It is unfortunate but true that on this Memorial Day — when we pause to honor those Americans who have fought the good fights against British colonialism, the sin of slavery and the menace of fascism — U.S. troops are currently bogged down in a quagmire of George Bush’s creation in Afghanistan and an continuing mission of Bush’s creation in Iraq.
Appallingly, Barack Obama has maintained Bush’s undeclared wars of occupation. And he has now steered the United States into another fight with Libya.
Everything about these undeclared and open-ended conflicts is at odds with the vision of the founders of the American experiment — who generally shared James Madison’s view that "permanent war" posed the greatest threat to liberty — and the serious intent of wars against kings, slaveholders and fascists.
Soldiers fight wars because of a sense of duty. And the soldiers involved in America’s current conflicts are good men and women. But these are not good fights.
Nor are their necessary fights for the U.S. military.
It is for this reason that veterans of these undeclared wars of whim have organized so well and wisely to end them, in groups such as Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War, which is mounting a Memorial Day campaign to highlight the wrongheaded practice of deploying traumatized troops, and the currently organizing Afghanistan Veterans Against the War project.
There are arguments to be made, some of them sound, some of them not, that people in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have reasons to be fighting. But the fights are their own — not America’s.
John Quincy Adams summed the sentiment up 190 years ago when, in an address to Congress, the then-Secretary of State declared that: "[America’s] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace."
"If the wise and learned philosophers of the elder world, the first observers of nutation and aberration, the discoverers of maddening ether and invisible planets, the inventors of Congreve rockets and Shrapnel shells, should find their hearts disposed to enquire what has America done for the benefit of mankind? Let our answer be this: America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity," explained Adams. "She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights. She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own. She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right. Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force…. She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit