I was not attempting to describe utopia. I was describing reality. And reality is that wars, stabilization, reconstruction, development, and ultimately enduring peace take a long time to achieve.
Americans seem to have real difficulty in framing their view of the world as it actually is as opposed to the way they want it to be. With their short attention span and severe impatience, Americans have a significant problem when assessing conflicts and the spectrum of conflict to peace. If there’s not an obvious end in a few months (or maybe a couple of years) and Jeffersonian democracy, stability, and enduring peace clearly established, with all troops withdrawn and a ticker-tape victory parade, then apparently the whole thing was a failure. But that is simply not how the world works.
For example, when did the Korean War end? (Hint: it hasn’t ended officially — all we have is an armistice). How long have U.S. troops been in South Korea? And then there’s World War II — the U.S. became involved in the conflict at the end of 1941 and fought until 1945, then occupied Japan until 1952 and Germany until 1955, and continues to base troops in both countries even today. Those are some relatively easy ones. How about the U.S. Civil War — when did it end? In 1865? Not really — federal troops occupied the southern states for years after the clash of armies ended (although unfortunately, their occupation was cut short before the job was done as a result of Washington politics), struggling to stop terrorists (e.g. the KKK) and general lawlessness. Reconstruction of the American south took decades and terrorism against blacks continued for nearly 100 years. One could say that arguably, the last military action of the U.S. Civil War was when federal troops had to intervene to escort black teenagers into an Arkansas high school in 1957.
And, of course, a broader survey of history will reveal more and more evidence of the grim reality that wars rarely end quickly and cleanly. Ever heard of the Thirty Years War? How about the One Hundred Years War? How long did the Napoleonic Wars go on before Napolean was finally defeated for good? Or how long did the Crusades last? Just a few examples.
My point has nothing to do with any kind of utopia. My point is that the way Americans view conflict and conflict resolution, war and peace, victory and failure, is divorced from reality.
During my military career I spent some time at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School and while there, I was told a very profound axiom — to effect real change in a society takes at least three generations. I came to realize just how much truth there was to that while in Kosovo. While struggling to restore peaceful relations between the Serbs and Albanians, I realized that for the generation of adults who had just engaged in bloody conflict with each other, the hatred was too great and very little progress could be made. For the most part, their children did not have experiential hatred born of conflict, but their minds were nevertheless poisoned by the hatred of their elders. The best that could be achieved with them would be a tenuous tolerance in the future. Only the next generation — the third generation — of children born well after the conflict and attenuated from it by many years could have some hope of burying the hatred and truly living in peace. That is reality. And in the Middle-East, where the historical divisions run deeper, it will take much, much longer.