The never ending war
I didn’t set out to write a musing exclusively about wars involving the US in my lifetime; I actually started down a different path. But in that musing I did want to at least touch on them. I touched so much I realized war has been a constant, unwanted companion of mine for my entire life.
The stench of war permeated my early years and young adulthood. I lived through WWII (1941 – 1945) though I was too young to fully comprehend what was going on. My parents managed to work things out at the dinner table so that this young boy had no idea he was living in a time of rationing and sacrifice. For me, the war was a dime in my pocket to take to school and buy a stamp for my bond stamp book. Little did I know that 405,399 US servicemen were killed and 670,846 were wounded.
Then there was the Korean War, 1950 – 1953. Those were my high school years so in a sense I was isolated from it, but not oblivious to it. How can one not be affected when the United States suffered 36,516 battle deaths and 92,134 were wounded in a war we never won?
We barely had time to catch our breath before we became embroiled in Viet Nam in 1953 (actually 1950 with a small group of advisors we sent there). It was fought based on the erroneous reasoning of the Domino Theory – if Viet Nam fell, everything else would fall like a line of dominos. This was the time of the start of the cold war and everyone was worried about those dominos falling. Well, the first domino fell but life went on. That misbegotten war resulted in 58,209 American servicemen dying and 153,303 wounded and the aftereffects are still being felt.
Again, proving, if nothing else, that we seem to be a tad bit slow on the uptake, the country jumped into a war with the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. The reasonable rationale was that the Taliban were harboring the terrorists that executed the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington DC. This war managed to run in parallel with my life for thirteen years. Our military’s toll as of a recent date is 2,229 killed and 18,675 wounded. Russia had a failed war there before us and we have done no better.
Then to add insult to injury, as the old phrase goes, we attacked Iraq. The reason for the war proved to be invalid. And now, irrespective of the reasons that we entered into that war, we are seeing whatever gains we made as a result of the Iraq I and Iraq II wars are crumbling before our very eyes. The cost? Four thousand four hundred eighty-eight killed and 32,222 wounded.
The toll of just those five wars is 470,325 killed and 967,180 wounded. Collectively, the accumulated years we were embroiled in those five wars, all during my lifetime, is 47 years. Of course they don’t include the lesser wars, excursions, invasions, skirmishes and deployments during the same period – from WW II to present. Were you to count them all the total would be 73, not five.
I think maybe all the in your face videos of the war in Viet Nam inured me just a bit. Just how far the American people fell out of love with war was exhibited in our shameful treatment of the returning veterans of that war. The sins of our leaders fell upon them.
Yet it seems we have come full circle. The veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars are now being rightfully acknowledged as citizens who have made significant, and in some cases the supreme, sacrifices for all of us. Will future generations be as exposed to war as I and my contemporaries have been? I pray they will not but think they will. War is one of the flaws in humanity.
John’s postscript: I served 20 years in the military.