This first appeared in The Havok Journal on December 6, 2015.
One of the first posts I ever wrote for The Havok Journal was an analysis of modern U.S. warfare, titled “Back to Basics: The Poor Game of the Modern U.S. Way of War.” In it, I covered everything from the writings of Emmanuel Kant to a critique of the Democratic Peace Theory. With even more troops heading back to Iraq (despite assurances by President Obama of “no boots on the ground”), I thought it might be time to update that article and share it again. Here it is.
It’s time to face the facts: we are never going to win another war. Not the way we’re thinking and acting these days.
The modern U.S. military is obsessed with non-issues and distracted by non-military missions, and is hobbled by debilitating conditions inflicted on the military from the outside, chief among them the following: risk aversion, casualty avoidance, political pandering, and over-indulgence in the discredited theory of democratic peace.
Inhibiting the flexibility and effectiveness of the U.S. military are politically-driven conditions which foist upon the military the expectation it needs to be “good,” but not “too good” at killing the enemy, and that avoiding casualties, either U.S. or foreign, civilian or military, is far more important than actually achieving victory. This leads to a system in which calculated risk-taking, a key component of strategic military success throughout recorded history, has been abandoned in favor of a system of zero tolerance and calculated risk-avoidance, which paradoxically leads to longer wars and greater loss of life.
Then there is the national obsession with the democratic peace theory, which holds that mature democracies do not fight wars against each other. So if this is true, then the solution for world peace is simply to establish democracy everywhere. The problem with this theory is, of course, it completely overlooks human nature. Some peoples in the world aren’t ready for Western-style liberal democracy. Other peoples don’t want it. Then there is the problem that the democratic process sometimes produces results that are fundamentally at odds with America’s values. And what is a “democracy,” really?
The elections giving rise to Hezbollah’s pre-eminence within the Palestinian Authority and the ascension of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are prime examples of the flaws inherent in Democratic Peace Theory. Palestine has long had governments elected through democratic processes, but they continue to viciously attack Israel. Simultaneously, Putin is called the “president” of Russia, but he had no problem biting off large chunks of Ukraine, a neighboring democracy. Democratic Peace Theory wilts in the bright light of international realism, yet we in the West cling to it, because it makes us feel good to think that there is hope for humanity… if we can only make them be just like us.
Additionally, our country is too quick to go to war, and the lack of a comprehensive national draft makes it is too easy for our nation to stay in a perpetual state of armed conflict with one or more adversaries around the world. This is due in large part to a lack of effective checks and balances on the Executive Branch, but even more due to the fact that too small of a portion of our society bears nearly the entire burden of the war’s true costs. This creates a multitude of issues, among them the possibility of an increased number of conflicts, the probability that these conflicts will be more protracted and costly, and the certainty that only a small portion of Americans will incur the physical and mental perils of warfare.
Constitutions duly drawn according to republican principles are supposed to prevent this. Immanuel Kant, a political philosopher writing shortly after the establishment of the US Constitution, noted the following:
“…if the consent of the citizens is required in order to decide that war should be declared (and in this constitution it cannot but be the case), nothing is more natural than that they would be very cautious in commencing such a poor game, decreeing for themselves all the calamities of war. Among the latter would be: having to fight, having to pay the costs of war from their own resources, having painfully to repair the devastation war leaves behind, and, to fill up the measure of evils, load themselves with a heavy national debt that would embitter peace itself and that can never be liquidated on account of constant wars in the future.”
Modern warfare is a “poor game,” especially when it involves such a small number of players. The American people are far more concerned with what is going on in the street in front of them than what’s happening on a street thousands of miles away, in battles they will never have to fight, against an enemy they will never have to face, in a war they will never have to pay for.
With no check on executive power to conduct war or war-like actions, no military draft, and less than one percent of Americans serving in the Armed Forces, combined with almost zero direct economic cost to the average American and no domestic “devastation” to repair, there is nothing keeping America from “constant wars in the future,” as evidenced by the events since October 2001. This is because America’s wars are no longer fought in a manner that makes them “real” to the average American.