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Days of war


This Thursday, June 9, will mark 1,365 days since September 11, 2001, the putative beginning of the War on Terror. And virtually no one will take notice.

But this number's been around before: It was 1,365 days between the attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) and final victory over the Axis powers in World War II (September 2, 1945).

We won absolute victory in World War II thanks to our allies and our own supreme efforts at home and abroad. The nation was asked and willingly provided what was necessary to win. Taxes needed to fund the war were levied, manpower in unprecedented numbers was assembled, and civilian needs were put on hold until victory was won. For grumblers, the answering phrase "don't you know there's a war on?" became part of the lexicon.

At the war's end, the United States reaped the admiration and thankfulness of the entire world. Our prestige and image were never higher. Even Third World people laboring under colonialism recognized the pressures we were exerting to end that unsustainable system.

As the decades passed and the euphoria of the World War II victory faded, things began to change. Many, especially in the Third World, began to view the United States as the new dominating force in the world. And it was not appreciated.

Skip ahead to September 11, 2001. The attacks on New York and Washington enraged Americans just as Pearl Harbor had. But this time the questions --- Who was the enemy? Why did they do it? How do we get at them? --- didn't come with obvious answers.

We soon knew who: al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. We were lied to as to why: "We were attacked because we are the beacon of freedom." And we would get after them. We were told the United States would launch a War on Terror and bin Laden would be brought "back dead or alive." (Both quotes from George W. Bush.)

At first we had the world behind us. In Paris, Le Monde proclaimed after the attack "Today we are all Americans." NATO pledged all-out support for the US. Intelligence agencies around the world offered help.

Somehow it all went wrong. We went into Afghanistan with our lukewarm acceptance of European help. And despite possessing the world's most sophisticated military technology, we somehow allowed bin Laden to slip away into Pakistan. Then we moved on to a war in Iraq that's becoming more and more unpopular as it drags on. Now even the majority of Americans think the Iraq invasion was a mistake. In the latest CBS news poll (May 24), 60 percent of Americans think the Iraq war is not worth the sacrifice.

So here we are. Bin Laden is still at large. The year 2004, as recently reported by the State Department, had the most terrorist attacks in history. The recruiting effort of the United States military appears in a crisis mode, with scandalous methods being used to dragoon poor young recruits out of high schools. It's easy to paste stickers on cars to support our troops, a little more problematic to find troops willing to be supported.

The total cost of the War on Terror has reached $350 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service. The Iraq piece of that is $200 billion, and will reach $500 billion by 2010 according to the CRS. Instead of asking the American people to pay for this war, we have issued massive tax cuts and we refuse to implement a draft. Of course, it would be politically impossible to reinstitute the draft. Public scrutiny on what we're doing in Iraq would go up exponentially. How sad all this is compared to the unity and shared sacrifice of World War II.

Any objective view would have to conclude that the "War on Terror" has been an abysmal failure. It has not been won, not even close. And worst of all, in sharp contrast to the end of World War II, the level of respect, admiration, and prestige for the United States has never been lower. This is the discouraging milestone we will pass on June 9, 2005.

A numbers exercise

Even though the filibuster battle may have temporarily receded, it's still interesting to look at a few relevant numbers. I added up the populations in states where Republicans have both Senate seats. Then in states where the Senate seats are split, I added half of the population for each of those states and totaled the two sets of numbers. The results:

• Republican senators, with 55 seats, represent only 46 percent of the population.

• Democratic senators and one independent, with 45 seats, represent 54 percent of the population.

I know, I know. The Constitution says small population states get two senators just like big states as a check against the tyranny of the majority. But wait a minute. I thought that was what the filibuster rule was for as well. So what has the argument been about again?

Laurence Britt will be talking about politics on Wisconsin Public Radio's Conversations with Joy Cardin at 9 a.m. Wednesday, June 8. Archives available at