Foreign Policy recently ran an article titled “There’s No Such Thing As Peacetime.” The article makes some quite salient points, the most notable in the title itself.
There has been a great deal of political discussion over the threat of ‘perpetual war’, as though there has ever really been a time when the U.S. (or any military power) has not had troops in danger, if not active combat. War is a constant. It’s peace, real peace, that’s a rarity. It would be best to consider it not ‘peace’, but ‘a pause between combats.’
Part of the issue of this fear of perpetual war is political; it serves as a means to point out how the political opposition is terrible, because they’re going to “suck us into perpetual war.” The larger part of it, however, is societal. It is indicative of a problem we’ve had in American society for decades now: We want permanent solutions.
The doves want to end war, usually by way of some vague notions of diplomacy and a background of, “What if they had a war and nobody came?” “We’ll end the wars!” makes a great campaign slogan, but it hasn’t happened, and it isn’t going to happen, for the simple reason that quitting doesn’t address the goals and agendas of the enemy. For a war to ‘end’, both sides have to agree that it’s over.
The hawks similarly want to end war, but by way of absolute victory, crushing every enemy and spreading democracy across the world. “We’re going to free the shit out of those people!” may be a vulgar simplification of the mindset, but it is a fairly accurate one. This approach hasn’t worked, either. While the examples of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany are often trotted out, they are not comparable to the type of strategic and tactical problems presented by war that has left uniformed armies behind.
There are no real permanent solutions to human problems. The permanent solution to war is comprised of mushroom clouds, and a lot of them. As much as certain people may be quite enthusiastic about turning certain regions of the world into radioactive glass, no rational actor is interested in that kind of mass bloodletting.
To realistically approach the problem of war, we (the voting public and the public servants who bear responsibility for it) must discard the illusions that we have built around war and peace. War is. War endures. “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” No amount of wishful thinking, diplomacy, or adventurism will change that. If we stop looking for permanent solutions, and begin looking instead at workable solutions, we can perhaps begin to reach a new understanding and a more balanced approach to strategy and tactics on the ground.
Idealism is a plague when it comes to war. ‘Those guys’ are not blood-maddened chaos cultists, nor are they downtrodden angels striking back against the evil empire. ‘Our guys’ are neither shining angels descending from on high to smite the powers of darkness, nor imperial, fascist myrmidons only seeking to slake their thirst for blood and oil. War isn’t a movie. It is real men with real strengths and weaknesses killing each other for nation, wealth, power, or creed.
It may seem prosaic and perhaps heartlessly pragmatic to say, but to go forward we have to stop expecting to change the world, and see where the use of force (or support of those using force) pertains to our interests. There will be such situations (and not only in the Western hemisphere, in case anyone thinks I’m going isolationist). The nature of being engaged outside the borders ensures that. The alternative would be to stagnate. But fruitlessly chasing after dreams of worldwide democracy and world peace is not only counterproductive, it is destructive to our own interests, as we become engaged in situations that are not movies or fairy tales, trying to effect changes that are not grounded in the local cultures.
There is another side to the coin of recognizing the inevitability of war and accepting it instead of uselessly railing against it or attempting grandiose adventures to change it, and that is recognition that war has indeed changed. The aftermath of WWII and the Cold War has changed the rules, and we will have to adapt or find ourselves increasingly ineffectual on the battlefield.
Addressing some of those needed adaptations will come in a later article.
Note: Peter Nealen’s latest American Praetorians thriller, “The Devil You Don’t Know,” is now available for pre-order here.
(Featured image courtesy of commandposts.com)