Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Ours is a peace-loving nation. Or is it? I’ll be honest with you; I’m tired of armed conflicts and war which has led me to think about just how peace-loving America really is. Let’s look at some facts.
The nation was born in blood, with the Revolutionary war (1775-1783). External and major wars in which the US participated includes the Quasi-War against France (1798-1800), First Barbary War against Morocco (1801-1805), the War of 1812 against the UK (1812-1815), Second Barbary War (1815) against Algiers, Aegean Sea war against Greece (1825-1828), Mexican American War (1846-1848), the Second Opium War against the Qing dynasty (1856-1859), the American Civil War (1861-1865), the Second Samoan War (1898-1899), Spanish-American war (1898), Phillipine-American War (1899-1902), Moro Rebellion (1899-1913), Border War against Mexico (1910-1919), Occupation of Nicaragua (1912-1913), Occupation of the Dominican Republic (1916-1924), World War I (1914-1918), Russian Civil War (1918-1920), World War II (1939-1945), the Korean War (1950-1953), the Laotian Civil War (1953-1975), Vietnam (1965-1973), Cambodia (1967-1975), Lebanese Civil War (1982-1984 which I could have been involved in had I joined the military after high school), Grenada (1983), Invasion of Panama (1989-1990), the Gulf War (1990-1991), Iraqi no-fly zone enforcement (1991-2003), Somali War (1992-1995), Bosnia (1992-1995), Kosovo (1998-1999), Nepalese Civil war (2002-2006, welcome to the twenty-first century), War in Afghanistan (2001 and continuing today), Iraqi war (2003-2017), Pakistan (2004 to present), and Syria (2014 and still involved). The war against the Native people started in 1776 and easily ran off and on through 1923.
Here’s the point: looking at these conflicts, it becomes clear that, as a nation, we have been at war far longer than we have ever been at peace. Now you can argue some of these; they include NATO “peace keeping missions”, international efforts, and somewhere our involvement was minor. Still, it seems obvious to me that, as a nation, we’ve been involved in armed conflicts and war far longer than we’ve actually been at peace.
Still not convinced that we’re a warrior nation? Let’s look at presidential approval ratings. Roosevelt’s approval rating went up 30 points at WWII, Reagan’s approval rating went up about 20 points during Grenada, George HW Bush’s approval increased about 30 points at the start of the Iraqi Conflict, George W Bush’s approval rating jumped 40 points after Afghanistan. Trump expressed his fear that Obama would begin a war to increase his approval rating (which never came to pass), and today people fear that he might do the same. Some might dismiss this as national pride, but during the Grenada conflict war became more of a spectator sport than ever before when news leaked of the day of the invasion, and more reporters and camera crews were on the beach than marines. George W took full advantage of this jovial view of death and destruction on May 1, 2003 from the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln when he declared victory in a war that is continuing today, seventeen years later.
Still not convinced? Let’s look at military spending. In 2015, the US spent 54% of the all federal discretionary spending on the military. This is roughly as much as the next seven highest national military budgets in the world combined (China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the UK, India, France and Japan). The US spends roughly 37% of all military expenditures worldwide. The next heaviest military expenditure in the world is China, and the US in 2015 spent well over two and a half times more money on the military than China. The funny thing about this is that, when a president begins to shave back on this enormous budget, it is often used against the president and leads to their decline in popularity. Reagan accused Carter of weakening the military by cutting back on spending, and it won him the election. Trump has accused Obama of “decimating” the military and dramatically increased military expenditure, unfortunately sparking a new international arms race by bringing Iran back into the nuclear arms race which had effectively been stopped by Obama, and increasing tension and weapons development in North Korea.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that some of these conflicts were necessary, and I certainly do support our military. Somebody had to stop Hitler, and the US involvement in this war is one of our greatest accomplishments in the history of warfare. Afghanistan, on the other hand, is, in my opinion, unjust. It was not involved in the 911 attacks, and if the terrorist Osama really was there we certainly had the technology to knock out the necessary air defenses and go extract him rather than starting a two-decade long war with no stated goal and no end in sight. This seemed more like a political ploy than a just war, but I fully support our military and their actions in the conflict. In Korea and Vietnam, people turned against the military and I never want to see that happen again. Ours is the finest, most versatile and feared fighting force in the world, and their loyalty to America and willingness to follow orders is exactly what we need to remain safe. But one nation spending more than a third of the total world military budget seems a bit excessive. This is not the fault of the military, but a failing of the politicians.
I fear that some people might see this as an anti-military post, but nothing could be farther from the truth. I guess the point of this post is about de-romanticizing war and conflict. People die in these wars, no matter how small. It’s time to treat armed conflict in the somber and serious nature they deserve. A new war or armed conflict should, in my humble opinion, never result in an automatic bump in presidential approval rating. Prioritizing conflict over diplomacy, either in action or budgetary considerations, should simply not happen. It’s time to become the peaceful nation that we want to believe ourselves to be.