65 civilians were killed in American air strikes last week in Afghanistan. The story warranted only a page 10 report 11 days later. One of the lessons learned from our Viet Nam experience was not to make too big a deal out of those kinds of stories. Voters get disturbed, there are investigations, one thing leads to another, military officers are prosecuted.
We learned other lessons in Viet Nam as well. Unfortunately not that lesson about staying out of wars others had already proved unwinnable. Nor was it the one about the fallacy of aligning our interests with those of a corrupt government that has little backing from its own people. And we certainly didn’t learn the lesson Viet Nam tried to teach about the immorality of sending young people to die for a vague, questionable cause.
Our government did learn a couple of lessons from the failed Southeast Asia experience. If you actually require the people to pay for the war and expose their children to even a possibility they might have to wear the uniform and carry the guns, the American people will quit attaching yellow ribbon magnets to their cars and join the protest rallies.
Soon we observe the 10th anniversary of the September 11th nightmare. It would be hard not to justify the initial attack and the destruction of Al Qaeda facilities but soon we will celebrate the 10th anniversary of this endless war in Afghanistan. Some years ago I exchanged letters with a member of our congressional delegation arguing supporting our troops meant bringing them home. I was told my views were not shared by many others in Wyoming.
I suppose that’s true. My opinion may well be outside of the mainstream of Wyoming thought. I have been there before and God willing will be there again. My opinion about this and other wars has evolved as my understanding of Jesus of Nazareth has matured. I don’t buy that “just war” theology. It has no foundation in the Gospel and was little more than a sop to the Roman emperor who made Christianity the state religion.
Ever since, governments have been successful in getting the church to provide religious cover for their wars. When Christian leaders sold their soul on this issue, they used a Power of Attorney given them by most of the folks in the pews.
Getting back to the lessons Viet Nam…American support for that war declined precipitously after LBJ asked for tax hikes to pay for it. We all remember how wildly unpopular the draft was even after deferments protecting rich kids were eliminated and replaced with a lottery.
What we learned then and operationalized in Afghanistan and Iraq is the patience Americans have for war can be prolonged if their kids don’t have to fight it and the cost can be passed along to their great grandchildren. Don’t believe me?
What if one of our two war presidents had said, “Look, we can’t continue to run up deficits to pay for this war. It has cost us more than 1 trillion already and the tab increases by more than 300 million dollars every day. And I know the polls say 8 in 10 of you oppose a military draft, but it is unjust to expect our guardsmen and women to be repeatedly deployed to combat roles. So I am asking Congress to impose a pay-as-we-go tax to fund the war. I will also ask for authority to draft young men and women to serve. Now we can all say America is willing to sacrifice for the cause.”
Overnight those yellow ribbon car magnets would be replaced with peace symbols from the 60’s. Campuses would turn into teach-ins. Bonfires fueled by draft cards would light the night sky. Hawks would become doves. Politicians would be clamoring to beat their swords into plowshares. A story about 65 dead civilians would make the front page!
If ever we learn anything from our war experiences, it should be to require all Americans to share fully and honestly in the necessary sacrifices. The decision to commit our nation to war should be a decision made around every kitchen table in the country, not just in the halls of Congress.