When Does it End?

You know the problem with continual warfare is the whole “unending” part…

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.  War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.  In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people.  The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both.  No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

Those truths are well established.  They are read in every page which records the progression from a less arbitrary to a more arbitrary government, or the transition from a popular government to an aristocracy or a monarchy.”

~ James Madison, “Political Observations”, originally published as a pamphlet, 20 April 1795 (emphasis added by me)


Before I upset more people than usual, let me throw it out there, that clearly war can and does serve a purpose.  We easily see this historically, particularly in our own history.  Without war, that is to say, without the American Revolution, there would be no America.  In the case of our country, making war was an absolute necessity to accomplish our stated purpose of independence.  The founding fathers, despite not being the warmongering sort, knew that there were times when warfare would and should happen.  Their concerns about foreign entanglements and foreign wars stemmed from a deep fear that unnecessary and purposeless wars would merely be a means of gradually destroying public liberty.  Once a war has lost or cannot accomplish its purpose, it becomes unnecessary.  America has already been taught that lesson once.  The 9 years of war in Vietnam from 1964 to 1973 proved little more than our government’s willingness to spend American lives on a cause that much of the public both questioned and resented.  We are now 11 years into the war in Afghanistan.  To what end?  Not that anyone actually remembers, but our initial demand was for Osama Bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to be handed over, and for any al-Qaeda bases to be dismantled.  Last I checked, all those issues had been resolved.

Currently before our government is the decision on what course to pursue in regards to winding the Afghan War down.  It seems funny that there is even any debate or question about the proper course of action at this late juncture.  If we were being brutally honest with ourselves, the war has financially cost us over $600 billion dollars (and thats a lower estimate, based on “direct spending” documented in government budget papers).  Perhaps more importantly, it has cost us over 2000 lives, with over 18,000 wounded.  There is still one soldier still listed as missing-captured by the Pentagon.  And we are still wondering what we should do?  What the founding fathers would do or how would they intend our government to conduct itself?  It seems pretty obvious when the war continues to have a questionable purpose going forward and goals that many analysts, both military and historical, deem highly unlikely to succeed.  Even Alexander the Great faced heavy resistance in the area and that was in 330 BC!  In fact, nearly every group that has ever overtaken the area has hardly been able to claim they actually controlled the entire territory be they British, Russian, or the current Karzai-led government.  So what in fact are we trying to accomplish?

Are we the kind of nation that has a Constitutional duty or prerogative to sort out the internal issues that have plagued another nation for the better part of their own history?  Our founding fathers were pretty clear about the dangers and undesirability of foreign wars and engaging ourselves in solving the affairs of other nations.  At the point we are at in dealing with Afghanistan, our initial purpose being accomplished, why do we remain, why leave 9,000 or 2,000 or 1,000 men behind?  Is it appropriate for our government to be engaged in a seemingly unending war with no true goal?  We don’t need a batch of foreign wars to engage in counter-terrorism operations.  And the talk of abandoning our “Afghan partners” is merely doublespeak.  The American government has no partner besides the American people.  Perhaps we should be talking about whether more American money (that we don’t have) and more American lives (that are the most valuable resource of a nation that is run “by the people”) should be spent on a cause so decidedly against fundamental American principles at this point.  The only wars beside the American Revolutionary War that have dragged on longer than 4 years have been our modern wars (Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan).  Not a single founding father could be found who would have argued in favor of continuing foreign wars in order to benefit causes completely foreign to our own.  In fact, they argued against it.  Because what we surrender when we engage in unending war is far worse than winning or losing.


Res Publica

Documentation without Representation:

“Political Observations” by James Madison, 20 April 1795

An online copy of this text can be found in Selected Writings of James Madison, edited by Ralph Louis Ketcham

An analysis of the financial cost of the Afghan War can be found via http://csis.org/publication/us-cost-afghan-war-fy2002-fy2013

An analysis of the human cost of the Afghan War can be found via http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R41084.pdf

CNN maintains a more human look at Afghan War casualties at http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/war.casualties/index.html

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