Memorial Day comes and goes every year as a symbol that the school year is coming to a close. But in 2012, a little reflection on the U.S. history of wars in the 20th and 21st centuries might be in order.
Since the early 1960s, the United States, a country that had a history of prevailing in wars, has lost SIX (6) wars:
(1) The Vietnam War
(2) The Iraqi War
(3) The War in Afghanistan
(4) The War on Poverty
(5) The War on Drugs
(6) The War on Illegal Immigration
It would be impossible to tackle all these topics in one blog, so we will separate the first three into this blog and later address our failures in the others.
Vietnam War: U.S. Involvement, 1955-1973
In 1955, France passed the baton to the United States regarding the Vietnamese insurrection, displaying far greater insight into the futility of this war than that of our military geniuses obviously had. By 1954, the United States had supplied 300,000 small arms and spent $1 billion in support of the French military effort, shouldering 80 percent of the cost of the war. In the next few years, few people knew that there were actual discussions regarding use of nuclear weapons in Vietnam. As unthinkable as this course of action may have been, it might have led to a far less devastating outcome than the actual results.
Kennedy's policy toward South Vietnam rested on the assumption that Diem and his forces must ultimately defeat the guerrillas on their own. He was against the deployment of American combat troops and observed that "to introduce U.S. forces in large numbers there today, while it might have an initially favorable military impact, would almost certainly lead to adverse political and, in the long run, adverse military consequences." In April 1962, John Kenneth Galbraith, the world renowned economist, warned Kennedy of the "danger we shall replace the French as a colonial force in the area and bleed as the French did." Unfortunately, after the JFK assassination, Lyndon B. Johnson failed to recognize the imminent danger of escalating this war.
On 15 January 15, 1973, Richard Nixon announced the suspension of offensive action against North Vietnam. The Paris Peace Accords on "Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam" were signed on 27 January 1973, officially ending direct U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. On April 30, 1975, President Duong Van Minh of South Vietnam surrendered.
At the height of this conflict, the U.S. military had an estimated 536,000 American soldiers in Vietnam. Losses were totaled at 58,212 deaths and 350,000 casualties. The cost of the war prior to U.S. active involvement was estimated at 2.6 billion. The final cost of the war was estimated at $ 686 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars.
Iraqi War, Operation Iraqi Freedom: 2003-Present
It is not necessary to outline the Iraqi War history as we are still living it and the ramifications. But there are a few points that need to be emphasized. There are many people, including myself, who believe this was George W. Bush’s war to invoke vengeance on Iraq for his father’s failures. Although the movie “Green Zone” was apparently a “work of fiction”, it rang so unbelievably true in so many of its allegations regarding the actual integrity of this war, it was frightening. Bush’s drive to protect the “free world” from Saddam Hussein’s stash of WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) was oh, so convincing that the American public bought right into it. One minor problem, we never found any WMDs and gave up looking for them a long time ago. Was this just a convenient excuse for America to oust Hussein, or a legitimate threat? I guess we will never really know.
What we do know is that we are currently exiting Iraq and watch nine years of our attempt to create a “democratic” government there deteriorate at a frightening pace. Ethnic differences, greed, and government corruption will inevitable reduce Iraq into total chaos.
Now let’s review the results of this war. Losses have totalled approximately 4,500 deaths and 33,000 casualities. The final cost of the war was estimated at $ 804 billion.
War in Afghanistan - Operation Enduring Freedom: 2001-Present
The September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States were clearly the motivating force in our invasion of Afghanistan. America’s primary goal was to eliminate the al-Qaeda terrorist organization and end its use of Afghanistan as a base. The secondary goal was to forcibly remove the Taliban regime from power and create a democratic state.
This war, just as in Vietnam and Iraq has been an abject failure. Again U.S. military strategists have been incapable of recognizing the obstacles to the creation of democracy in societies dominated by poverty and lack of education. Tribal and ethnic differences have been preyed upon by the Taliban, alongside an innate distrust of Americans by the Afghani people. Of course, it has not particularly helped that our so-called ally, Pakistan, has been sheltering Al-Qaeda terrorists and Taliban leaders during the entire tenure of this war. Perhaps, the most definitive statement of our “success” is that the proliferation of “poppy fields” and opium sales remains the main industry of Afghanistan to this day. In fact, opium sales have increased every year since American occupation and Afghanistan ranks #1 in the production of opium in the entire world. (As an aside, Afghanistan is also the leading producer of hashish in the world.) Since only 12% of Afghanistan consists of arable lands and 70% of the population live off agricultural products, the U.S. has decided that tolerating the opium trade is the only method of preserving the economic integrity of Afghanistan.
Now let’s review the results of this war. Losses have totalled approximately 1,827 deaths and 15,500 casualities. The cost of the war to date is estimated at $ 533 billion.
Conclusions on Memorial Day – A Tribute to Our Veterans
American soldiers have died serving their country in two World Wars and Korea, followed by the tragic miscalculations in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Beyond the deaths and casualties, soldiers return home with PTSD (post traumatic distress disorder) and with families torn apart by the separation of soldiers from their families. Soldiers return home to an American economy in tatters, with few civilian jobs available.
Rarely do we truly honor these heroes and heroines upon their return, with the exception of a few dedicated holidays. Whether these wars were ill-advised or not, AMERICAN SOLDIERS traveled to foreign lands to preserve the “American Way”. Without these dedicated individuals, the rest of us would not be living our lives feeling safe and secure in the fact that the United States remains the primary defender of the “free world.”
Perhaps each one of us can take one moment on Memorial Day, to pay a personal tribute to these courageous individuals and remember the heavy price they have paid for our freedom. When we pass an American Flag on our way to some celebration, it might be a great idea to explain to our children what the American soldiers have done for us and what Memorial Day really means.