Americans are dangerously casual about war with Russia and China

·2 min read
President Biden.
President Biden. Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock

The war in Afghanistan was the longest in U.S. history. The war in Iraq has killed perhaps as many as a million people. U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition intervention in Yemen's civil war contributed to the most acute humanitarian crisis on the planet. These and other U.S. military misadventures of the past two decades will cost us, and our children, and our children's children trillions of dollars.

But, as wars go, these were easy — for us. The fear of a large-scale terror attack that was widespread after 9/11 quickly faded. There were no home front deprivations. Schoolchildren didn't practice hiding under desks. We hung no blackout curtains. We were never at risk of invasion or airstrike. Indeed, our enemies in these last two decades generally had no airpower, let alone ballistic missiles capable of crossing the Atlantic. The war on terror has been long, brutal, and costly, but there was never a scenario in which we would be conquered.

That recent history, argued writer Freddie deBoer on Substack on Tuesday, has left too many Americans dangerously naïve and casual about war with Russia and China, nations far closer to being our military peers:

[W]e've gotten to a point where so many people feel comfortable getting cavalier about war with Russia. Yes, of course the Commentary crowd is raring to jump into a war that generations grew up dreading. But there's a remarkable amount of mainstream fervor for being "strong" and "assertive" with Russia right now, and I can only guess that it largely stems from the fact that we've been insulated from the horrors of war really since Vietnam, thanks to the unipolarity of the post-Cold War world, the remarkable advances in emergency medicine made in the past 50 years, and our increasing focus on a "nimble" army. These things have made conflict easier to bear for a citizenry that, in turn, doesn't fear conflict the way it should. [Freddie deBoer, on Substack]

In his conclusion, deBoer turns from the recklessness of the commentariat to that of the general public, whom he chastises as a "distracted and desensitized country that can't remember the horrors of combat" and will now perhaps be led into great power conflict by leaders whose own families will be insulated from its destruction.

I can't deny that this dark forecast is plausible, or that the public has some degree of moral culpability for the callowness deBoer observes. Still, I hope the lesson won't be written in blood.

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