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February 18, 2009

Wars Don't Matter, Some Say

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

As is often the case for me and many others, what one should have said doesn't pop into one's mind until too late.

For instance, a few weeks ago I was chatting with a gent who had been a Marine in World War 2 and fought on Iwo Jima. After mentioning that, he vaguely wondered whether the result was worth what he had experienced.

What I now think I should have done would have been to ask him what difference it would have made if the United States had lost that war. But I simply let his remark pass.

The USA usually wins its wars. So the aftermath strikes most citizens as something pretty much like the pre-war situation. The net result being not much change, it becomes easy to shrug off the episode as unnecessary.

I suppose something similar can be the case for attitudes about wars fought centuries ago: What was all the fuss about?

This is not to claim that all wars are both important and necessary. But some are.

Later,

Donald

posted by Donald at February 18, 2009




Comments

War seems to be necessary as the only instrument available to settle unreconcilable and vital disagreements. Case in point: the Civil War. Had that war not been fought...well, at the very least there would not be a continental United States. Given the United States recent history of not fighting wars to decisive conclusions it is important to note that the United States fought the Confederate States and defeated the CS, utterly. Only the fighting of that war and any war to a decisive conclusion results in the triumph of one idea (or way of life, or civilization) over another.
Clearly the U.S. is not fighting the war with Islam (or radical Islam if you believe there's a difference) to a definitive conclusion. And therefor the vital matter of which civilization, which way of life will survive has not been settled.

Posted by: ricpic on February 19, 2009 6:22 AM



Was he questioning whether the specific battle of Iwo Jima was worth it, or whether the Pacific War as a whole was worth it? The battle may not have been worth it - and one can name several other such "probably unnecessary" battles in the Pacific (e.g. Peleliu). If the question is whether the Pacific War was "worth it", well, we didn't have a choice. They attacked us, we were obligated to crush them.

The "aftermath" of the Pacific War only seems "the same as the pre-war situation" to the ignorant. Anyone with a modicum of historical awareness will tell you that East Asia in 1945 was profoundly changed relative to 1941. The same applies to even more historically remote wars: they only seem "unnecessary" to the ignorant.

Posted by: JP on February 19, 2009 10:00 AM



JP -- It was a vague, off-hand sentence, but I took it to mean wars in general.

As for Iwo, it was necessary because the 20th Air Force needed a place for damaged B-29s to land if they couldn't make it all the way back to Saipan. It also served as a base for shorter-range P-51 escort fighters.

One island assault that has been the subject of criticism was the one on Peleliu. It was a bloody affair that was unneeded in the strategic scheme of things, according to critics.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on February 19, 2009 10:55 AM



I remember an episode of The Wonder Years where a radical named Lewis came over to the family's house for dinner, made an ass of himself by refusing to eat the turkey, and then ended up attacking the Korean War, saying it was fought for nothing but the freedom to drink coca-cola. So cowardly and Hollywood conventional were the producers of that show that the father, who had lost friends in Korea, was flummoxed and doubt-ridden, that maybe his friends really had fought and died for nothing.

Consider the contrast between North and South Korea today and ask yourself if the only difference between those countries is the "freedom to drink coca-cola" and whether the existence of South Korea is a "nothing".

P.S. The freedom to drink coke is, it should be needless to say, a very great freedom indeed, and is emblematic of precisely the differences between free countries and totalitarian dictatorships...people deciding for themselves what pleasures they wish to pursue. So the radical nudnik Lewis wasn't even right about that. But that the producers thought they were making some kind of moral point in denigrating the Korean War (in the eighties no less, when the differences between South Korea - recently under the control of the military - and the Orwellian ant-heap of North Korea were visible to anyone with eyes to see) is a sign of the kind of blindness that can afflict the reflexively anti-war.

Posted by: PatrickH on February 19, 2009 11:13 AM



I think we should declare war on the nanavut.

those barbarians are on the brink of developing thoughts, which if left unchecked, will lead to hostility in a couple of million years.

I recommend we capture a couple of them living illegally in north dakota(thus imprisoning 30% of the nanavut population, ship them to toronto, and make them listen to the logger accents of the british canadians at the Ontario Parliament , until they say uncle.

I recommend that we next start on the polar bears next.

Posted by: Ramesh on February 19, 2009 11:20 AM



An even better example than Peleliu, of an "unneccesary" battle or campaign, is the Philippines. It has been argued that the outcome of the war wasn't changed by a jot or tittle by the return of the US to the islands.

At best, to me, this is wisdom in hindsight.

As to the neccessity of wars in general, well, who the hell knows? War does, however, always seem to be the default "second-worst option" for the folks in charge--the first-worst being to let the other guys get what they want.

Narr

Posted by: Narr on February 19, 2009 11:48 AM



a) it's Nunavut, not nanavut.

b) Nunavut is the territory. The people are Inuit.

c) I don't understand the satiric intent of your post.

Posted by: something on the internet is wrong! on February 19, 2009 2:47 PM



Im american. we dont do irony or satire.

put up your hands you nanuvut extremist!

if youre really from the homeland you'd speak inunnaqutun.

Posted by: Ramesh on February 19, 2009 3:38 PM



actually, the appropriate question would have been: "why do you say that?"

offhand, it sounds to me like his remark was expressing an attitude to contemporary american actuality more than to the merits of the war per se. are you sure he didn't mean "if this is what we were fighting for, why the hell did we bother..."

Posted by: lf on February 19, 2009 4:15 PM



"Im american. we dont do irony or satire."

But you apparently do gobbledygook.

And it's inuinnaqutun. With an "i".

Personally, I prefer Qikiqtaalukuannangani.

Posted by: something on the internet is wrong! on February 19, 2009 6:09 PM



vowels are not an eskimo trait.

make sure to keep flowers ready when our tanks roll in to equavut to liberate the Inuinnaqtun Tapiriit Kanatami

Posted by: Ramesh on February 19, 2009 7:03 PM



The people of Nunavut are Inuit, not eskimo. "Eskimo" is actually kind of offensive to some people.

I have no idea what equavut is. And don't hold your breath with the flowers. It's the Arctic, man.

Posted by: something on the internet is wrong! on February 19, 2009 7:40 PM



The dead don't get to vote on whether a war was necessary or not.

If you were a German-speaking draftee in the Civil War expiring in the underbrush at Wilderness, you might very well have thought, "Isn't there some other way they could have saved the Union and ended slavery? Is the Union so important that I have to die? Would it be so terrible to have two nations on what was formerly the continental United States? The US and Canada seem to get along. If I don't die, does that mean that there will still be slavery in 2009? Or will slavery be ended by some slower means that doesn't involve the sacrifice of 260,000 American lives?"

In our less-than-conscious thoughts, we sort of think that World War Two was fought to avert some horrendous calamity. But what calamity could have been worse than World War Two? The War didn't prevent the Holocaust. It was the Holocaust. Whatever calamity World War Two was fought to prevent had to be worse than the premature deaths of more than 70 million people, most of them civillians.

The truth is we portray causes of wars as being matters of life and death, when in fact, they are usually matters of lifestyle and death.

(I say this after having spent part of the day studying Defense Department photographs of horrendously disfiguring war wounds from Iraq and Afghanistan for a hospital project.)

When we say a past war was "necessary," we mean that we think it was necessary to our lives as we now enjoy them. Not necessary for us to be alive at all. And who knows how our lives might have turned out, absent war? No one can say, but governments have sacrificed the lives of millions on the pretense that somebody in charge knows.

Posted by: Faze on February 19, 2009 8:07 PM



No war is necessary. If attacked, surrender. War over.

Why were we obligated to crush Japan in response to Pearl Harbor? The Japanese wanted to destroy the U.S. Navy so that we couldn't interfere with their conquest of China and parts of Asia. They didn't have the ability to invade the U.S. mainland.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on February 19, 2009 8:15 PM



WWII was necessary only in the absence of a president who could achieve our nations goals without provoking an attack on our territory. Whether Roosevelt prooked Japan on purpose is not something I wish to debate. That he was not trying to pursue a policy that would avoid war is beyond debate.

Ricpic,

Kindly tell me why a state that ratified the constitution in convention would not be justified in leaving via the same method.

I am glad we are one country, but there is nothing in the constitution that says the states when they joined, like mafia members burning holy cards, can't leave. They probably thought that was understood when theyratified. Certainly New England thought so at the time of the Hartford Convention.

Posted by: Joseph Moroco on February 19, 2009 9:15 PM



"As for Iwo, it was necessary because the 20th Air Force needed a place for damaged B-29s to land if they couldn't make it all the way back to Saipan. It also served as a base for shorter-range P-51 escort fighters."

As wiki notes, Iwo was not a useful base for long-range fighter escorts; and only ten such missions were ever flown from Iwo. Furthermore, "Some downed B-29 crewmen were saved by air-sea rescue aircraft and vessels operating from the island, but Iwo Jima was only one of many islands that could have been used for such a purpose. As for the importance of the island as a landing and refueling site for bombers, Marine Captain Robert Burrell, then a history instructor at the United States Naval Academy, suggested that only a small proportion of the 2,251 landings were for genuine emergencies, the great majority possibly being for minor technical checkups, training, or refueling."

So, at least in retrospect, the necessity for Iwo is fairly questionable.

Posted by: JP on February 19, 2009 9:19 PM



Donald,

"What I now think I should have done would have been to ask him what difference it would have made if the United States had lost that war. But I simply let his remark pass."

Bit of a straw man there when you think about it. WWII was necessary only in the absence of a president who could achieve our nations goals without provoking an attack on our territory. Whether Roosevelt provoked Japan on purpose is not something I wish to debate. That he was not trying to pursue a policy that would avoid war is beyond debate.

Ricpic,

Kindly tell me why a state that ratified the constitution in convention would not be justified in leaving via the same method.

I am glad we are one country, but there is nothing in the constitution that says the states when they joined, like mafia members burning holy cards, can't leave. They probably thought that was understood when they ratified. Certainly New England thought so at the time of the Hartford Convention.

Posted by: Joseph Moroco on February 19, 2009 9:25 PM



"The people of Nunavut are Inuit, not eskimo. "Eskimo" is actually kind of offensive to some people."

Sue us after we liberate you pal!

Posted by: Ramesh on February 19, 2009 9:29 PM



PatrickH: indeed, in North Korea, they have to drink "Cocoa Crabonated Drink":

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mytripsmypics/2485992393/

Posted by: Will S. on February 20, 2009 6:09 AM



"The people of Nunavut are Inuit, not eskimo. "Eskimo" is actually kind of offensive to some people."

So is referring to people from the Far North as Inuit offensive. Not all the people traditionally called "eskimo" are Inuit, and the ones that aren't are damn pissed at being lumped in with them. I've heard some of them prefer generic "eskimo" as being less truly derogatory than being assigned to membership in a people they've never been part of.

Posted by: PatrickH on February 20, 2009 10:02 AM



Here's what one guy has to say about unnecessary wars...

http://tinyurl.com/cdxuwl

Posted by: Bob Grier on February 20, 2009 11:03 AM



Bob, that guy is an idiot. What a farrago of distortion that book is.

Posted by: JP on February 20, 2009 2:55 PM



patrick

i know! if I had a dollar for every time they ask me to do their bookkeeping when they find out i'm inuit! Its not funny! rather offensive actually!

Posted by: Ramesh on February 20, 2009 3:14 PM



Joseph Moroco - I believe the South did have the right to secede, as clearly stated in the constitution. But the South abrogated that right by firing on Fort Sumter. Had the South not fired on Sumter would there still have been a Civil War? I think so. Lincoln was more committed to the concept of the Union than he was to the constitution and somehow, in my opinion, would have manufactured a cassus belli rather than let the South go.

Lincoln's is the great watershed presidency, which ushered in modern America by governing unconstitutionally.

Posted by: ricpic on February 20, 2009 4:16 PM



So, JP, what is it about your background, your wide range of experience, your educational attainments and leadership experience which would lead one to believe what you just wrote?

Posted by: Bob Grier on February 20, 2009 8:09 PM



PhD in military history, wide reading on WW2, and job on a major military aerospace program? Beyond that, I read the book in question, and thought it was dreadful. Tendentious doesn't even begin to cover it. Poor innocent Germany could do no wrong, and mean old warmonger Winston Churchill kept abusing her.

John Charmley made the same basic argument 10 years ago. Charmley is a far better historian and better writer than Buchanan. Their argument is still wrong.

Posted by: JP on February 20, 2009 8:25 PM



"I believe the South did have the right to secede, as clearly stated in the constitution. But the South abrogated that right by firing on Fort Sumter."

So, telling a foreign power to leave abrogates your right to defend your territory. I don't see how.

Posted by: Joseph Moroco on February 20, 2009 8:38 PM



Joe Moroco:

1) German immigrants were in general passionately anti-slavery and pro-union; they volunteered in great numbers. In Missouri in 1861, it was the German-immigrant "Home Guard" that enabled Federal authorities to suppress the crypto-secessionist Missouri State Guard. One Home Guard regiment bore a flag that depicted a hammer smashing chains.

2) When the 13 original states ratified the Constitution, they ratified the Supremacy Clause in Article 6, which denies the states any power to interfere with or nullify the Constitutional authority of the Federal government. IOW, it was a one-way decision. To argue that it could not be is to argue that no person or body can ever be bound against his will by a previous contract.

3) The Hartford Convention was a private meeting of the Federalist Party. Only three states sent official delegations. While it is known that some extreme Federalists supported secession, the convention, as far as anyon knows, never officially discussed it, and the convention's report consisted of several proposed Constitutional amendments, with never a mention of secession.

But the rumor of secession talk at Hartford was enough to ruin the Federalist party, even in New England. The Republicans played it up as much as they could, and it has become grossly distorted by Confederate apologists.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on February 21, 2009 4:44 AM



So go out and write your own book on the subject, JP, and we'll be the judge of your intelligence.

Posted by: Bob Grier on February 21, 2009 9:45 AM



"When the 13 original states ratified the Constitution, they ratified the Supremacy Clause in Article 6, which denies the states any power to interfere with or nullify the Constitutional authority of the Federal government. IOW, it was a one-way decision. To argue that it could not be is to argue that no person or body can ever be bound against his will by a previous contract."

The 9th and 10th amendments limited that. Certainly, a law about something say Massachusetts disagreed with would have standing here and in every state as long as a state was part of the union. That hardly says a state was bound to the nation and could not leave by the same way it came in. Only a totalitarian believes that is just.

I mentioned the Hartford Convention to point out secession was not thought wrong among a lot of Northerners if it could be seen to have sectional benefits.

The Union should be kept together because it is perceived as just and good by its members, not by threat of force majeur.

Posted by: Joseph Moroco on February 21, 2009 2:34 PM



There are those who are both secessionist and non-interventionist. If they had their way?

One wonders what would happen if a seceding and isolationist New York, minus all its vulgar fly-over bits, were to be attacked by Russia or Iran. The UN would condemn New York for...oh well, they'd think of something.

Perhaps NY would seek the help of the Girlie Governor of a seceding California, on the grounds of a common heritage of liberalism and Kennedy marriages. Arnold would be forced to explain to Princess Caroline that his bankrupt nation is non-interventionist, and currently under invasion from Mexico.

The rest of the former USA, now called Flyoverdonia, well armed and prosperous from the influx of skills and industries from its hyper-taxed neighbours, would no doubt come to their aid. President Palin, just clever enough to know that the world is a dangerous place, wouldn't want to see Russia or Iran from the White House.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on February 21, 2009 7:24 PM



Well Bob, in fact I don't need to write a book in order to judge that other books are bad. Despite your bizarre efforts to make me, my credentials, and my intelligence the issue, the only issue of importance is whether or not Buchanan's thesis has merit. It doesn't. One doesn't need to know anything about me in order to reach that conclusion. All one needs to do is read the book for oneself. Either you haven't read the book, or you find its thesis indefensible; otherwise you wouldn't bother attacking me, you'd be touting the greatness of what Buchanan said. Alas, repeating Buchanan's preposterous arguments would only make you sound preposterous as well.

Posted by: JP on February 21, 2009 11:59 PM






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