September 11, 2013

KITCHELL: 'Over there' has different connotation now


---- — It’s amazing how cyclical our American views of the world are.

Periods in our history reflect sentiments when we couldn’t wait to go to war and counter sentiments when we didn’t want to be bothered with it. Sometimes, historians could argue, we shouldn’t have been involved. Sometimes they might argue, we should have intervened sooner.

If we were around a century ago, we’d be hearing the isolationists tell us how we really should stay out of other nations’ business. By that time in 1913, we’d fought the War of 1812 the Civil War and the Spanish-American War. We were about to fight World War I, the Great War, the War to end all wars, as it became known. The conflict was characterized by that great battle cry of a marching song, “Over There,” with the signature ending, “... and we won’t be back until it’s over, over there.”

A century later, “over there” has an entirely different connotation, as in, “The last thing we need is another war over there in the Middle East.” You can’t blame the American opponents of a war in Syria that involves the U.S., especially when military families are raising generations of kids who have known more time without a parent than with them. Moms and dads have served multiple tours of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan or any number of other military outposts and locations, but when the conflict is chased away, it moves on to another country like a rock band’s world tour.

If you’re an American of this generation or any previous generation in the past century, you have to be wondering if there is an end to war, or if it, like the Bible says of the poor, will always be with us.

Fast forwarding to Syria in 2013, there is a looming involvement for the U.S. Yes, we ought to be skeptical of our involvement in any war and what we can take away from the end result.

After the invasion of Iraq, who can blame them? We were told by our highest officials there were weapons of mass destruction.

What makes Syria different are a few factors. First, it’s clear that chemical weapons are being used on innocent people, not the least of which are women and children. Using chemical weapons as a last line of defense is barely justifiable, it at all, but using them on your own people is another matter. President Obama has indicated this involvement will not involve American troops on the ground. Precision air strikes and computer-operated and -controlled “drones” have made this possible. Add to that the fact that Syria is a relatively compact country in a region of the world where the U.S. has immense interests and the energy security of the free world and giving in to unfriendly nations who want to take over Syria is an untenable option.

What makes this situation so difficult is that so many nations expect so much from the U.S. that when times like these arise, more is expected of those nations. But don’t expect China to send in troops to help resolve human rights issues.

What we should expect is a secured Syria and a United Nations presence that stops the senseless bloodshed and restores order. Sen. Richard Lugar has been an unabashed supporter of intervention, and it’s not because he wants to make Syria our 51st state.

If we really want this war to be over, over there, this time, and we want to avoid a world conflict that drags the Middle East, Europe, Asia and North America into a great war, then intervention is likely the best option. Maybe it wasn’t popular in Bosnia, Kuwait or Iraq, but at the end of the day, those countries are more stable today than they were before the United States intervened.

It’s a matter of priorities, not just for our military interests, but the interests of our allies and their energy and economic security.

Maybe it’s hard to believe that such a small country could cause so much harm to the rest of the world. Then again, this is how World War I started not quite a century ago.

If we’ve learned from history, we won’t be condemned to repeat it.

Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at