WAR, STRATEGIC THOUGHT AND THE LONG GAME

By STEVEN TRAVERS

In 1972 when President Richard Nixon opened relations with Red China, his NSC Advisor Henry Kissinger asked top Chinese official Zhou Enlai his opinion of the French Revolution. 

“Too early to tell,” Zhou replied.

Indeed, each war, each conflict has roots in previous conflicts and political events. World War II is routinely blamed on the Versailles Treaty, but in truth its roots go back to the War of the Seven-Year Succession and the military strategies employed by Frederick the Great. Indeed, the results of that war played a role, maybe a large one, in the American Revolution and later the Napoleonic Wars. 

France’s defeat in 1815 created the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Germanic-speaking peoples now had an empire and natural rivalry with the English-speaking peoples, Great Britain and the United States. When the Industrial Revolution occurred a newly federated Germany under Otto von Bismarck looked upon it as an international competition. Needed were natural materials and colonies, mainly in Africa, to provide those materials. 

This competition became a war, largely due to a series of errors, between 1914 and 1918 between Germany, England, France and the U.S. The “second half” of that war was obviously fought between 1939 and 1945 (“starting” in 1931 in Asia, 1935 in Africa, 1936 in Spain). It is far too simplistic to suggest World War II occurred just because of Adolf Hitler’s hatred of the Jews and their role, if any, in Germany’s earlier defeat.

Going back to the French Revolution, this was not in and of itself the beginning of Communism. Its roots are more firmly found in The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau; later in the European revolutions centered around 1848; the writings of Karl Marx and Georg Hegel; then obviously the Russian revolution of 1917. 

Any global strategist or military planner, when contemplating war, must consider two parallel and important factors. The first, and most important in the short term, is the cost: lives, casualties, treasure. The second, almost as important at the beginning but probably more important in the end game, is strategic thought. 

Iraq War

Consider first the Iraq War, which began in 2003 amidst great controversy. Critics of President George W. Bush said Americans would be “coming home in body bags” numbering well over 100,000. Bush and his people no doubt realized this was totally untrue and certainly, had they felt this figure was even remotely accurate, would have canceled the invasion saying it was not worth such a cost. But what if an accurate war planner had said over 4,000 Americans would die and many more thousands would be mutilated? Most Americans, even jingoistic Republicans, probably would have felt even this small figure, which represents how many Russian soldiers die for Vladimir Putin in a bad week in Ukraine, or in a major battle in World War II, would be too great a cost to bear. Americans see their hero-soldiers as human beings, the best among us, precious lives; not masses of cannon fodder to be sacrificed for the likes of Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Hideki Tojo, Mao-tse Tung, Kim Il-sung, Ho Chi Minh, Leonid Brezhnev, Ruhollah Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, or Putin, just to name a few tyrants. General Dwight Eisenhower valued the lives of his men. Perhaps what made Douglas MacArthur the greatest general of them all was his ability to defeat the Japanese with minimal casualties in comparison with the European Theatre.

Getting back to Iraq, at this point the cost-benefit analysis of lives and casualties is over. The dead are dead, the wounded have gone on with their lives. The tragedies are felt every day, but they have become a way of life for those soldiers and family affected.

But what about the war aims? This is harder to tell. At the time, it was believed Saddam had WMD, so our goal was to find those; destroy his army; destroy in one big move all the “bad actors” (terrorists) in the Middle East (probably extending to Iran); create a friendly ally; create an endless supply of cheap oil; and last, but not least, leave Democracy in our wake.

We accomplished some but not all of these goals. We did destroy his army. The “shock ‘n’ awe” assault on Baghdad and destruction of the Republican Guard was swift, magnificent, and achieved with few American casualties. What about Iraqi casualties? Searching the Internet one finds a vast array of figures ascribed to this question, ranging from around 100,000 (the most accurate figure) to hundreds of thousands. In truth, a very large number of those” civilian casualties” were terrorists, many foreigners drawn to Iraq from other Muslim countries to fight the infidel. 

The war “ended” in 2011, but really did not. Under President Barack Hussein Obama, we let our defenses down and the Islamic State re-took much of Iraq, declaring a caliphate. In one of the single greatest military feats of all time, President Donald Trump went back in and re-won the Iraq War. If in 2003 the planners could see Iraq today, they would probably not like some of what they see, but overall would agree the war was largely successful. 

Iraq is a tacit ally, a fledgling Democracy. It is not a staging ground for terrorism. The Iraq question is not answered fully, however. Iran is an unsettled question. Now, what about the terrorists? Had we not gone in, they would have been emboldened to keep blowing things up in America, Europe and everywhere. When Bush called their bluff they had to realize 9/11 was a mistake, they had awakened the “sleeping giant,” and now what did they have? U.S. soldiers patrolling their streets. Smart Middle Eastern leaders now realize that it is in their best interests to stop terrorism before it becomes something we feel the need to stop, or else they too will be answering to American generals setting up shop in their palaces. 

Saddam did have WMD, which he used to gas the Kurds in 1988 and threatened the West with, but by 2003 he had either thrown them into the Tigris River or gotten rid of them altogether, leaving the world to think he had them, like some modern Saladin. We do not exactly control oil in Iraq, but it is available to us in ways it was not under Saddam. Iran remains a bugaboo. Democracy was Bush’s greatest idea, but we are left asking whether Islam is compatible with that kind of freedom.

Vietnam War

Then of course there is the Vietnam War. The rhetoric of the Left during this era was capricious at best: essentially we were bombing a bunch of agrarian farmers who just wanted freedom after 1,000 years of colonialism under the Japanese, the Chinese and the French. The French question was answered over and out by 1964 when the U.S. really ramped up action. It was a simple equation: Democracy vs. Communism. 

Let us examine Communism. We cannot even say it started in Russia in 1917. We have to count all the lopped off heads during the French “terrors” of 1789-93. How many people were murdered by Communism? Unlike the Holocaust, which occurred using strict accounting rules that would make a Deloitte & Touche CPA proud, most of its victims died in unattributed manner. Whereas General Eisenhower ordered cameras into the concentration camps because otherwise “nobody would believe it,” the death camps of Communism were paved over into parking lots and mini-malls. By 1964, when Lyndon Johnson went all in, we knew that 35 million people had been killed under Stalin and his successors. We did not accurately know how many had died in Red China or North Korea, but we had estimates. Under Mao the Cultural Revolution lasted from 1966 to 1976 and claimed most of what historians believe were the 70 million murdered by his regime. This makes Red China and Chairman Mao the Super Heavyweight Champions of Murder. An unrepentant atheist, one can only imagine his chances in the afterlife. 

Counting the U.S.S.R., Red China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, and various other places where Communism/Socialism reared its ugly head, at this point it is not a stretch to say that Communism has killed 120 million human beings.

Now, we did not know this in 1964, but using statistics and reason, it would not have been illogical to conclude that unchecked Communism would reach a number like that over time. Even without this calculation, the fact that 35 million had already died in the Soviet Union and much of Asia was already going Communist by 1964, deciding to do something about Communism then and there seemed a worthy and moral choice. In fact, to not do something at that point would been immoral. As the great Democrat Bobby Kennedy once said, “If not now, when? If not us, who?”

This is not to say that we fought the Vietnam War the right way; that some other method not resulting in 58,000 American lives (like Ike’s use of the CIA for instance?) would have been preferable. But do not say Communism is not the most evil political-military organization ever devised by man, and don’t say that opposing it was a bad choice. 

Hitler’s Germany were pikers compared to Communism. 5 million Jews died in the camps; 11-12 million overall. Stalin probably killed that many Jews during his psychotic “doctor’s purge” in the 1950s alone. Never heard of that? Blame the public school system run by Democrats.

All of that said, in 1964 had some sage or prognosticator been able to convince Robert McNamara, LBJ  and the “whiz kids” from Harvard that 58,000 U.S. personnel would die, it is hoped by the “better angels of our nature” that they we would have called the whole thing off in favor of something similar to George Kennan’s “containment policy,” or Allen Dulles’s ops in Iran and Guatemala. While the Bay of Pigs was a disaster, 58,000 men did not die.

But this piece is being written given the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. In a recent op/ed in the Wall Street Journal, Lee Kuan Yew, founder of modern Singapore, was quoted saying that “America won” the Vietnam War. In fact, we did, despite liberal lies and Hollywood B.S. We did not achieve all our goals; at least not yet as of 2023, but remember what Zhou Enlai said of the French Revolution: “Too early to tell.”

Everybody dies some day. Those soldiers died young. We can pray they are with God in Heaven, which is a heckuva lot nicer place to be than this fallen world. What were our goals? Defeat the North Vietnamese and restore a single, Democratic Vietnam. Absent that, stop the north from invading the south and achieve a Korea-style armistice. On a larger scale, give one final death knell to Communism once and for all, which seemed an easier goal when Doug MacArthur said that about Korea. Also, stop the “domino effect” so that other Asian nations would not fall to Communism.

So what happened? Well, most of these goals were not met. Certainly not in 1975 when a Republican administration successfully rescued by air and boat some 150,000 of our friends, to be compared with the total zero not achieved by a Democrat administration in Afghanistan, 2021. We did not defeat the north and restore Democracy to the whole country. The south was overrun. After that the Communists murdered 1 million South Vietnamese, followed by Pol Pot murdering 1.5 million Cambodians. In other words, the Communists demonstrated highly, precisely and to quintessential effect why they were evil and we fought them in the first place!

Was Communism given “one final death knell”? Not in 1975. What about the much-debated and maligned “domino effect”? Well, consider Lee Kuan Yew, not to mention most other Asian nations. They did not become Communist. Why? Simple, and to understand this do what our Democrat-controlled schools do not, which is learn from history. In this case, classical history, as in a Pyrrhic victory. King Pyrrhus of Epira “defeated” the Romans in 279 B.C., but suffered such tremendous toll in winning that the cost was greater than the victory!

That is precisely what happened to the Communist world after Vietnam. Initially elated, they grew more adventurous, leading them into Afghanistan, where they suffered their own form of Vietnam. In 1989-91, the Berlin Wall fell and President Ronald Reagan won the Cold War.

To put this accomplishment in perspective, consider the cost of World War II: some 400,000 Americans dead, 60 million worldwide. The general consensus of the world, however, is that this carnage was “worth it” considering the result.

Many people are hesitant to compare Ronald Regan to Dwight Eisenhower, but perhaps they should. Submit for your perusal that if the scenarios of Red Dawn or Red Storm Rising came true, and the U.S. led an allied front vs. the Soviet Union and international Communism, and if that war lasted six years (like World War II), and if the casualties were the same (400,000 Americans dead, 60 million worldwide), but the result of the war was the same as World War II (a triumphant America, winners of history as Francis Fukuyama may have called us), the general consensus would be the same as World War II: it was worth it!

Instead, Reagan and his successor, George H.W. Bush, did it, as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher so eloquently said, “Without firing a shot!” 

It is the considered opinion of this thesis that this victory could not have been achieved had we not fought Communism in Vietnam! If looked at from this perspective, the Vietnam War becomes a dynamic of the Cold War (1945-91) instead of a terrible American tragedy (1964-73). Understanding this war certainly offers a little bit of peace to those veterans who suffered and fought, as well as the families who survived the death of loved ones. 

It also is food for thought for Communist Chinese leaders who think they are on the ascent. After all, it’s too early to tell. 

Steven Travers is a former Hollywood screenwriter who has authored over 30 books including Coppola’s Monster Film: The Making of Apocalypse Now (2016). One Night, Two Teams: Alabama vs. USC and the Game That Changed a Nation (2007) is currently under film development. He is a USC graduate and attorney with a Ph.D who taught at USC and attended the UCLA Writers’ Program. He played professional baseball, served in the Army JAG corps in D.C., was in investment banking on Wall Street, worked in politics, lived in Europe, and was a sports agent before finding his calling as a writer. He has written for the San Francisco Examiner, L.A. Times, StreetZebra, Gentry magazine, Newsmax and MichaelSavage.com. He lives in California and has one daughter, Elizabeth. He can be reached at USCSTEVE1@aol.com or on Twitter @STWRITES.

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