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Why Do We Keep Using Stupid War Slogans to Talk About War?

War Slogans
A U.S. Army Paratrooper assigned to the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade engages pop-up targets with M4 carbine in kneeling position during marksmanship training at Cao Malnisio Range, Pordenone, Italy, Oct. 25, 2018. The 173rd Airborne Brigade is the U.S. Army Contingency Response Force in Europe, capable of projecting ready forces anywhere in the U.S. European, Africa or Central Commands' areas of responsibility. (U.S. Army photos by Paolo Bovo)

Instead of talking about the end to wars, it’s time to declare a new one — on stupid slogans about war.

Slogans like a “war to end all wars” are bumper stickers without the bumper. In contrast, statements like “defeat Germany first” and “unconditional surrender” were commitments with serious meat and sinew on America’s strategic backbone.

The problem is knowing the difference, which requires looking behind the intellectual curtain. That rarely happens in our modern discourse over war and peace, which seems confined to 60-second sound bites on Fox and MSNBC.

America was in Afghanistan for almost 20 years. For about 19 of those years, American presidents never talked much to the American people, treating an operation protecting 38 million Afghans and America’s interests like the mad wife hidden away in Jane Eyre—a responsibility best left unseen. Instead, presidents would parachute in, announce their fiats with a sprinkling of the motto of the day, and then be whisked from the podium as soon as possible.

No wonder Americans didn’t know what to think when President Biden abruptly announced “we are out of here” with little in the way of rationale or explanation. It was only after the evacuation turned into a crisis that made the 55 Days at Peking look like a picnic that Biden and his team began spinning explanations. This is akin to giving a lecture on fire safety while the building is burning.

As a result, Americans today are no better informed about wars — why we fight, how we end them, and how we try to avoid them — than they were before folks started flooding the Kabul airport, though Biden did give them an object lesson in how not oversee military operations or “end” this war.

Here is the better lesson to be gleaned from all this: the American people ought to demand better than loose rhetoric about war. In fact, they should insist on serious dialogue with and among their leaders about the decisions they are making that affect our security, freedom, and prosperity.

Americans need to be as passionate about understanding foreign affairs as they do about Obamacare and taxes. What happens overseas also affects our pocketbooks and whether we can sleep safely at night. Outsourcing war and peace to the Washington elites has to end.

Forget bumper stickers. Americans ought to understand that our policies begin with defining what America’s interests are and then debating what are the most efficacious ways and means to secure them. We need to hear how force should be used with prudence and judgment. Glib sayings about war do none of that.

Today in America, the screaming elite want us to understand everything through their politics, not our interests. This is true for everything from climate change to critical race theory and the issues of war and peace. Even the tools that are supposed to help us understand what wars are all about, like military history, are overly politicized.

If Americans are really serious about their own lives and livelihoods, their community, and their country, they will start taking seriously their responsibility to be informed citizens and engage other citizens in serious discussion of serious issues. If they think this is too much of a burden, they ignore one of the few slogans that do have something serious to say — freedom isn’t free.

A Heritage Foundation vice president, James Jay Carafano directs the think tank’s research on matters of national security and foreign affairs. Carafano is also a 1945 Contributing Editor. 

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, James Jay Carafano, a leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges, is the vice president of Heritage's Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy and the E. W. Richardson Fellow.