On Memorial Day, Mark Helprin calls on the American people to make commitments that go Beyond Stone and Steel:
We should offer instead a memorial, never ending, of probity and preparation, shared sacrifice, continuing resolve, and the clarity the nation once had in regard to how, where, when, and when not to go to war. This is the least we can do both for America and for the troops we dispatch into worlds of sorrow and death. Once, it came naturally, but no longer, and it must be restored.
First, and despite the times, is the demonstrable fact that throttling defense in the name of economy is economical neither in the long nor the short run. Not if you count the cost of avoidable wars undeterred. Not if you count the cost of major world realignments that lead to overt challenges and adventures. Not if you count the cost—in money, division, demoralization, decline, death, and grief—of lost wars. Is there any doubt that a relatively minor expenditure of money and courage could have kept Germany in its place and prevented the incalculable cost of World War II?
A public that otherwise professes deep loyalty to its troops is in the name of economy stripping down their equipment and resources, making it more likely that they will fight future battles against forces both gratuitously undeterred and against which they may not prevail. This is short sighted, tragic, hardly a memorial, and in fact an irony, in that other than in redeploying a portion of our wealth from luxury to security, military spending has always been a spur to the economy, as history demonstrates and every member of Congress with military facilities or manufactures in his district knows.
Nonetheless, the greatest economy—of lives, money, strategy—is found in neither the diminution nor the accretion of forces but in the wisdom and precision of their deployment and the adoption of feasible goals. It is neither possible nor desirable to build nations while simultaneously trying to conquer them with inadequate force. (Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, the oft-mentioned counter examples of Germany and Japan had been decisively defeated and were heirs to different traditions of governance.)
And what opponents of the United States could not be delighted that the current administration, in the name of unrealizable ideals, has made a project of destabilizing the whole world by abandoning friendly countries and allies because it is too delicate and self-concerned to tolerate that they are at times unsavory? President Obama would undoubtedly praise this in FDR, but apparently to him the co-operative states and allies he has undermined are neither as warm nor as fuzzy as Stalin.
When in defense of our essential interests we do go to war, not only must we carefully determine war aims—and thus dictate to the enemy the time, place, and nature of battle rather than chasing him into the briar patch of his choosing—but we must accomplish them massively, overwhelmingly, decisively, and, if necessary, ruthlessly. For anything other than minor operations this requires the consent of Congress, a declaration of war, and the clear statement and unflinching prosecution of our objectives. Rapid shocks cost less in lives, ours and theirs, than wars that drag inconclusively for a decade. We must make our enemies understand at the deepest level of apprehension that if we are attacked we will be quick and they will be dead.