In several earlier issues of this series, I made reference to the fact that at the end of WW2 the U.S. and our allies demanded the unconditional surrender of both Germany and Japan. After their surrender, we occupied both countries for more than a generation.
The intervening seventy years have proved the wisdom of that policy. Today, both nations have democratic governments. Both nations have strong economies, and both are staunch U.S. geopolitical allies. In the space of two generations, people who had been our sworn enemies became our friends.
I also find it significant that since the end of WW2, neither Germany nor Japan has engaged in a war of aggression against any of their neighbours. And because of the strong U.S. military presence, their neighbours have been content to live in peace with them. It would seem that our policy of occupying and forcing nations to live in peace with each other is a workable way to bring peace to areas of the world.
Unfortunately, some people didn’t agree with the U.S. approach. The problem, in their view, was that under the U.S. policy, a nation had to first be defeated in war. The end result might be peace, but it was a peace that grew out of the humiliation of defeat and surrender. They thought it would be so much better if peace could be achieved without those humiliations. That would be “peace with honor.”
In 1945, within months of the end of WW2, an organization was formed called the United Nations. It was conceived as sort of an international court. The theory was that when two nations had a disagreement, instead of going to war they would go to the UN, where each would present their case to the assembled representatives of the world’s nations. After hearing both sides, the UN General Assembly would decide how the conflict was to be resolved. Instead of war, the world would have peace—peace with honor.
One of the most fundamental problems with liberals is that they believe everyone is going to abide by whatever rules they make. Even worse, they ignore it when things don’t happen the way they want them to. They embody Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different outcome each time.
Thus it was with the UN. The first test of their “peace with honor” idea came in 1950, when the communists in North Korea decided to attack South Korea, with the intent of putting all of the Korean Peninsula under communist rule. The democratically-elected South Korean government in Seoul appealed to the UN to intervene. The UN tried to negotiate with the North Korean communists, but found that the communists weren’t interested in peace, with or without honor. They wanted control of the entire Korean Peninsula, and they intended to fight until they got it—and world opinion be damned. Despite that reality, the UN continued to try to find ways to achieve “peace with honor” in Korea, as soldiers died on both sides.
Under liberal Democrat President Harry Truman, the U.S. military entered the war on the side of the democratic government of South Korea. More than 33,600 U.S. military people died before the war ended.
In 1953 the UN finally negotiated an armistice—not a surrender, not peace with honor, just an agreement that the two sides would temporarily suspend hostilities. The Korean Peninsula is still living under that temporary suspension of hostilities, 61 years later. From time to time the communist government of North Korea reminds the world that they can abrogate the armistice and resume hostilities at any time.
The “peace with honor” mantra became the official U.S. military policy a dozen years later under liberal Democrat President Lyndon Johnson. It’s well-documented that Johnson made no effort to win the war in Vietnam. He wasted tens of thousands of U.S. lives and billions of U.S. dollars trying to convince the communist rulers of North Vietnam to accept peace with honor.
In 1969 Johnson handed the Commander-in-Chief reins over to liberal Republican President Richard Nixon. Nixon continued to expend U.S. blood and treasure pursuing the U.S./UN policy of not trying to win but trying to force the North Vietnamese to accept peace with honor.
In August of 1974 Nixon resigned in disgrace and turned the presidency over to his vice-president, liberal Republican Gerald Ford. Eight months later, in April of 1975, Ford ordered the U.S. troops to abandon the battlefield.
The end result of Johnson, Nixon, and Ford’s efforts to achieve peace with honor instead of victory was to put all of Vietnam under communist rule, cause the deaths of more than 47,400 Americans, and give us the first military defeat in U.S. history.
Over the next 26 years the U.S. was involved in fourteen more military operations that lasted anywhere from a few weeks to several years. Most of these were UN “peacekeeping actions,” where the objective was peace with honor for both sides. Even in the ones that were U.S. actions, in response to an attack on one of our outposts or in support of an ally, there was no effort to defeat the opposition. We just expended enough blood and treasure to offer them a stalemate—peace with honor. That peace with honor cost another 548 American lives between 1975 and 2001.
Topic of discussion for another day: Since the 1950 Korean “peacekeeping action,” the U.S. military has been the primary enforcement arm of the United Nations. Whenever they want some nation disciplined, they call on the U.S. to pay about 90% of the cost and do almost 100% of the dying.
Even when there was a “coalition force,” as in the 1990-91 Gulf War, most of the coalition partners specified their troops were to be used only in non-combat roles like cooks and supply clerks. The only nations that have consistently supported us in combat roles are England and Australia.
On the rare occasion the U.S. did something without permission of the UN, as in the 1989 invasion of Panama, the UN General Assembly publicly criticized the U.S. action. In the case of the Panama invasion, for example, the General Assembly passed a resolution condemning the U.S. for an “act of aggression” that was “a flagrant violation of international law.”
In other words, when we commit an act of aggression with UN permission, it’s okay. If we do it without UN permission, it’s a flagrant violation of international law.
In 2001 the U.S. entered into a war with Afghanistan. In 2003 we expanded that war to include Iraq. The rules of engagement were still those set by the UN, though. We weren’t there to defeat the opposition. We weren’t demanding unconditional surrender. Above all, we weren’t there to occupy either country. In fact, two U.S. presidents—George W. Bush and Barak Obama—proclaimed on repeated occasions that “…we’re not here as occupiers. We’re here as liberators.”
Both wars have now lasted longer than WW1 and WW2 combined. As of mid-2014, more than 59,000 Americans have been killed, crippled, or wounded in the wars. And the U.S. Commander-in-Chief, Barak Obama, is now in the process of withdrawing U.S. troops from both battlefields and turning both countries back over to the Islamic fundamentalists who were in charge when we first went there. In so doing, he is adding two more military defeats to the list that began with Vietnam in 1975, and giving back to the enemy everything those 59,000 Americans sacrificed for.
So what am I saying—that we should stay in Afghanistan and Iraq, continue spending American blood and treasure? No. It’s far too late for that. I’m saying the Afghanistan and Iraq wars were lost in 1950, when we let the UN change a policy that was already working. In doing that, we surrendered our military sovereignty to the United Nations.
In 1951 General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the UN forces in Korea, wanted to take the war to the North Korean communists, who were hiding in camps just across the Yalu River in China. President Truman told MacArthur not to go into China. When MacArthur publicly criticized Truman’s decision, Truman fired him.
MacArthur had been commander of the Pacific Theatre during WW2. He knew how to fight a war. If Truman had allowed him to clean out the communist rebel strongholds, the war would have been over in six months. Today, the entire Korean peninsula would be a stable democratic country and a U.S. ally.
Instead, the war lasted another two years. Thousands more Americans and Koreans died, and now the world has to deal with a nuclear North Korea.
During the 1964 presidential campaign, GOP candidate Barry Goldwater (who had been a fighter pilot during the Korean conflict and in ’64 was a brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force Reserve) made the valid point that the North Vietnamese army and air force couldn’t possibly stand against the full might of the U.S. military machine for more than three months. Even without using nuclear weapons we could easily turn North Vietnam into a huge parking lot for Chinese rickshaws.
He was correct. There was absolutely no reason for the war to last another eleven years, cost more than 40,000 more American lives, and end with a U.S. defeat—but it did.
The same thing is true of Afghanistan and Iraq today. By any modern standard, both countries are primitive. Even with modern weapons furnished by Russia, there’s no reason why a WW2-style full frontal assault wouldn’t have brought them to their knees in a matter of months.
But the UN said, “No, you’re not allowed to do that. That wouldn’t give them peace with honor.”
And the U.S. leaders said, “Oh, okay.” So we fought them on their own terms. Instead of taking a gun to a knife fight, we made sure our knife was no bigger than theirs, because the UN said it had to be that way.
We may as well get used to losing. Afghanistan and Iraq are just going to be the beginning. The Islamic fundamentalists are also going to win in Syria…and Lebanon…and Egypt…and Libya…and Pakistan. Then will come Jordan, Turkey, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.
We may spend more American blood and treasure in those places—probably will, in fact—but as long as we let the UN dictate the rules of engagement, we’re going to lose.