Would it be worth it?

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To the Editor:

The well-armed hordes of murderers and sadists we have labeled ISIS have overrun a large territory in Iraq and Syria. Should the U.S. respond by sending large numbers of our soldiers back into combat in the chaos and war of all against all that prevails in the Middle East?

Speaking at Gettysburg in 1863, Lincoln expressed the hope that the Union dead on the battlefield had not died in vain. Two years later Lee surrendered to Grant. Lincoln’s soldiers did not die in vain.

In early 1965, Lyndon Johnson, drawing upon the counsel of the best and the brightest, began pouring American troops into Vietnam. Initially, I had an open mind. By the end of the year, I had come to the view that this would not end well.

It did not end well. By the time we finally brought our people home, more than 50,000 of our military had been killed. It was a tragic, criminal waste of the lives of our fellow citizens, from which we, the American people, gained nothing.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Muslim terrorists killed 3,000 Americans. There have been additional deaths since then — in Boston, Fort Hood, Chattanooga, and elsewhere. But the total number of Americans murdered here by Muslims since 2001 is less than 100.

Muslims have killed about 7,000, and wounded more than 30,000, Americans since 2001— in Iraq and Afghanistan. Have we gained benefits from sending our troops to those faraway places which more than compensate for the lives lost and suffering incurred?

There is no plausible scenario whereby Muslim terrorists could have killed 7,000 people here in our homeland since 2001. True, there are many people in the Middle East who hate America. But no one residing in Yemen, Pakistan, Syria, or elsewhere in that benighted region of the world can kill an American here unless he finds his way across the Atlantic and past our border  security. That is not easy to do. We are on our guard since 2001, and making a determined effort to detect any terrorist who tries to slip into the country.

One of our major goals in sending forth our troops was to achieve — on net balance and over the long run — a saving of American lives. It was, and is, widely believed that we must go overseas and invade the territory of those who hate us, and kill them, in order to prevent them from someday, somehow, managing to come over here and kill us.

I am a skeptic. But I may be in error. Perhaps, 50 years from now, the scholars who study this episode in our history will conclude that the lives we have sacrificed in Iraq and Afghanistan did — in contrast with Vietnam — result in the saving of a greater number of lives here at home.

Perhaps.

R.E.L. Knight

West Tisbury