Jonah Goldberg

"This war, like all wars, must end. That's what history advises. That's what our democracy demands."

President Barack Obama at National Defense University, May 23, 2013

They say all is fair in love and war (I'm skeptical), but that doesn't mean war and love have much in common. When it comes to love, both parties need to be in on it. In war, all it takes is one to tango. Sure, if the non-belligerent party doesn't want to fight, it can try to talk, or cut a deal, or even surrender. But it's up to the guys willing to kill to decide how things will proceed.

This is particularly relevant when two parties are at war and one side wants to stop. As legendary Marine Gen. James Mattis has said, "No war is over until the enemy says it's over. We may think it over, we may declare it over, but in fact, the enemy gets a vote."

That line came immediately to mind last week when President Obama declared that history tells us the war on terror must end. As an objective statement of fact, that is of course true. The war on terror must end. So must all life on this planet. But saying so doesn't make it so. Some things must end on their own timetable.

In 1387, when The Hundred Years' War was already a half-century old, Richard II undoubtedly would have very much liked the war to end. But the French didn't want it to end on losing terms, so they kept fighting for another 66 years until the English were finally booted from French soil.

The Hundred Years' War actually took 116 years. That is a really long time. A soldier in 1450 might have had a great-great grandfather in the same war.

Of course, the Hundred Years' War was really a series of wars, battles and skirmishes that flared up and subsided over 11 and a half decades. You could say something similar about the Cold War. The Vietnam War and Korean War were flashpoints of a larger civilizational struggle.

A more apt comparison might be the long struggle between Islam and the Byzantine Empire, which began in the seventh century, in Muhammad's lifetime. I have no doubt that Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos would have loved for that war to have ended a few centuries before he died in battle in 1453 defending Christian Constantinople. When he died, the Roman Empire died with him.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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