I asked my mother what it was like growing up in America during World War II. She reflected that people went about the normal business of the day but often in her neighborhood a Blue Star representing a loved one serving overseas in the military would be replaced by a Gold Star after the arrival of a fateful telegram. When the Gold Star announcing her only brother had been killed at Iwo Jima was place in the family window, the war became very personal and would never be forgotten. During those war years she felt a unified purpose of total national sacrifice and commitment. In World War II, all of America was at war and we were committed to victory.
In my war years, the Vietnam War, while in uniform (1965-1975), there was a noticeable shift over time that I personally saw as the country transitioned from supporting the warriors to blaming those in uniform. What added to the tragedy was this disdain grew from inside my generation, it was real and it was ugly.
A decade and a half after Vietnam, the combat action of Desert Storm gave all a chance to show a unified front and it lasted for the entire 100-hour war. Now in our global engagement against al Qaeda fault lines are appearing again. Opponents of American military action are far too clever to attack and blame the troops; just ask Sen. John Kerry, who made that mistake. Rather they will focus on the incompetence and corruption factor. This may be their “winning” strategy to reign in the American warriors as they go about defending us.
My point is not to belabor the missteps in Iraq or Afghanistan but put the entire matter in context. There is a global civil war raging and no one has noticed. Most historians will point out a three-party civil war is the nastiest and often the most dangerous because of the potential for shifting alliances based on the very real cliché “an enemy of an enemy is a friend.”
Three totally different visions for humanity are at war. America, standing with England, Australia, Israel and soon to be remilitarized Japan are on the front line defending democracy against both the totalitarian People’s Republic of China and another independent combat force the jihadists, those followers of fanatical Islam.
These three societies and their vision for the future are the antipathy of one another. Some continue to argue it is easy to coexist if we just try harder to understand our enemies. However, the evidence of the success of that approach is weak to non-existent. The PRC, stating nuclear retaliation if we defend democratic Taiwan or al Qaeda at our throat as seen by 9/11 is most definitely not our fault.
America did not start this worldwide conflagration—if anything we took early engagements to lightly. Embassies taken over or blown up Army, Navy Air Fore and Marines killed with little or no response. Finally, it took 9/11 to ring the “fire bell in the night.” America is now engaged in direct combat, but the nature of the worldwide conflict is not completely understood.
The People’s Republic of China went with an asymmetric warfare campaign early. Asymmetric war in this context is essentially attacking where you are strong and your is enemy weak. Seeing the value of another great cliché, “money talks B.S. walks,” the PRC bribed our political process and concurrently attacked using our own capitalistic system against us. PRC goods are produced at truly cut-rate costs of production and the billions from this differential have given the People’s Liberation Army the financial resources to build a first-class military.
Fanatical Islamic followers have chosen another different asymmetric path to the quest for victory. They are trying to link themselves to the large majority of the peaceful follows of Islam. This is what makes the combat action against them so difficult. One bad mistake and potentially over a billion people can scream jihad. Using a diabolical weapon, suicide terrorists, dedicated fanatics can hurt open civilized societies, but they can’t win unless they get weapons of mass destruction.
The question is what to do about this global civil war for humanity. The only issue for America is for all of us to recognize it exists and unify with the same sense of purpose we had in World War II. Fanatical Islam will continue to attack, and the PLA will continue to modernize and mobilize until they can remove us from Pacific Rim and elsewhere.
Over the next two years, America will have robust debates about competence and corruption in our military/diplomatic/nation-building efforts since 9/11. But the stakes are far to high to let these debates cripple our effort to defend ourselves.
Like it or not, America is in a global war against two adversaries who it appears are forming a temporary alliance. The recent revelation of sophisticated PLA C-802 cruise missiles shipped to Iran and the transshipped through Syria to Hezbollah to be used against the Israeli Navy is a very visible marker of this growing alliance.
Total war is total war; fortress America is not an option it is surrender. Modern weapons and 21st Century asymmetric warfare make retreating inside our borders and hoping the bad guys go away the epitome of wishful thinking. America has yet to truly mobilize for the troubles ahead. Worldwide trends against us are ominous and potentially many symbolic Gold Stars maybe in windows not just for those killed in uniform.