Wars Were Always Easy to Start

Discussing Rachel Maddow's book Drift, Kevin Drum writes:

Maddow decided to write a book about America and the way we use our military. Specifically: why is it so damn easy to go to war these days? [...] The book is, basically, a series of potted histories that explain how we drifted away from our post-Vietnam promise to make sure we never again went to war without the full backing and buy-in of the American public. [...] Maddow's premise is that, just as the founders intended, our aim was to make war hard. Presidents would need Congress on their side. The Abrams Doctrine ensured that reserves would have to be called up. Wars would no longer unfold almost accidentally, as Vietnam did.

Drum posits that George H.W. Bush changed all that. That is not historically accurate in my view. The times getting into war was not easy was after wars that had been very costly and not particularly successful from the US point of view. Think World War I and Vietnam. Otherwise, going to war has been one of the great American pasttimes. I'm all for making going to war hard, but the history does not demonstrate that, except for isolated periods, that was ever really the case in the United States.

Speaking for me only

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    Even the lulls were active. (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by Addison on Wed Apr 11, 2012 at 01:57:33 PM EST
    Even post-Vietnam it's not really that getting the US involved in a war was more difficult, just that we had to get our war on a bit more through well-funded and US-armed proxies, "advisors", and CIA hijinks than some might have liked. Residents of Nicaragua, El Salvador, Grenada, Haiti, Bolivia, Chile, Honduras, Angola, and Panama might be surprised to learn that the US was having a tough time getting involved in wars. And of course there was the international wing of the "War on Drugs"...

    So, the frequency of our military entanglements didn't drop off post-Vietnam, although it was more about helping "friends" and "leveling the playing field" and stoking civil wars to "stop extremists". This was, not coincidentally, the time period where McCain and Lieberman grew into their brand of war-centric foreign policy.

    American Military interventions since 1890 (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Dadler on Wed Apr 11, 2012 at 02:09:03 PM EST
    good list. (none / 0) (#12)
    by cpinva on Wed Apr 11, 2012 at 03:59:55 PM EST
    most of the listed interventions in central america and the carribean, between the spanish-american war, and 1934, are collectively known as the "Banana Wars". so called because much of our military activity in those countries was at the behest of large american agricultural conglomerates, most notably, the United Fruit Company. these corporations owned and cultivated 1,000's (if not millions) of acres in many of the countries listed, growing (among other things) bananas.

    i had a great uncle who spent time in a couple of our interventions, while in the army. then, in between korea and vietnam, my father was whisked off to haiti & the dominican republic, as part of the marine expeditionary force. for reasons i've never figured out, he always left in the middle of the night, not to be seen or heard from again, until he returned home, months later. my mom had no idea where he was, nor did the other wives.

    so you see BTD, the years between wwI and wwII included lots of military activity, you just don't hear about it as much as you do those two conflicts, and everything after wwII.


    Agree, it is a good list (none / 0) (#17)
    by sj on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 10:16:07 AM EST
    Thanks for the reminder about the Banana Wars.  While the term isn't new to me, I had no idea the scope of military intervention.  Wow.

    I remember meeting this one (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 10:31:39 AM EST
    ex Marine that had joined the Army.  Everyone was leaving for Iraq and they were all talking who had seen actual combat and who had not.  Everyone assumed that the new kid from the Marines had never seen combat, but yes he had.  Some time around 1999 on the Mexico side of the border the Marines were involved in some sort of standoff with criminals.  It was an organized mission, and bullets were flying, and it was combat....in Mexico :)

    Thnx for this list -- I wonder how many aggressive (none / 0) (#16)
    by jawbone on Wed Apr 11, 2012 at 04:55:32 PM EST
    military Iran undertook in the same period of time?

    I heard on The Diane Rehm Show that Iran has not aggressively invaded another nation in the past two hundred years. No preventive, no pre-emptive wars -- just fighting to save their own lands and lives.

    I've been thinkiing my nation is now the most violently aggressive nation in the world. Period.


    Heh....OUCH! Sunlight burns (none / 0) (#1)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Apr 11, 2012 at 01:48:05 PM EST

    The only (none / 0) (#2)
    by Ga6thDem on Wed Apr 11, 2012 at 01:49:07 PM EST
    reason Bush Sr. had a harder time getting anything through was because he had opposition to what he was going to do. That's the only time in recent memory I recall much opposition to a war.

    The volunteer army sure has made it easier (none / 0) (#3)
    by magster on Wed Apr 11, 2012 at 01:50:15 PM EST
    to sustain a war.

    How? (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Apr 11, 2012 at 01:53:27 PM EST
    Iraq broke us.  We became stop lossed which is NOT VOLUNTEER.

    No one cares, it's a video game.... (none / 0) (#6)
    by magster on Wed Apr 11, 2012 at 02:05:52 PM EST
    ... the people who died or got grievously injured volunteered. No shared sacrifice. "Let's just send the kids who volunteered over for a 5th tour of duty, and lower my taxes while you're at it please."

    It was not sustainable though (none / 0) (#10)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Apr 11, 2012 at 02:19:24 PM EST
    well, yeah, it is. (none / 0) (#11)
    by cpinva on Wed Apr 11, 2012 at 03:42:17 PM EST
    We became stop lossed which is NOT VOLUNTEER.

    read the contract, before you sign it, not afterwards. that's a standard clause in every military contract, and i believe it always has been.

    why did you leave out afghanistan? another unnecessary war, started to show how tough g. bush was. apparently, unable to provide sufficient evidence to meet the minimum extradition treaty requirements between the US and afghanistan, bush/cheney/et al decided it would be quicker and cheaper to just invade the country and capture bin laden & co. ourselves. as usual, bush was wrong, about both.

    bear in mind, at that point, we enjoyed relatively friendly relations with the taliban gov't, since we had provided significant material support in their war to oust the soviet troops. further, they weren't wedded to bin laden ideologically, just financially, which we could have easily (and far more cheaply) made up for, by agreeing to compensate them for the cost of capturing bin laden, and going through the whole extradition process. you know, like a civilized country.

    there was one minor caveat: the afghan gov't asked for some proof of bin laden's complicity in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. again, you know, like a civilized country would. either the bush administration had no such concrete evidence or, for reasons known only to them, refused to provide it. who knows, maybe bush jr. saw this as some freudian method of making up for his cowardice during vietnam, using other people's bodies of course.

    the bottom line: the war in afghanistan was completely avoidable. the taliban had no reason or interest in taking on the US, they simply asked us to abide by the treaty. the cost of bush's refusal to do so is roughly a trillion dollars (and counting), plus thousands dead and wounded (also and counting).


    Because if you are in the U.S. (none / 0) (#14)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Apr 11, 2012 at 04:48:46 PM EST
    military currently, you don't think Afghanistan is an unnecessary war :)  The stop loss has been lifted, we are so flush with warm bodies now we have to ask some to leave, and throw some out for writing nasty things about their CIC on facebook :)

    But I understand your position on the Afghan War, and I'm fine with you having it and expressing it.  The soldiers are still in from what I can tell, but unrest still over a COIN strategy.  And I've seen a few of our friends who were very peace desiring souls ten years ago a little angry about COIN.  I guess you can only lose so many fellow soldiers and screw compassion on any battlefield.  So perhaps the only thing that can happen in Afghanistan at this time is horror.

    If ever there is a reason to go back though, I know who will be called to go.  So I can't help but lobby for the best possible solution that would avoid that.  When I found our 2000 mission statement though I didn't find it searching for anything commonplace or war mongering.  I found it looking for studies and lectures about how failed states go hand in hand with the extreme practice of misogyny and violence against women and children.


    I was researching the definition of a failed (none / 0) (#8)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Apr 11, 2012 at 02:18:37 PM EST
    state the other day and ran across the United States military mission in 2001 a few months before 9/11.  I didn't save the link, stoopid!  Can't find it easily right now.  I was surprised though that the official military mission from early 2001 was one of being agitators for self determination of the people's of the world.  Was this the Clinton Doctrine?  I did not get that deep into it, planned on following that all further down the rabbit hole this weekend.  Being agitators for self determination of oppressed people is very attractive to me, and not very peaceful.

    I think Maddows Premise... (none / 0) (#9)
    by ScottW714 on Wed Apr 11, 2012 at 02:19:09 PM EST
    ...is that going to war without sacrifice makes it easier. That by giving tax breaks and assembling a massive private army makes the actual sacrifice or appeared sacrifice less apparent to the public.

    She's not saying that it's actually easier in terms of people doing it, only that getting the public behind it, or rather not against it, makes the deed that much easier.

    And certainly those factors have made perpetual war an almost guarantee.  It's been a decade and no end in sight.

    And while going to war doesn't seem like it's ever been that hard, maintaining it has.  There is virtually no opposition now, it like they have figured out that at some point not only will Americans get fed up with war, they will get fed up with anti-war if you wait long enough.

    I would argue that the insanity of the defense budget doesn't necessarily make it easier, but it does make it an almost certainly.  And if these wars have proven anything, those budgets will make pulling out nearly impossible.

    what kept the general populace (none / 0) (#13)
    by cpinva on Wed Apr 11, 2012 at 04:05:09 PM EST
    from not rising up in anger over the bush wars was the lack of a draft. had it been instituted, bush would have had the opportunity to really relive the 60's. he, and the republican party, knew this, and so made certain it never got seriously raised in congress. it would have been the death of the republican party.

    And That Was in Part Done... (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by ScottW714 on Wed Apr 11, 2012 at 04:51:51 PM EST
    ...by assembling the huge private army, which is Maddow's point.  I believe she is including all the private infrastructure like Halliburton that performed many of the service that would normally be handled in house by the military.

    At one point there were nearly as many private contractors in Iraq as soldiers, which is essentially doubling the army without much dissatisfaction at home.  I also believe that when they are killed, the numbers aren't reported in the totals from the pentagon.