Opinion: A lifetime of war; please, not another
I was born three months before Imperial Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, initiating the entrance of the United States into World War II, which had been raging elsewhere since 1939. I don’t need to reiterate the cost of that war in terms of lives lost, whole cities and even more lives destroyed by the effects of war, and the development of powerful weapons, the most destructive and horrible of which were the two atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
President Truman, who ordered the use of the nuclear weapons, served as President of the United States from 1945 to 1953. In 1952, the people of the United States elected Dwight D. Eisenhower to the presidency. Eisenhower had been Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, achieving the rank of General of the Army (5 stars).
When he gave his farewell address upon leaving office in 1961, he warned the people of the country to beware of the development of a military-industrial complex and its increasing influence on foreign policy. He said that before and during the Second World War, American industries had successfully converted to defense production as the crisis demanded. But after the war a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions emerged. This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry was new in the American experience.
President Eisenhower counseled, “[while] we recognize the imperative need for this development...We must not fail to comprehend its grave implications… We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence (by the military-industrial complex). The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
Eisenhower cautioned that the federal government’s collaboration with an alliance of military and industrial leaders, though necessary, was vulnerable to the abuse of power. Eisenhower then encouraged American citizens to be vigilant in monitoring the military-industrial complex. I think that he feared that wars would occur because there was vested interest in the continuing development of the weapons for war. I don’t know if my understanding of Eisenhower’s words is accurate, but I do know that in my long life I’ve seldom lived a year that was free of some sort of war or otherwise-named armed conflict in which we have been engaged. Here is a list that I was able to assemble from multiple sources.
U.S. wars, military interventions
World War II: 1941-1945
First Indochina War: 1946-1954
Puerto Rico: 1950
Korean War: 1950-1953
Laotian Civil War: 1953-1975
Vietnam War: 1955-1975
Lebanon Crisis: 1958
Bay of Pigs Invasion (Cuba): 1961-1962
Simba Rebellion (Republic of the Congo): 1964
Dominican Civil War: 1965-1966
Vietnam War: 1965-1973
Bolivia Insurgency: 1966-1967
Korean DMZ Conflict: 1966-1969
Cambodian Civil War: 1967-1975
South Zaire: 1978
El Salvador: 1981-1992
Multinational Intervention in Lebanon: 1982-1984
U.S. Invasion of Grenada: 1983-1984
Bombing of Libya: 1986
Tanker War (Persian Gulf): 1987-1988
U.S. Invasion of Panama: 1989-1990
Gulf War: 1990-1991
Iraq No-Fly Enforcement: 1991-2003
First U.S. Intervention in Somali Civil War: 1992-1995
Bosnian War and Croatian War: 1992-1995
Intervention in Haiti: 1994-1995
Sudan and Afghanistan: 1998
Kosovo War: 1998-1999
War in Afghanistan: 2001-2021
U.S. Intervention in Yemen: 2002-present
Iraq War: 2003-2011
U.S. Intervention in North-West Pakistan: 2004-2018
Second Intervention in Somali Civil War: 2007-present
Operation Ocean Shield (Indian Ocean): 2009-2016
International Intervention in Libya: 2011
Operation Observant Compass (Uganda): 2011-2017
U.S. Intervention in Iraq: 2014-2021
U.S. Intervention in Syria: 2014-present
U.S. Intervention in Libya: 2015-2019
Persian Gulf Crisis: 2019-2020
Russian invasion of Ukraine
On Wednesday night (PST) it was announced that Russia had begun its threatened invasion of Ukraine. During the early morning hours, all legitimate new sources reported that Ukrainian President Zelensky has called the Russian attacks an “act of war” and has been encouraging citizens to arm themselves in order to defend their homeland.
Both the United States and the European Union have threatened severe sanctions against Russia, but Putin has shown indifference. His forces are engaged in a three-point attack, including artillery, missiles, tanks, and jets. Russia has deployed about 190,000 troops on Ukraine’s border, including Russian soldiers in Belarus.
Could the war escalate?
While world leaders, including President Biden, plea for a diplomatic end to Russian aggression, President Putin does not seem similarly disposed. If the hostilities continue, it is conceivable that the war could spread. If the United States becomes involved — and I hope it doesn’t — it will probably form an alliance with most of the EU members, although some countries may either opt out or choose to side with Russia. The U.S. can again count on support from Canada and Australia. It is likely that Japan and South Korea would also join with our allies.
On the other hand, Russia will undoubtedly be joined by China and North Korea. All three countries have nuclear weapons and the ability to deliver them via missile. I believe that an all-out war will embolden China to attack Taiwan, which it has always coveted. North Korea, of course, will attempt to claim South Korea. Ultimately, I think China will set its eyes on the Middle East where it has major investments and financial interests.
It has been more than three-quarters of a century of recovery since the end of the last world war. If Wednesday’s events should result in a third world war, I doubt that there will be any recovery. Let us hope that President Putin will stand down and that our diplomats can find some alternative to a “hot war.”
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Jim Glynn is Professor Emeritus of Sociology. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.