Another Veteran’s Day has come and gone, with the usual high fives all around for anyone who has ever donned a U.S. military uniform. The holiday falling on a Friday this year meant the pro-military sentiments generally lasted throughout the weekend at sporting events and other public gatherings. As always, the ubiquitous mantra from every corner of the republic was, “Thank the troops.”
Sooner or later, somebody has to ask: For what?
The general answer is for the great sacrifices the troops have made to defend freedom. But when was the last time any American’s freedom was in jeopardy from an external threat? Would any American be less free if the U.S. did not invade Afghanistan or Iraq? Vietnam? Deep down, everyone knows Americans aren’t freer because of these wars. So, why do we keep talking like they are?
Let’s take the two wars virtually everyone, across the political spectrum, agree were mistakes: Iraq and Vietnam. It turns out there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and no “domino effect” after Vietnam, even though the mission there was unsuccessful. The communists did take over the country, but Asia and eventually the rest of the world did not fall to communism afterwards. On the contrary, once we stopped fighting them, the Vietnamese had the good sense to abandon communism relatively quickly after we left. Today, they are a major trading partner.
So, neither of these wars benefited the people who paid for them. In fact, American taxpayers and just about everyone else on the planet would have been far better off if neither had been fought at all.
To preempt hysteria in the comments section, no, the men and women in uniform don’t decide which wars they fight and where they are deployed. Fine. But just because the soldiers shouldn’t be blamed for the war, it doesn’t necessarily follow they should be thanked for it, either. If you’re talking to a friend at a cocktail party and a drunken guest bumps him, causing him to spill his drink on your suit, you may not blame your friend for ruining your suit. But would you thank him for it?
Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.