As we face the prospect of a grave military threat from terrorists in Pakistan who might grab that unstable nation’s nukes, I ponder my attitude toward war.
(And I call them terrorists because that is their methodology. They use the name of Islam, but their method is terrorism as brutal as any ever used and they have made no bones about wanting to destroy our way of life in the Western world and us along with it.)
I have always looked toward the wars in our time with ambivalence. Basically I am anti-war. That is to say I don’t see war as just another foreign policy tool. At the same time I have thought that once the nation is engaged in a war it should do so with focus on an acceptable outcome. That would be winning versus stalemate.
Unfortunately during my lifetime we have had no wars that I can think of with an acceptable outcome. Korea took place when I was a small child. We did hold the red tide back or beat the red tide back, but at great cost. I think in history it is questioned as to whether we should have gotten involved. North Korea with the backing of Red China (remember? we used to call it that) and the Soviet Union overran South Korea, but we got involved under the auspices of the United Nations and beat them back to a stalemate and all these decades later must still contend with a belligerent communist North Korea who threatens us with ultimate creation of their own nuclear force. This is after the Soviet Union dissolved and although the old Red China is still communist in government, it has a primarily capitalist economy (that I think one day would result in communism dissolving). We wouldn’t let Gen. MacArthur chase the red devils all the way to the North Korean capital. I was still a child, as I said, but that was the start of our more cautious approach to war. Whereas in World War II we decided the way to resolve the issue was total victory, by the early 50s we had no stomach for that – quit while we are ahead (where we began is where we finished).
And then came Vietnam. Again, the red menace. The country was sold (at least there seemed to be support) at first when it was thought we would just throw a little weight around (yes I’m skipping over volumes of history) and be done with it. But the war dragged on. Casualties mounted. And we did not define what winning was, let alone resolve to go for total victory, which would have been to take over what was North Vietnam, the belligerent who eventually overran the south. Nearly 60,000 American dead and thousands gravely wounded, and for what? Today a unified Vietnam as China has a communist government and, though not on the scale of China, it has moved toward a capitalist economic system.
Saddam Hussein’s forces turned out to be a pushover in the first Gulf War, but once again our resolve was less than full fledged (at least by our leaders), and instead of total victory, overrunning the belligerent nation that started it all, Iraq, we held back. And eventually the first president Bush’s son became president and found a convenient excuse to finish what his daddy didn’t. Some say all the trouble the younger Bush had in Iraq is proof we would have been wrong to invade the first time. But that was then and this is now. All evidence is we certainly could have done the job the first time, but we would have needed the forces and the resolve.
There is evidence we might have gotten more cooperation this time around in our initial invasion had a large portion of the Iraqi population thought we had the resolve the get the job done. They correctly guessed we did not and acted accordingly.
We initially invaded Afghanistan supposedly to go after Osama bin Laden and his forces who took credit for the 9/11 attacks. There was widespread public support and world sympathy (help would be nice, but sympathy’s good too and I know we’ve had help, but only token help — again my apologies to the soldiers involved). But little Bush decided he wanted to make a stand in Iraq and we dithered in Afghanistan (with all due respect to the actual troops who did not run the war – I’m talking about the leadership).
Today we face the threat of Taliban and Al Qaeda getting their hands on nuclear weapons due to an unstable Pakistan, our nominal ally.
I continue to be ambivalent toward war. It shouldn’t be just a tool in the bag of foreign relations. But the survival of all mankind depends upon keeping nukes out of the hands of terrorists.
Does Barack Obama have more resolve than his modern predecessors?
The fate of the world may depend upon the true answer to that question.
I actually was going to blog on a slightly different, but closely related subject. It had to do with the fact we don’t seem to get much actual war reporting. I checked out a library book entitled “The Blog of War” (a play on the phrase “the fog of war”), by Matthew Currier Burden, a former U.S. Army major. Nowadays soldiers tell their own stories in realtime (or near), blogging from the field. But unless you read those blogs you are not likely to know how things really are. It is not going to convince me politically whether a war is right or wrong by knowing how a participant feels, but he or she can provide me a sense of the real situation on the ground and the human aspect of the whole thing. That is something that has been missing, I think. And really the whole dynamic of the professional soldier (the all-volunteer military) vs. the drafted citizen soldier adds a whole new dimension to war for the United States, good and bad. When I finish reading the book I will have one more thing blog about, I’m sure. I had previously purchased another book with a kind of insider’s view of the war but at the time it seemed too much of a pro-warrior, my country right or wrong, inside baseball approach. But I’ll have to get back to it sometime, because it too had some actual battle accounts you just don’t get from the standard media. I think those who run the paid media feel that citizens just don’t have the patience or attention span for real stories and the business-oriented management thinks that they don’t sell. This is a long post script. I’ll quit now.