Reckless saber-rattling with an unstable despot and growing nuclear power in North Korea, sixteen years of fighting in Afghanistan, insurmountable issues in the Middle East, irrational bigotry and hatred consuming far too many, an enemy power’s blatant interference with the sovereignty of our electoral process, terrorism both domestic and foreign, indiscriminately striking every corner of the world, American soldiers dying in far away places we didn’t even know we had a presence, an administration neither aware or concerned with the potential implications of entering into war and by all appearances far too eager to do so – all issues that take place in our country.
We live in challenging times. Given the implications of modern warfare, if we make a mistake, they could quickly become unspeakably desperate ones.
I write “military thrillers,” which is just a nice way of saying “war novels.” My debut novel The Red Line is a highly realistic story about a fictional near-future war between the United States and Russia. The opening sentence in the novel states: “As with all wars, there were a million good reasons to go to war, and there were no good reasons at all.”
The purpose of my work is not to glorify war. In fact, it is quite the opposite. My books are more “anti-war” war novels than anything else. I want the reader to recognize things as they truly are (or would be). As someone who lived through the Vietnam War and lost a number of friends in the jungles of Southeast Asia I am far too aware of the consequences of such events to ever be willing to present these conflicts in anything but the starkest of lights. On occasion, war is unavoidable. World War II is the classic example of such a situation. In the majority of cases, however, wars occur for reasons that in hindsight make little sense to anyone. And good people, men, women, and children, die. Sometimes by the millions.
Vietnam was the first war where the American public had the realities of war streamed directly into their living rooms each evening. It was the only war where the military allowed reporters to accompany our units into battle and to broadcast the hideous events in real time. Everyone saw the wounded and dying firsthand. With a draft in place and over 500,000 young Americans spending a year in Vietnam before rotating out, none of us were untouched. We all knew someone involved in the conflict. A friend, family member, neighbor, or classmate serving in the war zone made it far too real. It lasted for nearly ten years. The futility of it all was a bitter pill to swallow. Our failure to subdue what we considered to be an inferior Third World foe was something no one in this great country could have imagined when the struggle began. But we learned a great lesson from it. At its end, we understood that war was not something to be taken lightly.
Unfortunately, in the more than forty years since that conflict’s end, the impact the Vietnam War had on how we as a country view war has faded significantly or been lost completely. In the four decades since that nightmare ended, two additional generations have arrived. And with the way our military presently is structured, few of us know anyone who is actually serving, adding even further to the casualness toward war that has seeped into our society. Far too many of us have become unconsidered and disinterested. Worst yet, many now cheer and revel at these perverse events.
Such a mistake could easily prove fatal. With the unspeakable weapons of mass destruction that presently exist, we live in a moment when whether we want to face it or not, mankind’s existence on the insignificant little planet could be wiped out in a matter of minutes. We have the ability to do so many times over. Given such an actuality, war in modern times must always be a last resort, rather than a first option.
If we want our children and grandchildren to have long, happy lives, it’s a lesson we must all learn.