Robert E. Lee once said “It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.” That seems to me to be a hard lesson our leaders in Washington have forgotten.
Hundreds of times over the recent decades US armed forces have been called upon to block, impose sanctions, punish or otherwise persuade by force enemies and potential enemies. The pace of intervention is increasing. From full scale war, to drone attacks to no-fly zones, to surgical strikes, to training boots on the ground, it really does seem that the USA is everywhere all the time calling the shots, so to speak. The shock and awe of it all is exceeded only by how little it appears to have cost us. The trillions in bills spent on defense never seems to come due, nor have the military casualties, as tragic as they are, been so heavy that there is any general public outcry about it.
For better or worse, the USA is in a continuous state of war. Conflicts of all types have gone on for so long that our youth lives with constant war as just another feature of growing up. The latest example is in the decision by the President to send training troops to the Ukraine, currently in a state of civil war, which may embroil us with its neighbor, Russia.
You can be complacent about a lot of things, but certainly war is not one of them. Someday the bills will come due for this country, the war will come home, and the casualties will become painful. It is just a matter of time.
But just as easy money has a very strong appeal, so do easy military victories. The intoxicating power of the best armed and most professional military force in the world can turn the head of the most demure President and Congress leading us down paths that are not in our long-term interest. When the military option becomes as painless as it seems to be, it becomes easy to begin thinking that common interests and diplomacy have no place. If things aren’t going our way, simply use the military to fix it. The President orders it and Congress automatically pays for it. This kind of thinking, of course, is playing with fire.
Paradoxically, it also leads to a weakened military. Military strength is not static. It takes continuous injections of money that can bankrupt the biggest treasury. It costs lives. War is the King’s gamble, and the line between acceptable and unacceptable casualties cannot be exactly calculated. . What could be the effects of a further two trillion dollars in debt for war on Russia followed, perhaps, by casualty lists like losing an aircraft carrier with 5000 sailors? Will the average citizen keep on supporting such interventionist policies when those lost are their neighbors and their wealth is gone?
The never–ending War on Terror has had other effects too. US government officials have admitted to authorizing torture on prisoners, and using the military to do it. Our Presidents have used military drones to kill suspected US citizens overseas without public evidence or a trial. Men like General Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, and John Brennan, head of the CIA, have been caught in bald-face lies to Congress, and they are not prosecuted for it. When such behavior is accepted, slowly, ideas like privacy, free travel, the right to property, free markets, the value of the individual, separation of powers, and due process become as quaint as great-grandma’s pantaloons. There is now a whole generation of young people in the USA who have not known a world without an unconstitutional TSA or without government surveillance. Will our soldiers fight for unlimited debt, fewer liberties and endless war? Will we still value the Bill of Rights? It is this kind of devil’s calculus that Washington isn’t considering.
Maybe the Federal Government needs to go back to school and learn the hard lessons of those who have gone before.
But why do that when you can simply blow your problems away?
Pete Blome is a retired military officer and Chair of the Northwest Florida Libertarian Party