Thursday, February 07, 2013

Wars have consequences. Don't we know that?

My great-uncle Rob was a G.I. who served in the Pacific during World War II. But unless you were family you likely would have never known that. It was something that, like many others who served during that conflict, he never liked to talk about.

Mom told me when I was a child that Uncle Rob had to kill an enemy soldier. I didn't know until years later that it was during the American invasion of Okinawa. Uncle Rob dived into a foxhole for cover. At almost the same moment a Japanese soldier jumped inside the same foxhole.

The Japanese man said something that Uncle Rob could not understand. My great-uncle killed him without thinking. He beheaded the Japanese soldier with the bayonet of his rifle.

Uncle Rob was one of the kindest, gentlest men that you could ever meet in this world. But from a young age I sensed that he was a very haunted man. "Post-traumatic stress disorder" wasn't medical terminology until the tail end of the Vietnam War, but by then Uncle Rob had lived with it for thirty years. Until his passing in 1993 his experiences in the war would continue to linger on the edge of his memory. I once saw him go pale in the face as an Army helicopter out of Fort Bragg flew overhead.

Like I said, my great-uncle was a good man. So were the millions of other young men who went off to Europe and the Pacific islands to stand against their country's enemies in World War II. Another member of my family was already in the Army stationed in the Philippines when the Japanese invaded. He survived the war... barely. A friend of my family who died recently was one of General Patton's staff officers. I had no idea that in my friend's house, which I'd been inside a few times, there was some of Hermann Goering's finest dinnerware. Turns out that a lot of the Third Reich elites' personal items made their way into farmhouses across America, but I digress...

War is terrible. Perhaps the most terrible thing. It is an unfortunate result of this fallen, broken world that war happens. That war is, sometimes, necessary and unavoidable. But I've never understood why war could possibly be a thing to be glorified, or honored. To respect and honor the sacrifices made by those who served in war, absolutely. But war itself?

I posit that our perspective on war is a far different matter than how our grandfathers and their brothers saw it. None of them regarded themselves as "heroes" because they wore a uniform or went abroad or even because they fought in combat. They knew they had a job to do, they did it and they came back to be husbands and fathers and productive members of the community. That was enough for them. Today we have an inclination to deem anybody and everybody who wears a uniform as "heroic". World War II was a conflict where we knew who the bad guys were and we knew that we had to defeat them and we knew why they had to be defeated.

But I can't for the life of me understand how any war that America has engaged in during my lifetime has had either a definitive enemy or a definitive objective. Sometimes both.

For more than ten years we have had our forces fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. For almost two years Osama bin Laden has been sleeping with the fishes, and Al-Quaeda has been quashed more or less, yet we try to conquer a land that not Alexander or the Soviets could overcome. The Iraq War turned into a costly experiment in "nation-building" (as many of us knew it would).

America's running tab the past decade and more is now a few trillion dollars and thousands of American lives lost, when the matter of bin Laden could have been resolved easily within a matter of months after 9/11. As for Iraq well, I've written before how that country needs a "strongman" figure along the lines of Tito to hold it together and how the United States has become that strongman in the absence of Saddam, but again I digress...

I was led to write something after watching what has transpired in the past few days regarding what former Representative Ron Paul said via Twitter about the shooting death of Chris Kyle, the retired Navy SEAL considered to be the most lethal sniper in American military history...

As a longtime supporter of Ron Paul, I will admit that the former congressman exercised the wrong tact. Almost certainly an ill sense of timing. However, I do believe that I can understand what he is trying to state in 140 characters or less. Paul is - apparently - noting that war has consequences, that those who fight in war must live with those consequences... and there may even be a snide remark in there about how our system has failed many of those who come back from war.

Maybe it's just me, but war seems a horrific enough thing by nature that there should be no immediate desire to write bestselling books about fighting in one. An armed forces uniform does not a hero make. Neither should tactical operations readily produce celebrities (Alvin York being one of the few exceptions).

Anyway, Ron Paul released the following on his Facebook page later on Monday...

Paul acknowledged - and there is no reason why any person should not - that Kyle's death was sad, tragic and unnecessary. But Paul also stated that...

Unconstitutional and unnecessary wars have endless unintended consequences. A policy of non-violence, as Christ preached, would have prevented this and similar tragedies.
Now, is there anything at all wrong with this, which Ron Paul has said? Because I've read it over dozens of times and I'm not seeing anything un-American, unpatriotic or insensitive toward the memory of Chris Kyle. What I am seeing however is an uncomfortable truth: that war comes at a cost. War without meaning, far more so.

I see no reason why the former congressman should be reviled for saying what he did. Instead I have read a lot of anger and even hatred vented toward the man because... well, he strongly suggested that wars involving America can be - gasp - wrong on moral and legal grounds.

But we aren't supposed to dwell upon those trivialities, according to some. Instead we are to cheer on the war, cheer on the "heroes", forgetting that too many are coming home with wounds whether visible or not.

When a young man or woman enlists in the United States armed forces, he or she is making a sacrifice of a few years of their lives. Years that could otherwise be spent in college, falling in love and starting families, buying houses, earning money. Some even choose to spend their entire lives in such sacrifice toward serving their country.

Again, perhaps it's just me, but it seems that if any person is going to lend his life and precious time to his country and its government, that that person more than deserves to trust that his time... and perhaps even his very life... will be used wisely, be given the utmost and sincerest respect, and expended only when all other options have failed.

Those who fought in World War II paid for that understanding in grief and blood and were humbled by it. As well we should.

3 comments :

Scott Bradford said...

I disagree with Rep. Paul on a number of foreign policy issues (and agree with him on most domestic policy issues), but I don't see anything inherently objectionable about what he said. The only think that I might deem 'un-American' and 'unpatriotic' is his implication that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are unconstitutional.

'Unnecessary' is a fair matter of debate. But neither war was even slightly 'Unconstitutional.' The Constitution explicitly gives Congress the authority to authorize wars, and gives the President the authority to execute them with said authorization.

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars were both explicitly authorized by Congress, and executed by the President. Nothing even vaguely unconstitutional about that, whatever we might think of the justifications and reasons for them.

The best one could argue is that those authorizations didn't take the form of an explicit declaration of war, but that's really just splitting hairs....

Now the Libya War, Kosovo War, and others where there was no Congressional authorization...those were unconstitutional. But Iraq and Afghanistan? No way.

Chris Knight said...

Paul's reasoning - and call me old-fashioned but I have to agree with him - is that there was never an explicit "declaration of war" issued by Congress and signed by the President.

We had a declaration of war, approved by Congress and signed by Wilson and Roosevelt, for World War I and World War II respectively.

Korea was a "police action", a "support mission" for the United Nations that spun into war. We had no clear goal apart from "stopping Communism" (halting an ideology has never been a good use of military resources). That's the pattern we've followed ever since.

What was the goal in Vietnam? In either of the wars with Iraq? In Afghanistan? In Libya? In Kosovo?

There was no declaration of war as strictly defined by the Constitution in any of those situations, because there was no war that could be strictly defined to begin with.

War is serious business. And military action does NOT necessarily equal war. Considering getting into one demands a healthy amount of severe thought and wisdom. Merely allocating funds and personnel for one does not equal true war.

A declaration of war seems a sensible part of republican government. But simply voting to send soldiers halfway around the world to fight and possibly die? That reeks too much of pure democracy... and that's something the Founders were trying to avoid.

Heidi Mullis said...

When a young man or woman enlists in the United States armed forces, he or she is making a sacrifice of a few years of their lives. Years that could otherwise be spent in college, falling in love and starting families, buying houses, earning money. Some even choose to spend their entire lives in such sacrifice toward serving their country.

Again, perhaps it's just me, but it seems that if any person is going to lend his life and precious time to his country and its government, that that person more than deserves to trust that his time... and perhaps even his very life... will be used wisely, be given the utmost and sincerest respect, and expended only when all other options have failed.

Chris:
Best. Post. Ever.