Wednesday, April 10, 2013

War: win vs lose, good vs bad.

I recently read a conservative article which demonstrated how the GOP misses the point.

It basically stated that we won the Iraq war, and therefore it must be a good thing.

This is a very unethical but practical viewpoint.  If you use it then the Nazi's were bad not because they murdered 12 million innocent civilians (6 million jews, plus another six million homosexuals, communists, gypsies, and other undesireables), but because they lost.  If they had won, the writer implies than the Nazis would be the good guys and we would be the bad guys.

That may be how some ignorant people would have portrayed the war, but it would not be true.

The ethicalness of either side in a war has nothing to do with who won the war.  It is perfectly possible for the good guys to lose a war and the bad guys to win a war.   It tends to be less likely, because the good guys generally have certain advantages that the bad guys don't (namely social structures better able to handle stress), but by no means is that a law.

Victory does not determine ethical values.

Let's take a look at some of America's 5 major 20th century wars:  WWI, WW II, Korea, Vietnam, first Iraq war.

Note that of those wars, we clearly lost 1 (Vietnam), had a stand off for 1 (Korea), two undecisive victires that set the stage for a later war (WWI and first Iraq War), and had one clear decisive victory (World War II).

From history's perspective, we were on the clearly good side of World War II (pure win), Korea (stand off) , and the first Iraq war (indecisive Victory).   The Nazis are pretty much our go-to definition of evil, North Korea has continued to make it clear they are incompetent at feeding their own people and imperialistic belligerent, and Saddam Hussein simply attacked another country for it's oil wealth.

But in World War One the morality was less clear.  The Allies committed about as many atrocities as the Central Powers.  (Ottoman Genocide of the Armenians, Russian Pogroms against Jews, France kept some Central power POW's as slaves for 2 years after the war ended, Russia did it for 6, both sides used poison gas).  There was no clear philosophical difference, the wars were mainly caused by stupidity and imperialism on both sides   The Central Powers were slightly more imperialistic, but then again, they didn't keep our POW's as slaves after the end of the war.

Similarly, we intervened in Vietnam mainly to prevent the spread of Communism - we were scared it would become another Easter Europe, under the control of the China as opposed to Russia.   But history has proven that fear unfounded.  Vietnam stands in stark contrast with Korea as a stable, independent country thriving in a post-cold war landscape.   North Korea on the other hand, well, they continued to be ruled by someone without the ethics or intelligence to run a 7-11.

My point is that the of the five wars, we were on the right side of 3 the wrong side of one, and there really was no good or bad side of the last.  The one we outright lost (Vietnam) was mainly lost because we gave up - in part because we saw the morality was not clear-cut.   The one's we tied, could have been a loss if we didn't see how bat-shit crazy the rulers of North Korea were.

So while there is a relationship between good guys and winning, it is not as clear cut as the GOP likes to see.

The Second Iraq War.  The mere fact that we won does not make it a 'good war'. It was done for poor reasons, the victory cost way too much, the gain we got is minimal, and we won't know for years if our victory will be Pyrrhic.   It could very well end up costing us far more than we gained.

8,000+ American lives and almost $2 trillion, plus political capital  (post 9/11 the US was the clear good guys to everyone.)

Yes, we 'won' the war in the sense that we determined the political future of Iraq.  But that doesn't tell us if it was worth it (our national debt stands at $16 trillion), or if we were the good guys, or merely one of two opposing sides.

The presumption that because we won, it must be 'OK' or a good thing is ridiculous.   It proves that the writer of the article has poor judgements.

Finally, there are some wars we should fight even if we lose them.   If someone attacks Israel, Japan, Britain or similar allies, we should fight to the last drop and be proud, even if we lose the war. 

Why?  Because it's the right thing to do.   Sometimes you have to fight because it's right, even if you can't win.

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