Norman Podhoretz, in his book, Why We Were In Vietnam talked about fighting that particular conflict on the “political cheap” and the “military cheap”. To my mind, he was talking about not fully engaging either politically or militarily. As those who know the history of the Vietnam war can attest, the United States did not introduce troops in a “mass”method, but rather by sending a few thousand at a time. In addition the tour of duty was short, so that when soldiers finally got accostomed to fighting in Southeast Asia, they were sent home and a new round of fresh recruits came in and had to learn all over again. This was repeated during the course of this war and was responsible for a good portion of the losses in Vietnam.
Since World War II, America has not been willing to fully engage engage and has not been prepared to fight in a military conflict properly. The citizens of the United States, weary of war and through the magic of television having seen war almost first hand, developed a distaste to war. In addition, since the American people did not see Vietnam as a necessary war, were eventually reluctant to continue supporting that conflict, especially after it had dragged on with no apparant conclusion in sight by 1968. This is a common thread among free people unless there is a cause that they deem worth fighting for….like the elimination of a Hitler, or the striking back against a nation that has wronged us in some way phyically, such as at Pearl Harbor. In addition, politicians do not wish to risk the political capital that might cost them their position to engage in a war that might come off as unpopular. So, they do the next best thing…they engage in limits, giving the appearance that the US is doing something when in reality, all it is doing is committing troops and treasure to a cause that they want to win but are not willing to win. In addition, the world climate is such that after experiencing the terriffic horrors of World War II, the West has completely lost it’s desire for war on any level. As the generations have passed, those that were survivors of the Hitlerian period, grew to hate the idea of war in all of its forms, and should they find themselves with war thrust upon them, would act in as small a way as possible so as to minimize casualites and damage. The twenty-four hour news cycle has also done damage in that war cannot be fought properly as it broadcasts, sometimes salaciously, bodies of women and children caught in the crossfire, images that no one wishes to see but do exist when a battle is underway. Those images, have brought the reality of war home, unsanitized and unappetizing not only to the public at large, but to soldiers that may enlist or have enlisted already. Outrage abounds, and as a result, politicians respond by putting troops in harms way with little support, a half baked plan, and trying to fight a war on the “political cheap”.
Historically, war in the West had been fought “to the death”, especially in the twentieth century. The result of this mayhem were the horrors of World War I and World War II. Europe was essentially leveled, civilian populations destroyed, infrastructure annihiliated. This was the case to a much greater degree in World War II as the airplane was not employed in carpet bombing campaigns during the First World War as it was not yet developed enough. In both instances, the war was fought to conclusion, with neither side giving any quarter nor taking any quarter. There was a definite end because all parties were committed to seeing it through. For all of the mistakes historically that Europe has made and continues to make, the way of war, I would argue, was not one of them. Rather than drag on for countless years, as the Soviets found out in Afghanistan, the United States found out in both Korea and Vietnam, the West typically engages in an “end game” style of war, the destruction of everything in pursuit of the goal of victory. The destruction and devastation are part and parcel of that methodology, and has been since Vasco da Gama sailed into the Indian Ocean the second time (1502) with gunships to attempt to dominate trade in that part of the world. End Game Warfare is not pretty, certainly not desired, and absolutely not politically correct. End Game Warfare, however, was effective at ending a conflict.
Fast forwarding to the post World War II era, the first conflict that was fought on this political and military cheap was the Korean War, not Vietnam as so many believe. In this conflict to attempt to contain the spread of communism (at least that is what the U.S. thought), the North Koreans, with logistical help from the Soviet Union, invaded the South. The invasion was a significant one in that Soviet T-34 tanks were spearheading the initial push into the southern region, catching the RKO (Republic of Korea) completely off guard. The United States response was muted at best initially, not fully grasping the gravity of the attack from the North, and also not prepared for war. Why would they be prepared? World War Two just ended, and while the Cold War was beginning, the emphasis for the United States was preparing for a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, not a local war in Korea. In addition, the United Nations was established and was generally considered that it was their job to keep the peace. General Douglas MacAurthur responded with limited involvement, as directed by President Harry Truman who referred to U.S. involvement as a “police action”, not grasping the reality that the U.S. was in a major war. The point is that it took the United States getting almost pushed off of the map of the Korean peninsula before there was a credible response, the landing at Inchon, and the subsequent “fight back”. While the Korean War wound up a stalemate for political reasons as well as the unwillingness to engage in a wider Asian conflict which would have involved the Soviet Union, the point here is that our troops were not allowed to win it due to political considerations, not the least of which was an unwillingness to engage the Chinese in an all-out war. Quit while we are ahead, minimize casualties, and get out.
Unfortunately, this pattern was repeated as the United States became involved in Vietnam, during Operation Desert Storm, and the wider Iraq War in which provisions were not made to deal with the after effect of that conflict. The latter war dragged on far longer than needed as the United States military was not allowed to fully engage on the ground in order to minimize casualties. Result? A much longer and drawn out/expensive conflict than what was needed. The same argument could be made with the current involvement in Afghanistan, and now, with ISIS. There is not a willingness to fully engage and as a result, these terrible conflicts drag on and on with no end in sight. Money is spent, lives lost, and there is no resolution. Finally, should one look at the endless conflicts in the Middle East, there has never been a decisive war to finally bring it all to an end. The only real decisive conflict was the Seven Day War in which Israel was more than successful in defending themselves against the Arab forces arrayed against it.
The point of this brief blog post is not to glorify war by any means. Even George Patton stated that war was to be avoided at all costs. The point is that should a nation, any nation, find itself at the point of war, that conflict has to be fought intensely and without regard for the political consequences of the action. The war must be fought to completion and if that entails destruction on a significant scale, then so be it. Not doing so drags out the conflict, costs more lives, money and hardship for those involved, and creates a significant refugee crisis as we currently see playing out world wide. All of this is what makes war something to be avoided at all costs. Not engaging completely empowers lesser nations to engage in war and encourages rouge nations to partake in destructive activities as they know that the responses to thwart their efforts will be something less than what is necessary. The carnage will drag on and eventually, the opposing nation loses its will to fight even though they were superior. This has been the strategy of Al-Qaida, ISIS, and even the Russians during the Napoleonic period when they engaged in the scorched earth campaign. War must be fought quickly, harshly and brutally so that no nation wishes to engage again. Unfortunately, in our time period, this is not the case and we are left with long national struggles with no conclusion other than a half baked attempt to achieve a goal on the political and military cheap.

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