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To begin, let me be clear that most everything I am about to note in this blog applies as much to me as to anyone reading this. That will be important to bear in mind for reasons that will soon become obvious.
In recent weeks and following Syria’s crossing of “the red line” on using chemical weapons, we have heard over and over–from the news media all the way to President Obama–that the reason most Americans are opposed to the United States’ doing anything in Syria is because the American public is flat out “weary of war.” After over a decade of having troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve just had it. Enough is enough. The situation in Syria is tragic but we’re tired and so need to let someone else handle it.
And to that I reply, “Perhaps.” But I am not convinced that it is war-weariness alone–or even primarily–that explains whatever lack of desire there may be for military action. Of course, there are lots of good reasons to not want to rain down some missiles on Syria or anywhere else. As Christians, being weary of war should not be our first reason for wanting to prevent as much violence and warfare as possible.
Still, I really do doubt that most of the Americans answering Gallup and Quinnipiac polls with resistance to action in Syria are doing so out of war-weariness. The truth is that I know very few people–again, starting with me–who if asked could come up with more than a couple names of families who have had a son or daughter serve on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fewer people still in the circles where I run could come up with the name of anyone of their acquiantance or in their own extended family who had a son or daughter die in either of those wars. If you add up all the dead, wounded, brain injured, and PTSD causalities of those wars, the number easily exceeds 200,000. Some of us know who those people are. But many of us know personally almost none of them. In our day of an all-volunteer military, the noble folks who sign up for the Army or Marines or any other service branch tend to come from sectors of society with which some of us–again, me too–have little acquiantance or contact.
What’s more, as we may all well remember, far from calling for mutual sacrifice for the wars in first Afghanistan and then Iraq, the previous Administration gave instead tax breaks to middle income folks and up. Not only did we not have scrap metal drives, victory gardens, or other such specatcles such as took place during World War II, we actually went the other way as the tax system put more money into people’s pockets during a time of war (with the two wars getting funded off the books for the most part).
If you want to talk about something that got everyone’s attention in this country, you go not to the battlefields of Helmand Province or the nightmare of IEDs in Iraq but to the 2008 implosion of Lehman Brothers and the popping of the housing bubble. The economic crisis that concluded the Bush presidency and that started the Obama presidency has loomed much larger on most of our mental horizons than either of the last decade’s wars. That’s probably why hard on the heels of poll questions about whether or not to intervene in Syria, what you hear next is a desire for President Obama to instead “take care of matters” here at home (i.e., fix the economy). Alas, we may be actually a bit more weary of high unemployment and upside-down mortgages than of war.
Yes, both warfare and economics are legitimate causes for concern–it’s not either-or and so someone’s being concerned to put people back to work does not mean that same person cares not at all about ending and avoiding war. It can be both. It should be both. But most of Americans like me just have not had to sacrifice much for, or even on a daily basis fret much about, the wars that followed 9/11 a dozen years ago. I don’t doubt there is some truth to the claims that Americans are just plain weary of war. But for many of us, I fear that we actually are not nearly weary enough of the horror that just is war.