Whereas It is Fitting: Veterans Day in America

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Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire.

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  1. fillyjonk fillyjonk
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    I had older relatives who still called it Armistice Day. (I had a great-uncle who served in the US Infantry in France – I never met him, he died before I was born. He caught pneumonia, and the damage his lungs sustained from a gas attack meant he didn’t survive the pneumonia).

    I remember some years back, walking into my biostats class to a lively argument between the students as to whether this day was Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day.

    I kind of pinched the bridge of my nose, and said “The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, does that ring a bell?”

    No, no it did not. These were American students who presumably had had classes in high school (and even college) in American history.

    I explained that it was Veteran’s Day, which originated with Armistice Day, and the why and the how.

    But really…..I feel like that’s something people should just KNOW. Maybe I’m just unusual in having a demographically-weird family (and being An Old now, myself) that I had people in my grandparents’ generation who fought in WWI, and my parents were small children in WWII…. But sometimes it does seem so much cultural transmission got broken some time after my generation grew up, and I don’t knowReport

    • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to fillyjonk
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      In Cologne Germany, Carnival season starts on November 11 at 11:11. This is of course chosen to mark the anniversary of the armistice.

      But given the dark outcome of the treaty of Versailles on German history, that’s not exactly a day that gets widely recognized as a time for a new hope for peace and so on. And also it’s one day of Carnivalesque celebration in advance of the real event before Lent.

      I pointed out the reason for the timing to my schoolmates, and they legit didn’t believe me until the MC repeated the same point (a brief somber moment in the middle of an event consisting otherwise of cheerful music and corny jokes) – they figured it was just chosen because it’s a “Schnapszahl” – repeating digit number, which apparently calls for a drink in some games.

      So I had the odd experience of wearing a silly costume and getting day drunk on cheap bubbly in a crowd of revelers on Remembrance day, in keeping with the local custom.Report

  2. Avatar InMD
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    I respectfully dissent and it’s telling that essays of this nature have to look back to World War 2. No adversary has posed a real threat of imposing its will on the US mainland since around 1942 at latest and the Soviet threat was nuclear annihilation, not military conquest of North America.

    Now I do think veterans deserve our respect and I see no virtue in being particularly critical of rank and file service men and women but what you’re talking about at the end is pretty far from clear-eyed. Nothing, and I mean literally nothing, happening in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan*, Libya, Pakistan, the Balkans, Somalia, or anywhere else we’ve played world police in the last 30 years has any relevance to our own freedom or how we govern ourselves here. Frankly it’s propaganda that keeps our government on a constant war footing, wasting resources, and making us all cynical about the very things that are best about America. In fact it’s the exact kind of thing ol’ President E himself warned about on his way out the door.

    *There is an argument for scattering and destroying al-Qaeda’s base of operations and killing OBL himself after 9/11 but that’s long since done and there is no compelling reason we are trying to impose our vision of a functioning state on a place that has resisted conquest by oursiders for thousands of years.Report

    • Avatar Andrew Donaldson in reply to InMD
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      Disagree. “Nothing, and I mean literally nothing, happening in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan*, Libya, Pakistan, the Balkans, Somalia, or anywhere else we’ve played world police in the last 30 years has any relevance to our own freedom or how we govern ourselves here.” Which is what most folks where saying all throughout the 20s and 30s about the goings on in Europe. It’s popular to express that, but history proves it out to foolish to think you can sit in a hole and hide from the wider world. The prime movers of the world – Russia, China, Europe – are all involved so while you can look at an individual situation and decry it as meaningless you will miss the larger puzzle being formed.Report

      • Avatar InMD in reply to Andrew Donaldson
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        What’s the threat? Name it specifically.

        Note I didn’t say anything about hiding, just being clear eyed about what’s going on.Report

      • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Andrew Donaldson
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        ” The prime movers of the world – Russia, China, Europe – are all involved ”

        All involved in what? Making us attempt to be the World Police by stirring hot spots while in the background spread their dominance in various unreported areas.

        The charade is that we will be calling the US the World Police long after not having the wealth to afford the badge, boots or bullets.

        The Generals new clothes will be drafty.Report

        • Avatar InMD in reply to JoeSal
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          Yea, I mean there’s so much question begging here its hard to know where to begin. All 3 of those places are facing near term demographic crisis of varying severity (Russia is a crumbling energy based economy with a population dying from AIDs and alcohol). All European powers with expeditionary capabilities are close allies that rely on us for common defense. China is an economic and ideological rival but how bleeding ourselves in murky civil wars around the world somehow strengthens us vis-a-vis them is a mystery.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Andrew Donaldson
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        Great post, thank you.

        However, I have to back InMD here.

        It’s not that you are wrong that China and Russia are stirring up shit and trying to worm their way into power positions in places, but…

        Remember how the Soviet union was broken? How the West basically forced them to spend themselves into oblivion? If we look at how much China and Russia spend to stir shit up, versus how much we spend to play World Cop/Peacekeeper, how long can they keep that up? How far do we stretch our military resources putting out all the brush fires they keep setting before we are not in a position to stop either of them from taking a more aggressive military action? I mean, China is basically laying claim to all the waters of Asia right now, how long before they decide the Korean peninsula is theirs, and SE Asia, Japan, etc? Will we be able to stop them, or will we be so exhausted that all we can do is yell?Report

        • Avatar Andrew Donaldson in reply to Oscar Gordon
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          We better make up our mind now, ahead of time. There are no power vacuums. IF the USA is not to be the dominate force in the world, China or another will be. If someone is good with “Yep, China (or whoever else) should dictate how the worlds spins” fine, but be honest about it. America withdrawn into isolationism, for any reason no matter how valid, means that happens, someone else will fill the void. You cannot pretend it does not. Too many people do. And at some point if you ignore they will encroach into somewhere folks will really wish they hadn’t.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Andrew Donaldson
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            There is a difference between economic and diplomatic power, and military power is truly a subset of diplomatic power (War is, after all, the end result of diplomatic failures). If we have to keep getting our military involved in putting out brush fires set by others, then we need to ask how and why the diplomatic power is failing. Instead, there appears to just be this acceptance that in certain parts of the world, military action is the only tool that will work.Report

            • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Oscar Gordon
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              I say diplomatic power is a subset of military power, not the other way around.

              The legend goes that in the year we reckon as 168 BC, a Roman consul named Gaius Popillius Laenas went to Egypt, and met with King Antiochus IV of the Seleucid Empire, who was at the head of a large army advancing north along the Nile towards Alexandria, the capital of Ptolemaic Egypt. Popillius arrived with almost no military host whatsoever, only his retinue of ceremonial bodyguards. They were armed with fasces, the big ceremonial axes with the ribbons running in a spiral pattern around their length. But that was it, there was no Roman military force with him to speak of. Popillius was there as a diplomat, not a soldier. Antiochus, of course, was with the entire Seleucid army, with lots of guys with all manner of weapons, in the middle of invading Egypt.

              I’ll let Livy tell the critical part of the story:

              After receiving the submission of the inhabitants of Memphis and of the rest of the Egyptian people, some submitting voluntarily, others under threats, [Antiochus] marched by easy stages towards Alexandria. After crossing the river at Eleusis, about four miles from Alexandria, he was met by the Roman commissioners, to whom he gave a friendly greeting and held out his hand to Popilius. Popilius, however, placed in his hand the tablets on which was written the decree of the senate and told him first of all to read it. After reading it through, he said he would call his friends into council and consider what he ought to do. Popilius, stern and imperious as ever, drew a circle round the king with the stick he was carrying and said, “Before you step out of that circle give me a reply to lay before the senate.” For a few moments he hesitated, astounded at such a peremptory order, and at last replied, “I will do what the senate thinks right.” Not till then did Popilius extend his hand to the king as to a friend and ally. Antiochus evacuated Egypt at the appointed date, and the commissioners exerted their authority to establish a lasting concord between the brothers, as they had as yet hardly made peace with each other.

              You can say that this was an exercise of “diplomatic power.” Or you can say that Popillius delivered a credible threat of an overwhelming reprisal to the Seleucids, that this was a good example of military deterrence.

              Lots of folks like to analogize between the modern United States and ancient Rome, but we needn’t go so far: the lesson here is that without the credible threat of an immense military force capable of defeating Antiochus to back up his words, Popillius’ head would likely have been separated from his shoulders then and there, and our modern parlance would lack the evocative phrase “draw a line in the sand.”Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Oscar Gordon
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          I have a bet with Kolohe that by 2040 the US will not be capable of mounting an Iraq-scale operation outside of the Western Hemisphere. Some of that will be expense — the weapons platforms are becoming so expensive no one will dare commit them. Some of that will be technology — when you look at the Russian and Chinese military parades, it is clear that substantial money is going into weapons that aren’t much good for anything except killing aircraft carriers. Some of it will be lack of available staging areas. Some of it will be the American people losing interest.Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon
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          One of the difficulties of these sorts of discussions is that there is no one still living who can remember a time when “American power” wasn’t synonymous with “American military”.

          For example, our relationship with Iran is seen as a sort of binary choice between unconditional surrender by Iran, or boots on the ground war.

          China and Russia are actually good examples of a different sort of power projection. Their global military footprint is a fraction of ours, yet they are beating us in many contested areas. They actually can stir a lot of shit up without spending nearly what we do.

          Which brings us back to Veterans Day. We don’t have a holiday dedicated to those diplomats, intelligence services and trade negotiators who exert American power in a peaceful way and it would probably be silly if we did.
          But there are other ways to protect our freedom other than with warmaking.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Oscar Gordon
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          Oscar (and InMD),

          We also spent a lot on military capability and deployments to bring the Soviets to the brink in that era. Are you against that in retrospect? For my money it’s a matter of vocabulary whether the men and women who maintained those non-combat deployments should be honored as veterans on Veterans’ Day; I’m not in either community so my opinion is low on the totem pole, but I lean toward “yes.” (But I respect the special respect that combat veterans rightly feel they have earned among their brethren.)

          It seems that Andrew may have gone further in defense of a point about wars and freedom in comments than he did in the OP, but I am going to treat his original argument as the one he is committed to. I didn’t read him to be making a particular claim about a connection between particular ground wars of our era and our freedom in this era. When I read,

          The veterans who are to be thanked and recognized on this day of remembrance served knowing the good and the bad of our imperfect history, knowing what those who went before did, knowing there will be others after them. Knowing they are not on a pedestal of history but living links in a chain that stretches back to before we even had a country, and would not have one without such service. Knowing that if not for them, there may well not be any other to serve in their place. While the historians and politicos can argue the good and the bad of various policies and occurrences, those debates only happen at all because of the freedom those who served to maintain provided the country in the first place.

          what I see is a serviceman and combat veteran making the connection between his service and that of the earliest formations of what would later become the United States military. When the Marine Corps celebrates its birthday, there is a reason they make such a point of telling us which birthday it is: the number takes us back before independence was even declared. All members of the U.S. military similarly trace their branches’ origins back to that time when the fight was indeed to secure our freedom. And while our political leaders and we as citizens are correct to debate the connection in substance between the uses of the American military that we decide on and the freedom those uses are meant to protect, that doesn’t change the idea that American military service is in theory meant to be used to protect Americans’ freedom, which includes helping to keep many parts of the world safe for Americans to travel freely in, where our freedom finds meaning in our ability to leave our shores and pursue opportunity in reasonable safety. (Truman and Eisenhower understood for example that more extensive Soviet domination of Europe would mean a loss of freedom not just for Europeans but for Americans as well.)

          I take Andrew’s point to be that, whatever our views of the connection in substance between the wars of our era and our freedom, one thing that Veterans Day (as well as the service birthdays and other dates of recognition of military service) is about is affirming that the connection between *the service and the servicemen and women* and the preservation of freedom remains intact – no matter how abstruse in argument or broken in substance political leaders render the connection between *the wars they send our service members into* and our freedom. Perhaps that is a stretch for you to assent to, but it is assent I beg of you as a fellow citizen all the same. Our constitution guarantees our freedom, and our service members swear an oath to protect the constitution. We should honor that idea whether it is being borne out by our polity’s decisions about how to deploy them, or requires to take a leap of civic faith and do so, for the moment, until we, our nations’s political actors, get our act together, in the breach.Report

          • Avatar InMD in reply to Michael Drew
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            My intention isn’t to be disrespectful of anyone’s service, Andrew’s included. I’m also not against all military spending or even a pacifist, though I think it says a lot that anyone who expresses skepticism of recent US conflicts is assumed to be.

            I think it’s more than a little patronizing at this point to say that what’s going on in these nation building efforts and intervention in third world civil wars and similar exercises has anything to do with anyone’s freedom here. Maybe you don’t see it but the kinds of sentiments you’re expressing have been used to to silence or obfuscate perfectly reasonable debates on policy.

            Do I think that’s Andrew’s intention? Of course not. But we’re going on 20 years of war with no end in sight, no goal, and decades of using a combination of misty eyed reverence for the military and idle ahistorical Hitler talk to justify it.

            There’s a real debate to be had about what America’s role in the world for the 21st century should be. Pretending that every tin pot dictator poses a threat of global domination or that the Holocaust requires us to send the marines to every nasty little ethnic conflict is not it, and frankly neither is pretending the people who get sent to protect Saudi oil fields or prop up Shia dictators instead of Sunni dictators (or vice versa) are the line between us and enslavement to foreigners. It all reminder me of the Monty Python ‘keep China British’ skit.

            I realize this is all a turd in the punch bowl but it’s something IMO more people need to say, which is why I insist on saying it.Report

            • Avatar Andrew Donaldson in reply to InMD
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              Just to be clear I do not take any of this discussion as disrespectful to anyone’s service.Report

            • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to InMD
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              I think this is well said.
              I add also that the way Americans approach our debate over our role in the world is to pit military action in opposition to forming alliances.

              And so as our reliance on unilateral military action has grown, our willingness to build productive and healthy relationships with other nations has withered.

              America in 2019 is more alone, more isolated and held in lower regard around the world than at any time I can remember.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels
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                Awww, poor lonely isolated little america 2019.

                Poor thing.

                Booo hooooo, hooo, hoooo

                Chip maybe you could go buy the cool kids a bunch of unearned global security and make america beloved again.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to JoeSal
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                I can see how you might think this way.

                After all, there is no one alive who has any memory of a time when America wasn’t safe and our freedom assured.

                So an America that stands alone and without alliances seems like some abstract issue of no concern to anyone but foreign policy wonks.

                But this is like magical thinking, that there is some mysterious force field protecting America from the sort of horrors that everyone else on earth experiences regularly.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels
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                The last thing we participated in that even looked like war was defeat 200,000 soldiers in a far off desert/city in approx. 100 hours.

                Hell, the way youngsters strategize things these days, there could soon be a Norman Schwarzkopf behind every blade of grass.Report

              • Avatar rexknobus in reply to JoeSal
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                I realize that there is some sarcasm/humor laced through this comment, JoeSal, but are you in any way seriously suggesting that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was anywhere near the scale of threat that we face from other, more current players on the global stage? And in response to your earlier “boo hoo” comment: can you name a major engagement that the U.S. has undertaken without allies that worked out at all well?Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to rexknobus
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                The “boo hoo” was in the context of Chip trying to sell his argument on feelings.

                Hell I could even argue the most dangerous current players to the US are not global but right here within our borders.

                Other than speculation, what is your prediction based on that “allies” will appear to help the US in future engagements? What’s your iron clad evidence that anyone will show when we need them?

                Until you can show me what the math looks like on sustaining the Global Police expeditions, we really don’t have much to discuss.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to JoeSal
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                Also a point that probably needs to be parsed is that if the US economy fails because of this non-sense, It is very likely there won’t be an ally with a surviving economy to help us. Doubly so if the allies are members of the church of needs.Report

              • Avatar rexknobus in reply to JoeSal
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                Lots of deflecting in there, JoeSal, but here is some “math” for you, quoted from the State Department:

                “The United States military has been engaged in Afghanistan since shortly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. In 2003, NATO assumed leadership of the United Nations-mandated International Security Assistance Force Mission (ISAF). At its height, ISAF included more than 130,000 troops from 51 NATO and partner nations.”

                I don’t necessarily trust the State Department either, but I am aware that in both of our disastrous, endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we had allies, and they played a part. Is that “iron-clad”? Up to you, I guess.

                Does our engagement in Vietnam, to you, consist of a Global Police operation? I was part of that. We had allies there, too. ANZACs (Aussies and New Zealanders) ROKs (South Koreans) and even, if you like, the ARVNs (South Vietnamese troops). Effective? Not really. We got our butts kicked. But did we have allies? Yeah.

                Lots of us these days are worried about how Trump is insulting, distancing, and trashing our allies and hope that the trust and support can be regained, someday.

                Even with allies, there are no guarantees, let alone your “iron clad” crapola, but it’s much better to have ’em than not.

                Could we go it alone? Well, we spend more than half the world combined on military stuff, so perhaps. But I’ll stop here and let you go to work on the math.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to rexknobus
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                In my original comment about America being isolated, I was thinking more of the non-military aspects.

                In the globally connected world, the number of tools that nations have to exert power has increased.

                Now in addition to outright military and economic power, we have cyber warfare and information warfare.

                For example:
                China has a number of policy goals, which are currently blocked by American policy, such as reunification with Taiwan and absorption of Hong Kong.

                Using their power of information warfare by means of their sponsoring of universities here in America, combined with their soft power investments in Africa, along with their economic power to influence global markets, it is entirely conceivable that they could bring a tremendous amount of pressure to bear upon the American government to soften or abandon entirely our support for Taiwan and Hong Kong.

                Russia is using this technique to splinter NATO and recapture their sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.

                Alliances mean more than just military power.Report

              • Avatar rexknobus in reply to Chip Daniels
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                Thank you Chip. Agree totally. It seems that public discourse in the U.S. vis-a-vis foreign affairs always centers on military might rather than diplomatic and economic skills and strategies. I fall into that trap all the time. Ideally, the military is there for when everything else fails — we should be concentrating much harder on the everything else.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to rexknobus
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                Just to be clear, when I mentioned the 100 hour period, that is one of the few times we were doing something that looked like war and not policing:

                “The last thing we participated in that even looked like war was defeat 200,000 soldiers in a far off desert/city in approx. 100 hours.”

                The math of the policing economics at the levels we have engaged remain unresolved, and literally not shown.

                Also there is nothing that can be shown to the american people of reciprocity of these efforts into the future.

                As a relative side note, we invested heavily into China and Russia as allies during WW2 for them to become our worst enemy. That’s a hell of a mound of premise dirt to sweep under the rug.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to JoeSal
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                Also this isn’t specific to this point only. What we typically see from particular participants here is the sentiment of ‘good’ without looking at the results ahead.

                a.)free housing
                b.)free college
                c.)free healthcare
                d.)free basic income
                e.)free global policing

                There just is no real math that shows a+b+c+d+e+……..will ever work out or be sustainable.

                It’s just this magic that the money truck will show up every time it is needed and everything is cool.

                The question of Murc’s Law has to do with Turkeys Dressing Law:
                Agency of those wishing to distribute “free stuffing” must show their work.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to JoeSal
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                None of those are free; The actual working models are paid for with taxes.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels
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                Ok, who are you and what did you do with the real slim shady Chip?Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to InMD
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              The rise of the neocons and their belief that every foreign policy issue has a military solution and only a military solution has gotten us where we are today. Unfortunately, the only alternative we’ve been given is “Kowtow to dictators for nothing in return”.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to InMD
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              It should feel patronizing; I’m asking you to buy the notion that we should credit service members for having signed up and sacrificed to protect our freedom even if you don’t really believe it.

              There may be a cost of that in our debates about the missions we assign, but it is cost we really ought to be able to overcome as a polity. It’s at worst a faction we really owe it to them to affirm at least to them. And I personally don’t think it is that great a cost in the debates – except when people won’t acknowledge the basic idea that that is what they do.

              Our foreign policy debates aren’t as out of whack as they are because there is an expectation that we formally acknowledge that military service at leas theoretically exists in this country to protect our freedom. It’s out of what because political actors of many varieties have come to misrepresent our country’s real interests so expensively that the average American can’t make heads or tails of the various arguments and decide for themselves where our interests (and how best to protect our freedom) really lie. Some default to supporting the troops given that confusion, but a significant potion of them do so by supporting their withdrawal from conflicts they can’t see the benefit to the country of. Others simply throw up their hands or never think about it in the first place. Very few reflexively line up behind all of our ongoing wars ostensibly on the merits out of a sense that it is the only way to support the troops. That is a caricature, and it is not how the vast majority of Americans think about war and peace. Oftentimes they have complicated thoughts about war and peace and choose to simply express support for serving men and women rather than hash their thoughts out in public. That is not the same thing.Report

      • Avatar Slade the Leveller in reply to Andrew Donaldson
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        “has any relevance to our own freedom or how we govern ourselves here.”

        Sadly, the TSA puts the lie to that statement. Also, sadly, the would is self-inflicted.

        I will agree that nothing that happens in any of those places poses an existential threat to the territorial integrity of the U.S. The nations that do pose such a threat we don’t dare deal with directly because they don’t have to be physically present to cause the loss of territorial integrity. Hence, the proxy wars.

        We’ve arrived at Eastasia, Eurasia, and Oceania without even noticing.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to InMD
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      Well, maybe it’s my age showing, but I seem to remember a time, seems like maybe two or three weeks ago, when US power and all of Western civilization was going to collapse if we didn’t defend the integrity of the eastern section of the Syrian/Turkish border. That’s long faded from memory for most of the younger folks, but at the time people took it very seriously.Report

  3. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    says:

    seeds for an ever larger, more destructive conflict had already been planted and were well germinated

    So to speak.Report

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