Over the past few months, I have been studying the history of intervention as part of my pursuit of a Master’s in Military and Diplomatic History. There seems to be two common lessons to learn from the history of military intervention.
There is no “getting it right.” Military intervention forcibly halts conflict for a time but does not end conflict. It always comes back. Inaction will cause many to suffer. Action will cause many to suffer. Therefore, do we intervene and cause suffering in order to stop suffering, all the while simply postponing war for the next generation? Or do we let war run its course and watch a generation die?
Stopping regional war but risking international world war is not usually worth the price. Unfortunately, no one can figure out when the price is worth paying. When 100,000 die? When multiple nations topple? When the threat reaches your own back door?
There is one new lesson being recorded for our posterity even as I post this.
Those who call for war are seldom the ones who fight the war. This is nothing new, but it is being documented in great volume in the news and social media. Armchair warriors cry for a strong stand against tyranny and call it weakness when diplomacy is used. They approve of the jobs created by military buildup but disapprove of paying the bill. They think war is like a game of Risk, a game that when an impasse is reached you box it up and put it on the shelf for the next time you feel like prancing around like a peacock. Being strong means looking strong rather than acting strong.
What we should be learning.
The one thing that history doesn’t seem to teach anymore is the value of stepping back from a fight and trying for peace once again. When this choice is made, if it is made, it is belittled and viewed as a weakness. It, rather than warmongering, is called the cause of future conflict.
President Teddy Roosevelt said “Speak softly and carry a big stick…” But we do not speak softly any more.
Machiavelli advised to be respected rather than loved. He used the word “feared” but his context inferred respected because the Prince should avoid being hated.
The person who always carries a big stick will eventually be hated – hated for acting, hated for not acting, and hated for the threat of the big stick. Sadly, this is the lesson history is trying to teach but a lesson we just don’t seem to be learning.