By Scherer, John L.
USA TODAY , Vol. 134, No. 2732
EVERY WAR IS BAD and, in the end, no one is wiser. Nearly 100,000 U.S. soldiers have died in armed conflicts since World War II. None of these military actions was vital to the national interest. Many were unsuccessful and undesirable, undermining respect for the U.S. abroad. Fighting does not always defend freedom, but frequently limits dissent and civil liberties, as have the "war on terrorism" and remarks by the Bush Administration that criticism of its policies in Iraq aids and comforts the enemy.
The U.S. won a great military victory in World War II, but each conflict creates new problems. Eastern Europe and China fell under communism, and colonial empires collapsed. NATO prevented USSR expansion into Western Europe, but no evidence has emerged that Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and his successors ever planned to invade the West.
When the three Western sectors of Berlin prospered, and the Soviet zone stagnated, Stalin ordered a blockade of the city. An airlift during 1948-49 kept Berliners alive. Travel between the Western and Communist zones remained relatively easy during the 1950s but, by 1961, almost 3,000,000 people, approximately 20% of the population, had left the German Democratic Republic. Historian Robert M. Slusser has argued that a hawkish faction in the Soviet leadership forced Nikita Khrushchev to demand the recognition of Berlin as a politically neutral city. The Soviet premier repeatedly called for negotiations to change its status and, when the Berlin Wall was built in August 1961, Khrushchev went on vacation at Sochi for three weeks to defuse the crisis. U.S. and Soviet tanks briefly confronted each other at Checkpoint Charlie in October, but the Wall ended the brain drain from the GDR and permanently eased tensions.
The Korean War, which lasted from 1950-53, left nearly 34,000 American soldiers dead and another 106,000 wounded. Almost 8,200 were missing in action. Strategic analyst Jeffrey Record summarizes the fighting: "In Korea. U.S. war aims gyrated, as America's military fortunes moved from near-defeat to spectacular success to eventual stalemate, from restoration of South Korea's territorial integrity to reunifying the whole peninsula under American auspices to a willingness to settle on the status quo ante."
Historian Richard C. Thornton has argued that Stalin began the war to prevent the imminent reconciliation between Communist China and the U.S. He has asserted that America could have blunted the North Korean invasion at the 38th parallel with new 3.5" rocket launchers, F-51 ground-attack aircraft, and anti-tank mines, but that would not have provided the stimulus for the massive rearmament of this country and the global containment of communism planned by the Truman Administration under NSC-68 (the National Security Council paper detailing its Cold War blueprint). Thornton may, however, have overestimated American capabilities in Korea and Truman's desire to confront the Communists.
Casualties might have been reduced had Gen. Douglas MacArthur not pushed to the Yalu River, provoking China to enter the conflict. Beijing had advised the U.S.--through the Indian ambassador it would not allow MacArthur to cross the 38th parallel, but he characteristically ignored the warning. The war might have been avoided entirely if Secretary of State Dean Acheson had not announced at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., in January 1950, that South Korea was outside the defense perimeter of American vital interests in the Far East six months before the North Korean invasion. On the other hand, if stalemate is ever victory, this was a successful use of force, for South Korea is a prosperous nation with current per capita income almost half that in the U.S. Another 90 American soldiers have died in border skirmishes since the Korean War ended.
The 1960 Bay of Pigs invasion by Cuban exiles had little chance of success, with or without U.S. air support. …