Are We Better Off After a War?

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

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

The
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.

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

The
Civil War

Let's
start with the War of Northern Aggression.

Those
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.

Asked
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?

What
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?

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

World
War

But
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."

For
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).

But
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.

War
in Iraq

Now,
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?

Hussein's
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.

Anyhow,
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.

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

Are
We Better Off?

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

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

If
not, ask this: Why the war?

June
14, 2003

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

R.
Cort Kirkwood Archives


     

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