Saturday, June 13, 2015

When Is War Really Necessary?

It may be, and probably is, futile to speak out against war, but futile or not, one must.  And the time to speak out against it is not when whether to go to war or not is the burning question of the day; by then it’s likely to be too late.  It is when things are developing around the world that could turn into a situation that raises the question, a constant threat, but which could be avoided if they were dealt with properly.

First, let us be clear what the impact of war is.  The immediate impact is the destruction of lives.  It destroys the lives of the young men and women who die or are severely injured, physically or mentally, in service of their country.  And it takes a heavy toll on the lives of their families.

             U.S. Deaths      U.S. Disabled
Iraq 17,847 407,911
Vietnam 58,169               75,000*
WWII    405,399 670,846*
* does not include mental disability

Lest this be read with a shrug, as people seem to accept this as a fact of life, I ask the reader to put yourself in the shoes of these young men and women, regardless of the particular war, and imagine being hit with shrapnel, a bullet, whatever.  Imagine the pain, imagine seeing and feeling your life force drain away; or imagine not dying but living forever with severe injury.  Is this something that a fellow human being can shrug off as being a necessary fact of life?  I hope not.

Many readers will likely respond, “That may all be true, but sometimes war is necessary and there’s no getting around that war involves the sacrifice of the lives of young men, and now women, to the country’s cause.” 

Let’s examine the statement that “sometimes war is necessary.”  In looking at recent history I would say that there are two types of wars … those that we do not want but are or appear to be inescapable and those that are wars of choice.  

Wars of choice are by definition not necessary and therefore don’t justify the sacrifice.  They should thus never be undertaken.

The Iraq war was an example of a war of choice.  The United States was not threatened by anything whatsoever that Saddam Hussein was doing.  Even if there had been WMDs, that would not have posed a direct threat to U.S. security.  No, given the lead actors involved, this was more likely a war over the control of oil resources.

Vietnam was also a war of choice.  There was no direct threat to our security.  Yes, I know that the domino theory said that if Vietnam goes Communist, all of SE Asia will become Communist.  But even given that, there still was no direct threat to our security.  Perhaps to some of our corporations’ lines of supply, but you do not send your young men off to die to protect that. The war in Afghanistan, as opposed to our early efforts to chase and destroy al Queda, is another example of a war of choice.

But there are instances where there appears to be little option other than war.  By the time of Pearl Harbor and our entrance into WWII, there was no other practical way to stop Hitler and Japan.  And here without question there was a direct threat to our security.  Plus, although this played no factor whatsoever in our entry into the war, there was a major humanitarian crisis … the planned extermination of the Jewish people of Europe.

This raises two issues.  The one is, could anything have been done to prevent Hitler from unleashing WWII.  Yes.  The world could have kept Hitler from rearming Germany.  Hitler accomplished this without borrowing funds from outside Germany, an amazing feat, but he did need raw materials from other countries.  If there had been a unified trade blockade of Germany, it would have had a serious impact.  Some symbolic military action would probably have also been necessary to show Hitler that his clearly expressed expansionist plans would not be allowed to proceed.  That probably would have prevented WWII.

But this option was not pursued.  As far as I know, it was not even seriously discussed.  The lesson:  one cannot avoid a clear aggressive danger; one must act to stop it before a major confrontation is required.

The other issue raised by the WWII example is whether one should go to war, and thus commit the lives of our young, over a grave humanitarian crisis such as genocide.  Here it is clearly not a matter of national security, at least not in the narrow sense.  But as a civilized country, I think we need to be committed, not to helping everyone who needs help, but to preventing an act of mass inhumanity such as genocide.  There may be no other humanitarian example that would justify war.

In this example as well, there were certainly options that could have been taken short of ultimately going to war.  The first would have been universal outrage at Hitler’s actions, including the removal of the 1936 Olympics from Germany or its boycott.  Why did these things not happen?  I must be blunt and state that at that time anti-semitism was rampant in the state departments and governments of all the leading countries of the world … certainly in Britain, France, and the United States.  

So objection to Hitler’s treatment of the Jews just wasn’t going to happen.  That fact also means that had it not been for Hitler’s threat to the Allies’ national security … had Hitler stopped at the borders of continental Europe … his plan to exterminate European Jewry would have succeeded.  

The rallying cry is, “Never again.”  But the histories of Rwanda and Bosnia show that when it comes to saving a people from ethnic cleansing (a euphemism if ever there was one) either no country will lift a finger or it will be done very belatedly.

Bottom line, Presidents should never undertake and Congress should never authorize a war of choice.  Period.  Countries that pose a potential direct threat to our security should be dealt with early in the process with the minimum, if any, force possible.  Never allow a situation to deteriorate to the point where the only viable option is war … meaning troops on the ground.  The same is true for emerging threats of genocide.  But if indeed war as a last resort is the only option, then the price must regrettably be paid.  I am anti-war, but am not a pacifist.