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Janie B. Cheaney: Bring back victory


WORLD Radio - Janie B. Cheaney: Bring back victory

Americans would do well to regain an appreciation for decisive actions against clear enemies

Israeli soldiers sit on a military vehicle near the border with Gaza on Tuesday. Getty Images/Photo by Menahem Kahana/AFP

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday May 1st. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

LINDSAY MAST, HOST: And I’m Lindsay Mast. Up next: WORLD commentator Janie B. Cheaney says when it comes to foreign wars, “V” should stand for “victory” not “vacillate.”

JANIE B. CHEANEY: The year after I dropped out of college to get married, radio personality Paul Harvey came to speak at my old campus. Though best known for The Rest of the Story, Harvey was originally a news and opinion journalist. The Vietnam conflict had just come to a messy and inconclusive end, but he told us that night that its very messiness proved, “War has gone out of style.” The audience responded enthusiastically. Some had come home traumatized from Vietnam. Others had lost friends or relatives there. Was Harvey right?

In a way, yes. War has gone out of style in the sense that we have very little stomach for it. But armed conflict—hostile invasions and atrocities and destruction raining from the sky—is still very much in vogue. What’s no longer stylish is victory.

World War II ended in 1945 with two milestone days: victory in Europe on May 8, and victory over Japan on August 15. Both were unconditional surrenders—no cease-fires or negotiations. Germany and Japan gave up and lay down their arms; after six devastating years, the War was over and the good guys won. It took great determination and immense human sacrifice to lean in until the enemy unconditionally surrendered, but that was the cost of victory. Since then, victory doesn’t seem worth the cost.

Korea ended in a stalemate. Vietnam was a defeat. Iraq followed lightening success with lingering setbacks, and Afghanistan fell in disaster. Since 1950, America’s only clear military successes have been military actions: get in, achieve the objective, get out. Grenada, Panama, and Desert Storm were so quick they’re barely remembered, but they were popular at the time and “successful” in removing the dictator or protecting the oil.

But when a war lasts more than a few months, Americans lose confidence—or worse, we lose interest. When a few flag-draped coffins give way to multiple body bags, a messy end is probably not far off.

If the conflict isn’t clear, neither is the objective. A direct attack on the U.S. Pacific fleet was clear: Japan hit us at Pearl Harbor and in the Philippines, so we hit them back and didn’t stop until the enemy was completely broken. The next big test of our will came not from a nation but from Osama Bin Laden, a fanatic sheltered in Afghanistan with a loosely-affiliated terror network. Stamping out one fire ignited others, the first objective shifted to the next, and at the end of twenty long years, some felt we accomplished nothing. Perhaps because no one could explain what victory would look like.

Israel knows what victory looks like: the destruction of Hamas. Likewise Ukraine: the expulsion of Russian troops. Both are responding to direct attacks by identifiable enemies, a form of war that hasn’t gone out of style and never will. It’s not for the U.S. to define victory for other countries, but to determine whose side we’re on and what we are willing to do. Vacillation wins neither war nor peace.

I’m Janie B. Cheaney.

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