For the first time in its history, the United States faces conflict of indefinite duration with a worldwide movement that is not associated with a nation state. The late William Applemen Williams captured this sense of ongoing war in the title of one of his last books, “Empire as a Way of Life.” Andrew Bacevich expresses a similar sentiment in the title of his paper, “The Long War,” a term currently in use at the Pentagon. But labels aside, there is a new phenomenon of perpetual war against non-state actors that calls for all the insight and wisdom the profession can bring to it. This session will offer three distinct viewpoints to address this phenomenon from an historical perspective.
Herbert Bix, an expert on Japanese history, will look at the war crimes trials conducted by the United States in occupied Japan, asking the question: How do the actions during World War II for which Japanese service personnel were found to be guilty compare with the conduct of members of the United States military in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Carl Mirra, a former Marine, will compare the experience of conscripted United States soldiers in Vietnam with what we know of the attitudes of volunteers serving in the present conflicts. A particular focus will be perceptions of the “enemy” on the part of veterans and currently serving enlistees.
Andrew Bacevich brings to this subject matter extraordinary and, among historians, unique qualifications. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and has taught at West Point as well as at Johns Hopkins and Boston Universities. His “interim assessment” of the Long War will examine how a strategy that started with clear goals shifted to a policy with uncertain aims and little attention to long-term consequences.
Finally, commentator Howard Zinn should need little introduction. It may be noted, however, that Professor Zinn’s views have undergone an evolution. Zinn tells us in his autobiography, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, that as a young man during World War II he was “eager to get into combat against the Nazis.” Part II of the autobiography details the encounters that led to his present perspective.
Each of the five participants in the proposed panel is a veteran. As a group, their military service encompassed the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Marines.