War and Impatience

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 6, 2003 | Go to article overview
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War and Impatience


War against terrorism, war in Afghanistan, war in Iraq, war in ... ? The Bush administration has told us repeatedly since September 11, 2001, that we are in the war against terrorism for the long haul, that Americans understand that, and that "Americans are patient."

The public assurances about our "patience" have never been stronger than in the recent public rhetoric of senior administration officials as the death toll among American soldiers mounts steadily and as critics question the progress and costs of reconstruction and democratization in Iraq. Why? Is it because our foreign policy leadership senses growing American impatience?

If so, well they should. Anyone who has studied the history of American foreign policy should understand that we Americans have very strong characteristics in our approach to national security in general and toward "war" (whatever that means nowadays) in particular. Although there are historical exceptions, in general Americans traditionally have focused most of our energy on the pursuit of private interests and domestic affairs and, consequently, have viewed international and national security as secondary, if we thought of it at all.

On the other hand, once conscious of a threat, American attitudes have tended to shift quickly and dramatically to support a war - as long as we were told what victory would look like and could see meaningful, rapid measures of progress toward objectives. Once surrender documents were signed in World War I and World War II or an armistice agreement in the Korean War, we Americans wanted to "Bring the boys home" and get back to business as usual.

World War I began in Europe in 1914, but America avoided involvement until 1917 - despite the 1915 German U-boat sinking of the Lusitania that killed 128 Americans - when repeated violations of American neutral rights and revelations of German plots in Mexico ended a great debate about U.S. involvement in a European war.

Then, feeling we had been stabbed in the back, America came on with a vengeance to fight "A War to End All Wars" under the popular slogan "Remember the Lusitania." Americans were given a definition of victory - surrender by Germany - and could visualize progress toward victory as the horrible trench warfare moved across Europe toward Berlin.

World War II began in Europe in 1939, but the U.S. again avoided involvement until Japan, part of "the Axis," stabbed us in the back at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. Under the slogan "Remember Pearl Harbor," we Americans entered another crusade to rid the world of evil. Again, victory was defined as surrender by Japan and Germany, and progress could be measured by Gen.

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