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America's Debate > Archive > Assorted Issues Archive > [A] International Debate
Are war, mass media and democracy compatable?

I've often wondered this when considering American history because it seems that the better informed and more active a population becomes, the harder it becomes for the USA to wage war.

During the Korean war there was not all that much vocal opposition, but with Vietnam the protests against the war seemed to be near revolutionary in scale. What caused this? I'm inclined to suppose it was the advent of TV coverage putting the fighting on TV screens all across the world and which caused so many people to react with revulsion.

Anti-Americanism seems to have really taken off in Europe at about this time also and perhaps these are related? There were demonstrations against the Soviet Union also but these were dwarfed by the demonstrations, both in and outside the USA, against the American presence in Vietnam.

Considering the situation today, it seems that the US led coalition, whilst fighting for its goals in the heat of Iraq must also contend with considerable opposition to the war at home.


Is it because the war is considered unjust? or would most of those demonstrators eventually be demonstrating regardless of the merits of the war?

War is not popular in western populations and quite rightly so but are we seeing an ever growing sentiment that says no to war, regardless of any merit?

It was not always thus...

Sun Tzu wrote:
11. The art of war teaches us to rely not on the
    likelihood of the enemy's not coming, but on our own readiness
    to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking,
    but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.

12. There are five dangerous faults which may affect
    a general:
    (1) Recklessness, which leads to destruction;
    (2) cowardice, which leads to capture;
    (3) a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults;
    (4) a delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame;
    (5) over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him
        to worry and trouble.

13. These are the five besetting sins of a general,
    ruinous to the conduct of war.

Nicccoló Machiavelli wrote:
A PRINCE ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war and its rules and discipline; for this is the sole art that belongs to him who rules, and it is of such force that it not only upholds those who are born princes, but it often enables men to rise from a private station to that rank. And, on the contrary, it is seen that when princes have thought more of ease than of arms they have lost their states. And the first cause of your losing it is to neglect this art; and what enables you to acquire a state is to be master of the art.

These are old fashioned perspectives to be sure, but in an interview with a North Vietnamese general (alas I do not recall which one) when asked why the communist north won over the USA he replied, 'because we had the will to do what had to be done. Regardless of the costs, our determination to win, against the Japanese, the French and finally the Americans, never wavered.'

Suddenly Sun Tzu and Machiavelli don't seem so out dated after all. Can we, in the modern western nations with our strong moral principles and laws governing how we fight war ever say the same thing?

And if we can't, then how can we ever hope to wage war?

How can a democratic and technologically advanced state, with a free media, wage a war its government considers necessary even if its population doesn't?

Possible questions for consideration are in bold text.

edited to fix quotes
How can a democratic and technologically advanced state, with a free media, wage a war its government considers necessary even if its population doesn't?

In the long term, it cannot.

Democratic governments derive their power to govern from the will of the people. If the government goes against the will of the people for too long, they will be replaced.

Richard Nixon, in 1968 said:

"When the strongest nation in the world can be tied down for four years in a war in Vietnam with no end in sight, when the richest nation in the world cannot manage its economy, when the nation with the greatest tradition of the rule of law is plagued by unprecedented racial violence, when the President of the United States cannot travel abroad, or to any major city at home, then itäs time for new leadership for the United States."

Of course, he was playing on the growing war weariness associated with Vietnam. Upon becoming President, however, he realized that there were strategic goals in Vietnam and we did not pull out until years later.

McGovern also ran against Vietnam (in 1972) but he was unsuccessful.

The people are not dumb. They realize now and they realized then that the federal government's primary duty is to protect them from external threats. It doesn't do so by building a wall around the US and deploying its soldiers along that wall.

In the end, what is good for the US is good for the world: peace, free trade, and stability.

I don't think the media is too much of a factor here. During Operation Desert Storm, the war was broadcast on TV and patriotism was everywhere. I was in college at the time and "God Bless the USA" and other patriotic songs were played all day and most of the night.
Well this wasn't an encouraging response. sad.gif

Yes, but wasn't Operation Desert Storm over rather quickly? I seem to recall the ground war lasted all of... what? 5 days?

Looking at the current situation faced by the coalition forces in Iraq, with an ever mounting public hostility to what is, by any historical context an overwhelmingly successfull military campaign, I can't but help compare it to other similar wars in the past where the USA was not defeated by any force of enemy arms but by opposition within America itself. Vietnam is the classic example, but the Philippine-American War of 1899-1913 also bears striking similarities to the current war in Iraq as does the US participation in the 1982/3 multinational force in Lebanon and the 1992 UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia.

The USA is vulnerable to public opinion and it seems that public opinion is not always as you describe for when ever there is a large loss of American lives reported the polls indicate a drop of support.

Looking beyond just America then, do other democratic countries display this vulnerablity?
It seems to me that few other democratic countries have waged as many wars as the USA, but in those that have, like Britain and France, then public opinion rather than force of arms is the most potent factor in whether or not victory can be acheived. Even in Russia, and the former Soviet Union it seems that a public enlightened by the media are able to utterly cripple any war effort, and will.

It seems to me a weakness inherent in free democracies that pubic opinion is more of a threat to a state's war fighting capability than an actual enemy.

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