War Drums

Alan Zendell, October 8, 2017

Back in the 1960s, Donald Trump and I were among millions of young American men who did everything possible to avoid being drafted and sent to Vietnam. At least according to interviews published decades later, Trump was violently opposed to the war, as was I. Those were probably the last two times the Donald and I ever agreed on anything as I followed his flashy career and ever more repugnant behavior over the years.

Trump spent the Vietnam War learning to make money in his father’s business, sacrificing absolutely nothing in return for his “bone spur” deferment, but freely complaining publicly about our leaders involving us in a war we should never have been involved in. Many of us believed that as well, but most of us found a way to do our duty when asked. I lived my own private horror show from 1968-1971 as part of a military-civilian team working in the bowels of the Pentagon, seeing horrifying things I never imagined I would. I avoided the snake-infested jungles of Southeast Asia, but I, like so many other Americans was severely marked by the senseless conflict while Trump was getting rich.

Most of us who went through all that were left with a strong conviction that war must always be the choice of last resort. I don’t know anyone who experienced Vietnam who came away from it with a jingoistic bellicose attitude prepared to use military force against anyone we disagreed with. But then, most of us are not extreme narcissists who get off on being in charge of the most powerful military in the world.

Most of us, in our seventies, do not behave like children with an arsenal of powerful weapons who just can’t resist using them and showing off how tough we are. Most of us do not believe that going to war makes us better leaders than our predecessors who preferred to work through diplomacy. And most of us do not tremble with excitement over the idea of being able to give orders to the most competent generals and admirals in our armed forces.

Even after years of attacking the last two administrations over their Iraq and Afghanistan policies, our president seems to have an itchy trigger finger when it comes to North Korea and Iran. While our European allies and Trump’s own military and political advisers counsel that it is in our national interest to continue with the Iran nuclear deal, he seems determined to scuttle it and send us down a new uncertain path toward nuclear confrontation.

And North Korea? We’re well past the point where bobbing and weaving and creating confusion on Twitter is entertaining. With a potential loose cannon like Kim Jong Un armed with long-range missiles and nuclear weapons, Trump’s belligerence is irresponsible, not to mention unbecoming the leader of the strongest military in the world. There are certain universal lessons we’ve been taught all our lives, especially when learning to deal with conflict. “Never make a threat you’re not willing to carry out.” “Never point a gun at anyone unless you’re prepared to fire it.” Does that apply to nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles?

I have to wonder whether Trump has any idea what he’s dealing with. I have a degree in nuclear physics and several years of experience analyzing our ability to intercept ICBMs anyone might fire at us, and I would never consider a strategy likely to provoke someone as unstable as Kim. Our military leaders know that our so-called nuclear shield cannot be relied on to protect us. Has anyone ever explained the realities of the situation to Trump? Does he understand? And if he does, can anything overcome his need to convince his supporters that he’s the toughest badass on the planet?

The reality of the consequences of a new war on the Korean peninsula is clear to everyone. Even Trump can’t ignore the obvious impact of artillery shells and rockets fired from the North destroying the city of Seoul without Kim ever having to deploy his army. Nor can he ignore the generational hatred Kim feels for Japan which is almost as intense as his feelings toward the United States. Does Trump care that even if we succeeded in destroying North Korea without losing a single American soldier, Kim could kill millions in South Korea and Japan by pushing a few buttons? Is that what he means by always putting America first?

Of course, there’s another possibility. Maybe all the Rocket Man tweets are part of another feint. Maybe Trump is simply trying to distract us from his next attempt to scuttle Obamacare or from actually reading the tax reform bill he wants Congress to pass. That would certainly fit with his philosophy of governing.

I guess I have to admit that the spectacle of seeing South Korean and Japanese cities destroyed would be a wonderful distraction. Great strategy, Mister President.

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