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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: U.S. Missed Lessons of Wars Past




Sunday is Victory Day, the 54th anniversary of the Soviet Union's miraculous - it's not too strong a word - defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. And so there will be the usual parades and speeches and, given the war in Yugoslavia, probably many a truculent and fantastical statement about the good old days of Soviet military might.


Wars, especially victorious ones, tend to be sentimentalized and glorified, and of course Russia is not alone in this. But what the martial music may disguise is that when it comes to war, Russians are actually thoughtful and wary. Hard experience - the loss of 27 million Soviet citizens, the devastation of dozens of cities - has taught them war's ugliness and its futility.


This was reflected in the sullen disgust over the wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Each was a Kremlin war, not a people's war - if there is such a thing. Russians were less than inspiring in their public, civic opposition to the war, but their strong private disapproval was quite commonsensical.


Nor is it much of a stretch to say that Russia's experience with war can be seen in its people's healthy indignation at NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia - Washington's fourth bombing run against another country in seven months, a war entered into casually and without a UN mandate.


Some sober reflection on the meaning of war would be just what the doctor ordered for the United States - where public opinion has been too obsessed by investigative reporting on Monica Lewinsky's thong underwear to pay much attention to a sporadic air war over Iraq, to cruise missiles hitting purported terrorist camps in Afghanistan and Sudan, or even to the early days of the White House's rush into combat in Kosovo.


Americans have yet to face up to what war means - and Western political leaders are doing their best to continue sheltering them. The result has been a made-for-CNN effort fought so gingerly that only two planes, and no lives, have been lost by NATO over Yugoslavia: The Clinton administration rightly fears that safe, comfortable Americans would be so startled to learn that war is not a video game that they would drop their low-fat, double decaf moccachinos.


That's not an argument for ground troops or more violence - but it is a suggestion that a political culture that had truly wised up about war might not have started this one in the first place. As Russia celebrates a victory over Nazism in Europe, it is sobering to think that lessons learned more than 50 years ago - and at such horrible cost - have been lost on her former allies.