Why Are We Thanking the Troops for Disastrous Wars Like Iraq?

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Another Veteran’s Day has come and gone, with the usual high fives all around for anyone who has ever donned a U.S. military uniform. The holiday falling on a Friday this year meant the pro-military sentiments generally lasted throughout the weekend at sporting events and other public gatherings. As always, the ubiquitous mantra from every corner of the republic was, “Thank the troops.”

Sooner or later, somebody has to ask: For what?

The general answer is for the great sacrifices the troops have made to defend freedom. But when was the last time any American’s freedom was in jeopardy from an external threat? Would any American be less free if the U.S. did not invade Afghanistan or Iraq? Vietnam? Deep down, everyone knows Americans aren’t freer because of these wars. So, why do we keep talking like they are?

Let’s take the two wars virtually everyone, across the political spectrum, agree were mistakes: Iraq and Vietnam. It turns out there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and no “domino effect” after Vietnam, even though the mission there was unsuccessful. The communists did take over the country, but Asia and eventually the rest of the world did not fall to communism afterwards. On the contrary, once we stopped fighting them, the Vietnamese had the good sense to abandon communism relatively quickly after we left. Today, they are a major trading partner.

So, neither of these wars benefited the people who paid for them. In fact, American taxpayers and just about everyone else on the planet would have been far better off if neither had been fought at all.

To preempt hysteria in the comments section, no, the men and women in uniform don’t decide which wars they fight and where they are deployed. Fine. But just because the soldiers shouldn’t be blamed for the war, it doesn’t necessarily follow they should be thanked for it, either. If you’re talking to a friend at a cocktail party and a drunken guest bumps him, causing him to spill his drink on your suit, you may not blame your friend for ruining your suit. But would you thank him for it?

The truth is American taxpayers would be far better off if none of Washington’s wars had been fought, at least since WWII. They have made Americans generally poorer and less free than they would be otherwise. And that’s nothing to be thankful for.

When expressing these concerns, I’m often asked, “Why be a buzzkill? Why not let the vets enjoy one day celebrating their service, remembering friends they may have lost in battle, and generally feeling a little love from everyone else? What’s the harm?”

The harm is lying to ourselves and the veterans is a major contributing factor in perpetuating the warfare state. What the veterans really need is some tough love about just how much damage U.S. foreign policy has done to this country. Only then can public opinion begin to move back to some semblance of normalcy, where people are at least skeptical of new military interventions. And public opinion is crucial in changing Washington’s behavior. While they perceive support from the public, nothing will change.

It should be intuitive that sending a conventional army thousands of miles away does nothing to stop the kinds of terrorist attacks jihadists generally perpetrate against Western nations, including 9/11. Anyone who doubts that should simply compare the number of terrorist attacks before the Mideast wars to the number today.

The truth is America’s conventional, WWII-style wars are creating more terrorism, not less. In case you haven’t noticed, on those rare occasions when the government manages to catch a terrorist, they always cite the same motive for committing their crimes: U.S. military interventions in the Middle East. The war on terror has had similar results to the war on drugs.

The answer is always the same: throw more good money after bad, doubling down on what’s failed. Conservatives ridicule liberals for this when it comes to education, but can’t seem to apply the same reasoning to military adventurism.

Veteran’s Day was originally called Armistice Day, celebrating the end of a horrific war. By changing it to Veteran’s Day, Washington has turned that whole idea on its head. Now, it’s a party celebrating war instead of a solemn occasion reflecting on how destructive it is. We should demand it be changed back.

And we need to stop robotically thanking the troops. The truth is a good many of them are uncomfortable with it anyway, especially those who have been in combat overseas and know, deep down, we are all lying to ourselves and them. Changing the pro-war culture is the first step in changing foreign policy.

The next is cutting the military budget drastically. One of President Trump’s campaign promises was to ensure NATO allies lived up to their obligations to spend 2% of GDP on defense. He should ask Congress to see the U.S. does likewise – which would mean cutting military spending almost in half. The president not having the capability to wage war everywhere on the planet at once would mean a more secure and prosperous America.

Young Americans can help by not joining the military. That would truly be a sacrifice, because most people who join are vastly better off economically than they otherwise would be. The prospect of paid college tuition alone saves them from going into debt their private sector counterparts spend decades paying off. That’s not even to mention the pensions and other perks that accompany military service.

Sooner or later, U.S. global hegemony is going to end, for the same reasons all empires end. They are unsustainable. It can either happen by design and in an orderly fashion or chaotically, due to some military or economic disaster. Every American has the choice to continue cheering on the status quo or to start demanding it change. Contrary to popular opinion, Washington does listen to the public. Dissent scares the hell out of them there. We need a lot more of it.

Here’s a good way to start. Let’s change Veteran’s Day back to Armistice Day. And this time next year, let’s all thank the young people who could have joined the military and didn’t.