Here’s the awful truth about wars: they begin long before the first shot is fired.
Wars do not begin during the eleventh hour of frantic diplomacy and strategic maneuvering. Their roots stretch deep into the peaceful days of a society that harbors aggression toward no one, and believes itself safe for the moment. Soldiers must have weapons, training, and transportation. Providing those necessities is the work of a nation at peace, not something that can be done in a sudden frenzy, after blood has been spilled. The destiny of armed conflict is charted years before the first boots hit the ground.
The character of fighting men and women accounts for much of their effectiveness. Brutes and murderers break before true soldiers… but those brutes are very good at maintaining the environment of horrid futility and constant menace that can wear down a civilian population. We forge our soldiers during times of peace, as well as their weapons, and because America is a peaceful nation governed by civilians, the home front will always be crucial.
The new war we have been fighting over the past thirty years is different than previous conflicts. Its successes are boring. Its victories come when terrible deeds are prevented. Some of the greatest of our victories never make the headlines. In times past, ground was taken, enemy units were routed, and the flags of defeated aggressors were lowered in solemn ceremonies. It isn’t like that now, and perhaps it never will be again, because the aggressors have noticed this new shadow warfare works out much better for them, provided they have a little patience.
Strength was a great deterrent against the older forms of war. Now it has become essential to combine strength and will. That is a difficult challenge, because strategic willpower must come from civilians. In the absence of clear principles illuminated by strong will, a nation becomes more fearsome to its allies than its enemies.
The pieces are moving into place for the next war right now, even as the last one is still hissing and snarling along. After the first shots are fired, historians will work hard to follow the roots of future war back to today, and place great importance upon details barely noticed by many of us who live in the present. A good strategic thinker must see today through the eyes of a future historian. That’s very difficult to do.
Strong soldiers cannot long preserve a weak nation from determined enemies. Many of America’s excellent weapon systems are aging badly. We can’t expect a perpetual monopoly on stealth fighters, superior satellite intelligence, and sophisticated drone weapons. We won’t keep our military edge without effort, and it would be a tragedy for all mankind if we lost it, because the matchless edge and balance of the American sword has thwarted untold horrors since the thousand-year agenda of the Axis was brought up 988 years short.
It’s not surprising that our government is always on the lookout for “peace dividends,” but they are largely mythical. Beating swords into plowshares leaves us holding plowshares when the barbarians turn up wielding swords. The U.S. government spends vast amounts of money on things it was never meant to do, but when it comes time to talk of spending cuts, the most solemn responsibility it does bear is first on the chopping block. Alas, money taken from the military is always repaid eventually… with interest.
On Veterans Day, Americans who stand in awe of the courage, dedication, and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform often ask what they can do to support the military. One of the most important things you can do, every day of the year, is to pursue your own dreams with vigor and ambition. The wealth you create allows our troops to go into battle with the best possible equipment and training, improving their odds of success and survival. The strength of a vibrant nation makes war less likely, by allowing us to project both power and compassion around the globe. Adherence to the principles expressed by the great general who became our first President will make us a reliable ally, and a dependably formidable enemy… a combination that has proved to be humanity’s most reliable antidote to war.
Freedom is the defiance of tyranny, not its absence. Let the despots of the world be forever afraid that the hearts of their oppressed people will stir at the sight of the Stars and Stripes. The American veteran gave the world victory without conquest, valor without cruelty, and vigilance without domination. History has never seen anything quite like them before, and since the day American soldiers took up arms against their first “unbeatable” enemy, they have never stopped making history.
The battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan have produced heroes who can stand proudly beside those of Valley Forge, Gettysburg, Normandy, Chosin, and Ia Drang. We should share their stories with the children who will become the next to join their legendary company, and be mindful of our duty to ensure the next generation of veterans have the tools they need, when they are asked to do the impossible.