The New York Times has another article about what went wrong in Afghanistan. Pundits say that, since Vietnam, America has lost the will to fight. This is a paradox. America has the best-equipped, best- trained army in the world– and yet it’s a paper tiger. Why? Because we send them off to war without moral support. Having the American people at your back is a soldier’s most important supply line – more important than the carefully-managed supply of rations and ammunition.
Think of a soldier’s experience of fear and isolation at the front line. He (or she) is not going to college and not making a career. Back home, a spouse struggles to keep the household together. The boss has long since hired a replacement. The press writes that the war is a fool’s errand, and Senator Kerry states publicly that the army is only for kids who couldn’t get into college. In their wildest dreams, the Taliban could not contrive a better campaign to demoralize our troops.
This cultural sabotage dates back to President Kennedy and his adventure in Vietnam. That is indeed when America lost its will to fight. The anti-war movement blamed our soldiers for being foolish enough to go to war, where our leaders had sent them, instead of going to Canada. Returning soldiers were abused by their fellow Americans, whom they thought they had been protecting. Imagine returning home in a wheelchair, only to learn that you are a stooge and a “baby killer.”
The Vietnam war, like Iraq and Afghanistan, was intended to be a little back burner war that would stay out of the press. This very idea is cowardly and corrupt. Imagine your son or daughter being killed in a not-quite war. There was a draft, but college kids could opt out.
After Vietnam, Congress passed the War Powers Act. The letter of the law is that the President may not commit troops without the approval of Congress. The spirit of the law, which has been forgotten, is that the American people must support the war effort. Now imagine what that looks like, in contrast to our experiences since Vietnam.
Imagine America “on a war footing,” as we were in World War Two. The entire country is at war, not just the kids who couldn’t get into college. There is no one back home taking your job, or your wife – because he is in the trench beside you. Your boss has been called up by the reserves. Food and gas are rationed. Women, who had not previously held industrial jobs, are running the factories. The nation’s entire productive capacity is given over to the war effort. We are all in it together.
General Powell, among others, has stated that America should not go to war without a clear and compelling objective. There must also be a formal declaration of war and a war footing.