You would think that after the many years that man has occupied the good Planet, Earth, we would have learned a thing or two. In recorded times if you put together all of the days of our existence where have had an absence of war I am afraid we would only have around 5 years without war. The theory is that war is part of man’s nature. I would hope that those who espouse this idea are wrong.
What lessons have we learned that should help us avoid conflicts in the future? International collective security organizations and mutually assured destruction have seemingly made world wars less likely. What remains are civil wars, the occasional outlaw leader who attacks his neighbor, and major powers who use their power for economic gain. The new phenomenon is individuals who organize into groups who use terror and intimidation with the use of criminal actions in an attempt to influence politics and religion.
The United States is supposed to be the leader of the free world. We hear that all the time. In many cases the United States has based their foreign policy on the false assumption that America can successfully nation build. This belief is erroneous as it based on a historical exception that is not the rule.
With the Marshall Plan and with the occupation of Japan, we successfully transformed two countries in an attempt to forever foreclose the possibility that Germany nor Japan would ever be allowed to start another war. Unconditional surrender, and a tradition of democracy helped to change Germany. A devastated country along with a new constitution and the determination of the Japanese people to never allow their military to put the Japanese people at risk, succeeded. There were special circumstances that made the success of nation building possible and we are not likely to see those circumstances repeat themselves ever again.
Again, what lessons are to be learned from America and the world’s failed attempts at nation building and combating the current violence that besets the world?
The wars in Iraq and Vietnam serve as historical examples of what not to do. Although many of my generation loath to believe that Robert McNamara could have anything good to say, that fact, ignores the great gift that his documentary film, “The Fog of War”, gave us all. The gift of the eleven lessons to be learned not only serves as a reminder of the past but a lesson plan if we are to avoid mistakes in the future.
It is so obvious that for those involved in a war, it is most difficult to not be blinded by the fog that surrounds a nation’s involvement.
Some view the first lesson to be learned from the past is to empathize with your enemy. I view it differently. The first lesson to be learned is before a nation makes a commitment to be involved in a war on a foreign soil understand the history behind the arena of conflict before one becomes committed to a war.
Take the war in Vietnam for example. How did our view of whether or not to become involved change from the decision of Eisenhower to not help the French? The French sought to maintain their power and influence over a nation that had long been colonized. The advise given Eisenhower who knew a thing or two about war was to never get involved in a land war in Asia.
But fast forward a little over ten years later, and behold someone got the bright idea that one should believe in the domino theory or that we were fighting communism and that this was a place to put American lives on the line. Alas, someone should have first looked at the history of the country and empathized with our potential enemy before committing American lives to a war in a far off land.
We were told so many lies it is not worth repeating them, but several points are worth repeating. We were told that China and Ho Chi Minh were allies when the truth was that China and Vietnam were historic enemies for centuries. Another half truth was that Ho Chi Minh was a communist. The truth was that Ho Chi Minh, was a nationalist more than a communist. He was a national hero for having fought the French for years . He wanted his country free of colonialism and came to the United States first to seek our help to rid his nation of French colonialism. Another major lie was that America was attacked at the Gulf of Tonkin. We in fact, were not attacked. We also stopped the free elections, to be held as a result of the Geneva Accords. We made sure the elections would not occur because we knew that Ho Chi Minh would have won. If we would have put ourselves in the shoes of the Vietnamese we might have understood that they were fighting an invader on their turf. We should have recognized the fact that we helped to start a Civil War. How can anyone win a war when you can not tell friend from foe?
Another key lesson to be learned is that the invading nation, will only see what they want to see. In Iraq we wanted to be seen as liberators. No, Iraq was not like freeing France from the Nazi’s. Iraq is a country with a tribal nature. You have different sects of religion that are enemies of one another. So beware of the fog of war and don’t fall for your own publicity. There was no fruit and flowers forth coming. Iraq was a country created by the victors of World War I, with different ethnic groups such as the Kurds, Shia and Sunni’s. What made us think we could nation build? Perhaps the cynics are correct in concluding that we were there for the oil and power that comes allegedly from being the only super power in the world. Shock and awe, is only temporary if winning over the people is impossible.
Other lessons to remember in the fog of war are to examine your reasoning, and never say never. Another words if things do not work out as anticipated, don’t compound your mistakes by believing that somehow victory can be snatched out the mouth of defeat if only we would drop a few more bombs or bring in an overwhelming amount of troops. Declare victory and leave before another American or a person dies in the country we have wrongfully invaded dies.
The war in Vietnam was a war in which America had overwhelming force and never lost a battle. The fact was that we could have never won the hearts and minds of the people. We were viewed by many as just another colonial power invading their country. A key lesson that was ignored was that one should never get involved in a nation’s Civil War.
Syria is a great example of why it is a horrible idea to commit to a military involvement when both sides are should we say unacceptable allies.
Another wise lesson is that if you can not find an ally, a major ally not some minor country that you would find in the movie “The Mouse that Roared,” but a real ally that would make a difference, do not invade. The failure to find another country to be willing to join in just might be a clue that you should forget the whole damn thing.
If you are to ask your country to sacrifice for a war worth fighting in, then do not lie about why it is important or the rationale for putting American lives and fortune at risk for the ultimate sacrifice.
Today’s tough talking chicken hawks scare me because they ignore rationality. The Ukraine is an example of the danger of two parties, Russia and Putin as well as the United States ignoring reason and sanity. The Cuban Missile Crisis was a great danger to the world. Most people don’t realize it but Castro asked Russia to Nuke the United States. Who would have thought it possible that someone could ask for such an insane request? So when one considers the possibilities with dealing with current nations with nuclear power, do not make the mistake that reason and rationality is to be expected. You may in fact be dealing with a country willing to use the unthinkable, nuclear weapons.
During the Cuban Missile crisis we had our own nut to deal with Air force general Curtis LeMay who wanted to nuke the Russians.
Foreign policy requires a steady hand. We don’t need people in power who have never seen a war they do not like. But war should be used only when all else fails. Only when all alternatives have been exhausted in trying to reach a peaceful settlement.
We have a dangerous situation in the Near East with Pakistan, India, Russia and China in the region. Afghanistan is a problem primarily because Pakistan will not control their borders and consistently allows the Taliban to cross into Afghanistan unencumbered. Instead of war they should consider a regional conference to try to resolve their concerns. They all have skin in the game, reasons to maintain the peace when each country has a religious differences and rising nationalism that may create the sustenance for war. The USA should be a broker at such a conference and let the countries in the area settle their differences by finding common ground.
Before we ask of our brave men and women to risk their lives we should ask our leaders or should I say demand of our leaders the patience to ask of themselves each of the lessons from McNamara’s film the Fog of War. We owe it to our men and women in uniform and we owe it to our future to do the right thing. War is rarely the answer.
Our own Civil War ended slavery and World War II was a good war, but folks that is all when it comes to wars that we can be proud of. May war only come when our vital interests are at stake. We should only ask our soldiers to make the ultimate sacrifice when that is true.