The Price of War

“My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth.”

George Washington

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the United States has engaged in seven wars. There have been other minor skirmishes and short engagements (although they were hardly minor to those killed or wounded), but for my purposes, let us focus on the seven big ones and the cost in lives.

In two of these engagements, World War I and II, we had a clear and well-understood purpose; to defeat Germany and her allies. We achieved both missions, but the cost was high.

The number of Americans killed or wounded during the First World War was 320,518. During the Second World War, the number was 1,076, 245. Nevertheless, at least these wars had a defined goal.

Dwight David Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander during the war, had this to say of his experiences during both these wars.

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

The end of World War II brought with it atomic (soon followed by nuclear) weapons and the Cold War. Faced with a growing number of nuclear-armed nations, some under Communist or Socialist dictators such as Stalin and Mao, Americans taught their children to “duck and cover” and prayed the nuclear winter never came.

Nevertheless, we continued to build more weapons of increasingly devastating power. So powerful, man could destroy himself and the planet.

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Albert Einstein


In Europe and America, there’s a growing feeling of hysteria
Conditioned to respond to all the threats
In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets
Mister Khrushchev said, ‘We will bury you’
I don’t subscribe to this point of view
It’d be such an ignorant thing to do
If the Russians love their children too

How can I save my little boy
From Oppenheimer’s deadly toy?
There is no monopoly of common sense
On either side of the political fence
We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too

Russians by Sting

Nevertheless, the threat of such powerful weapons did little to slow the often gleeful rush to war. Particularly when halting the spread of communism.

1950 brought us the North Korean invasion of South Korea. Two countries artificially created after the Second World War by the victors dividing the spoils. We rushed to aid our side in the south.

It would cost us 128,650 dead or wounded Americans. We fought the North Korean army to the Chosen Reservoir, where China, fearing US troops on her border, entered the war.

In thirty-degree below zero weather, 30,000 Marines, surrounded by 150,000 Chinese soldiers, fought their way to the coast taking all their dead and wounded. My father was one of those Marines. He earned three Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars, and a Silver Star during his time in Korea.

He bore the physical scars with pride. The psychological scars remained buried, something for his family (and thousands of other families of veterans) to deal with alone.

That war is still officially in a state of truce. No one won. However, we had somewhat of a clear intent in entering the war, just no clear picture of how it would end. It was the beginning of a dangerous trend in foreign policy.

In August 1964, Congress passed one of the most significant, misunderstood, and troubling Joint Acts ever, The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Abdicating its Constitutional authority to declare war, Congress allowed the President to send troops into combat.

The act, predicated on the report of an attack on US warships in the Gulf of Tonkin by forces of North Vietnam, started us down the routes of involvement in the war in Vietnam.

The attack never happened.

In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson privately confided in an aide, “For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there.”

Vietnam cost 211,454 Americans killed or wounded.

In 1973, after eighteen years of American military personnel assisting the South Vietnamese (1955-1973) and eight years of active combat, we declared victory and left.

The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong never won a significant battle against the American forces, achieved no measure of military success, yet when the smoke cleared, the North Vietnamese flag flew in Saigon.

Our purpose in entering the war was unclear, our goal undefined, and the results underscore the error of this policy.

Which brings us to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(1990-1991 First Gulf war Iraq) 1,143 dead or wounded Americans.

Afghanistan (2001- still there) 22,266 dead or wounded Americans.

Iraq (part II 2003-still there) 36,710 dead or wounded Americans.

One would be hard-pressed to define the goals in these conflicts.

One million, seven hundred ninety-six thousand, seven hundred, eighty-six (1,796,786) dead or wounded Americans in wars so far.

To put this in the crude terms of a sports record, we are

Two Wins

One Tie

One Forfeit

Two in never-ending overtime.

However, nothing is sporting or glorious about war.

The troubling part is that we made those decisions while being led by many who had experienced war upfront and personal. We are not in the same circumstances today and we live in a much different geopolitical environment.

One requiring more in-depth deliberation.

Asymmetric warfare, religious zealotry driving suicidal crusades, the proliferation of nuclear material, an immense world-wide arms industry eager to exploit any market all contribute to the complexity.

We have a President who loathes outside advice, operates on “gut” instinct, and has shown by his ADHD-like foreign policy efforts to be ill-equipped for the complexities of the moment.

No one would accuse Mr. Trump of in-depth anything except self-delusion.

President Trump boasts that Saudi Arabia is paying for the presence of our troops in their country. That has to be one of the most astoundingly idiotic things ever said by a President (a fantastic accomplishment), let alone the most indefensible use of the American military.

The American military’s sole purpose is to protect the interests and the people of the United States and our allies. They are not for rent. They never should defend or support the government of a country that funds extremist forms of Islam and motivates much of the unrest in the Middle East.

Remember nineteen of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi’s. They are not our friends. If we are energy independent, as the President claims we have become on his watch, why do we need Saudi oil?

The clamoring, almost joyful, call for war against Iran when considering our well-established history of wasting American lives in wars with no sense of purpose or goal, should sound a warning.

“It is forbidden to kill; therefore, all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.”

Voltaire

1,796,786 Americans killed or wounded in wars. We have spent trillions of dollars arming our country. Shattered families, shattered bodies, and shattered dreams are never a reasonable price to pay for the vainglorious pursuit of flawed policies wrapped in patriotic fervor to conceal the cowardly nature and history of the man in the Oval Office.