Wars and Rumors of War

Wars and Rumors of War February 7, 2022

World Wars often come as a surprise to the people who get dragged into them.

World War I came about when the Austrian arch-duke was assassinated by a Serbian radical.  Austria, which had a mutual defense treaty with Germany, went to war with Serbia, but Serbia had a mutual defense treaty with Russia, which had a mutual defense treaty with France and England.  Factor in these country’s world-spanning colonies, with the American ocean liner the Lusitania wandering into the crossfire, and the result was a world war that no one really intended or expected, but which would kill some 15 million people.

World War II was more intentional, but while Americans were concerned about Germany’s invasion of Poland and Japan’s invasion of China, those conflicts seemed far away.  Though the U.S. government sent much material support to Great Britain and slapped economic sanctions on Japan, few Americans expected the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor, or, shortly afterwards, for Germany to declare war on us.  Some 60 million died in that war, which came, literally and figuratively, “out of the blue,” while Americans were preoccupied with other things.

Having been reading about those wars lately, I’m feeling nervous about what is happening today as we Americans are preoccupied with other things.

Russia has been massing some 100,000 troops plus logistics to support them in what looks like an impending invasion of Ukraine.  In response, President Biden is sending 3,000 American soldiers to Poland and Romania, which border Ukraine.

What would be the consequence if those Americans are fired upon?  What if Russia moves on the Baltic Republics, also the home of a large Russian minority with grievances?  They are members of NATO, in which an attack on one member nation is considered an attack on them all.  If the Russians move on Estonia, all of the European members and the United States would be obliged by treaty to go to war with Russia.  Most of the NATO nations have little military capabilities these days, trusting the United States to carry the weight, so any war with Russia would be mostly on us.  (Read this for the possible consequences on Europe of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.)

The global dimension is also worrisome.  China is a far more dangerous military opponent than Russia.  China’s threats against our ally Taiwan keep intensifying.  Its much-expanded navy, its cutting-edge military technology, and its saber-rattling incursions of intimidation into the waters of other Asian countries should alarm us.  The Chinese ambassador has explicitly threatened “military conflict” with the U.S. if Taiwan continues its claims of independence.

In the meantime, China and Russia, once rivals, have made formal alliances with each other.  Not only that, both countries have made formal alliances with Iran, drawing the explosive Middle East into the global political alignments.  In fact, these three countries are already being called “a new Axis.”  (See, for example, this analysis:  As America Sleeps, a Dangerous Axis Develops.)

I’m not saying another world war is going to break out, but it could happen.  Americans would do well to pay attention to all of this, and, if possible, do what we can to prevent a war of any size from breaking out.

It seems to me that Ukraine is not worth our going to war over.  The relationship between Ukraine and Russia is complicated, to say the least.  A Russian invasion would not be the same as Germany invading Poland.  (Read this for the difference.)

I’m not venturing an opinion about what kinds of aggression would rise to the level that the United States should fight to stop it.  Just a direct threat to the American mainland?  Or to our allies bound to us by formal treaties, as Ukraine and Taiwan are not?  Or do we need to avoid appeasement of any kind, lest the aggression finally reach our shores after all?  Feel free to discuss this in the comments.  I’m trying to think through all of this, and you could help me.

I would say that the traditional American approach has been “peace through strength.”  We have tried to be so powerful militarily that no one would dare attack us.  But today the perception around the world is that the U.S. is not so strong after all.   That perception, though wrong, is itself dangerous for peace.

Even those who agree that we should have gotten out of Afghanistan must surely admit that President Biden and the Pentagon turned what should have been an orderly withdrawal into a humiliating rout.  A military that can’t even pull off a successful retreat will seem unlikely to be able to stage a successful attack.  The spectacle of the vaunted American military running away from the barely-equipped Taliban, leaving their expensive equipment and even some of their own people behind, has surely emboldened our adversaries.  This could be seen in the ridicule that came from Russia and  China, which called the U.S. a “paper tiger.”

President Nixon, who for all of his faults was a skillful diplomat and cold-warrior, once said that it helps for your adversaries to think that you are slightly crazy, so that they won’t take risks in dealing with you.  Foreign governments did not like President Trump, but at least they were afraid of him.  No one is afraid of Joe Biden.

To be sure, America and the American military is not weak, as Germany and Japan learned to their peril.  But our current military leadership seems to be wanting.  President Biden said that the Joint Chiefs of Staff told him that the nation’s greatest security threat was global warming.  And other brass seem to be more preoccupied with issues such as how to integrate transsexuals into the ranks than preparing for–and thus preventing–war.

Meanwhile, the growing political reaction against President Biden and his administration may signal potential adversaries that they should act sooner rather than later.

We have tended to assume that each conflict is “the war to end all wars,” that we are too advanced to let anything like that happen again.  Don’t count on that.

Then again, the world is always in a perilous condition of one kind or another.  Maybe this will all blow over.  Let’s pray so.

“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:6).


Photo:  Ukrainian soldiers via NARA & DVIDS Public Domain Archive

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