Postmodern classic?

Saturday, July 30, 2005

The problem with democratic countries making war

There are many things, a comprehensive list would be exhausting and too far from the scope of this small blog. To name a few of what I think are the most damaging are the political games that seek to reduce the power of innovative leaders (i.e. Patton, Sherman, etc) and that of rules of engagement.

Underlying this argument though, I acknowledge the fact that the democratic civic audit of our military capacity is designed to limit the consolidation of power under any one person. Through wealth or power, we willingly sacrifice military 'efficiency' to the utility of democratic equality. And it is a messy and inefficient process. But the example of Caesar and Pompey is too great in the institutions of the West, or that of Napoleon in recent days. I digress... I must turn to a more practical area, away from speculative attempts into abstraction of psychology of generals.

Rules of Engagement have been much spoken of, in movies and in contemporary debate over how military forces must conduct themselves in the battle zone. At best they are attempts to preserve and codify a moral guide to maintain our ethical superiority and preserve the rights of the countries we operate in (so that they will follow in our example), but at worst they are a political attempt to minimize responsibility or deflect blame for those who fear the results of their timid support of action.

Any cohesive unit, especially that of a military, must have a moral code to follow, establishing limits and preserving discipline. Yet they must also be flexible enough for those operating under the demanding situation of combat to make decisions for the benefit of their life and the continuation of national security policy. Legalistic restrictions made from air-conditioned offices hundreds (or thousands) of miles away seem a hard cross to bear for those risking their lives on the front lines. In fact, they inspire disgust and resentment, as well as incentive to willingly disregard them when they appear to be poorly administered. How much of this is just a factor of democratic political processes inevitable interference in war, or is it avoidable?

I think this 'protect them for their own sake' argument goes back to the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, where the Western countries in Europe first attempted to adopt this new innovation by separating the legal identities of soldiers, politicians and civilians to restrict the barbarity and destruction of European conflicts. With this 'humane agreement', it seems that Europe was able to focus outward instead of the horrible internal wars they returned to in the 20th century. As Martin Van Creveld makes the compelling case in his 'Transformation of War', we may be coming to the end of that historical period where this ceasefire made sense. Surely the powers with whom we waged our major wars over the past century have not respected our European treaties in regard to this problem, most notably the 'Geneva Convention'. They seem to think the opposite, that anyone in the offending society is guilty, regardless of their identity.

Now, we shouldn't give up our morals because of what the people we fight do, but we might profit from examining why we believe what we believe, in a Socratic investigation of our 'humane war'. However, we shouldn't necessarily be so invested in these European agreements that we can't see life without them. Inevitably, we run into the contemporary political argument of human rights that is central to our general existential problem endemic in Western society. But my speculation aside, it would be nice to hear of others talking common sense.

I say, return to W.T. Sherman's dictum that war is cruelty, and only give quarter to the enemy if it is asked. Eliminate the state-centric impulse to 'humanize war', and the bureaucratic vanity that it is possible through legislation and nitpicking. In this manner we will see a new appreciation for peace that is only possible through the experience of violence.

Friday, July 29, 2005

I'm a Hessian

The Hessians- German mercenaries brought to America by George the 3rd to fight in the Revolutionary War. Overwhelmed by George Washington and forced to switch sides, they were still derided for their mercenary ways....

Enter one of the most recent forays of the MSM into 'understanding the military', and ending up confirming the big gap of awareness for this Ivy-league professor making outrageous statements of which he seems to know little. I echo the pundits involved skepticism that this guy, Kennedy from Stanford (a history professor, evidently?!?), actually knows anyone in the military. I'd link to his article to showcase it for posterity, but the hyperlink has already become inactive (correction: my fault, now active). Fortunately, some have already recorded it for us.

Here is the roundup, thanks to the usual suspects between Blackfive, Greyhawk, Lt. Smash, via Instapundit.

Short excerpt from B5:

"Kennedy definitely believes that the military is disjoined from society. Maybe those in Palo Alto don't get it, but I challenge Kennedy to go to the Midwest, the South or anywhere else other than the coasts and see what people say about the military. Or what the military men and women have to say about them.
And why is it that the military, if so disconnected, are so admired and respected? Why respected more so than smug academic hacks like Kennedy? Maybe he's just jealous..."

And then of course, there's the new show 'Over there', with a curt review from another Hessian, states (more at Centermass):

"More thoughts later, but I’d like to throw out a few initial observations.
-It just wouldn’t be Hollywood if we didn’t quickly show drug use and racial tension in the ranks
-“Keep quiet” and “keep down” apparently means little to soldiers
-One very realistic line from the sergeant during a lull in the action: “Do something useful … eat!”
-Soldier stereotypes? Check, we got’em
-Surprisingly questionable portrayal of women in combat. I doubt this will last many episodes"

Not much more to say on that. What're they going to do next, get Oliver Stone to direct a 9/11 movie? Oh, they did? Never mind...

UPDATE: A little bit more background on those Hessians. Quite interesting. And fixed the link to Kennedy's piece.

Psychoanalyst review of Cruise/Spielberg "WOTW"

Cruise/Spielbergs 21st century remake of 'War of the Worlds' was a watchable film. As my friends and family said, Spielberg always brings great production value to a film. And Cruise, despite (or perhaps because) of his oddities, is a great actor. So, the film was entertaining.

Well, move on to discussion, there was a debate over what kind of hero he was- and of course, in vogue is the 'Everyman' archetype. A flawed guy, not a great family man, but rises to the occasion to get through safely. Is this preferable to an unrealistic hero who we should emulate? I don't know. Definitely more comforting to sympathize with other flawed people, instead of trying to live up to ideals. Not that Schwarzengger is ideal, but I digress... it's Hollywood.

However, I did stumble across a common theme in the movie- they kept repeating 'they've been here all along', 'they've waited for millions of years'. And the emergence of the genocidal aliens from the ground was stirring. I wanted to analyze why... and I quickly came up with the idea that it was a primal fear. But of what? Of ourselves... Underneath our civilization, too, lies a lurking destructive impulse, primal and base urges to exterminate and oppress those weaker than us. Don't think that was Spielberg's aim, but he used it very well. The aliens had to be inserted into the death machines, like a compelling leader offering ideology or religion to murderous masses, because alone they were inert and unused. Just like us 'moderns' living our 'modern lifestyle', so far removed from our 'savage' past that many seem to want to return to, for crazy reasons.

Don't know how compelling others think my explanation is, but it might be interesting to see. Human nature is a fickle thing, one we ignore at our peril.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Kinder, gentler war

This post over at the Internet clearing house, I mean Instapundit, makes some interesting points. We have become so used to the idea of sanitary war and the ideal of moral perfection, combined with our inexperience in actual war that there exists a deficit of horror. By that, I mean Rwanda and Bosnia, along with Sudan and Zimbabwe at the moment, are more natural than unnatural. Actually, I think I read that on a National Review Online book review of Jared Diamond's latest book...

Anyhow, no one wants to discuss what will happen if something bad really happens. Despite 9/11 in the U.S., 3/11 in Spain and 7/7 in London, and of course with the prospect of more to come, our response has been limited and controlled. I believe this is true, even if you include the war in Iraq.

A nuclear bomb would change this, as has been speculated by notables such as Den Beste. Would we respond proportionately, with a countervolley? Or would we be able to control our troops in foreign lands?

These contemplations are where the apocalyptic scenarios of military 'efficiency' start. An efficient military machine would not have some International dream to restrict them, such as the Geneva convention. I hold the example of Nazi Germany as that of military efficiency- accomplishing much with little. However, they are also a good example of why rigid ideology leads naturally to hubris, among other incidents during their short reign.

The future is a fickle mistress, but it seems that the past never really leaves.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Iraq is Vietnam?

This blog is mostly just a recording place for when I find funny stuff on the net. I usually don't post political stuff, but I couldn't resist after I saw this column in todays WaPo- "Echoes of Vietnam". All this criticism of the president, blech.

Iraq is Vietnam... but this is not a bad thing. It is a bad thing if you buy into the commonly held perceptions of why we, the US, left Vietnam.

I was raised and exposed to the reason that we 'lost' the Vietnam War because it was 'the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time'. There was some vague explanations saying we had stretched too far- an unspoken assumption of latent imperialism, or our policies following the domino theory were too 'abstract and ideological'.

Most of my family believes this, this is what's taught at school- but the weird thing is, people who fought there don't seem to buy it. This always puzzled me, then I read more, about the actual execution of the war. We lost some good Americans there, just as in any other war. Didn't really seem to lose any battles, though. Then how did we lose? How did Southeast Asia dissolve into the chaos, anarchy and repression that characterize the aftermath of Vietnam- Pol Pot, etc... was the victory of the Vietnamese Communist Party 'inevitable'?

'Inevitable'- that's a great word, but so loaded with meaning, if one is to accept the Marxist-Hegelian definition. The forces of history and progress, as imbued in the vanguard of the people, the Communist Party. By being at the front of 'progress', these revolutionaries are legitimized by this knowledge that only they are privilege to. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

However, what scared me when I began to research this material was not it's inanity or the actual result of those who followed this ideology, but instead my preexisting familiarity with this line of thinking. Since when have I been a Marxist? Who was exposing me to this during my short 25 years? A number of things could contribute: some could be my exposure to liberal family members (of which none could be called communists), but the majority of the rest must be attributed to academia and the media. I don't wish to get bogged down in the details of attempting to quantify which percentage is this or that, assigning blame; like any other individual, there have been many events, people and arguments that have influenced me.

The dilemma is that I alone am responsible for my thoughts and actions, not my parents or my teachers. But as Socrates has been famously quoted as saying, "The unexamined life is not worth living". I, too, subscribe to this; for myself as well as my environment. This process of examination began to consume me as I discovered more about this world and the assumptions we live under, aware or not. It was puzzling to look back over my life and decisions, my assumptions, especially in the last years of political confrontation and war that have dominated my academic and military careers.

This was not restricted to one field of my life, like the illusion of sterile compartments, separating this from my reality. I realized that my assumptions regarding the conclusion of American military involvement in Vietnam were heavily influenced by this line of thinking. This being the case, it is of utmost imperative to examine them further. Ideally in the vein of a Socratic dialogue would I find this- not just to replace one ideology with another, but to explore different explanations and reasoning. I found this, to my surprise, in blogs.

The caliber of exchange and access to information has been a wonderful experience. I discovered many who agreed with me on this subject (among others), whom I will call 'Vietnam War Revisionists'. This is in the sense that, like me, they don't accept the common explanation. While we can never know what might have happened, it seems probable that our perspective was wrong, but the current explanation is not good enough. How did we lose despite such an overwhelming military presence? Hearts and minds- did it actually work?

I fight the urge to devolve into the gritty details of tactics or the abstract ideals of strategy in this attempt to explain. And I'm not trying to write a PhD thesis here. Looking at the same material, a differing point of view emerges- it might've been different.

If we could've won there, then we should be able to win now in Iraq. Not in a perfect way of course, no conflict ever is or will be. But we must not be restricted to one intellectual framework or the other- and that is why people who straddle both sides are the most interesting to me. They know what the other side means.

My thinking has changed, as I hope it will continue to- questioning and probing, open to the possibilities of the future. Yet I have discovered that there are unchanging principles, among the writings of the ancients in the Western tradition from Greece and Rome, alluded to in many of the worlds different religions.

More to come- there are implications beyond our current political situation.