Clean wars are not winnable

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Photo above: the Vietnam War (YouTube)

Since the end of the Vietnam War, America has lost its stomach for fighting real wars. Depending on your beliefs, this is either great or disastrous. Either way, the reality is, no matter your beliefs, the manner in which we have fought wars since make it impossible to be victorious primarily because we have decided to fight what I refer to as clean wars.

Following Vietnam, our military remained on the back burner until Grenada in 1983. If you call this a war then you are mistaken by what constitutes war. This was nothing more than Ronald Reagan wanting to conduct what amounted to a live military training exercise in order to show the world the United States still had an effective military after the failed hostage rescue conducted under President Carter. It merely proved a nation of over 200,000,000 people could successfully defeat an island with fewer people than the Rose Bowl can hold.


Then came Desert Storm, President George H.W. Bush’s high point during his one term in office. Technically, for there to be a war, the enemy has to show up and fight. Since Iraq’s feared military chose to run and hide, our military received a free pass and eliminated the Iraqis from Kuwait and embarrassed Saddam Hussein in the process. For the most part, our soldiers on the ground faced greater risk from the smoke caused by the burning oil fields than they ever did from enemy fire. Again, this really was not a war in the true American sense.

Since the Clinton presidency, it has become clear the American people support the use of bombs, missiles, and special forces when fighting wars, but lack the willingness to support a full military effort. Americans simply do not react well to seeing our soldiers returning home in body bags such as the case more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have also placed such restrictive rules for engagement on our military that it makes little sense to place them in harm’s way. This is especially evident today in the manner in which we choose to wage a war with ISIS. Without American ground forces, this clean war is resulting in nothing significant being accomplished.

Furthermore, it comes at the same time our president approves of additional forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. While they are supposed to be there as advisers, does anyone really believe we would need 10,800 advisers in Afghanistan had we fought an all out war?

We have reached the point where we think our military should never kill innocent civilians, since Vietnam was the first war to show the horrors and mistakes that can happen during battle. The nation, and the rest of the world for that matter, did not react kindly to the images they were seeing televised nightly that depicted war far differently that the way it was depicted by Hollywood during World War II. Just imagine how our nation would have responded seeing the mass carnage our military inflicted on Japan and Germany during the Second World War.

Today, we expect bombing missions and cruise missile attacks to be so precise that when they aren’t, we send money to the survivors along with our apologies. Again, somehow this goes against the concept of what war is all about. We rely on drones to zero in on specific targets to avoid seeing U.S. planes shot down and Americans taken captive. We expect them to limit, if not eliminate entirely, the loss of innocent civilian life as well. In other words, we expect perfection.

Our political leaders tie their own hands, and our military’s as well, promising “allied” nations who allow us to launch air, missile, and drone attacks from inside their borders, to limit civilian causalities. It seems our allies really do not want to be dragged into wars because they have the blood of innocent civilians on their hands.

Because of this, our enemies do not hesitate to hide in schools and surround themselves with innocent children who are used as human shields from American forces. They will seek shelter inside houses of worship knowing our military does not want to desecrate another nation’s religion. They will hide underground in tunnels dug under major population centers knowing the United States does not want to upset anyone by destroying an entire city to kill an enemy.

And so we fight clean wars, fooling ourselves into thinking we are conducting a humane process of warfare for a noble cause. These clean wars, in reality, end up being incredibly costly to us economically. Drone attacks, bombing missions and cruise missile raids are not exactly cheap nor is the equipment needed to conduct them inexpensive to design, build, and maintain. And, worst of all, they yield little in return.


Is Iraq safer today than it was twelve years ago? How about Afghanistan? Have we rid ourselves from the threat of terrorism in the Middle East? Does anyone think North Korea or Russia are less a threat today than even a year ago? Is the world safer today than it was at the turn of the century?

Because of the public’s distaste for the very real and ugly aspects of war, we are much closer to another world war than at any time since the end the Vietnam War. We are closer today to having to fight any of a number of very ugly wars around the globe because of the inability of our clean wars to provide any long term peace.

Our only other real choice is to rid ourselves of our current military and tell the rest of the world we are out of the business of defeating enemies who aspire to crush the freedom and hopes of those unable to defend themselves. Do we really want to throw away our military supremacy? Does anyone think doing so will make for a safer world or even just a safer United States?

We can no longer afford to fool ourselves into thinking we are a stronger and more stable nation as the result of fighting clean wars. We now have to consider one of the following options; a resumption of ugly and traditional warfare that does not worry about perfection or carnage as much as it does defeating an enemy, or, option two: the dismantling of America’s military might. With this in mind, which of the two do you think makes us safer?