Stop perpetuating the myth of war weariness

FI-Letter-to-the-EditorTo the Editor

The USA is weary of war.  Google that statement. It is all over the Internet. You hear it most on the news and around solemn days like September 11.

They say the American people have put up with enough and just want out. I recently heard that we were “war weary” several times on CNN after President Obama announced his strategy for tackling the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). My response is always the same. Saying something repeatedly does not make it true.

Let’s consider three basic statistics:

• After 13 years of war, less than 0.1% of Americans have seen combat. It is generally accepted that less than 1% of all Americans have ever served in the military. Less than 10% of those who serve in the military have ever actually seen combat and some 40% of American troops have never even deployed abroad.

• According to a battery of statistics released this week, about 40% of Americans approve of President Obama’s handling of his job but over 70% support his plan for going after ISIS.

• In May 2014, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, stated during a visit to the Middle East, “It would be a mistake to decide that we are politically exhausted or weary militarily.”

Are these really signs of a nation that is weary of war?

Don’t get me wrong. There are soldiers who have served several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, spending years of their life in a combat zone, watching friends get killed or injured, and missing the life that they left behind. There also are thousands of families who have experienced incalculable loss through the death of loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan.  These servants could clearly be excused for being “weary” of war, having sacrificed so much to it.

In six years of active duty in the Navy SEAL teams, I came to know men and women who sacrificed a lot because of war, along with many families who lost loved ones. None of them ever told me they just wanted the war to stop.

The guys I served with, many of whom are still “on the hunt,” absolutely love their jobs and actually look forward to going on deployment. They view combat as an opportunity to hone their skills, test themselves, eliminate some really bad people and make a difference in the world.

This mindset has continued since October 2001, when our first troops were dropped into Afghanistan. Thirteen years later they still think the same way.

There are two important things to keep in mind:

• No one likes war – even soldiers. No wonder people answer today’s polls on wars by saying they’re tired of them. The media labels us “war weary” as a result. Yet how can our nation be weary if our warriors are not? If you don’t like hearing about a war, turn the news off, ignore it or go ahead and do something to fix it.

• A military that has not been honing its skills in combat is a military that is unprepared for the threats that exist around the world. We saw this in October 2001 when the Vietnam-era playbooks that were still used had to be trashed in the middle of combat once we realized they didn’t help much in Afghanistan.

Regardless of one’s personal views, our nation’s military is extremely well prepared after 13 years of experience…weary it is not.

So again, who exactly is weary of war? If not our troops, is it the media who have reported on war news for 13 years, the average American who has heard the sensationalized stories on the news for 13 years, or perhaps a political agenda coming from the right or left (or both)?  You decide  but my guess is that Americans are “reluctant warriors” rather than “war weary.”  There’s a big difference.


James Andrew Waters

The author is a former Navy SEAL and White House staffer.

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