March 20, 2013
By James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
Following World War II, half of Europe fell under the iron grip of Stalin. Those nations remained captured for decades. Whole generations were lost to freedom. America spent untold wealth fighting the Cold War and risked global nuclear devastation. If 10 years after, America's newspapers had asked "Was WWII worth it?", most Americans would have shriveled their brow in confusion.
Perhaps the greatest generation was also a smarter generation. They knew there are no do-overs in national security. The worth of war can only be justly determined before the conflict is joined, not after. Asking if wars are worth it after the fact is the equivalent of Machiavellian morals in foreign policy—asserting that the "ends justify the means." In other words, if we don't like the outcome, it wasn't worth it.
Nations should go to war only for a just cause and when they believe the good they hope to achieve will be outweighed by the terrors of combat and the inevitable suffering of innocents.
In the case of Iraq, the U.S. had more than enough justification to take on Saddam Hussein. He was a vicious dictator who inflicted unprecedented violence on his nation and the cause of peace and freedom. He demonstrably violated the peace accords that had led to the cessation of hostilities during the first Gulf War. Further, he had led an active and successful disinformation campaign to convince his neighbors that he had active WMD programs, even as he publically denied the charge.
Yes, the war and the aftermath were unpredicted, and were longer and more complicated than first thought. So was the American Revolution, WWII and Korea. Yet it is only Vietnam and now the Iraq War that pop culture wants to call "bad" wars.
If there is a similarity to the two, and a difference with the others, they were both wars we won before we lost. In both cases, after trial and error, we achieved a decent result and then Washington, tired of war, walked away—not only squandering hard won gains, but leaving the U.S. in a poorer strategic position than when we started.
First appeared in US News & World Report's "Debate Club."
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow
Read More >>
Request an interview >>
Please complete the following form to request an interview with a Heritage expert.
Please note that all fields must be completed.
Heritage's daily Morning Bell e-mail keeps you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.
The subscription is free and delivers you the latest conservative policy perspectives on the news each weekday--straight from Heritage experts.
The Morning Bell is your daily wake-up call offering a fresh, conservative analysis of the news.
More than 200,000 Americans rely on Heritage's Morning Bell to stay up to date on the policy battles that affect them.
Rush Limbaugh says "The Heritage Foundation's Morning Bell is just terrific!"
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) says it's "a great way to start the day for any conservative who wants to get America back on track."
Sign up to start your free subscription today!
The Heritage Foundation is the nation’s most broadly supported public policy research institute, with hundreds of thousands of individual, foundation and corporate donors. Heritage, founded in February 1973, has a staff of 275 and an annual expense budget of $82.4 million.
Our mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. Read More
© 2014, The Heritage Foundation Conservative policy research since 1973