by Michael J. Corgan
I am writing in response to the recent post on anti-war veteran activist, Ross Caputi. I don’t consider myself a pacifist since I believe there will always be those who choose to resort to war for little or no good reason and others of us must deal with them.
However, sometimes we ourselves are the ones who resort to war for little or no good reason; those of us who were in the military as a profession have a particular moral responsibility to speak out.
Like my longtime colleague Andy Bacevich, I am a service academy graduate and served several tours in wars whose justification was uncertain at best. Like him, I am most concerned about our propensity to get into wars for which there was no justification: Mexico in 1846, Spain in 1898, Woodrow Wilson’s Latin American invasions, Granada and Panama in 1982, Iraq in 2003, to name just the clearest cases.
At the Naval War College in the late 1970s we began the study of Thucydides and Clausewitz to try to determine why we, a supposed 1st-rate military power lost to North Vietnam, a supposed 4th-rate military power.
From Thucydides one learns how easily the arrogance of power leads to foolish and disastrous military adventures in which many are killed for no worthy aim. From Clausewitz a more important lesson: know when to quit when you are not going to ‘win.’
What prompts my concern now is our war in Afghanistan, the longest war in our history. According to New York Times interviews with commanders there, we are farther from ‘winning’ than ever.
According to international law, we probably had justification for going to war after the Al Qaeda attacks of 9/11; that group operated with either the acquiescence of the Taliban or the inability of the Taliban to prevent use of their country as an operations base for the attackers. However, after 14 years, what is our justification for continuing a war that kills civilians and is no closer to being concluded than it ever was?
Five hundred years ago, Mongols couldn’t control the land. Two hundred years ago, the British began their futile attempt to control it. Then, in the last century, the Russians also failed. All that resulted was a lot of people dead.
Now, in our arrogance, we think we can create a stable country. How can we be effective nation builders when we are foreigners, don’t speak any of the languages, and are infidels. It isn’t working. Meanwhile people who want no part of either side are dying. There needs to be a solution to problems in that unhappy land but we and our war aren’t providing it even with all our incredible precision weapons and dropping of the largest conventional bomb ever.
The only right thing to do is to extract ourselves and admit the final answer, if there is one, will be attained by those who live there. The moral imperative is that we must go home.
Michael J, Corgan is Associate Professor of Political Science at Boston University.