There Are No “Good Wars”
“War.” “Casualties.” “IEDs.” I’m using words a combat veteran might use, but in truth we’d be speaking different languages. How could it be otherwise, unless I too have experienced the searing reality of the battlefield? Civil War soldiers talked about “knowing the elephant.” When it comes to war, I’ve only seen pictures of elephants. That’s a different thing than having a herd of enraged behemoths bearing down upon you with bloodstained tusks.
Words Are Treacherous
Words are treacherous. The same squiggles on a screen can summon up a vague abstraction in one person’s mind, inspire chicken hawk posturing in another’s, whet the appetite for video gaming in yet another’s. But in only a few minds can it trigger memories of real-life carnage.
Me? I’ve never known war, or even the rigors of boot camp. I drew a high number in the mid-70’s and never had to serve.
And yet, as an American citizen, I can raise my voice and cast my vote in favor of war or against it. Mind you, if I do shout for battle I won’t be the one to actually fight it. (“We should fight!” really means, “You, young men and women, should fight!”) Like millions of American citizens, I don’t have combat experience to guide me, only common sense and common decency.
But common sense does tell us that the evils of war go even beyond the death of an American daughter or the disability of an American son. There are innocent lives on the other side of the battle lines as well: children bombed out of existence or starving to death in ruined cities. With the best will in the world, military leaders miscalculate and erase yet more lives. Some soldiers accidentally kill innocents, and never forgive themselves. And some lose it and do terrible, soul-shattering things that they never would have done in civilian life. Who is to say that I wouldn’t have done the same had I been forced to fight in their boots? The credit I’m tempted to give to good character likely belongs to good fortune.
There Are No Good Wars
All these horrors occur even in so-called “good” wars. But ask any war veteran: There are no good wars. At best, there are only necessary ones. At worst, war is a sacrifice of our children to modern-day Molochs who care for nothing but their own wealth and power. And we, in our ignorance of geography and history, fall for their cover stories.
And so common decency tells us war must be a last resort, the only way to avert even greater evils than war itself would bring. That’s a pretty tall order. In a free and virtuous republic, the purpose of war is not to pump up defense stocks, or boost political careers or secure markets for a favored few. All this is the mischief of empire, more wicked now than in the days of ancient Rome.
Yes, America would have enemies even if it had never trampled on a single soul. But if we took away the meddling and empire building, we’d have fewer enemies, more friends and more enduring economic strength. We need a foreign policy more in keeping with the wisdom of John Quincy Adams, President and son of Founding Father John Adams:
The Real Role of Our Republic
[America] goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. So let’s focus on walking our talk and taking out the numerous beams in our own national eye. Then, when atrocities do occur beyond our shores, we (and our allies) can see more clearly how to remove them without causing even greater harm.
Before they descend to outright dictatorship, empires use the tattered sheds of democracy as a fig leaf, paying lip service to liberty while betraying it with every law bribed or blackmailed into existence. But in a free republic, the purpose of war is first and foremost to defend the freedom of its citizens. A free republic does not provoke unnecessary quarrels. And if it foresees a shortage of a critical resource, like oil, it invents its way out of trouble rather than invades its way into it. And if invention should take longer than invasion, so be it. Better to endure austerity with honor than seize prosperity with shame. We should be citizens first, consumers second.
So as citizens of the republic we have pledged allegiance to, “with justice and liberty for all,” how should we “support the troops?” You’d think that giving them decent medical care would be on the list. But I believe there are two forms of support that are even more crucial:
No More Unnecessary Wars
1) Don’t have our soldiers fight in wars that are unnecessary or unjust. I’m not talking about wars that time’s rearview mirror reveals to have been unnecessary. I’m talking about wars that were entered into in bad faith from the start. We buy cars with greater caution than we buy the arguments for war. A volunteer military is not a moral blank check. If we carelessly send our bravest into battle, we have betrayed them, no matter how many banners we hang in their honor. And let’s at least be able to locate on a globe the country to where we’re sending them, and let’s dare to imagine that men and women as human as ourselves are living beyond our borders. Above all, let’s remember that even though our elected officials should be public servants, they are often the servants of war-profiteering mammon.
Don’t Sacrifice Our Liberties To “American” Tyrants
2) Don’t surrender the freedoms our soldiers have fought for. Don’t allow terrorism to be an excuse for tyranny. Back in the 17th Century, Milton said it best: “Necessity, the tyrant’s plea.” Consider the high risk a soldier takes in combat, and place it against the far, far lower risk we face here at home. Shall we surrender in anxiety what was purchased for us in blood? Shall we cease to be “the home of the brave,” and become a land where the cowardice of the citizen undoes the courage of the soldier? As Patrick Henry once said, “Forbid it, Almighty God!” We’d be betraying not just the soldiers of today, but also every American soldier that fought and died for our country and its freedom.
Let’s remember with gratitude the soldiers who fought in good faith, who lost their lives to save the lives of their comrades-in-arms, who refrained from brutalizing civilians even when they were half-mad with terror, who held onto their humanity in spite of the inhumanity that swirled around them. But let’s never forget that individual acts of honor cannot redeem a dishonorable war.
By all means, let’s keep sending letters and care packages to men and women facing uncertain days half a world away. But let’s also frustrate the designs of power-hungry people and do our best to keep our soldiers out of war in the first place.
And when we bow our heads in silent remembrance of the honored dead, let’s remember the liberty they fought and bled for, and swear to preserve it.
posted by Greg Simay