The Party of War

For a party that professes to hate war, Democrats consistently use it as metaphor in framing their issues – the war on poverty, the war on women, the culture wars, class warfare, and even the war on war. 

The intention of Democrats is to score political points by portraying the GOP as the Party of War.  It’s a form of historical chutzpah, actually, since every 20th-century conflict in which America was involved took place under Democratic administrations.  Woodrow Wilson – albeit reluctantly – took the United States into WWI.  FDR was eager enough to involve us in WWII.  Harry Truman was president when the military action in Korea was started.  JFK was in office when we first got seriously embroiled in Vietnam.  and his successor, LBJ, eventually paid the political price.

One could argue that the Eisenhower administration was responsible for the war in Vietnam, because for a period of years we had “advisors” in that small country, though no troops.  But if you buy that argument, then President Obama’s present policy of sending advisors into Iraq and other hot spots would be tantamount to re-engaging in war. 

Since our disappointing forays into Afghanistan and Iraq, however, Republicans are being portrayed as war-mongers itching for military involvement at the slightest provocation.  It is another rewrite of history, like that of underplaying the role of the Republicans in the abolition of slavery and the initiation of civil rights.  Nevertheless, when there is a crisis anywhere in the world – most recently in Ukraine and the Middle East – liberals trumpet the falsehood that the only Republican solution is “boots on the ground.”

These four words strike fear in the heart of the Obama administration even as administration operatives see it as a political selling point with voters.  From the president’s standpoint, there is either his “civil” way of handling international crises or the Republicans’ alternative of sending in the military.  Even when no such action has been suggested by anyone in government, Obama asserts that Republicans are trigger-happy and bellicose, while he is measured and rational.  Obama’s new press secretary, Josh Earnest, has even claimed that his boss’s anti-war posture has brought “tranquility” to the world.  I haven’t heard that word used since the Sea of Tranquility served as the site for the first manned landing on the moon 45 years ago!  Pretty apt for Earnest’s “spacey” remark. 

If America is becoming skeptical of war, it is nothing new.  Isolationism was hardly a stranger in America before the sinking of the Lusitania or the attack on Pearl Harbor.  But once our shocked nation mobilized for the war effort, any criticism was considered unpatriotic.  That was before the advent of television, which dragged the misery of war into living rooms across America.  By being visually transported to the steaming jungles of Vietnam or the brutal sands of the Middle East, we discovered that fighting for a cause is not as heroic as it had seemed.  The Electronic Age personalized war’s horror in a way that no abbreviated and grainy newsreel in the local movie house had ever come close to doing before. 

That ‘s when public opinion began turning against military involvement.  Since then, many Americans find themselves in the awkward position of detesting war on the one hand and supporting those whom we send off to fight them on the other.  In a sense, we feel the same kind of appreciation for them as we might for anyone undertaking a job we wouldn’t want to do ourselves.

However, those who subscribe to Obama’s approach to international conflicts by “leading from behind” feel that any military buildup or action should be avoided at all costs, as it in no way directly benefits either them or America. 

As they are fond of pointing out, the monies expended on wars could have been used for stateside efforts such as welfare programs, education, etc. – as if we weren’t already funneling billions into those government enterprises, with disappointing results.  Liberals simply believe that war is wrong.  Period.  That’s why peaceniks hold up posters like “What if they had a War and nobody came?”  Catchy, maybe, but blind to the fact that military action, in its time and place, could be all that stands between our country and disaster.

I am old enough to remember the sacrifices made by ordinary citizens during World War II.  For the older generation, it was a continuation of the uncertainties brought about by the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, except that the wrenching migrations involved being sent to foreign lands or to cities where factories scrambled to manufacture armaments.  For the duration, whatever could be used toward the war effort was prioritized; the rest was rationed to the civilian population.

Despite the hardships at home and the ultimate loss of more than 407,000 Americans servicemen, World War II remained a “popular” war in the sense that the population generally supported it.  We have not had a popular war since.  The Korean conflict was largely forgotten.  Our military action in Vietnam cost some 60,000 American lives and brought home the scourge of drug usage and abuse.  For the first time in our history, those who fought were condemned – even spat upon – when they returned home.  Battles had by then moved to the unfamiliar terrain of jungle and desert.  And our nation was not to be buoyed by an ultimate tide of victory, as had been the case in the two world wars. 

There haven’t been many “missions accomplished” since.  And our countrymen, we are constantly reminded, are weary of war.  As a result, keeping us out of another one has become one of the few Democratic positions that resonate strongly with voters.  It is also why Republicans are reluctant to jump into conflicts between other nations.  And maybe why a libertarian like Rand Paul can take the liberal position on this and still conservative support. 

Obama ran as an anti-war president.  The fact that he claimed to have ended our involvement in Iraq and reduced it in Afghanistan no doubt contributed to his re-election.  But a broader question – more philosophical than political – is whether America has grown altogether tired of fighting for anything and, especially, for anybody else.  We used to hear a lot from liberals about how we lived in “one world” and about being our brother’s keeper.  Now such concerns go only as far as “humanitarian” aid.  Many Democrats would go further, of course, beating their swords into ploughshares and letting the government reclaim citizens’ guns.

So if and when the battle comes once again to our shores, as it did on 9/11, to what extent will Americans sanction retaliation?  Would we rather do nothing – or even surrender?  In the final analysis, how desperate must the situation get before we are willing to fight back?