To War Or Not To War, America?

Americans want defense but don’t like war | Graphic from Bob Jones

Forget about Vietnam. American armed forces seem to be topping our politicians and journalists in favorability rankings in polls this year by Gallup and Pew Research.

Yes, we want out of Afghanistan and we do not want into Syria, but there’s a definite swell in opinion that our military serves the country well.

That’s an interesting finding for this Independence Day in light of companion polls that show us disinclined to pour more money into the defense side of the budget.

In a Gallup Poll this year, 35 percent of you said we are spending too much for military purposes.

Only 26 percent thought we are spending too little.

The Gallup question (and answer) I like best in that poll is this:

“Do you feel our national defense is stronger than it needs to be, not strong enough, or just about right?”

On that, 54 percent said we’re just about right, 32 percent said we’re not strong enough, and just 13 percent said we’re stronger than we need to be.

So how can we be both spending too much on military projects and also be at just the right amount of military strength?

That’s why it’s so hard to be the president or an influential member of Congress. Americans continually send mixed signals – not just on defense matters, but of course those are the ones most likely to have an immediate effect on our protection against attacks.

I think I understand this bifurcation. We want homeland security and a sense that some out-of-control regime won’t slam us with an atomic weapon. I think we’d be OK with a policy that permits our naval forces to blow all Somali pirates out of the water. We are the original Don’t Tread On Me people.

But lately – and this goes back to the Korean War, Vietnam, Grenada and certainly Iraq – we have a sense that we’ve butted into other people’s affairs with wars in places that posed no immediate threat to the United States. We do have an isolationist streak. It’s pretty hard to sell Americans that we should go to all-out war if China attacks Taiwan or North Korea attacks the South.

So we have a split personality on military spending.

We want the best armed forces in the world.

We also know from experience that when presidents and generals have all the military toys, they have been inclined to want to use them. What good is that new bunker-busting bomb if we haven’t used it and evaluated its effect in real war?

So our love goes out to the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Guard, neither of which ever seems to be chomping at the bit to get into the game.

But while you’re picnicking this week, I don’t expect you to be giving heavy-duty thought to this column.

That’s the way we are.

Everybody danced and the band played Moonlight Serenade at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel Dec. 6, 1941.