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August 01, 2013 5:25 PM ‘Twas a Famous Victory

By Ed Kilgore

One of the reasons the human race keeps engaging in avoidable warfare is that in our understandable desire to honor those who made terrible sacrifices on behalf of their nation, we tend to laud the glory associated with wars more than they actually merit, or forget what caused them and what they actually achieved or failed to achieve. This was in the news just last weekend:

North Korea has commemorated the anniversary of the Korean War armistace with a huge military parade attended by the country’s 30-year-old leader Kim Jong Un.
Kim, wearing a black Mao suit, viewed the carefully choreographed stream of goose-stepping soldiers and military hardware parading through the capital Pyongyang.
He arrived at the podium in Kim Il Sung Square on a red carpet with a military band playing and flanked by military and ruling party leaders….
North Korea considers the 1953 suspension of open hostilities in the Korean War as a “victory.”

You don’t have to be North Korean to glorify dubious victories.

World War I, which broke out 99 years ago today, produced an estimated 37 million casualties (16 million deaths and 21 million wounded). It is difficult today to think of this as a “good war” in the sense of creating a sustainable peace or better living conditions in the countries participating, or even of avoiding an alternative course of history that was bloodier or less tragic. It is equally difficult to think of its causes as anything other than pathological. Yet the “victors” celebrated, the vanquished nursed dreams of vengeance, and within a generation an even more terrible war broke out in much the same (if later expanded) area.

And this is why alongside every war memorial and every self-congratulatory patriotic celebration of military might, there need to exist antiwar songs, tokens of protest, records of “collateral damage,” and sheer horror at what we have done or worse yet, have asked others to do in our names.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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