Let’s suppose that, in each major military conflict involving America, the United States had opted to stay out of it. What might have happened?
• War Between the States, 1861-1865 — The Confederacy secedes from the Union; the North does nothing; the South soon rids itself of slavery without bloodshed (as did nearly every other slave-owning nation in the Western Hemisphere during that period, labor now plentiful and much cheaper than keeping slaves). South and North evolve friendly trade and soon patch up relations to the point of forming a loose alliance; by the 20th century America is all but rebuilt. Roughly one million lives saved.
• Spanish-American War, 1898 — Without our involvement, Spain quickly falters in its counter-insurgencies against Cuban and Philippine rebels; exhausted, it “grants them autonomy” and beats a retreat. This saves us from the nasty, ugly guerrilla war we fought against Filipino natives from 1898 to 1913. As many as 200,000 lives saved.
• World War I, 1918 — We stay out of the most senseless war in history; Germany sues for peace and reaches a stalemate settlement; Europe evolves very differently, with no Nazi Reich, no Second World War, and perhaps a weakened or non-existent Soviet Communist state. Tens of millions of lives saved.
• World War II, 1941-1945 — Okay, let’s say we did fight in WWI, but now we avoid WWII. The Soviet Union reaches a truce with Nazi Germany, which, without the pressure of war fronts, abandons the “Final Solution”; it otherwise controls much of Europe for years but falters after the death of Der Führer (from old age? assassination?), whereupon German hegemony unravels as uprisings splinter the empire. In the Pacific, after Pearl Harbor we hunt down the Japanese fleet and decimate it, then simply sail home; Japan, routed at sea, nonetheless continues to dominate China, hunting down Maoists and preventing them from causing decades of starvation and death. Tens of millions of lives — possibly 100 million — saved.
• The Cold War, 1947-1991 — The U.S., betting that Communism will collapse under its own weight, avoids meddling in other countries’ affairs, including Korea, Vietnam, and elsewhere; Iran in 1979 doesn’t overthrow a puppet regime we didn’t install; we trade with Communist Cuba until, enriched, it breaks with the Soviet Union; Chile goes Marxist for a time until its middle class becomes exhausted and ousts that regime. Overall, millions of lives saved.
• Iraq, 2003-2011 — Instead of launching a huge, costly, destabilizing war to destroy Saddam Hussein, we focus our post-9/11 energies on eliminating Osama bin Laden. Hussein’s regime remains afloat, which stabilizes the region, which prevents the Syrian Civil War, which prevents ISIS from wreaking havoc. Hundreds of thousands of lives saved.
Notice the underlying trend here? Every time we stay out of a war, things get better; every time we get into a war, things get worse. In fact, had the U.S. simply stayed out of World War I, every war that followed could have been avoided.
Yet we fought. After all, imagine not using our gigantic, easy-to-deploy American military might in each of the above conflicts and then trying to ignore the pro-war voices: “It’s an affront to our honor!” … “How can we not help our friends in Europe?” … “If one country becomes Communist, more will follow!” … “Hussein has weapons of mass destruction and is sure to attack America!!” “We can’t just sit by and watch [name of country] kill its own citizens!” … etc.
It’s hard to say no, especially when we possess half the military might on the planet. Besides, how can we lose? We’re the big gorilla; who can stop us? Plus, we’d be doing good deeds! And, well, it’s … exciting.
Anyway, what could possibly go wrong?