It's a common formulation on the Left, which makes a virtue of hyperbole.
If one plugs the phrase "catastrophic war" into Google, its mysterious search engine algorithms will indeed rank references (mostly from politicians and pundits) to the Iraq War very prominently among the top few dozen returns. But the inhabitants of Carthage during the Third Punic War (149-146 B.C.) would certainly have sooner been able to grasp the technology behind internet search engines than they could the mind-set of those who could label, from an American point of view, the Iraq War as "catastrophic." There are no more Carthagenians, because after their besieged city of between a quarter and a half million people was finally captured by the Romans, the 50-odd thousand Carthaginians remaining alive were all sold into slavery and the city was methodically leveled back to pastureland. That was a "catastrophic war."As I was driving home this evening I pondered on the incredibly low cost to America and its people of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is not to make light of the sacrifice of those who have been killed or wounded, or the effects it has had on their families. But wars always have these sacrifices and this one has been very light. It has allowed us to go to the mall while the volunteers in the Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force fight the war.
From the perspectives of Germany, the Soviet Union, or the European countries in between or around the two, World War II was certainly a catastrophic war. There wasn't just "regime change, although there was certainly lots of that. Nation-states were erased from the map; others were partitioned and/or occupied by foreign armies for decades thereafter. And tens of millions of soldiers and civilians were slaughtered. Even the United States, which unquestionably emerged victorious and, relatively, unscathed by World War II, suffered thousands of soldiers killed in battle in a single day, sometimes for obscure specks of coral so lost within the vastness of the Pacific Ocean that Americans both then and now couldn't accurately locate them on the globe within a distance of 10,000 miles.
Any rational student of history would conclude that America has had at most only one truly "catastrophic war" — that being its own Civil War, in which something on the order of 620,000 Americans were killed. Yet most Americans, and most serious students of history around the world, think that the "catastrophe" of that war would have been if the Union had been permanently sundered, instead of only temporarily split. Even the grim KIA figures from the American Civil War are dwarfed by the death toll from the Battle of Stalingrad alone from World War II. And there were dozens of individual battles in either World War II or the American Civil War in which more American soldiers were killed in one single day than have been killed in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan in all the days put together since 9/11/01.
If it's your husband or son or sister who's killed or wounded, then of course any war may be "catastrophic" for you and your family. For some (blessedly small) number of Americans, the rescue that Ronald Reagan effected on the island of Grenada in 1983 was a "catastrophic war."
But from a national point of view, "catastrophic war" — to have any meaning at all — seems to me to be a term that ought to be limited to those wars in which, at a minimum, the country has incurred comparatively large numbers of killed and wounded, using other actual wars as a basis for comparison. And it probably ought also be limited to those wars that a country has actually lost.
Such is the breath-taking historical ignorance of the Democrats, however, that their candidates, their partisans, and the members of the press who cover them can all presume — without giving the matter a second thought — that the Iraq War is a "catastrophic war," and that all further interesting debate and analysis, and all primary elections and party nominations, must proceed from that premise of fact and judgment.
So the question I'm left to ponder — as I prepare for a quick holiday trip back to my hometown, where I'll give thanks this Christmas for God's boundless blessings upon me, my family, and my nation — is this: I think America can, if need be, survive the occasional presidency like Jimmy Carter's or Bill Clinton's. But is the historical ignorance of the Democrats becoming so pronounced that it's beginning to run the risk of becoming "catastrophic ignorance"?
Pray for victory and peace.