On the War

Vietnamescape

The Americans bailed, let’s get out of here! (Vietnam 1975? Iraq 20×6?)

[Note: this article is a reposting of something I wrote for my family-only blog. It seems to be appropriate for general circulation, though, and I now present it with only the slightest editing.]

I sort of think fighting over politics is like Bible bashing: totally unproductive. Why fight over the Good News? Why start a war talking about a war? With these risks in mind, I do want to throw in a few thoughts of mine.

Those Who Cannot Remember the Past are Condemned to Repeat It

It’s important to keep things in perspective. The failure of the Treaty of Versailles after WWI taught the Allies to do things differently after WWII. The debacle of the collapse of South Vietnam after U.S. withdrawal there should teach us to do things differently with Iraq. What happened when the United States pulled out of Vietnam? The Democratic Congress refused to finance further military operations in Vietnam and the south of that country was swept over by the communist forces, hundreds of thousands of people were sent to “re-education” camps as punishment for “collaborating” with the Americans during the war, and Vietnam embarked on a 20 year epoch of isolation from which it has only recently been emerging, at least economically. Vietnam has yet to grant freedoms of religion or speech, and represses those liberties far more rigorously than the Chinese Communists do. (For more information on the withdrawal and the Communist takeover see Operation Frequent Wind and Fall of Saigon in Wikipedia.)

Contrast that with South Korea, where the U.S. forces did not withdraw. South Korea allows full freedom of expression and religion, and turns out to be the world’s 13th largest economy, ahead of Australia and Russia. More recent data shows that Russian and perhaps Australia have leaped ahead of South Korea in economic output since I originally posted this.)) If American support for the war declined to Vietnam-like levels, we may have withdrawn, subjecting the entire Korean peninsula to the benighted state currently reserved for the pitiable North.

Comparing the Costs

Significantly, nearly 60,000 U.S. soldiers died in Vietnam, twenty times the current casualties in Iraq after 2.5 times as many years. Given the current average casualty rate, it will take about 72 more years for casualties in Iraq to equal casualties in Vietnam. Current spending on Iraq is relatively less than in Vietnam as well. (Of course, 1-2% of the GNP of the United States annually is still an astronomical sum.)

About 100,000 Americans die every year as a result of alcohol use according to some sources. (According to CDC’s more conservative estimates, “excessive alcohol use was responsible for approximately 75,000 preventable deaths” in the United States in 2001.) “The total cost of alcohol problems is $175.9 billion a year (compared to $114.2 billion for other drug problems and $137 billion for smoking).” (Marin Institute) By contrast, the United States is spending about $120 billion a year in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. We could save twice as much money and hundreds of times more lives by eliminating alcohol and tobacco than we would save by withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan. What are our priorities? Is this really all about saving lives and money? Or is it about lack of will, unwillingness to stick with a commitment once we’re bored of it? In the Book of Mormon, it’s clear that the problem the Nephites had with the infestation of robbers had more to do with having the will to do what was necessary to eradicate them than it had to do with having sufficient strength to do so or with being morally justified in doing so. (See Helaman 6:18,20-21,37. The robbers of Gadianton described in the Book of Mormon are a stunningly close parallel to Jihadist terrorists, from their organizational structure to their penchant for hiding out in mountainous regions.)

43% of marriages contracted today will theoretically end in divorce.

Many war opponents argue that every life is precious, every soldier’s death is a tragedy. True. But at least they are dieing in the hope of helping a nation onto its feet and into a free, prosperous, peaceful future rather than merely in the pursuit of a high or a quick slosh.

Having mentioned the Book of Mormon already, I’d like to say that that book does seem to condemn the way in which we entered the war in Iraq. Regardless, we’re there, basically the whole nation agreed to go there, and we have a responsibility to leave things better than we found them.

Post Mortem

Was that so bad? If nobody else cared to read it, I’m still glad I wrote it. I feel like, given media coverage, people almost have no option but to hate the war, hate the president, and just “want out.” I have too much respect for myself to simply accept what’s handed to me by CNN or even our favorite student paper, The Daily Universe (which mostly just runs Associated Press stories, anyway). I’ve just had these thoughts bouncing around for a long time, so it’s good to get them out.

There is danger in unquestioningly supporting a war. But there is also danger in merely accepting the bidding of the popular media. Supporting or opposing the war in light of history, costs, benefits, consequences, that’s getting to the core of the issues.

I conditionally support the war in Iraq and the President. I think the Democratic majority in Congress—while it brings with it some serious annoyances—is good in motivating the Republican leadership to innovate and find more effective solutions. As bad as things are in Iraq, they will get much, much worse if we abandon those people. Genocide? Not a happy thing. I still feel like the lives of our men and women are being sacrificed for something noble and still actually attainable, a dream that President Bush and I still share to a large degree: a peaceful, free, democratic Iraq.

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