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America at War

America at War

by William H. Benson

May 30, 2019

     On Palm Sunday, April 14, this year, former President Jimmy Carter told his Sunday School class at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia, that President Donald Trump had called him the day before, on Saturday, for the first time since voters elected him president in November of 2016.

     To his class, Carter explained that Trump is fearful that China is “getting ahead of us.” On the phone, Carter asked Trump, “And do you know why that is? Since 1979, do you know how many times China has been at war with anybody? None. And we have stayed at war.”

     Carter then told his class that the United States is “the most warlike nation in the history of the world due to our desire to impose American values on other countries. China is investing in high-speed railroads, rather than in defense.”

     “How many miles of high-speed railroads do we have in this country?” he asked his class.

     “Zero,” his class members answered.

     Carter said. “We have wasted, I think, $3 trillion. China has not wasted a single penny on war, and that is why they’re ahead of us in almost every way. If you take $3 trillion and put it into American infrastructure, you’d probably have $2 trillion left over.

     “We’d have high-speed railroads. We’d have bridges that aren’t collapsing. We’d have roads that are maintained properly. Our education would be as good as that of say South Korea or Hong Kong.”

     Carter makes some valid points, although not all are politically popular.

     Transportation officials define high-speed railroads as those that run in excess of 250 kilometers per hour (160 mph). As of December 31, 2018, China claimed 29,000 kilometers (18,000 miles) of high speed railroads, two-thirds of the world’s total.

     A pleasant thought: instead of a two plus hour drive to a major airport, a forty minute ride.

     Carter’s comment that the U.S. is “the most warlike nation in the history of the world” is astonishing when one remembers that he is a 1946 graduate of the naval academy at Annapolis. Historians though might argue with him that ancient Rome exceeded the U.S.’s talent for declaring war.

     On Sunday, May 14, the New York Times featured two articles on America at war.

     The first appeared in the “Book Review.” The historian Joseph J. Ellis reviewed Rick Atkinson’s book, The British are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777. Ellis praises how Atkinson displays “a novelistic imagination that verges on the cinematic.”

     Atkinson begins his “brutal and bloody” account of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, and ends it at Princeton on Christmas Day, 1777, after Washington and his troops crossed the Delaware River at night and attacked the unprepared Hessians at daybreak.

     Atkinson intends “to rescue the American Revolution from the sentimental stereotypes and bring it to life as an ugly, savage, often barbaric war. Unlike in World War II, most of the killing occurred up close. If a continental soldier was hit in the torso, his chances of dying were more than 50 percent.”

     The second article appeared in the “Sunday Review” section under the headline, “A Battle in Falluja, Revisited.” Elliot Ackerman, Marine and First Platoon leader, wrote of his fierce days fighting door-to-door in Falluja, Iraq, in November 2004.

     Ackerman writes, “This is the 15th Memorial Day since the battle of Falluja in late 2004, in which 82 American service members died. The battle was a key operation at the outset of the Iraq War and resulted in the fiercest urban combat since the battle for Hue in Vietnam in 1968.”

     Ackerman says, that as a platoon leader, “You are responsible for everything your platoon does or fails to do. Responsible for everything.”

     A handwritten note scrawled on the wall of the government center in Ramadi, Iraq, in January 2007 said it well, “America is not at war. The Marine Corps is at war: America is at the mall.”

     Indeed, it is the military service organizations—the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps—that fight the wars that the politicians select, while the vast majority of Americans live their lives unperturbed. America has been and will be, it seems, at continuous war.

     And yet, as Americans we have a choice: continue to engage in a stream of wars far into the future, or, as Jimmy Carter advises, apply the revenues intended for war to our faltering infrastructure and to our schools. He urges the government to spend its revenues more wisely, with a better return.

     Carter said that Trump is worried about China surpassing the U.S. as the world’s top economic power, but he said, “I don’t really fear that, but it bothers President Trump, and I don’t know why.”