To End No Wars

By John Feffer and cross-posted from

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Jason Smith was both very unlucky and very lucky.

His bad luck began on February 20, 2015, when he was walking back to his home in McAdoo, Pennsylvania on a very cold evening. He doesn’t quite remember what happened, but he thinks that he tripped and fell face down into the snow. He lost consciousness and remained that way for the next 12 hours. He stopped breathing. His heart stopped pumping blood. When paramedics pulled him from the snow, they declared him dead.

Here’s where the luck comes in. Jason Smith’s body temperature dropped below 68 degrees, which put him into a state of hibernation. The emergency personnel transported Smith to a nearby hospital where the staff performed CPR. After another couple hours, doctors filled him up with new, oxygenated blood. His heart resumed beating. After a two-week coma, Smith woke up. He’d lost his toes and his pinkies to frostbite, but his brain had miraculously survived intact.

Or perhaps it was not a miracle. After all, hypothermia is now frequently used in hospitals in the treatment of heart attacks. Doctors have known for some time that lowering the body’s temperature can help it recover from trauma.

Many countries today find themselves in Jason Smith’s face-down-in-the-snow predicament. Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia are all suffering massive trauma, in this case as a result of armed conflict and outside intervention. Having fallen into the category of “failed states,” they are all practically DOA, at least as functioning entities.

It’s always possible that a miracle cure — a robust peace treaty followed by some form of nation-building — will end the bloodshed in these countries and gradually knit their disparate parts back together.

But I wouldn’t count on it.

In some cases, the wars will just continue, as they have in Afghanistan and Iraq ever since the celebrated application of U.S. shock-and-awe tactics. Missions can be declared accomplished, and expeditionary forces withdrawn. But Pandora’s horrors cannot be so easily reboxed. We’ve gotten accustomed to wars that have finite terms, like the American Civil War or World War I. But at one time conflicts stretched across generations, like the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq could conceivably last that long as well.

If they’re lucky, such conflict-ridden states might endure the same intermission that Jason Smith experienced. The wars won’t end. They will just be frozen, the temperature of the conflict brought down through a succession of ceasefires. At some point in the future, these failed states might be brought back to life, perhaps when some of the trauma has healed or the infections of hatred have subsided. In this best-case scenario, the countries involved might lose some extremities — a Crimean pinkie, for instance — but they will be fortunate to have pulled through the worst of it. On the other hand, these countries might fall apart no matter how long their deep freeze lasts, just as all those hopeful immortals who’ve opted to bury their dead bodies in tanks of liquid nitrogen will never likely thaw back to life.

This raises a fundamental question about the current world situation. It’s become commonplace to speak of the global war on terror as a “forever war.” But perhaps the problem runs a great deal deeper.

Perhaps we are no longer able to end any wars

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