularly sending ships.

“I am surprised that very few people are impacted on a daily level about the fact that their country is at war. We should be sacrificing; we should be paying more taxes, making sure that our military have what they need, and holding our leaders accountable about the progress. People going to war should be aware of the causes and consequences of going to war are”.

To learn more about the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego visit their web page

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