Civilize ‘Em with a Krag?

America is now involved in its third foreign entanglement of the twenty-first century. Our experience in Afghanistan and Iraq has been mixed, showing that we’re remarkably capable in some tasks and dismally inept in others. Federal debt and deficit may decide how much foreign policy we can sustain, but if we are able to resolve the budget concerns, we do have to consider what conflicts are likely.

The war that we were ready to fight from the late 40s through the 90s was a total war. It would have involved tanks and fighter jets for a few hours, but we all knew that it would get settled with nuclear weapons. That kind of war is still possible, as the nuclear-armed powers haven’t gone away, but barring accident, it’s unlikely. The strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.) means that two nations with a lot of nukes will grumble at each other, but generally remain polite.

Some will suggest nuclear disarmament. While that’s a laudable goal, it’s unrealistic. The technology for making nuclear weapons is widely known. Anyone with the uranium and no concern for longevity can build one in the basement. With a little more skill, such bombs can be churned out with minimal difficulty. There’s no going back from that, and as long as one nation has nuclear weapons, several others will have to have them as well.

But a nuclear world war is much less likely than the kind of war that we’ve seen in the last several decades. These days, the typical conflict is with bothersome little countries that seek to annoy the rest of us. Iraq is a good example of this. Saddam kept interfering with his neighbors and threatening more distant nations. Removing his regime proved to be astonishingly easy. What we saw is that America has a military that can defeat most countries around the world within a month of fighting. That’s our skill.

What happened afterward was a disaster. We don’t know how to occupy a country. We thought we did, but our experience in Germany and Japan at the end of the Second World War doesn’t really apply. In those two situations, we had spent years beating them into abject submission. We were then able to build them back up in our image. That kind of war can never happen again because it was a war against an equal, and our military equals today are in the previous category.

With all of this in mind, what kind of military force do we need in the future? I suggest a three-part force. The first two parts we already have. We need a nuclear force–including bombers, submarines, and missiles–to defend against total war. We need an expeditionary force that can sweep away any minor nation’s government and military, when such action is indicated.

The third force is an occupation force. It will have the training and equipment to act as a police department, civil services sector, better business bureau, and other such offices. The problems of occupation are insurrection, corruption, and tribal interests. The force that I’m picturing must be able to deal with all of those.

Americans, as a rule, don’t like the idea of occupying other countries. We objected to the British, and Southerners objected to Reconstruction. I don’t mean here that we ought to go around taking over small nations just for the enjoyment of it. The trouble is that a few of those will insist on being disagreeable. If we leave them alone, they fester and make more noise (something like children).

This essay is an exercise in realism. That being the case, I have to acknowledge that we’re likely heading into a period in which we can only afford to take care of ourselves, if that. But somebody has to take this role. The United Nations, being run by festering little nations, can’t. The Chinese don’t want the job. The Russians and the British are tired after years of managing empires.

Sacrebleu, I guess that leaves us with the French, if not us. Come on, Americans, get our act together.


The title of this piece comes from a song of the Spanish-American War:

Underneath our starry flag, civilize ’em with a Krag,
And return us to our own beloved homes.

The Krag is the Krag-Jorgensen rifle, America’s first smokeless powder longarm adopted by the Army.

5 thoughts on “Civilize ‘Em with a Krag?

  1. nrhatch

    If we could get the Big Oil companies and General Electric to pay taxes . . . and get Congress to end $21 billion in subsidies to Big Oil . . . and elect politicians who actually want us to be an affluent nation instead of a few affluent individuals . . . then maybe we could afford to take care of the world.

    As it is . . . I’m not holding my breath.

  2. Nick Payne

    Before I finished reading your post I had to say this–that Bush I, Junior’s daddy, fought Sadam in Desert Storm, but he stopped short of trying to overthrow him and to occupy the country because all the intel pointed that it would be near impossible, long, trying, difficult to say the least, a quagmire of a cluster-you-know-what, and that’s exactly what the actual “experts” told Bush II, but he got rid of them and put in guys that told him what he wanted to hear and now we’re left trying to solve this quandary. Sorry, now I’ll go back and finish the rest of the post. And I also remember a thing called the “America First Committe” headed by Lindburgh back in the day, and I like isolationism–hell, it’s what Washington wanted for us, coming from his famous Farewell Address. The Brits and Ruskies learned the hardway, as we have, and the Chinese are smart enough not to want the job. Well, I say “America First,” we’ve got enough problems here, which is a topic for another post.

  3. Marshall St. John

    You forgot to mention religion. Today’s wars are religious wars, and when we “defeat” a country they are not really defeated. We never get to the root of the problem, which is Islam. And how do we eradicate Islam, because honestly, that’s what needs doing. But it is beyond both our will and capabilities.

    1. David Green

      Its not up to us to eradicate Islam nor is the good ole us of a the sword arm of the almighty. What the us needs to do is end it’s addiction to foreign oil, kick big oil to the curb and develop alternative forms of energy then get the hell out of the middle east and let them kill each other.


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