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Berger’s Burg: Fighting good wars: Too much sacrifice?

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"Soldiers - A group of men sent out to fix up the work of diplomats."

"Tell me the story of the foot soldier and I will tell you the story of all wars."

- Anonymous

Veterans Day on Nov. 11 is the day when Americans honor and pay homage to the soldiers, men and women who fought for freedom, struggled for peace and protected our democracy. We owe a great deal of gratitude to these heroes who served our country in time of war, and especially to those who gave up their lives in battle against the enemy. The number of soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice in our wars:

Revolutionary War (1775 - 1783)...4,435

War of 1812 (1812 -1815)...2,264

Mexican War (1846-1848...13,283

Civil War (1861-1865)...Union: 364,511 Confederate: 260,000

Spanish-American War (1898)...2,446

World War I (1917-1916)...116,516

World War II (1941-1945)...405,399

Korean War (1950-1953)...33,746

Vietnam War (1964-1973)...58, 152

Persian Gulf War 1990-1991)...363.

Was it worth it?

Recently, I came across an article written in 1965, in which the anonymous author offers a unique point of view on that question:

After the last gun was silenced in World War II, a man in a six-button suit and a Beatle haircut appeared from a time machine one night and wandered among a barracks full of servicemen who were awaiting discharge. "Do you understand what this war was all about?" he asked a GI. "Sure," the GI said. "We fought to save the Brooklyn Dodgers, the two-pants suit and Mom's apple pie."

"Then you have lost," said the man from the time machine. "Within 20 years, the Dodgers will leave Brooklyn and set up shop in Los Angeles. The two-pants suit is even now gone from the haberdashery rack. And by the time all of you are dads, Mom's apple pie, like most everything else Mom used to whip up in the kitchen before Pearl Harbor, will be delivered by Teamsters, frozen or ready-mixed."

The men in the barracks hooted and said that if they were not so tired of fighting they would bloody the visitor's nose on account of his feminine haircut. A cynic interrupted, however.

"That Mom's apple-pie is just a crude way of saying we fought for democracy," he said. "Pure applesauce. "Actually, we fought to save the British Empire."

"Then you have lost," said the visitor. "The British Empire will be dissolved, at American insistence, within the decade."

"You talk like a Nazi propagandist," said the sailor. "You are trying to drive a wedge between us and the British. Next you will be trying to divide us and our great Soviet allies."

"Within five years," the visitor said, "any of you who calls them 'our great Soviet allies' will be accused of treason."

"Throw the bum out!" shouted an infantry corporal .

"What did you fight for, corporal?" the visitor asked. "Easy," the corporal said. "Germany had to be destroyed."

"Then you have lost," the visitor said, "for within five years, you will be paying to rebuild Germany out of your salary. For 15 years after that, America will risk new wars to help put Germany back together again."

The men laughed and laughed. "Tell us about Asia!" shouted a marine. "Yeah," added an Air Corps private, "tell us how we are going to wind up 'loving the Japs and fighting the Chinese,'" and the barracks roared with laughter. "Don't tell me you fought to destroy Japan, too," the visitor said. "What else?" a sergeant asked.

"Then you have lost," the time-traveler said. "Within 20 years you will rebuild Japan. It will be your warmest friend in the Pacific. When your children are born, you will teach them not to say 'Japs,' but to say, 'our Japanese friends."

"That will be the day," said a waist gunner. "The Jap bombing of Pearl Harbor will live in infamy. We have fought to guarantee that."

"Then you have lost," said the visitor. "Within 20 years you will have unhappy children who will not remember Pearl Harbor. They will say, however, that our bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were acts of infamy."

"If any of my kids ever said that," a staff sergeant said, "they get a punch in the nose. What I fought for was none of that fancy stuff - just the good ol' American right to beat some sense into your own kids."

"Then you have lost," said the visitor, "for within 20 years, children who don't remember a thing about the war will outnumber you in the population, and though you may punch a few it will make no difference, because your legs will be older, your wind will be gone, and your stomachs will be flabby from steaks and beer."

A supply clerk who had listened solemnly spoke up. "I fought to keep America the way it is," he said. "That's right," said a Navy gunner. "I hear Jimmy Stewart say that in the movies. I fought because I did not want anybody changing things around in America."

"Then you have lost," said the visitor, "for within 20 years everything will change. Farmers will live in the cities. City people will live in the suburbs. The country will be covered with asphalt. The cities you have known will be torn down. Money will be replaced by credit cards. Your favorite radio shows, Jack Benny, Charlie McCarthy, and Gang-Busters will disappear. Your children..." (Here he paused to display his six-button jacket, his stove-pipe, leprechaun boots, and his seaweed hair.) ... " will look like me."

"All right men," roared the top sergeant, "grab the Fascist rat!" The visitor disappeared under a mass of uniformed bodies. "We had better take him up to Intelligence for interrogation," the sergeant said. "He is probably part of a die-hard Axis scheme to destroy American morale."

When the men untangled, of course, the visitor was gone He had spun off through the time-space continuum into 1965 and was doing the Jerk at the Go-Go Bar. "Tell me, Bird," he asked his partner between twitches, "Did you ever hear of a two-pants suit?"

An interesting story indeed.

But I don't think we lost any "good" wars like World War II. Sure, bitter, war-time enemies became our friends; war-time friends became our bitter enemies; and many of the cherished institutions we fought for disappeared after the fighting ended. But most of these changes are inconsequential when compared to what would have happened had we really lost.

Without our victories, America today could still have been under the thumb of the British or, much worse, under the boot of the Nazis; slavery could still be the law of the land; Hitler would rule Europe, North Africa, and perhaps the United States; Japan would still control Asia; and Communism may have swept the world.

So, isn't fighting a "good" war, even if you still have to wear a suit with just one pair of pants, worth it?

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