The ‘All Out’ myth

There has been this mantra that the global war on terror is not serious because we do not sacrifice, we do not have rationing, Rosie is not riveting. This particular tendency is seen in SP’s rant about sending the Bush Daughters off to the front. It is also seen in what some think are lessons learned as in Andrew Sumereau’s Vietnam and Iraq column.

Bush and company should have known this from all that history teaches. They, and we, are paying the penalty of ignoring the lessons of Vietnam. They are:

Never again commence an undeclared (by Congress) war.

Never again commence any war without clearly defined and achievable objectives. (Did we win yet?)

And never, never commence a war and sacrifice American blood and treasure unless we are willing to use all our resources in an all out effort to win.

The truth Mr. Voth’s piece examines, once again, is that if we ignore the past, through hubris or ignorance, we will inevitably repeat avoidable mistakes.

The question is always that the future is not and will not be exactly the same as the past. As the saying goes, ‘the past is prolog’ it is not the actual thing. We learn from history but are not bound by it. By using history to learn but not to bind we can meet new challenges and find new solutions.

In this collection of lessons to learn there are differences between past and present that are glossed over. Going down the list:

As we see in the recent act of war by Iran, the fact of war is no longer what it was, no longer the big issue it used to be, no longer so clear cut.

Clearly defined and achievable objectives require a clearly defined opponent when it comes to war. They also require a responsibility and honesty in terms of such things as patriotism, sedition, and treason. In the GWOT we have neither.

“All our resources in an all out effort to win” should lead one to wonder about when this has ever occurred. Do resources include fortitude as well as materiale? What about the problem of using a sledge hammer to drive ten penny nails? Like many platitudes it sounds nice but conveniently ignores many aspects of the real world.

The fact is that Congress did declare war by authorizing the use of force for a defined set of reasons that provide both the rationale and the objectives. The limitations on pursuing those objectives have been political. A group of those who were gung ho to start have changed their minds and now seek to destroy what they set in motion. They take no responsibility for their own actions.

The lessons that need to be learned from Vietnam are more abstract and more significant. As with holocaust denial, there are many that pretend that what happened didn’t and what resulted from what happened also didn’t. These are the folks that bemoan the US military casualties but ignore the Cambodian killing fields and the Vietnamese boat people and the economic repression of a country for thirty years.

The lesson to learn is that a decision that is made cannot be undone without consequence. Once the vote is taken, all must accept the outcome and see the job to its finish. The Kurds now face their third abandonment by the US. UBL used the history of the US to abandon its decisions as a driver for his tactics and strategy. Somalia and 9/11 were results.

It is one thing to face yet another Iranian hostage act of war with indecision and appeasement. It would be another to make one decision and then deny it later – as the US Congress has now done for its more serious decisions of several years ago in regards to Iraq. We should learn from history that countries are best served if they are consistent in the expression of their values and culture and self identity so that others can depend upon them in one way or the other.

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