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Friday, August 27, 2004

American Military Power: Good or Evil?

Perhaps the most significant factor in the whole debate over John Kerry's military service is the seldom asked, yet always present question of whether American military power is a force for good or a force for evil in the world. Following WWII, Americans almost unanimously viewed their military power as a force for good in the world. This was heightened by the revelations concerning the extent and depravity of the holocaust. It was clear that our enemy had been evil and that our actions had been on the right side. That belief was tested in Korea, where after a bloody war we achieved a draw and it was shattered by Vietnam. During the 70s and into the 80s American military power was largely regarded as evil. Even the plight of the Vietnamese boat people and the killing fields of Cambodia didn’t convince the American consciousness that we were not worse than the alternative. The pendulum began to swing again in the 80s, with Ronald Reagan’s outspoken patriotism and pro-American view. The collapse of communism and the very successful Gulf War rehabilitated the military in the popular view. During the 90s under President Clinton the record was somewhat mixed. Somalia was a tragedy, but we were clearly the victims. Bosnia was a very successful campaign even though many on the right (I confess that I am not innocent here) regarded it as a ‘wag the dog’ war. Perhaps even more significant, the 90s highlighted times when we failed to act, and the costs. Rwanda was the most serious of these failures and the activities there highlighted strongly the consequences of ignoring evil in the world. As events would later prove, lack of a serious response to Islamist Terrorism would also have dire consequences. 9/11 brought back a facet of American military power not seen since WWII, the need to battle enemies who would attack us directly. The nature of the Taliban and Hussein regimes also made it clear to most that our side was morally superior. While the balance of the view of American power has shifted over the years there have always been some on both sides who maintained strong views regardless of where the general public opinion lay. The Iraq war has brought out the vocal proponents of both sides of this debate in droves. For the Anti-War side, the rising popularity of the military was a direct threat, countering what they believed had been proven once and for all in Vietnam. For the Pro-War side, Iraq was a chance to finally lay Vietnam to rest and move forward. Unlike the first Gulf War or Afghanistan, Iraq was a war that was chosen, not a direct reaction to the actions of others. It was (and is) a test of whether American power could be an active force for good in the world. Naturally passions are high. Enter John Kerry. Perhaps no person has been a more powerful advocate for the idea that American military power is a force for evil in the world. His 1971 Senate testimony was eloquent, powerful, and damning. If you agree with him you love him for it. If you disagree, contempt is probably the least of your emotions. In the meantime, George W. Bush has become the one most gung-ho pro-Military action presidents. So this then is the debate: Is American military power good or evil? It is the question of Vietnam and the question of Iraq. The entrenched on each side will never change their opinions, but the election hinges on which way the popular consciousness decides.


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