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History lesson: War should not be entered into lightly

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Pat McGeehan Pat McGeehan
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Pat McGeehan is the author of the book "Printing Our Way to Poverty." He is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, served as a military intelligence officer and is a former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates. He is running for his former seat in 2014, and he lives in Chester. Contact him at patmcgeehan2014@gmail.com.

War is hell. 

The famous line uttered by General William T. Sherman during a speech he delivered not long after the end of the Civil War. Perhaps no three words can better describe the mass violence, the atrocities and the physical — and sometimes more damaging — mental scars left with its survivors. 

With this simple description, from a man who certainly knew war, a question must be asked of our own government's leaders. Before politicians send our boys and girls off to continued conflict, do they really know what war is? What it means? What it costs? My bet is no, most politicians certainly do not.

Since the close of the Second World War, the United States has been in a state of continued conflict overseas for nearly six decades. Even with the fall of the Soviet Union, marking the end of the Cold War, when peace was finally thought to be the new norm — the U.S. government has only escalated war after war overseas. Few in Washington fail to realize this foreign policy of "Global Engagement" has resulted in grave consequences to the American citizenry. 

To name just a few, the cost to the U.S. economy and the American tax-payer has been enormous. The negative image of the "Ugly American" has spread throughout the globe. But perhaps most importantly, the results of these War Hawk policies have caused a severe blow to our Constitutional freedoms, along with the grim price our veterans have had to pay — who have so faithfully borne the burden of this hell.

In the last decade alone, thousands upon thousands of our men and women in uniform have been killed overseas. This is not to mention the thousands more who have been maimed or injured for life. Families have been torn apart and the survivors of these constant wars have been left with not just physical scars, but mental ones. 

In fact, a suicide epidemic rages today, something that is rarely mentioned in the media. Since 2012, more American veterans who "safely" returned home have taken their own lives versus the number of U.S. veterans who were actually killed in combat. And all of these wars — what were they fought over? Why were our men and women sent into the line of fire?

Every time our government entangles itself in yet another corner of the world, serving as some international police force, we tend to create 10 problems for every one that is "solved." In Iraq, Fallujah — a small city that many Marines shed blood trying to secure in 2004 — is now squarely back in the hands of radical factions of Al-Qaeda. The puppet Iraqi government — democratically elected in name only — is nearly in shambles. Not long ago, the president of Iraq sentenced his vice president to death, likely because one was a Shiite and the other a Sunni. Iraq is nearly embroiled in civil war, with sectarian violence now the norm.

In Afghanistan, we are still engaged in heavy fighting, losing more men and women. Dumping American tax dollars and military might into a nation to mold its peoples' culture into our own image, will typically always fail to achieve anything other than loss of life and resources. Nation-state building is simply a lost and broken cause. With Afghanistan in particular, most of the native people who live within its borders do not even recognize a country with such a name exists. Fewer of these tribes recognize the puppet government that was installed by the United States in Kabul, much less its authority over a nation called Afghanistan.

Libya is currently in a state of chaos. After our war in Libya, various militia groups now reign supreme. The well-known tragedy in Benghazi, where four Americans were murdered, including our own ambassador, is a horrid result of what the CIA refers to as "blowback" or unintended consequences from our intervention in foreign affairs. Oil production has decreased in this region, from 1.4 million barrels a day to just a couple hundred thousand.

This is not to mention the loss of civilian life. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people in these regions of the world have been killed in these wars, leaving behind generations of foreigners who will likely forever despise the United States. American hatred is spreading, and from this resentment, more and more recruits are being driven towards radical anti-western terror groups, swelling their ranks.

And the actual price-tag for all of this? Trillions. The action in Libya alone, small as it was, charged the American tax payer over $1 billion. But in total, to maintain this enormous "empire," in which the United States now has some degree of military presence in roughly 130 different countries, costs the American taxpayer more than $1 trillion a year. Of course, large defense contractors marketing more products to the Pentagon probably don't mind these policies too much. However, the cost to the average American footing this tax bill will only get steeper. Seventy years after World War II, and we still have military bases in Germany and Japan!

Make no mistake though, there is no one "party" to blame here. Both Republican and Democrat administrations have unilaterally taken our country to war, with absolutely zero Constitutional authority. The Constitution is clear: The power of war is solely vested with the Congress of the United States. In other words, with the people's chosen representatives. From Iraq to Afghanistan, Libya to the Balkans, to even more remote areas where most Americans are clueless as to the extent of our covert military involvement — such as Yemen, the Horn of Africa, Syria, Pakistan, or Central Asia — there has been no constitutional declaration of war from the Congress. The president, be it one with an "R" or "D" next to his name, has simply made it so. This precedent being established, the precedent of one man taking our country to war, is a danger in and of itself. A grave constitutional crisis the founders repeatedly warned against in many of their writings. Permitting one branch of government, or one individual, to obtain such enormous power — the power of offensive war — typically only leads to more Constitutional infringements.

In the last decade alone, we have quite readily seen these infringements, for it is as if the Bill of Rights no longer exists. For years, the National Security Agency has monitored and stored every phone call made by Americans, along with the records of what millions of Americans are doing online, with emails or the Internet. No warrants required. The president has been granted the "authority" to indefinitely detain any American citizen, without due process or trial, simply by declaring them to be a "threat." The TSA strip-searches Americans traveling through any airport in the country. The FBI, ATF, DEA, the Department of Homeland Security — all employ thousands of agents and annually purchase billions in weapons and ammunition. The Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment, Second Amendment, Fourth and Fifth — and of course the 10th — all under attack, some ignored almost entirely. With hardly an outcry anymore, these safeguards and restrictions on centralized power have deteriorated. Indeed, we are living in an age absent the checks and balances handed down to us from the founders. We are living in a post-Constitutional America.

Yet despite all the war, and the money poured into so-called "security," we still hear more from politicians in Washington — about new threats lurking in the dark, whether they be the Iranians, the Syrians, the North Koreans or the Chinese — there always seems to be some new monster to slay. Some new monster to fear. But again — all in the name of national security, or for the greater, collective good. 

These war policies are unsustainable, counterproductive — and yes, immoral. A strong defense is something quite different than the initiation of hostilities abroad, spreading our armed forces thinner and thinner. Trading with the nations of the world helps foster cooperation—and mutual respect. But yet, we bribe with "foreign aid," prop up dictators with more American tax dollars and ultimately force our way of life on foreigners — with the barrel of a gun. How foolish can it be for us to believe that we can bribe and bomb our way to peace … to "security"?

We as Americans need to wake up and learn the lessons of the past. Read the histories of the Greeks, the Romans, the Spanish and the British empires — or simply look at the recent example of the Soviets. All collapsed in bankruptcy and ruin, and their chosen paths led to the suffering of their own people on massive scales. But perhaps most of all, we must once again simply read the lessons from wise Americans who left us great legacies of liberty, some 200 years ago. As Thomas Jefferson said, "Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none."