March 11, 2004

I was invited yesterday to go to Lyndon State College and make some remarks during a conference they are holding there on the topic of global change. The topic I was asked to address was the cost of war in the modern age.  I talked for quite a while, and I don't have time now to mention all the things I said. But the final part of the talk, I think sums up the spirit of it and adds a sort of postscript to some of the remarks I have made here over the past months. So, here it is:

Wars, of course, have always been very costly. In the past, we have borne them in the expectation that they would eventually come to an end, and that we would return to normal peacetime activities. But we are now facing something new in American history: a war which by the very definition placed on it by our leaders can never come to an end. Very early in the conflict, President Bush announced that this was a war against evil, and that it would not be over until evil had been banished from the face of the earth. Now, if we define evil in the way Mr. Bush does, it's pretty clear that it can never be banished. Therefore, the war that we entered more than two years ago must go on forever, and the costs of war must be paid forever.

In war, civil liberties are diminished, supposedly in the interests of security. Now, they must be diminished forever.

Domestic projects are set aside because the aims of the war are more pressing. Now they must be set aside forever.

Open, democratic decision-making must be suspended lest we let the enemy in on our secrets. Now, it must be suspended forever.

Friendly negotiations with other nations, involving give and take, can no longer be indulged because, in war, national security demands that we do nothing but defend ourselves. Now, negotiations of the traditional sort are over, forever.

The serious question facing the American people is whether they want their nation to be eternally at war. And in order to answer that question in an intelligent manner, the people must be able to take account of the costs of war. We now have a government that is doing everything in its power to turn our attention away from measuring those costs.

Here, this afternoon, I've done a very inadequate job of suggesting the kind of thinking and investigation that would permit us to gage those costs in a sensible matter. But, I hope I have managed at least to suggest the kind of imaginative projection which is required to come even close to understanding the magnitude that war places upon us, both immediately and on into the future.  Contrary to what you might imagine, I am not a philosophical pacifist. I was once a soldier myself, and I was prepared to do what was required of me as a soldier. There have been times in the past when the costs of war were justified. And, there may be times again when it would be reasonable to pay those terrible prices. But we have to know what the prices are to make rational decisions. And, in my judgment, over the past several years, the price of war has risen far beyond any conceivable benefit we can receive from it.

©John R. Turner

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