With American troops on the ground in Poland and President Obama in Asia reassuring Japan that America would keep its treaty commitments even in Japan's regional dispute with China over a small string of islands in the East China Sea, America is technically, legally, engaged in a two-front world war. But it is a war which formed in the American mind in an earlier century, an earlier millennium. A time when neighbors would gather around the first tiny TV screens, to watch John Cameron Swayze "hopscotching around the world" on NBC's first evening news. Swayze's world view in 1949 was remarkably similar to our own today; peril in Asia with Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong and the People's Republic, peril in Eastern Europe with Premier Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union.
We might ask Obama: Who is our enemy today and why? Or is the enemy again, as Pogo found it to be in an earlier day, us?
The events in Ukraine today suggest those sent spiraling out of control by a misguided Russian czar in 1914. But these events will not play out like that. To see how this could more likely return, look instead to the war in Vietnam.
Because if America is going to fight in a big war and for a long time — and we are apparently already committed to doing so — we will need a military draft. Certain political leaders, including military figures, strive for one anyway. But before we rise again in war fever as we did in Iraq, recall the Sixties. Why did the draft work in World War II and earlier and why did it not work in Vietnam? Why will it not work in a big war today?
At the time of the two world wars, America was a nation in large part of factory workers and field hands. Post-World War II we become a nation of thinking, literate, functionally educated creative individuals, more kin to the individualistic and self-reliant New England yeoman farmers in the Revolutionary War era and thereafter, than those in the following century of common laborers in mass production which brought so many of our families here from Europe to be factory hands. But when called to war in the Vietnam era by military draft, we demanded to be told why. We are even more individualized today.
Russian Czar Nicholas II's feckless and impulsive push to war destroyed Russia almost overnight. It took more than 60 years for Russia to come out of the devastation. Tens of millions died. Food for thought, because America came to the very edge of destruction internally in the second half of the '60s due specifically to the draft and the undesired war in Vietnam.
This is what Obama, posturing again on the edge of war, risks for America today. The greater risk is not the external application in another war we will not win, but in the internal disruption in America which will come from a war we did not commit to by treaty in our era, we did not vote for, we do not want and a war in which the young will refuse to fight.
Quigley is a prize-winning writer who has worked more than 35 years as a book and magazine editor, political commentator and reviewer. For 20 years he has been an amateur farmer, raising Tunis sheep and organic vegetables. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and four children. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.