There’s so much we need to talk about. Things we want to fight out, battles of principle that need to be hammered through to the bitter end. But there’s something really important you need to take care of first, and I use those words advisedly.

“What’s this Libertarian doing, telling us we have obligations! Let him take care of it himself if he thinks something needs to be done, isn’t that the essence of his creed?”

Well, here’s the thing: You guys, you lights and leaders of Conservatism in America in this age, you’ve done some things already, that you need to at least finish up. There’s an important ragged edge to your military interventionism, one you cannot entirely hand off to the Liberals who continued it, no matter how they botched your wise policy. And this definitely isn’t a job I can do for you.

You see, there are a lot of people in this country, veterans, voters, flag-wavers, patriots, who have a doubt in their mind about the past military interventions. A more serious kind of doubt than you might imagine, especially among the veterans. But for all who acted in accordance with your ideals, to produce the outcome we now face, there is a moral cloud, a possibility of moral guilt. The men who patrolled Fallujah still watch the news today, and this is where your obligation comes in: They doubt themselves.

There are soldiers with PTSD right now who cannot fall back on their moral convictions in the darkness, they do not have a single strong cord of reason to hang onto in a gale of inner turmoil. They have doubt and confusion in their moral universe; it is more severely unhinged than their injured psyche.

Now of course it will be immediately shouted, and I will immediately answer it, that the reason the policy failed and these men have anything to look back on besides radiant victory, is some restraint or weakness on the part of a Liberal administration. The veterans should be like the victors in 1945: Joyful, hopeful, innocent, gracefully edited into a montage of nostalgic music and waving flags. This or that error of Obama is to be blamed for depriving Our Troops, once again, of the glorious Victory.

The legendary Victory of right and virtue, that beautiful vision that we all hold hopefully in our minds when the troops are mobilized and the bombs start falling. The hope and desire of warriors is promised to them in the faith and culture of their homeland, in legends from the distant past and stories from the edge of living memory. And in its fiction too, the promise is repeated over and over, that we can have happiness and truth and peace if only we are valiant. That it is martial virtue that promises men happiness is probably the most common moral lesson in popular art.

So when we object that it is Obama’s fault we didn’t reward Our Troops with glorious Victory, the answer is readily apparent: Are you aware of how rare that Victory actually is? We know of one war that we can credibly treat in nostalgic sepia tones, and we have known many wars since. And even the necessary and noble World War II, crucible of the saints of Conservatism…there is a doubt about its glory as well. The certainty of the evil of Fascism has produced a certainty of the necessity of the war. Very well, say it was necessary. Amputations are sometimes necessary. But the necessity does not erase the horrors, the shooting of prisoners, the inner breakdown, the suicides and addictions, the abuses back home. All the costs of war were visited upon the people in World War II just as they were during Vietnam; but because they were regarded as necessary sacrifices, these tragedies were first stoically accepted, and now, practically forgotten.

We have never had a glorious Victory that erased the costs of war; these are an unchangeable reality. What we had in 1945 was a tragically costly victory, in the name of a cause so noble that documentaries are filmed as if the victory was costless. The separate awareness of both the suffering and the cause has slowly transformed into a shallow view that, on net, that war was beneficial and we should have more like it. So in truth, had your well-thought-out interventions in the Middle East produced strategic victories even more laudable than the defeat of Fascism, you still should have been ready to account for the costs of war. You should have your story ready for the orphans, about what their daddy died for, and the truth is there is absolutely nothing we can do in the world today that offers a compelling answer. Imagine we had obtained total victory, in any intervention you choose: Does the story of that total victory add up to a good reason for the veterans to endure the things they endure? If you had that win to show, would showing it do any good? It is impossible for the costs of war to be overlooked in a modern military intervention the way they are now overlooked in the case of World War II, because modern military interventions are visibly trivial in their objectives when compared to that conflict. Nobody can point to the removal of Saddam and comfort a widow, and no claimed objective of modern interventionist policy offers the slightest promise of any nobler work than that.

I say this as a challenge, not intended to crushingly indict you for replacing many years of many young lives with a violent hell, but to spur you to act, to finish the work you must. You, the Conservative intellectuals, have the job of answering this cry because it is obvious, and it is all around you. Your country is full of veterans that have attached their pride to the success, and the nobility, of the military actions of the United States; they are scourged internally by the plain facts I’ve laid out here, nobody doesn’t know these things. As I said before, the marines who were in Fallujah have the news in front of them today, and their doubt is visited upon themselves. It is not the duty of the people who followed you to disentangle the moral knots of your policies. It is your duty.

It is your duty to make plain why what your followers did was right and noble, not shrug them off with, “Well we would have won if not for Obama.” Winning is not the question, it is the moral virtue of the interventionist campaigns, this is what must be shown to the doubtful veteran to set his heart at rest and end shame’s assaults on him. If hearing me trivialize the objectives of your policies and scrutinize the costs back home angers you, that wasn’t my intention; you have no need to answer me. Answer instead the people who followed you into war, ignore me, simply focus your intellectual arsenal on giving the Iraq vets exactly what you owe them. Their role was carrying rifles, yours is answering questions, so answer for them this, and make it satisfying: “What in this war is worth what I have done?”