Friday, October 05, 2007

The Necessary War

I just finished watching the Ken Burns documentary on World War II.

As you'd expect, there are a number of parallels, and stark differences, between that war and the war that we're fighting today.

A few things really stood out.

The people supported the war, because they felt we had no choice. We were attacked. When you are attacked, you have no choice but to defend yourself or die. Japan attacked us, so we fought back. Germany declared war on us and started sinking our merchant ships, so we fought back. We went into the war reluctantly, because going out of our way to kill other human beings wasn't something most people thought they'd ever do. But we went, because we had no choice.

Even when attacked, to ensure that the will of the people and the integrity of constitution, President Roosevelt went to Congress and asked them to declare war. On record, a vote was taken whether or not to go to war, and against whom. The mandate was clear, as was the accountability.

I compare this to the recent past, where military forces were committed by the President before any request to Congress to support said actions (although in almost every case, the Congress passed a resolution authorizing the use of force - after the fact. When your troops are already in harm's way, is there really much choice?).

I'm not just talking about President Bush - this has been the mode of operations for every military action taken since WWII. And it's also clear that the popular support for the actions varied dramatically from that for WWII. As did the outcomes. Can history teach us any lessons here?

We can't say it isn't a war. If a nation bombed the U.S., or sent troops across our borders, what would we call it? I do think the enemy is different. Whether you believe our enemy is a terrorist group or Islamo-facism, it is definitely a different enemy than a nation's leaders who decide to attack. Yet we use the same tactics that we used when we fought nations. We respect borders, we invade a specific nation, we remove that nation's leadership, and we cause destruction and death among the civilian populations of those nations. Our tactics are those of WWII.

The fact that the nature of the enemy is different should suggest different approaches to countering the enemy. Are WWII type bombings and invastions effective against terrorists? Is "War" the wrong paradigm for countering a terrorist threat?

The parallels to WWII all regard the horror of war - just how much happens that is so far from the realm of day to day thought, just how brutish and barbaric man can become when he throws off the constraints of civilization. I don't have the words to describe the atrocity and horror.

I recommend, though, that you watch the series. Everyone should understand what it really means to be in a war. And no one should have to come any closer to that understanding than the arms length distance a documentary provides. To gain any better understanding is to live the nightmare and be forever changed.

Yet it seems that almost every generation has to learn this over again. Not being exposed to the horrors of war, it appears all too easy to glamorize and oversimplify the use of military force. Admittedly, some of those who actually serve in battle do the same. And although I have served in the military, I was never under fire, so I won't presume to understand or explain this thinking.

But it does seem to me that the majority of those who are most adamant and vocal about the use of force are those who have never served.

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At Friday, October 12, 2007, Blogger Rick Fisk said...

Prior to Pearl Harbor, much to Roosevelt's chagrin, the American people were overwhelmingly against the war.

Back then, the President, even one as corrupt as Roosevelt, still respected the constitution enough to wait for Congress to declare war before he went to war.

At Friday, October 12, 2007, Blogger A Muser said...

Yes, it is supposedly the main thing Presidents swear to do.

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Notice it doesn't say "defend the United State," "defend the homeland," or "preserve and protect our special interests."

But I guess I shouldn't expect much out of 'C' students. Gonzales doesn't understand the difference, and it's probably way to esoteric for Bush.


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