Is the psychic cost of collateral damage is too great to fight certain kinds of wars?

I served in Vietnam in 1969-1970 and saw the results of both “collateral damage”, when our troops killed non-combatants either accidentally or in a fit of frustration-fueled rage, and the viciousness of the Vietcong against their own people. Now, watching a show about my old unit, the First Cavalry Division fighting in Sadr City during the Iraq war in 2004, I see that the enemy has changed only in outward physical appearance–heavier beards and bodies–but displays the same fanatic brutality and willingness to use their own people as shields and suicide squads. While the Islamic Jihadis and “Buddhist” communists differ in appearance and philosophies, their brutal and atavistic tactics, and their rationales are similar, as is their contempt for freedom and the envy that really drives them (high-minded justifications for envy aside). Those ruling over such people have never embraced and probably never will relate to the concept of self-government.

Neither Islam nor Communism believes in a loving God who wants a relationship with His people and rules through justice and mercy. Only a people who believe in such a God are capable of self-government without tyrannizing those who are weaker. The United States was founded on such principles, and while we have applied justice and mercy very imperfectly–as befits our sinful human natures–we have at least tried to do so, and have been getting better at it. There are many here who decry our flaws–since their standard is a perfection that doesn’t exist and never has–but name a single Islamic- or Communist-ruled society that doesn’t trample on individual freedom!

I say it is time to for us to get real about who is capable (not simply desirous of) of self-government and to whom–which nations and systems–we can afford to try to bring liberty to. The psychic cost to our nation’s soul, and to the souls of the legions of young soldiers we send into battle, of witnessing and even being drawn into the killing of non-combatants, has not been worth what has been accomplished. Are the kinds of wars we fought and are fighting in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan actually producing a groundswell of liberty to offset the alienating of generations of young people in those countries and the furthering their misery? Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a quagmire of fear and oppression, but have we made it better? Or are there many who hated Saddam now hating us? The dreadful Taliban in Afghanistan have captured so much U.S. equipment from our “allies” that many of their units are as well armed as our own soldiers. We opened schooling to girls again, only to have a better equipped Taliban come and kill the teachers and kidnap the girls.

It is time to say “certain kinds of wars we will no longer fight.” I am merely a former soldier and informed citizen, not a military or political policy expert, so the following questions are just to start the discussion:

  • What then, should be our criteria for fighting “wars of liberation” and what historical justifications are no longer (if they ever were) valid?
  • The stated rationales for starting the war in Vietnam and continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is “fight them there rather than here” and “stopping the spread” of Communism–Jihadism–whateverism. Were those ever valid? Are they valid in this world, where the U.S. is unequivocally the militarily mightiest?
  • Can a people who have never known self-government, and who have lived under or worship a religion that prizes complete submission of the individual to religious forms and rituals, adapt to and prosper under our kind of liberty? Will the more radical among them ever allow it?
  • In the one case I can think of where the U.S. broke down an oppressive feudal system and successfully transplanted democracy–post WWII Japan–we were ruthless in prosecuting the rulers of and suppressing the old system, forcing an unconditional surrender and disarming their citizenry. Do we have that kind of resolve, and belief in our system anymore?
  • Since the answer to the last question is a resounding “no”, I say that our further efforts to transplant democracy in barren soil will fail.
  • The Communists won Vietnam because they were a native movement who proactively sought the logistical assistance of outside powers (China, Russia) and were willing to do whatever it took, including shedding their own blood, to be victorious. If there is any realistic hope for transplanting democracy/self-government in tyrannical soils, won’t it require the same elements from the native populations that was demonstrated in Vietnam? Of course it will, and I have not seen it.


Author: iamcurmudgeon

When I began this blog, I was a 70 year old man, with a young mind and a body trying to recover from a stroke, and my purpose for this whole blog thing is to provoke thinking, to ridicule reflex reaction, and provide a legacy to my children.

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