« Classes Without Degrees | Main | Anti-Anti-Anti-Anti-Anti-Semites »

February 15, 2007

The Super Army

Chris is quotable:

Note to members of the United States House of Representatives on both sides of aisle: Soldiers are people. Some volunteered out of patriotism, some out of economic desperation, some because they couldn’t think of what else to do. Some of them are truly heroic, courageous, conscientious and brave. Some are racist and sadistic. Some are both at different times. Some began as kind-hearted and generous and have had their entire personalities change by the cruelties of war. Can we please, please, please stop pretending that we currently have 160,000 saints with guns patrolling the streets in Iraq? Can we please stop justifying the war in terms of it somehow being waged on the soldier's behalf? Can we please acknowledge that our fetishization of our warriors is due to the fact that an ever-shrinking percentage of the population has been asked to sacrifice a single thing to wage this so-called epic struggle for freedom? Please?

The glorification of the individual soldier is pernicious on a couple levels, not least that if we think every American with a flak jacket is some sort of rambo-bhoddisatva hybrid, we're liable to overestimate the army's effectiveness. It keeps us from adding things like Abu Ghraib or Haditha or the time we bombed a wedding party into the initial calculus of how the war is likely to go, and so we vastly exaggerate our potential for success. The sooner we realize that military force is a blunt instrument, rather than a fantastically supple collection of hyper-qualified diplomat/soldier/thinker/humanitarian/civil servants, the better off we'll be. And the better off the soldiers will be. We've asked them to run missions they're simply not trained for, and that's not fair.

February 15, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

Once again, when you have an extrmely incompetent administration that has, since the beginning of this war, hid behind their soldiers this is what we are left with.

Look at the resolution in congress. It's very brief and yet the first part is a paean to the troops and how we won't desert them. Since when was that ever an issue? Yet, in any discussion these types of disclaimers have to be made or else the sedition flag gets waved.

It's ridiculous. And while I think the above point is very, very good, it's not the whole story. The other factor, possibly the much more influential one, is the way the bush administration has used the troops as a club to constantly beat down any opposition to their policies.

The idea that the same bush administration can propose cuts in VA benefits (to name just one real way bush has directly hurt the troops) should be more than enough for everyone, media, congress and citizens alike to reject just about anything the bush admnistration says. Yet, it still plays, over and over again.

Posted by: ice weasel | Feb 15, 2007 3:54:39 PM

Some of them are truly heroic, courageous, conscientious and brave. Some are racist and sadistic. Some are both at different times.

This can't be said enough. So much of the debate in our country revolves around the idea that the use of force is either the embodiment of God's will or the unleashing of the Hounds of Hell. Its good to remind ourselves that its just a bunch of guys who are trying their best to stay alive while tasked with mission impossible.


Posted by: Paul Dirks | Feb 15, 2007 4:06:36 PM

I thnk there's a distinction to be drawn between what your first point (we shouldn't over-glorify soldiers) and your last (we should acknowledge that the Army is being asked to do things that are not really in their skill set). I think one reason the right gets away with tagging the left as unpatriotic/insufficiently grateful, is that we start lumping a variety of criticisms into one big mass, which is easier to then tag as a big whole, rather than the sum of a variety of things. I share the concern that the "humanitarian effort" part of the Army's role - the whole building schools, reestablishing communities, etc thing that the Administration touts - ought to raise big flags; this is not what we have an Army for, and it's probably one reason why we are failing to get things on the right track in Iraq, using the wrong instrument to try and get the desired result. But I think that's different from pointing out that what soldiers do in combat is indeed very, very brave, and that I think is something Democrats are comfortable acknowledging as much as anyone else (though I think some liberals, especially very peaceful nonviolent ones, do have issues with doing even that). I have no trouble with pointing to the genuine heroism of soldiers and admiring it, certainly not after 9/11, even with Congresspeople falling all over each other to exhort these things louder and brighter than the last; but yes, the Army is not a multipurpose organization. It's a pretty single purpose one.

Posted by: weboy | Feb 15, 2007 4:14:16 PM

One of the reasons the MSM and the neocons glorify the military is that so few of them actually had any military service.
Talk to your dads, uncles, grandfathers, etc who served in WWII, Korea or Vietnam. None of them saw their service as heroism - whether they enlisted or were drafted.

Posted by: CParis | Feb 15, 2007 4:31:04 PM

Contrast this with our attitude about firefighters. We recognize and appreciate their bravery and heroism. However, we really would rather not have to require their services and doing our best to prevent the need for their services is seen as prudent and wise. You can go to the store and buy a smoke detector and nobody will call you a 'fireman-hater'.

Posted by: apm | Feb 15, 2007 4:49:16 PM

Another example: Bush selects Petreus as commander in Iraq because Petreus will obey Bush's order to escalate in Iraq. Then Bush says today that Congress shouldn't pass a resolution against escalation because the Senate approved Petreus just a couple weeks ago and it is Petreus' plan to escalate and Petreus shouldn't be undercut. Willful distorion is the nicest thing you can say of Bush's comments, but totally consistent with Bush's shameful record of either saying he's listening to the commanders on force strength, but then overruling them - but blaming them at the same time. BushCo has no shame, and no lie they won't tell. And the media replays the Bush tape.

Hiding behind the uniforms is all Bush can or will do. Bush's conduct disqualifies him from the honor of being Commander in Chief. The military deserves better, and so does the country.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Feb 15, 2007 5:04:31 PM

Hmm. "The glorification of the individual soldier" is pretty much the third rail of current U.S. politics. One might say it's the end result of a counter-backlash against the "soldiers are baby killers" 60's.

And now, a counter-counter backlash? Who knows?

Posted by: Korha | Feb 15, 2007 6:29:51 PM

Talk to your dads, uncles, grandfathers, etc who served in WWII, Korea or Vietnam. None of them saw their service as heroism - whether they enlisted or were drafted.

And if you ask those from the generation who were drafted to serve in the military outside of wartime, many of them will describe their stint in the military as sort of a drag or an obligation they wanted to get done with until they moved on to other things. It's only because military service is so remote from many people's experience that we now see it as a heroic calling.

Posted by: Constantine | Feb 15, 2007 6:37:24 PM

Our army is on the brink of losing 2 wars in 6 years. There is a fact that we did not win a significant hot war since 1945.
Perhaps the bad guys could be excused for thinking that USA is a paper tiger.

Now, we probably could have won Korea and Vietnam if pols would allow our military to fight.
I'm not so sure about Afganistan and Iraq.
Especially Iraq.

I'm throughly unimpressed with performance of senior officers in Iraq.

Franks was totally outplayed by Saddam/Baath guns.
Failed to suppress them and allowed them to regroup.
Ricardo Sanchez is an empty uniform.
Casey and Abizaid have failed to make any progerss in 2 years.

Lefties may be looking forward to a world where USA is not feared by midgets like Venezuela.
They may reconsider, it will be a very dangerous world indeed.

We will know in 3 months.


Posted by: mik | Feb 15, 2007 6:54:19 PM

mlk: It amazes me how you think Vietnam was winnable but Afghanistan was not. I would totally, totally reverse those two cases.

As for the "senior officers" in Iraq, even a thousand Petraeuses wouldn't be able to overcome 1) not enough troops and 2) constant fuck ups by the civilian authorities and higher-ups. The military does what it's told. You're blaming Abizaid, but not Bush or Rumsfeld? Count me "thoroughly unimpresed" with the performance of the latter two.

Posted by: Korha | Feb 15, 2007 7:37:45 PM

We can do without stupid generalizations. My grandfather served in WWII, and all my uncles fought in Vietnam (my father was in the Air Force up until). They might not be happy with the way war is glorified in video games and television and the like, but they're proud of serving their country, if it that country asked them to do some things they would never normally consider.

Posted by: Fnor | Feb 15, 2007 7:47:21 PM

That was directed at CParis, by the way.

Posted by: Fnor | Feb 15, 2007 7:48:07 PM

Look at the resolution in congress. It's very brief and yet the first part is a paean to the troops and how we won't desert them. Since when was that ever an issue?

It usually wouldn't be, but it's an issue now. The resolution essentially says that the surge soldiers are on a mission with no good point, yet we're leaving them out there risking their lives for it. That, unfortunately, makes support for the troops an issue.

Posted by: Sanpete | Feb 15, 2007 8:55:39 PM

It usually wouldn't be, but it's an issue now. The resolution essentially says that the surge soldiers are on a mission with no good point, yet we're leaving them out there risking their lives for it. That, unfortunately, makes support for the troops an issue.

So...

A) Forcing withdrawal doesn't support the troops because it admits that the invasion and occupation of Iraq is without a victory condition and without a point, and that would be "cutting off funding to our boys in the field".

B) Advocating withdrawal to shame the decider into killing fewer Americans and Iraqis without forcing it doesn't support the troops because now you've said that their political leadership doesn't know what they're doing, and so their mission is flawed.

Nice Republican Talking Points. The only thing that supports the troops is (a) backing the decider 100% or (b) saying that he's not killing ENOUGH Iraqis. Because those things are in support of the mission. SanPete is one of the most sophisticated concern trolls I think I've ever seen.

Posted by: paperwight | Feb 15, 2007 9:03:47 PM

As usual, paper, you show yourself unable to distinguish the voices in your head from what you're reading. You can support the troops by supporting their mission, or if you don't support the mission you can support then by getting them the hell out of harm's way. Telling them they're wasting their lives but leaving them out there to do it anyway accomplishes nothing good for the troops.

There is no realistic prospect of ever getting a veto override in the Senate for a binding bill getting the troops out. If the plan is to build support for bringing the troops home, this is a really counterproductive way to do it. But the "there's a pony in this resolution" politics are great.

Posted by: Sanpete | Feb 15, 2007 9:22:00 PM

Let me know if I am in the ballpark as far as what libs think of the military.

The reason no proof is necessary when leveling charges of torture at the military is because the US military is the same US military everywhere. Proof that torture is happening at Gitmo is not necessary because of what happened at Abu Graib and on "24". It doesn't matter that there is no evidence of torture at Gitmo, the military is torture happy so there has to be torture going on at Gitmo.

Does anyone think that the Gitmo terrorists would be better off in a US state or federal prison?

The reason it is acceptable to compare US troops to to Nazis is cuz we have an all volunteer army. They are just a bunch of thugs in buzzcuts who want to torture and kill arabs. Why else would anyone join this violent, imperialistic war machine voluntarily?! The troops are sadistic racists.

Is that close to your train of thought on our military?

Posted by: Captain Toke | Feb 15, 2007 10:04:35 PM

I think the fetishization has a different origin: that a lesson learned from the anti-Vietnam efforts is that it was counter-productive, BIG TIME, to demonize (and sometimes spit on) the grunts. There was, as this one cranked up, an almost palpable "let's all agree on the language" feeling among anti-Iraq War people of, ahem, a certain age.

Even though seniors and near seniors usually can't hear anything over about 3,000hz, I think you may be too young to have heard those particular dog whistles...

Posted by: dell | Feb 15, 2007 10:36:21 PM

(and sometimes spit on) the grunts.

Whoop, whoop, whoop....warning strawman alert,strawman alert!

Posted by: Col Bat Guano | Feb 15, 2007 11:35:27 PM

"They might not be happy with the way war is glorified in video games and television and the like, but they're proud of serving their country"

Fnor - I didn't say they weren't proud of their service, I just said they didn't necessarily view themselves as heroes.

Posted by: CParis | Feb 16, 2007 10:42:15 AM

"They might not be happy with the way war is glorified in video games and television and the like, but they're proud of serving their country"

Fnor - I didn't say they weren't proud of their service, I just said they didn't necessarily view themselves as heroes.

Posted by: CParis | Feb 16, 2007 10:45:42 AM

At any time the conservatives aim to rob the humanity from the troops.

Whether this means sending them in cheaply to a hellish situation and forcing them to live with the consequences of political cowardice...

...or it means robbing them of their humanity by turning them into inhuman comic book characters, who are not vulnerable to conditions on the ground or to the environment into which they are placed.

Whether you infantilize, sanctify, or demonize soldiers, it all robs them of humanity.

They are humans. Real humans. Individuals. With all the positives and negatives that means AND all the limitations.

Posted by: El Cid | Feb 16, 2007 10:59:01 AM

Captain Toke, not only are you not in the ballpark, but you're at home in your basement playing an entirely different game, by yourself.

Posted by: American Citizen | Feb 16, 2007 11:29:27 AM

CParis,

They don't view themselves as heroes, and neither do most of our troops now. That is part of why I do view them as heroes.

It would though be a shame to admire people like this: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/14/AR2007021401963.html

Posted by: Dave Justus | Feb 16, 2007 12:40:15 PM

Part of the problem with the conflict in Iraq is really that even opponants of the Neocon strategy there have taken to using their terms to describe it. The war in Iraq is over, and really has been since b4 the politically stupid 'mission accomplished' fiasco.

What we have now is something akin to losing Germany in 1955. The army in post WWII germany was very concerned about a Nazi resurgence, particularly during the Nuremburg trials. It obviously never came to pass. But the war was certainly over, regardless of whether or not resistance came about after the fact.

We are losing the peace, and Iraq is not forming itself according to our wishes. That does not constitute a war, and is not something that our military is suited to solving.

We refuse to win it.. by politically promoting Iraq as a sovereign nation. Which has more then once rebuked us saying they wont just do our bidding. After we handed them the country. So there we sit driving around in pointless patrols getting blows up by the mahdi army, while until just recently the local governments held them as immune to attack.

..we need to stop getting duped into playing the strong man for Iraqi power politics.

Posted by: david b | Feb 16, 2007 3:49:04 PM

"It amazes me how you think Vietnam was winnable but Afghanistan was not. I would totally, totally reverse those two cases."

Destruction of N Vietnam infrastructure sometime in 1965-68 would have finished the war.

I did not said Afganistan is not winnable, I said I doubt it. The reason is it is a primitive mountain country.

What can you do to pacify them?
In military terms Russians did everything except nuclear carpet bombing.
US attempts to establish a bribe-based West friendly regime.
Would have worked before Wahabis came, probably will not work now, too many fanatics.
Militarily, even nukes will not do much to Afganistan, there is not much to destroy.
Politically, we don't know how to deal with Islam to pacify jihadis.

Iraq can be pacified by WW2-style bombing. Jorge The Moron Bush and his PC generals will not do it. Therefore we are very likely to loose.


"As for the "senior officers" in Iraq, even a thousand Petraeuses wouldn't be able to overcome 1) not enough troops and 2) constant fuck ups by the civilian authorities and higher-ups. The military does what it's told. You're blaming Abizaid, but not Bush or Rumsfeld? Count me "thoroughly unimpresed" with the performance of the latter two. "

I don't know if Petr is any better than Casey or Abizaid.

I don't see why you need more than 50K combat ground troops and full power of USAF to put Iraq on its knees.
PC war currently conducted would need 500K-1M ground troops and probably would fail even then.
We had more troops in S Vietnam and have failed.

Jorge The Moron Bush is the worst president in history, Rumsfeld, a brilliant and accomplished man, is an extreme disappointment. I have no idea why Rumsfeld has collapsed in service of Jorge.
I guess Jorge has a way to erase brains of his subordinates.

Posted by: mik | Feb 16, 2007 5:23:29 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.