Surrender is not always cowardly

Posted: Friday, July 02, 2010

As we celebrate the signing of our famed Declaration of Independence this week, we might also consider that America wasn't really a free nation until after the Revolutionary War ended. We have to remember that the British fought for six years to keep the 13 colonies under their rule. What if they never surrendered? It's an interesting question because the issues before their Parliament then are quite similar to what our Congress faces today in Afghanistan and in regard to our own global empire.

The British military still possessed superior military strength and could have continued to fight. Indeed, King George, like presidents Obama and Bush in our time, wasn't prepared to quit. But ending the war several months after losing at Yorktown wasn't a military decision. It was a civilian matter that was debated in the British House of Commons.

One of the major considerations was that the British military was spread thin. They were fighting in India and the West Indies, and they were defending their empire in the Mediterranean against France and Spain. The monetary cost of the war was mounting.

Governments collect taxes in part to fight wars. And long after they're over the people are taxed to pay off the loans needed to wage them. In fact, it was Great Britain's debt from earlier wars that precipitated the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765.

On this Independence Day, we aren't any freer from the burden of taxation than the rebellious colonists were more than 200 years ago. While many would claim that welfare spending and government entitlement programs are to blame for the size of our national debt, the fact is, if we include Veterans' Benefits and payments and interest for past defense spending, nearly half of the federal government's budget is dedicated to our military.

And our wars today confirm what President Ronald Reagan once said: "History teaches that war begins when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap".

We went into both Afghanistan and Iraq expecting they'd end soon after we shocked and awed their people. Now, after nine years, the cost of these wars has exceeded a trillion dollars. How much longer will they go on? How much more money will we borrow from China to finance them?

As we examine the British decision to give up its hold on the 13 colonies, we should attempt to discriminate between the costs of total victory and the meaning of humility in the idea of surrender.

Consider how American history would read today if Britain stubbornly believed its mightier military would eventually prevail against the rebellious colonists. Would we still be a colony? Or would our founding fathers maintained the resolve and borrowed the means to fight indefinitely for the freedom they sought from foreign dominance?

When the British negotiated a peace settlement with the new nation in America, they weren't acknowledging a decisive military defeat. After six years of war they understood the futility of their cause against a people committed to the ideals self rule, liberty and justice. They also knew an independent America posed no serious threat to British freedom.

If the insurgents opposing America's occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan possess the same desire for self rule, then our wars there may never end. Instead, we could negotiate an honorable withdrawal and bring our troops home. We may not agree with our enemy's views, but like the American colonists, they aren't interested or capable of taking the battle to the imperialist's homeland.

History is full of negotiated peace agreements that brought wars to an end. Surrendering to these realities is neither an act of weakness or cowardice. Rather, as in religion and psychology, surrender is considered a willful resignation to the higher power of truth. And the most obvious truth before us is that the American taxpayers can't afford the cost of endless war.

Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident.

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