Published August 22, 2003
Ask anyone who’s seen the movie “Full Metal Jacket”, and they will agree: The first half, in “boot camp”, is by far better than the second half. I, for one, definitely agree. Not so much because of the oft-quoted abuse which spews from the drill sergeant, or the wooden acting that takes place in the Vietnam sequence, but because of “Private Pyle”. Poor, puffy Pyle. He comes into the Marine Corps an out-of-shape, sniveling little mass of jellydonut-smuggling whimpers and, through physical and psychological abuse, he is torn down to his most primitive impulses and is transformed into a lean, mean, fighting machine. Then he shoots his drill sergeant and blows his own brains out. God bless America!
Of all the things that Iceland could or should have, an army, foreign or domestic, is absolutely not one of them. Iceland deserves better, and is in the unique position of setting a new global standard in foreign affairs. Private Pyle to my mind is not only the characteristic embodiment of the U.S. military, but of all armies. Up until the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, U.S. military strategy was based first and foremost on making “soldiers”. These were people who were trained to understand not only how to aim and shoot, but also theories of strategy, how to think flexibly in a tight spot, how to outwit, outsmart, and outlast the enemy. A soldier was a warrior, and his leaders were learned strategists.
Today, a soldier is a button-pusher who sits in front of a screen, firing weapons of mass destruction with neither knowledge of nor regard for the targets they are erasing. There is no longer such a thing as accountability for going too far, or for not being careful enough. The “shock and awe” method of combat cannot even rightly be called a “strategy”. It is cowardice, plain and simple; bomb the hell out of everything standing then send in the clean-up crew. Soldiers are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan everyday because they’re a lower priority than the toys that the Pentagon designs and builds for billions of dollars. Why spend on training when you can just hand out instruction manuals? “Step one: Point at building. Step two: Push red button. Step three: It’s Miller time!”
As this new approach to combat continues, soldiers become trained less and less and weapons become more and more powerful. All too soon, we are left with the barely-trained in charge of both safeguarding and operating weapons capable of destroying the whole world. Wait a second . . . we’re already there! The atomic bomb ripped open that door for everyone to walk through, and nothing will ever be the same. The warrior is dead. Meanwhile, the army is stripped of all humanity, becomes more efficient at killing, and in the end destroys the people who made them, and themselves as well. Private Pyle goes national.
The sick part is, the U.S. is not alone in this. Every country in the world that can afford it is heading in this direction, and the ones who can’t are trying desperately to catch up. Private Pyle goes global.
That brings me to Iceland . . .
The military history of Iceland would fill a very, very slim book. No sooner did settlers establish chieftains and councils than they started killing each other. All this in-fighting (among other things) made it very easy for foreign powers to step in and take over. Several centuries later, the U.S. asked a newly independent Iceland if U.S. forces could please use a former British base in Keflavik for stopping and re-fueling planes. Iceland agreed, and the U.S. (typical of their ability to comply with the wishes of foreign governments) promptly built an entire military base there.
Was it invasion or collusion? Did the U.S. bully Iceland or did Iceland’s men in power make a deal? Who did what and who asked for it or not is now a part of the past, and has nothing to do with the present state of affairs. Only two questions remain now: Should the U.S. military stay or go, and if it should go, should Iceland create its own military?
Regarding the first question, opinion is mixed. Many feel the U.S. is protecting Iceland, and that the base creates jobs in these times of high unemployment. Well, the fact of the matter is there were no nuclear missiles pointed at Iceland until the U.S. decided to house a few of their own in Keflavik. If anyone were to attack Iceland, the only target would be the military base, which makes it a damn good thing someone put it in the middle of nowhere. Can you see the circular logic here? The military base is the cause of, and solution to, the same danger.
In terms of employment, I propose that those Icelanders who are currently working on the base could all have jobs taking it apart. When they’re done taking it apart, they could all have jobs building whatever it is they’re going to replace it with. When they’re done building whatever it is they’re going to replace it with, they could all have jobs working there. That’s steady, full-time employment for at least the next ten years! Some suggestions for re-building that I can come up with off the top of my head are:
1) Vikingland, a Disney-style theme park.
2) A “military heritage” museum.
3) Yet another paintball shooting range.
Seriously though, there would be a lot of work to do if the military ever left Keflavik, and there are enough imaginative people in Iceland to think of something practical and profitable to replace the base with (but if anyone wants to see my blueprints for Vikingland, give me a call and maybe we can work something out).
Still, others feel that the U.S. military presence is out-dated, obsolete, and costly. The Bush administration would be inclined to agree. This made the normally flat-line placid Minister of Foreign Affairs Halldór Ásgrímsson very nervous, as well as Prime Minister Davíð Oddsson. In a foreign affairs move that was about as graceful as a loud belch at Perlan, David Oddsson made some vague threat to the Bush administration that Iceland would swing more towards Europe (translation: no more war support!) should the U.S. pull their military out of Iceland.
Does it matter that most of the country either wants the U.S. to leave or feels they are useless? Guess not. But sooner or later that day may come, and if it does, then what? Should Iceland establish its own army?
Ideas such as installing a sophisticated air surveillance system, housing anti-aircraft guns, or being on first-alert with neighboring countries have been tossed around. These are all plausible and fine ideas in and of themselves, but how about this:
Iceland could just try diplomacy. Remember that? Sitting down and actually talking with other people, instead of killing them? The United Nations, believe it or not, was created for the purpose of ending wars. Sadly, the US took control and used it as a means of waging war on a larger scale. I know, I know; the Security Council’s other permanent members are supposed to keep the U.S. in check. True in theory, but in practice, they all think that they are dependent on US dollars, and so they follow the US’s lead.
Where Iceland and the average person could come in is hitting America where it really hurts; in the wallet. Simply put, don’t buy American goods or services. Instead of going to McDonalds, try Aktu-Taktu. Instead of ordering Domino’s, try Pizza 67 (it’s the best in the country anyway). Instead of buying a Coke, buy Sinalco or Jolly cola. When you’re shopping, read the label. If it says “USA”, put it back. Icelanders could take the lead in this campaign, just to get the ball rolling. Boycotts do make a difference. They helped free Mandela, after all, and it makes better sense economically to buy things made in your own country.
In terms of foreign policy decisions, Iceland could look westward and say, “We don’t need you anymore. We’ll get by without you.” There have already been suggestions among many European countries of shutting out trade with the US. What if Iceland was not only the first country to actually do it, but also to initiate an agreement between other European countries to shift their trade from the U.S. towards each other? Such a union, while certainly rocky at first, could stabilize if it were allowed to expand to other regions of the world. With the U.S. shut out, what would they do, wage war on the whole world? Not likely. It would be too costly, too bloody, and in the end, the losses would outweigh the gains. The U.S. would have no choice but to accept the fact that they live with us, not above us, and then maybe some normalization could begin. No more superpowers. And all thanks to Iceland.
You know, in a factory full of bitter, mistreated workers, all it ever takes is one person, often completely unarmed, to turn off their machine and fold their arms in order to give everyone else enough courage to follow suit, no matter how terrifying the boss. It happens everyday, and it works. And that instigator is always the last one you’d ever suspect.