Are We Better Off After a War?

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years ago, Ronald Reagan asked voters the famous question: "Are
you better off today than you were four years ago."

voters said no, sent Jimmy Carter back to his peanut farm, and Reagan
went to Washington.

Republic wasn't much better off after four years of Reagan than
it was after four years of Carter, but in any event it seems an
appropriate question to ask after a war.

blood having been shed, a nation having been destroyed, is anyone,
victor or vanquished, better off?

Civil War

start with the War of Northern Aggression.

who swallow public-school propaganda, that the war was fought to
free the slaves, would say yes, the country was better off. The
slaves were freed; the union preserved.

another way, however, and you come to a different conclusion. Throw
the costs of the war into the question. After 600,000 dead and half
the nation wrecked and impoverished for nearly half a century, was
the United States better off?

if the union had split temporarily, but, after a number of years,
had reunited and the slaves had been freed peacefully. Would that
have been worth saving 600,000 lives and sparing the South the unspeakable
brutality and wreckage of the Yankee invasion and occupation?

seems to believe the implausible: That the South was the real threat
to the union and had to be destroyed.


let's move along to World War I. The Kaiser was not a threat to
civilization or the United States. Some 14 million died. Nations
were razed. Was the United States or the world better for it? World
War II, after all, was partly the result of "the war to end
all wars."

the sake of argument, grant that World War II was the "good"
war; i.e., that the United States fought and destroyed an international
menace (and leave aside the international menace who was our ally).

were we better off after the Korean War? After 10 years of Vietnam?
Even if one concedes that both wars were important battles in the
global crusade against Communism, we stalemated one and lost the
other, to no tangible detriment to American national security.

in Iraq

13 years after the first Gulf War, we are fighting in Iraq, a war
declared finished but still claiming American lives, one or two
at a time. The other day, the Washington Post reports, a 19-year-old
American boy was shot in the face and drowned in his own blood.
Is he better off?

removal from power is the only goal this war has achieved, an appalling
expenditure of treasure and blood to depose one man. Oddly, our
nation readily kills and maims thousands of civilians in "precision"
bombing, but resists assassinating one man with a well-placed bullet
between the eyes.

American leaders told the public, implausibly, that Saddam Hussein
threatened us. He had "weapons of mass destruction" ready
to smuggle into the United States for a sneak attack.

soldiers cannot find them, and more than once, authorities have
upgraded the federal "terror alert" in anticipation of
terrorist attacks.

We Better Off?

we better off, now that Iraq is destroyed and we must pay for reconstruction
and stage an indefinite occupation?

we better off living in the regime of codes yellow, orange and red?

not, ask this: Why the war?

14, 2003

columnist R. Cort Kirkwood [send
him mail
] is managing editor of the Daily News-Record
in Harrisonburg, Va.

Cort Kirkwood Archives


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