I don’t know if I am the first writer to make the analogy between our war on terrorism and China’s Great Wall. Unfortunately, it seems that our president was unable to make the connection as he stood on this monument to failure. America’s failure in its current wars will not be accompanied by any sort of monument or photo opportunity; our colossal failure will simply be measured in lost opportunities, in what we could have done as a nation if we had chosen a different path besides war and a continued reliance on the use of arms to solve what is essentially a political and law enforcement problem. We won’t have a physical reminder of our current fiasco like China’s wall. At least the Wall serves today as a tourist marvel. Our folly will simply be billions of dollars in military and civilian hardware abandoned in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Great Wall of China, like the Cathedrals in Europe and America’s war machinery dumped in Iraq and Afghanistan, serves as a testament to what could have been. Instead of a wall that proved to be largely ineffective, what if the Chinese had built something else with those resources? What if we had chosen another path besides war to combat the rise of Islamic extremism? It’s impossible to imagine a worse outcome for America than the disastrous past few years, a debacle that will continue to plague America and stifle achievement in other areas.
Our true enemy in this war is not Islamic extremists. They have never posed a true threat to this country. Of course we were all lead to believe that we have been living in imminent danger for the past eight years because fear—whether real, perceived, or invented—has always been used to manage populations. I’m sure that there China probably did have a bit to fear from their neighbors to the north but the Wall seems like more of an exercise in futility and megalomania than a defensive structure. The fear of invasion was probably a very useful and powerful tool in Chinese politics in the centuries of wall construction. The urban myth that the Wall can be seen from the moon is untrue but here doesn’t seem to be much construction during this period that may have actually benefited the average Chinese person even when you examine the terrain with a microscope.
The same legacy of failure and waste plagued most of the Christian era in Europe. Examples of the benevolent nature of religion in European cities are pretty hard to find. Cathedrals they have, dozens in each major city. During this era the church used the fear of god as a mechanism for control. By control I mean grinding the peasantry into the mud and taking the side of the monarchies while doing very little to help the common man.
For almost 50 years Americans were taught to be scared shitless of the Soviet Union until that pathetic beast crumbled and died after decades of rot. America’s intelligence apparatus wasn’t able to predict the Soviet Union’s collapse even as citizens physically dismantled the Berlin Wall, another less ambitious testament to a failed military and social strategy. Our current intelligence apparatus is even more incapable of explaining how to counter Islamic fundamentalism or just how big this threat really is. You could argue that the CIA and NSA are two more Great Walls but that will have to wait for another essay.
What is doing the real damage to America is our outrageous military budget. By and large the American people don’t want these wars to continue, we had an election last November that proved that. So who does want our military campaigns to continue? It certainly isn’t the soldiers fighting the wars. A lot of the generals running the show and calling the shots seem to be enthusiastic about the whole mess we have created. I would attribute this to the fact that they are less concerned with the results than they are with their own careers in the military and then the much more lucrative civilian military contracting jobs they hope to walk into after they retire. Either this or they are just plain stupid and refuse to face the facts, facts that they should have learned from Viet Nam. Once American soldiers set foot in predominantly Islamic countries we lost the whole “hearts and minds” campaign. And remember that Iraq was completely secular under Saddam Hussein—I doubt that you will be able to say that again anytime soon.