I don’t remember all the details, but I can clearly recall the scene on VJ (Victory Over Japan) day in my hometown. My father took me on the two-block walk from our home to the downtown area.
It seemed as though every ambulatory citizen was there. Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Socialists, and perhaps even a Communist or two were hugging each other, slapping each other on the back, shaking hands, and dancing in the middle of the street. Loud music emanated from the several taverns in the small business district. Dad said everyone who wanted a free drink had no problem finding someone to buy it.
Joy was general. No one was asking any questions about the ethics of actions that ended World War II, including atomic bombings. No one was questioning our military strategy, or the intentions or operations of any of our allies. Some of that came later, but for the moment Americans were just plain happy that the killing finally had stopped.
In recent days, American involvement in two wars ended. The eight-month civil war in Libya reached the last of its final days when rebels killed the nation’s tyrannical leader. Almost simultaneously, President Obama declared our military work in Iraq over after eight years of struggle in a war that every poll showed was unpopular with a majority of our people.
Were there huge celebrations? Parades? Loud music? Free drinks? Not at all. We were immediately treated to a volley of carping and bitching by various politicians and commentators.
Our NATO allies, primarily the United Kingdom and France, who did the heavy lifting in Libya, where charged in the United Nations and some American media with violating their charter to provide air power to protect Libyan civilians. What were the British and French pilots supposed to do? It seems wildly impractical to suggest they should land when they spotted an armored vehicle and ask the driver if he intended to shoot rebels, innocent civilians, or just a couple of rabbits before they launched a rocket.
From the right came complaints that the U.S. did too little in Libya, and never should have let allies assume the leadership in the military actions. From the left came assertions that we should have shunned any involvement at all, and had run a huge risk of getting into another Viet Nam or Afghanistan quagmire. From other quarters came charges that helping the rebels would surely result in replacing a secular dictator with Libyan leadership controlled by religious fanatics.
We did have the leading role in Iraq, so the critics had to shelve that complaint and come up with a few new ones. One was that Obama played a political trick to gain support before the next elections. That is a strange position, indeed, considering he made a clear promise during his presidential campaign to get us out of Iraq. Apparently, keeping a promise nowadays is an evil act.
Others complained about leaving four or five thousand contract guards in Iraq to protect our diplomats and other civilian workers. They cautioned that relying on contractors for security purposes was a serious danger.
What should we do? Let the remaining known thugs in Iraq wipe out a segment of our diplomatic and foreign aid corps? The prime minister of Iraq refused to continue to allow legal protection for American troops; thus it seems quite logical to turn to contractors to provide needed para-military power.
Probably the most unbelievable criticism is that Obama acted precipitously and failed to execute an orderly withdrawal. Good grief; our withdrawal has been in the planning stages for at least two years. Our administration is well into planning a withdrawal from Afghanistan, with a target date some three years in the future. That would seem to indicate the people in the White House and Pentagon are practicing careful planning.
This critic thinks three years is way too long to wait for the Afghan withdrawal. I hope that doesn’t make me as un-American as the rest of those idiots who can’t take even a day off from their political agendas and negative attacks to celebrate the end of a war and praise our young men and women for their role in bringing it about.
Of course, World War II was much larger, although it lasted only about half as long as the Iraq adventure. And, American involvement in Libya was relatively minor and resulted in no loss of life. No matter the scope or length of the conflicts, however, lives were put at risk and dollars were spent that could have been used for better purposes.
But yet the spirit in the country seems very different from the way people felt at the end of hostilities in 1945. Have all the wars since then caused us to no longer feel any personal connection to military actions?