“We witnessed our politicians and countrymen send us to war on a surge of emotion and quickly forget about us for nearly a decade.” ~ Former Cpl. Jack Mandaville
To test to see if Mr. Mandaville is correct, I’ve posed this question to people who complain about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: “Do you really care?” Most of the time the answer is, “Well, yes!” I then ask them, “When was the last time you wrote your Congressperson or joined in a street protest against the wars?” The answer to that is always, “Never.” I’m not blaming them, I’m in the same boat.
This is a dangerous place to be in. Libertarians rightfully argue against military interventionism, but so often the answer is just to “stop doing it.” But we can’t stop military activity altogether. So the question is, “What are the rational military needs of a nation?” We need to be able to defend ourselves and strike enemies when necessary, but we need to refrain from striking when it is not necessary. How do you find such a balance?
As is almost always the case, the answer lies in equality. The problem we have today is that the people deciding to send troops into Iraq and keep them there are not at all at risk. This means you get the very predictable behavior where a majority votes in favor of benefits for themselves (real or perceived) where the cost is solely born by a minority. In this case the role of underrepresented minority is played by our servicemen and women.
What is the difference between Iraq and Vietnam? The culture war tradition handed down to us from previous generations has two main accounts of Vietnam. One telling is that it was a matter of cowardly draft dodgers vs. patriotic Americans willing to fight against the encroachment of Communism. The other telling is that it involved principled peace loving protesters against an unnecessary conflict vs. blood thirsty napalming soldiers.
So often the debate today surrounding Vietnam is whether or not the U.S. should have stayed or whether or not the war was really won. The amazing thing we should be highlighting is how vigorous the public debate was during that period. We did not “send them to war on a surge of emotion and forget about them.” Why is that?
The truth is that people protested the Vietnam war so vigorously because they were personally at risk. Everyone had a vested interest. If it wasn’t you, it was your boyfriend, son, or cousin. Things were set up differently because most all young people were more equally at risk of being drafted. Now that we’ve done away with the draft, the vast majority of Americans have no personal stake in Iraq or Afghanistan. They will not pay more in taxes and there is zero likelihood that they will be sent overseas to fight. People may have strong opinions, but the truth is as Mandaville has said, we have forgotten them.
How do we maintain a balanced approach toward war — fighting when only necessary? By having a system in place where if society wants a war, society will bear the costs as equally as possible. That should be measure of a necessary and just war. That is when people ask more forcefully, “What do we hope to accomplish?” and “How long will the engagement last and how much will it cost?” Let’s give equality a chance.