D-Day Thoughts on Strength Versus Weakness

On this 72nd anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion at Normandy in France during World War II, it's high time we thought about what is truly weakness versus strength in U.S. foreign policy.

There's no doubt that in World War II American leaders demonstrated strength.  Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan had to be defeated, and the means had to be military.  Our leaders mobilized the nation and the deed was done by men and women of my parent's generation.

What about today?  Is our nation truly mobilized for war?  Are threats like ISIS truly the equivalent of militarized nation-states like Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan?  Are we truly engaged in wars of necessity, in wars of self-defense, or are our wars those of choice?  The lack of any Congressional declarations of war, of any effort at national mobilization or shared sacrifice, suggests the latter.  Our leaders choose to wage them - a choice that showcases weakness rather than strength.

How so?  "Strength" is shown not by committing troops to quagmires; not by escalating wars; not by buying, sending or selling more weaponry; not by more and more bombing; not by drone assassinations.  Indeed, weakness is shown in embracing these steps as providing "solutions."

How "tough" do you really have to be to commit other people's sons and daughters to war?  How tough do you have to be to bomb foreigners without risk to yourself, to buy and sell weapons at healthy profits, to send in the B-52s or the drones or the privatized militaries?  For Washington today, these are the easy steps to take, the expected ones, the expedient ones, the predictable ones.  They are not evidence of "toughness" -- rather the reverse.

So, what is really "tough" for today's DC crowd?  Patient diplomacy, quiet resolve, a willingness to withdraw from unwinnable wars, the resolve to retrench and rethink militarized positions.  Being a peacemaker instead of a war-bringer - that is what is really tough in today's hyper-violent America.  But in "exceptional" America, war means never having to say you're sorry.

The corporate media also has its categories of "weakness" and "strength" exactly backwards, hence the praise of Hillary Clinton for her toughness.  Her embrace of Henry Kissinger is generally applauded, and if Henry wasn't so old, one could imagine the media applauding her if she made him her VP.  Donald Trump, of course, is riding a wave of (trumped up) toughness.  He's presented as a "Go ahead--make my day" kind of guy, as if attacking marginalized groups for political advantage is the height of manly courage.  In polarized America, how tough do you have to be to criticize Muslims, immigrants of color, and other victimized or vulnerable groups? Trump would be truly tough if he took on racism, if he fought for justice, if he adopted positions based on democratic principles rather than his own biases and resentments.

The ass backwards nature of "strength" versus "weakness" is mirrored in America's movies and TV shows.  In my dad's day (the 1930s and 1940s), America's good guys didn't obsess about weapons.  Generally, it was gangsters who relied on them.  Men of weak character played with guns.  Truly tough men duked it out with fists when they weren't otherwise facing each other down.  Think Humphrey Bogart, unarmed, facing down the gangster Johnny Rocco and his gun-toting stiffs in "Key Largo" (1948).

Think too of Gary Cooper in "High Noon" (1952).  He's not spoiling for a fight, but he's ready to endure one if it's unavoidable.  His main "weapon" is his decency, his nerve, his courage, his character.  Today's "heroes" in movies and TV are all about kinetic action, amped-up violence, and big guns.  Violence and mayhem dominate, just as in America's overseas wars of choice.  Art imitates life while reinforcing it.  As a result, Americans don't even blink when they hear about the latest drone assassination in Where-is-it-stan.  It's happening off-stage, so who cares?

Even our war movies aren't what they used to be.  Think Gary Cooper (again) playing Sergeant Alvin C. York, the World War I hero who was a conscientious objector due to his religious views.  Nowadays, our war movies celebrate gung-ho "American snipers" for their kill totals.

What is truly weakness and what is truly strength?  And why are America's leaders, leaders of the sole superpower with the self-avowed "best" military ever, so very, very afraid of being perceived as "weak"?

Mister, we could use a man like Alvin York again.

Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and history professor, blogs at Bracing Views.