Saturday, November 6, 2010

Once, There Was a War

Once, there was a war, a great war, a war to end all wars. For five years, the combatants savaged one another from one end of the European continent to the other. New weapons were developed, new means of increasing the horror. When it ended, it was not by victory or defeat, but by a negotiated armistice that took effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Peace negotiations dragged on for another year and the terms finally imposed virtually insured that the peace would not endure. And the peace did not endure.

Again, there was a war, and it was a war of such global extent as to be termed a world war. New weapons and tactics provided new means of inflicting punishment. Ironically, this war was ended by the use of a weapon of such unspeakable horror that it has not been used since. In this war, there was no doubt who won and who lost, of who were the victors and who were the vanquished. Afterward, the victors assisted the vanquished to reconstruct so that these former enemies are now among our staunchest allies.

But again, within five years, there was a war. Not a declared war but a police action in the land of the frozen Choisan. Men endured almost unendurable conditions. Men suffered. Men died. And the war was ended by a negotiated armistice. War continues to threaten while peace negotiations continue to this day almost sixty years later.

Once again, there was a war, and this one was my war. Maybe it wasn't much of a war, but the mud, the blood, the pain, and the sacrifice were as real as in any other. The troops in the field did their jobs but the politicians back home lacked the backbone to win. We were winning when they negotiated away what we and our allies had won and sent us home from where we watched our legislators abrogate treaty obligations to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

There have been two wars since then. The first was conventional. Ended by negotiation short of absolute victory, the terms of peace virtually ensured that the another war would be necessary, as it was. So, once again, we are at war, and this time it is not a war among nation states, but against shadowy organizations loyal not to any nation but to a religious ideology. Conventional strategies and tactics are of only marginal value in a fight where the primary weapon is the improvised explosive device and the primary objective is to sow destruction and reap terror among non combatants.

In this war, there can be no negotiated peace. How does one negotiate with an implacable enemy whose only desire is to see us dead? In this war, victory will come to the one who is best able to endure, and endure we must, lest we cease to be a nation. Have we the backbone to do what needs to be done and to keep doing it for however long it takes?