Five Biggest Problems: Unnecessary Wars

Five Biggest Problems: Unnecessary Wars September 16, 2011

Part of a series on the Five Biggest Problems Facing America:


5. Unnecessary wars

4. Inequalities in public education (Monday)

3. Corporate tax loopholes (Tuesday)

2. Medicare (Wednesday)

1. Money in politics (Thursday)

Conclusion (Friday)



It seems to me that we in America had a decent track record at armed conflict from the Civil War until the Korean Conflict.  I consider the Civil War not a part of modern American history, but still growing out of proto-America.  For instance, we still only had 34 states.  As something that forged our identity as a nation, the Civil War was closer to the Revolutionary War than it was to WWI or WWII.  The Spanish-American War, though begun on a questionable premise, was only six months long.

World Wars I and II were, it is universally held, necessary and inevitable military involvement.

But then, it seems, we lost our way.

Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  Each of them a fiasco that has sapped our country of money and morale.  The most successful of these wars, the Gulf War, cost only $10 billion and 294 lives.  But, of course, it didn’t solve the problems of Iraq and Iran.  Instead, it exacerbated them.

Although the casualties of the two wars in which our country is currently engaged are a small fraction of the losses in WWI, WWII, and even Vietnam, the cost to our economy is staggering.  By the end of this year, it will reach $1.29 trillion.



And war has changed.  Although it was a struggle, engagement in WWI and WWII is generally thought to have benefited the US economy.  But modern warfare does not. Instead, it has crippled us. And what have we gotten for the investment? Not even clear victories? Instead, the US populace has been steadily demoralized by conflicts with no clear victory (Vietnam, Afghanistan), and no clear benefit to our country (Gulf War, Iraq).

We’ve had an ongoing conversation in this country about whether we, as a global “superpower,” should be the world’s police force.  Two versions of this, non-interventionism and isolationism, have been held by everyone to Thomas Paine to Ron Paul.

It’s time for us to stop intervening in the conflicts of other countries except by means of diplomacy, which is an art we should re-learn.

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  • Daniel

    Economic facts are compelling but how about the moral implications of imperialism and militarism? The average Christian (right and left) blindly supports the US military. At best they might believe that its an unfortunate deal, but is necessary to maintain our “freedoms”. Violence and war is so ingrained in our culture now that people are numbed out from reality. I’d be more interested in hearing a case against war from a moral and spiritual perspective. People can get economic facts on any website. We need examine our decisions and impact on the world in less of economic perspective, and more in terms the terms of justice and morals.

    On a side note, war never brings economic growth. It only destroys resources and people. A boom to rebuild everything that was exploded during war doesn’t change the fact that society is poorer than it previously was. Also WWI was completely a war of choice and could have been avoided. A good reading selection:

  • Daniel, without war you would be ruled by people that would not allow you an environment to have your “spirituality” unless it was dictated by them. Any statement of “no war” is simply a platitude in the real world. Two platitudes are, “Save Tibet!” and “War is not the answer!”

    1) In 1979 Iran’s revolution movement took our DIPLOMATS hostage. (A mural on the wall of what once was the US embassy used for DIPLOMACY:
    2) Before the Iraq war Saddam kicked the U.N. weapons inspectors (a U.N. tool for DIPLOMACY) out of his country, breaking DIPLOMATIC agreements with the U.N.

    Vietnam was under a policy of containing the Soviet Union and communism. Afghanistan & Iraq have been a multilateral effort to deter Islamists (term distinct from Muslims) from 9/11 or greater style attacks, and to be able to engage with a state that does not operate outside of international law for the sake of DIPLOMACY.

    The whole reason we have been involved in “nation building” is so we have a state to engage in DIPLOMACY with, instead of having to tread around in the yonderlands of the world where Islamists train and plan for 9/11 attacks.

    We just spent, what 3 trillion, on domestic policies under this current administration. How much should we spend to keep from another 9/11?

    Tony, when Iran becomes nuclear, they will be open to the option of giving one to proxy Islamist groups like Al-Qaeda to attach a US city. Then when New York isn’t there anymore, they will condemn the act and say, “We had nothing to do with it.”

    • Patrick

      Well put. Strive for peace but be prepared. For those who hate military actions I ask: do you lock your doors at night?

      • Never have, Patrick – even I lived in NYC.

  • Great post, Tony. 3 things come to mind:

    1. I am always challenged by this quote from a hero of mine, Dorothy Day:

    “The works of mercy are the opposite of the works of war, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, nursing the sick, visiting the prisoner. But we are destroying crops, setting fire to entire villages and to the people in them. We are not performing the works of mercy but the works of war.”

    I confess I do not spend much time listening to mercy, which I suspect if how I end up pursuing conflicts personally & civically.

    2. In January of this, 2 independent organizations estimated the U.S. cost for the Iraq War at $3 trillion. This price tag dwarfed previous estimates, including the Bush administration’s 2003 projections of a $50 billion to $60 billion war. For 2011, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that if current laws remain unchanged, the federal budget will show a deficit of close to $1.5 trillion, or 9.8 percent of GDP.

    It is sickening how this is not even part of the “discussion” of the U.S. economy. A war of choice has, for all intents & purposes, bankrupted this country.

    3. As a community, far too often we wage war against what we define as evil. Why is it evil? Because we are usurping the prerogative of God who alone has the wisdom to know when retribution ought to be enacted. God is to be the judge, and God’s ministering authority, the State. Individuals should not take matters into their own hands. That is God’s job. To do otherwise is to usurp God’s right and to usurp the right of the State.

  • Daniel

    Thank you Lock for perfectly exemplifying the sad and ignorant mentality that pervades society. “We can’t have peace unless we have war! The world would be chaotic without war! We must wage endless war on the rest of the world to keep us safe from another 9/11!” Your masters have succesfully inculated you with their propaganda. Don’t ask yourself if Jesus would drop bombs on people, or think about the men, women, and children disfigured or blown to smitherines from Americas policies of aggression and murder that you support. You might start to think for youself. (gasp!)

    And thank you Patrick for informing me that since I lock my doors at night I must cheer the killing and displacing of thousdands upon thousands of people in needless wars.

    • Daniel,
      If only we could send Chuck Norris instead of bombs.

      I think Jesus sent an angel of death to kill Egyptian children (if you hold to Trinitarianism). Also Joshua encountered a Christophany with a sword drawn.

      The decision is 9/11 or war. You do not get to choose where and when someone wages and declares war on you, Daniel.

      • Daniel

        So you are saying Bush and Obama have the ability to perfectly discern God’s will? I’m not willing to let them (or anyone else in the government) assume the role of deciding who has a right to live and who doesn’t. I think it is safe to say we should leave that to God.

        • Lock

          Daniel, the people we are fighting put an Adidas shirt, Levi pants, and Nike shoes. They then hide their weapons under hospitals and elementary schools.

          The whole movement of “surgical strikes”, from weapons to tactics, is to try and keep from killing civilians of whom our enemies shield themselves with.

  • It is far too easy to don the either we’re for war to protect ourselves or else you want us all to die mantra that has persisted for the last the decade. I don’t buy it. Billions of people don’t “lock their doors” out of a fear that someone is always out to get them. Most counties have no militaries at all. For the U.S. To be safe is to NOT be warmakers and war spenders. It’s a simple equation: the more we try to “protect” ourselves the more we are targeted for our militarism.

    But as Daniel pointed out at the beginning, there are theological reasons for us to demilitarize.

  • simon


    I love your blog and realy enjoy your theological work, but I would question the breif historical presentation that the USA had a “decent” track record between 1776 and the Korean War. The second Cherokee War of 1777 starts a long list of foreign military engagements, which must include the NW Indian war of 1785,, the Spanish Florida war of 1810 – 1818, Anglo-American War of 1812, Caribbean Wars of 1814-25, Seminole War of 1816, Cuba 1824 and 1898 among others, Puerto Rico 1824. Mexico 1846-48, Utah 1857, Nicaragua 1857, Kingdom of Hawaii 1889 -1893, Lakota / Sioux 1890, Haiti 1915, Philippines 1899 – 1913 you cited but I think warrants a closer look, Dominican Republic 1905, Siberia 1918, this is not to mention US involvement in conflicts during the nineteenth century in places such as Argentina, Peru, Uruguay, Columbia, Brazil, Paraguay, Fifi, Gilbert Islands, China, Samoa, Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica, which probably fall short of full wars.

    In the post Korean period you list Vietnam (and presumably Cambodia, Laos etc), Gulf I, Afghanistan and Iraq for criticism, but I think the US record in sponsoring wars of various kinds in placs such as El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Chile, Colombia, Palestine / Israel should also be held to account.

    I think an important context for this is US Defence spending – which appears to be running at around $1.4Tr if you include non-DOD defence items and $698Bn to use the stricter definition. In context this not only makes it the biggest share of your tax contributions, but globally (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) the US spend exceeds that of the next 19 nations combined (on the smaller DOD figure) and all of the next 152 nations combined on the wider figure. In comparison to, say, the 26th biggest global military spender – Iran – the US outspends that country by a factor of 6000%.

    I must agree with your conclusion “It’s time for us to stop intervening in the conflicts of other countries except by means of diplomacy, which is an art we should re-learn”, but I would amplify that the re-learning of that art, may entail a deal more learning about the extent of America’s imperial activities than the current debate has allowed.

    • Susan Frederick

      Hear, hear!

  • Patrick

    I ask this question with 100% sincerity: can someone point me to a time on earth when a country, tribe or clan didn’t protect itself, make wars with others and lived in peace with its neighbors? How’d they do it and what happened to them? If there isn’t one, who has come the closest to being anti-imperialsitic, anti-militarist, etc.?

    The answer would help provide context to some of the comments above. I am honestly interested to know the model America should emulate.

    • Pat, I don’t know if there’s a model. Probably not, at least not one that we can emulate. But we made up democracy, so why can’t we make up a demilitarized country?

      And I’m not Pollyanna here. I don’t harbor any illusions that we can live in peace and harmony. But I think that we can shrink military spending to about half of what it is now if we don’t feel that we’ve got to run around the globe putting out fires. Let’s protect our borders and our (actual) national interests and refocus our spending on our own citizenry. Now THAT would lead to lower taxes!

      • Melody

        Well stated, Tony. We need to fix our own problems before we try to tell another country how to operate.

      • Patrick

        All fair enough. It would just be helpful to have some sense of what that country would look like. Our Founding Fathers had the example of Greece in their minds and thought they could improve upon it.

        Personally, I don’t think that world is as simple – or as desired – as you and others make it out. There are bad people that, unlike others before, don’t want our land, they want to eradicate our freedoms, beliefs and customs (though some of our enemies would love our resources, too). If we weaken, we lose.

        I used to think we shouldn’t be spending our blood and treasure in international affairs. They I saw how we tried that before and got WWI and WWII. Which is NOT to say we always get it right (see earlier posts about government nearly always getting things wrong).

        So examples would be helpful, por favor.

      • Lock

        There are two other “global order” systems are in the world that want to destroy the world order of states trying to cooperate with each other through institutions like the U.N.
        1. The world under the Islam’s Caliphate.
        2. One political party system of China.
        What every you accomplish domestically doesn’t matter if someone blows it up.
        We are under extreme existential threat with Islamists, especially if Iran becomes nuclear.
        Someone will be leading, what system would you like to be under?

  • I adored Terrence Malick’s recent movie TREE OF LIFE (saw it 4 times now).

    One of the many threads is the almost manta “there are two ways through life, the way of nature and the way of grace.” Malick points out  “Nature is willful, it only wants to please itself, to have its own way.”  On the other hand, “grace” is “smiling through all things.”  According to the way of grace, “the only way to be happy is to love.”

    I find the worldview espoused here by Patrick to be one along the lines of nature. Dick Cheney gave voice to this after the attacks of 9/11 – that we humans are wired for war, that it is our natural state.

    God beckons us to a reign of love, one bult in grace, not violence. TREE OF LIFE also uses this phrase “Always were you calling me” – God the creator, sustainer, redeemer calls us to this way of grace.

    Patrick’s request for an example of when a country, tribe or clan didn’t protect itself, make wars with others – it reminded me of Billy Graham and his “proof” when challenged to make a case for God:

    Can you see God? You haven’t seen him? I’ve never seen the wind. I see the effects of the wind, but I’ve never seen the wind. There’s a mystery to it.

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  • Cameron

    Smoke weed = no more war

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