by Mel Griffith
Recently there has been some discussion about the difference between "Wars of Necessity" and "Wars of Choice."
Some have suggested that we should only get into wars of necessity and not wars of choice, that is, those not in response to a direct attack on us. Some even simply imply that the present war on Iraq is our first war of choice. A review of history will show that in fact most of our wars have been wars of choice.
Clearly World War ll. was a war of necessity because the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Others are much harder to define as wars of necessity. The Revolution was clearly a war of choice. While the treatment by the British government was unfair, many regimes before and since have treated people worse. The Americans could have simply obeyed British law while appealing for better treatment. Many people wanted to do that and some fought to do it. The famed battle of Kings Mountain was mostly between Americans on each side. Col. Ferguson's British regiment consisted mostly of Tories recruited in Pennsylvania.
One of the first challenges faced by the new nation was the Barbary Pirates. For generations the Moslem countries along the North African coast had run a successful protection-piracy racket. Unless other countries paid tribute (bribes) to them, their pirates attacked their shipping. European nations had written this off for decades as an unfortunate but necessary cost of doing business and the pirates expected that the Americans would do the same. But the Americans demanded to know why they should pay for using the seas which belonged to everybody. It was explained to them that since they were not Moslems they were enemies of Allah and that the pirates has Allah's blessing to steal and extort all they could from them.
The Americans of that time, not having had proper diversity training, showed no respect at all for the will of Allah. Instead with the slogan "millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute," they built and trained a navy and reestablished the Marine Corps. The fleet sailed off to explain to the Moslems that while Allah might approve of piracy, the American's didn't. After the navy spent some time sinking pirate ships and laying waste to the ports they sailed from, the pirates decided that attacking the American ships was not a profitable occupation and agreed to stop. The Americans could have simply lived with the problem as the Europeans had done for centuries but instead started a "war of choice" to solve the problem once and for all.
Next came the war of 1812, clearly another choice. It was actually a side effect of a chronic war between France and Britain. In an effort to stop supplies from going to France, the British passed a law to stop and search American ships. Since Britain was short of sailors they often kidnapped (impressed) American seamen to serve in the British navy on the pretext that they were deserters, which some actually were. Thought the war was supposed to be for the protection of American shipping, it was widely opposed in New England, where the shipping industry was located. It was supported mainly in the West (present day Midwest) where people had their eye on Canadian territory. If the Americans had been a bit more patient, the war would not have been necessary, because the British law they objected to had already been repealed before war was declared, but word had not reached America. It was not a "war of necessity."
The Mexican War was mainly an effort to gain Mexican territory for the United States, including a disputed part of Texas. Again, it was a war of choice where disputes might have been settled by peaceful means.
The Civil war could likely have been prevented by negotiating some compromises that allowed the southern states to leave peacefully, which they had a right to do, or to remain in the union with some concessions on both sides. Most people expected that the dispute would be settled more or less peacefully. The country stumbled into the long, bloody, and destructive war that followed as a result of both sides trying to call the other's bluff and force them to negotiate only to find that the other side wasn't bluffing. It certainly was a war of choice that could and should have been avoided.
The Spanish-American war was not about any threat whatever to America, but like the present Iraq war, was about the oppression of people in another country, in that case, Cuba. It was not in any way necessary to protect the United States.
World War l, like the War of 1812, was a European war which the United States was dragged into, once again by attacks on American shipping. But there was no threat to U.S. territory and once again it was choice, not immediate necessity, that brought the United States into the war.
Next came World War ll. which was clearly a war of necessity, but it was followed by the Korean War, where there was no direct threat to the United States. While it was necessary to oppose the spread of communism, we had already watched Eastern Europe gobbled up by them without a war and it could be argued that it was not necessary to fight in Korea.
Finally, there was the Vietnam War. It was supposedly started by a minor naval fracas in the Gulf of Tonkin, but given Lyndon Johnson's talents for improving on the truth, some wonder if it ever actually happened.
As we examine our history, we see that America has traditionally attacked enemies at times and places of our choosing rather than waiting to be attacked or living with difficult situations. Almost all of our wars have been wars of choice rather than of necessity. World War ll. was an exception, The Iraq war, like almost all of our other wars, is a war we chose to fight because it needed to be fought. We should not let its opponents convince us that it is a departure from the way we usually do things.