In light of Obama’s “National Defense Resources Preparedness” Order, I’d like to comment on a troubling trend I’ve seen in American discourse about war since 9/11. From left to right, it was often said that the U.S. government’s interventions abroad as well as its activities at home did not rise to the level of drama and seriousness that typified previous U.S. wars. In particular, World War II has been brought up time and again as a model of which the current militarism has fallen far short....The conservative hawks took up the call most loudly, at times decrying the modern American squeamishness about killing civilians. Although certainly Americans do not seem so sensitive to this concern that they are driven to the streets demanding peace amidst the many estimates ranging from a hundred thousand to a million civilian deaths caused by U.S. wars in the last decade, there is some truth to the comparison. In earlier generations, U.S. policy was simply to target civilians, destroying cities and villages not just wantonly but deliberately. The many, many thousands liquidated by U.S. firebombings in Japan were not “collateral damage.” They were the product of a purposeful U.S. policy carried out exactly as it was intended to be. About six years ago, talk radio hosts frequently argued that the U.S. should treat all of Iraq the way Britain and the United States treated dozens of German cities, most famously Dresden. And the hope that the Bush administration would revive past precedents of warmaking was not limited to the topic of targeting civilians to be killed....Not to be outdone, the liberals have had their own fit of disappointment in America’s supposed failure to adhere to past traditions, and really make this war count. First it came in complaints that Bush did not engage in the types of national mobilization or Keynesian public works programs that glorious U.S. presidents initiated in the past. Then came the general accusation that America’s war party itself was refusing to “sacrifice” enough in the midst of the war effort. Most on the progressive left, claiming to oppose war as they do, nevertheless admire the national unity that supposedly characterized (but in most cases did not in reality characterize) World War II. Taxes should be higher. The economy must be made the executive branch’s domain. The military should be better cared for. And most disturbingly, national service—along with military conscription—should be made mandatory.
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The Independent Institute