Preventive wars are tricky to judge in retrospect

May 31, 2012

As David Swanson points out in his recent article, the War of 1812 was indeed senseless, born of wanton stupidity ("America's first war of choice: 1812). It served no useful purpose, local battle glories notwithstanding.

Not all wars are like that, however. World War II is rightfully regarded as a necessary and epic struggle against powers that would have plunged the world into chaos.

Consider, though, how Nazi Germany could have been checkmated earlier, and the whole European conflict resolved at a tiny fraction of its ultimate cost in dollars and lives.

In retrospect, the United States, in concert with Britain and France, should have acted in 1936 to reverse the unlawful German occupation of the Rhineland, which was followed by Hitler's occupation of Austria and Czechoslovakia. And we all know what happened after that.

There is one problem with limited, preventive wars, of course: After the fact, nobody can gauge their significance with any certainty.

If the Allies had squelched Hitler in the mid-1930s, critics today — perhaps Mr. Swanson among them — would still be debating what was accomplished, and even the necessity of the conflict.

Jack Wickham, Glen Arm

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