Campus News

Does War Work?

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“What kind of a question is that?” asks Dr. John Haas, as he begins to speak to around 50 students and faculty members gathered in AC 342. What do we mean by “war”, and how would it “work”? These were some of the big questions asked and answered by Dr. Haas, who says “We cannot love our country without knowing what it is doing.” According to Sir Michael Howard, war is the “use of purposeful violence to attain political objectives”, and since 1945, America has done quite a bit of this. America has not had a congressionally declared war since then; however, we have been involved in Vietnam, Korea and in the Middle East extensively. At the end of his lecture, Dr. Haas outlined 5 main observations that lead to non-victorious wars: 5.) Technology doesn’t help: Nuclear bombs are too big to use, and other big weapons have limited use in most situations. The enemies have almost the same basic guns. 4.) The countries we fight are impoverished, and have corrupt governments: If we try to prop up the government, they will govern poorly. If we try to force a democracy on a people, they will resist and make poor decisions. 3.) The wars often have a difficult time gaining allies, which robs the war of legitimacy: Few people in the world questioned our involvement in World War II. However the majority of people no longer support our wars in the Middle East, thus leaving the war on the back-burner, so to speak. Our European allies also give little support. 2.) Our leadership is not as hard on itself as it once was: The last general to be fired due to ineffectiveness was in 1971. Dozens of successful military generals in World War II were fired for making one mistake. No military leaders involved in Iraq or Afghanistan have been fired. One of the two who resigned retired due to age, and the other was forced to resign due to a sexual scandal. 1.) We don’t have to win these wars: They are not wars of national survival. If we lose, we can simply leave and forget about it. “His five points at the end about why we wouldn’t win (these wars) were important, I thought,” said high school REACH student Elizabeth Paz, who attended the lecture. “I’ve always taken the position that wars like the Iraq war or the Vietnam war would never work, but it was nice to have a solidified reason as to why.” This year marks the tenth anniversary of the War in Iraq, and that was a major motivating factor for Haas to give this speech. He noticed the general public’s tendency to stop caring about a war when it is no longer an immediate threat—a tendency that contributes to wars “not working”. According to Haas, in the 1990’s, the government knew how to keep people interested. The U.S. implemented quick, overpowering strikes on underwhelming enemy forces and got the job done quickly. However, that strategy is now obsolete. To demonstrate this change, Haas used the very-real example of the Battle of Fallujah in Iraq. In 2006, the U.S. sent in a mass of troops into the town of Fallujah and blew the place to bits—we showed the terrorists that we were not to be messed with. By this time, we were involved in Iraq for longer than we were involved even in World War II. However, after this battle, violent attacks on U.S. troops grew exponentially, and it took a great overall surge in troops for attacks on U.S. soldiers receded to their pre-Fallujah levels. So why didn’t this attack “work”? “The most advanced army was being stymied by people who didn’t have any tanks or helicopters,” said Haas. Dr. Haas believes that the more we try to combat terrorism with superior might, the more we are pushed back. In urban settings, where most battles are fought in the Middle East, it is almost impossible to tell who your enemy is in the crowds of civilians. One might be able to destroy a terrorist cell, but there will almost certainly be civilian casualties to go along with it. The more they are hurt, the more passion they have to fight. So should we be surprised that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t attaining their original goals of stability, peace, and improved human rights? No, says Haas, because these wars have no clear, quick or easy-to-show methods of victory. In the past, a war was won by “annihilation”. Now, we want “stability”, to “create an ally”—someone to “stand up as we stand down”. “The wars are similar, and it hasn’t succeeded before, so why would it succeed now?” said Paz. The U.S. didn't technically lose these wars, but their worth will have to be evaluated by historians in the far-off future. After the lecture, Dr. Haas fielded questions from students and faculty regarding the current situation in North Korea, calling it a "special case", along with the moral and personal consequences of war, although he tried to avoid these topics in his main speech.
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