May 30, 2006

A Warrior's Perspective

Hatched by Sachi

Black Five referred us to Owen West's Op Ed piece in the New York Times. Owen West, a reserve Marine major who served in Iraq, is the founder of Vets for Freedom.

He thinks the warriors who are actually doing the fighting are tired of mean-sprited political bickering by both sides:

One party is overly sanguine, unwilling to acknowledge its errors. The other is overly maudlin, unable to forgive the same. The Bush administration seeks to insulate the public from the reality of war, placing its burden on the few. The press has tried to fill that gap by exposing the raw brutality of the insurgency; but it has often done so without context, leaving a clear implication that we can never win.

I don't think West is being fair to the president; rather, he seems to bend over backwards to blame both sides equally -- even when one side is clearly more culpable than the other. Although Bush has refused to take the MSM bait to expound on "the fifty most deadly errors you've made in your presidency," he has certainly been willing to change strategies and tactics in the Iraq War.

For example, by uparmoring Humvees and then substituting Strykers wherever possible; by changing commanders who were not getting the job done; by vigorously prosecuting those who engaged in crimes (such as at Abu Ghraib); and most especially, by completely revamping the training for the New Iraqi Army and for focusing at last on equivalent training for the Interior Ministry police forces.

Still, I can certainly understand West's frustration. He thinks the reason ordinary Americans are not rallying behind the troops like they did during WWII is that our military is too insulated from public. Our troops are all volunteers... which means a few sectors of the country (such as the South), where military service is a tradition, contribute the lion's share of the troops. Many people, especially in the more liberal districts that we most desperately need to bring into the fold, don't even know a single serviceman:

In the past, the American public could turn to its sons for martial perspective. Soldiers have historically been perhaps the country's truest reflection, a socio-economic cross-section borne from common ideals. The problem is, this war is not being fought by World War II's citizen-soldiers. Nor is it fought by Vietnam's draftees. Its wages are paid by a small cadre of volunteers that composes about one-tenth of 1 percent of the population -- America's warrior class.

The insular nature of this group -- and a war that has spiraled into politicization -- has left the Americans disconnected and confused. It's as if they have been invited into the owner's box to settle a first-quarter disagreement on the coach's play-calling. Not only are they unprepared to talk play selection, most have never even seen a football game.

In the past, we relied upon the draft to force even those who would not ordinarily think of military service into the Army. While it led to terrible conflicts (in Vietnam, but even in World War II), it also created a shared experience of service to society. Everyone in the country had either served himself or had relatives or close friends who had served. Everyone knew who the soldiers were: the soldiers were we, ourselves.

But today, in many parts of the country, soldiers, Marines, airmen, and sailors are aliens from another planet: most people living in San Francisco or Chicago or the entire state of Vermont don't know what a soldier is or what he (or she!) does; they don't know why he does it; and they certainly can't imagine what he thinks and worries about while doing it.

In a related vein, people have no idea how modern war is fought. All they see are bits and pieces of confusing, bloody pictures; if you probed, you would probably find that 50% of Americans think that war means the indiscriminate killing of everyone in some geographical area. If they think about military aviation at all, they imagine jet-powered B-29s obliterating entire cities in a single night.

But we don't fight like that anymore. We have conventional ordnance (MOABs, Massive Ordnance Air Blast, a.k.a., the Mother Of All Bombs) that can destroy 10 city blocks; but what we actually do nearly all the time is call down Hellfire and brimstone on a single building, leaving the structures on either side virtually untouched. Our weapons are smart; our targets are targeted. It's not that we're the most moral people in the world (though we are)... we don't want to waste explosive power on people who aren't threatening us.

Americans don't know soldiers; and too often, they don't know us. When we read about American troops being killed, we don't find out what killed them until two thirds of the way through the article; only then do we read that two American troops were killed in a terrorist ambush -- in which, by the way, 80 terrorists were slain, 30 wounded, and a dozen high-value targets captured.

America's conscience is one of its greatest strengths. But self-flagellation, especially in the early stages of a war against an enemy whose worldview is uncompromising, is absolutely hazardous. Three years gone and Iraq's most famous soldiers are Jessica Lynch and Lynndie England, a victim and a criminal, respectively. Abu Ghraib remains the most famous battle of the war.

Soldiers are sick of apologizing for a sliver of malcontents who are not at all representative of the new breed. But they are also sick of being pitied. Our warriors are the hunters, not the hunted, and we should celebrate them as we did in the past, for while our tastes have changed, warfare -- and the need to cultivate national guardians -- has not. As Kipling wrote, "The strength of the pack is the wolf."

I wish West had completed that couplet from Kipling's "the Law of the Jungle," from the Jungle Books:

As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back --
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.

It signals that as much as America needs her warriors, they need, just as desperately, an American culture that accepts and understands them. We cannot allow the "warrior class" to exist as anything but rhetoric; if they become an actual "class" separate from ordinary Americans, then it's only a short leap until they believe that they're better than "Americans."

Contrariwise, it would take only a little shift in perspective for American civilians to believe that the "wolves" are too wild to live. Our only salvation is if everyone is a wolf, and the pack comprises all of us.

This was always the case in America from the Revolution, and it's still true today... though the silver thread that connects "the men on the wall" to those within the city gates is stretching very thin indeed.

Finally, today's debates are not high-spirited so much as mean-spirited. To allow polarizing forces to dominate the argument by insinuating false motives on one side or a lack of patriotism on the other is to obscure long-term security decisions that have to be made now.

We are clashing with an enemy who has been at war with us in one form or another for two decades. Our military response may take decades more.

West is being too short-sighted here: our enemy has been at war with us for more than a dozen centuries!

Our enemy is a militant jihadi version of Islam that believes it has the moral duty to put everyone on Planet Earth to the choice of "convert or die;" they are at war not just with America, not even just with the men of the West; they are at war with modernity itself. For our enemies, they are always riding across the desert of the world "in perilous fight," with Mohammed himself leading the charge.

This is not all Islam; but it is a piece of Islam that cannot be reconciled with the rest of the world, and which seems to grow stronger with every passing year... and will continue to do so until we deal it the decisive blow that sends it reeling backward -- for a few decades. Until the next time.

If we do not understand and embrace those who defend us today, there may be no one left to defend us tomorrow. Let's sweep all the partisan bickering under the rug and focus on what all real Americans support: the defense of the West and modernity -- the virtues and values of this culture -- against those for whom history ended more than a millennium ago.

Surely that's a fight worth prosecuting; even for Democrats.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, May 30, 2006, at the time of 11:59 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Steelhand

Brilliant, Sachi! And timely. Especially in light of the new charges of military misdeeds. It is easy to charge military crimes, if you do not know a single soul who would even consider a military life. They don't understand the workings of mind of a patriot. They would rather pump up their notion of superiority over the vaguely smelly public with their flags and guns and hunting dogs.

As long as the duty-bound citizens exist, we have a chance. But we, if not actively involved in the physical defense of our way of life, must support those doing the life-risking work on our behalf. Thank goodness for the web and blogs who sustain the portion of the citizenry who seek out information to balance the reports from the MSM.

The above hissed in response by: Steelhand [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 31, 2006 6:49 AM

The following hissed in response by: FredTownWard

Owen West deserves a lot of respect, but he is wrong, wrong, WRONG, on a very central point. We NEED a certain amount of partisan bickering, partisan account-holding, and, yes, partisan name-calling so long as TREASON is going on.

Now, before some people go completely nuts, let's define the term. It is NOT treason to criticize the government or the military over their conduct of the war so long as your goal can clearly be seen as VICTORY; however, it IS treason to criticize the government or the military over their conduct of the war if your goal is DEFEAT, whether your motive is the sincere (and demonstrably idiotic) belief that we cannot win the war or the much more evil and selfish desire to regain political power at any cost.

Treason doesn't have to be punished by law unless it is particularly egregious, but it MUST be condemned, ridiculed, shamed, and driven from any position of responsibility. Our very survival depends on it.

The above hissed in response by: FredTownWard [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 31, 2006 8:53 AM

The following hissed in response by: MTF

In my daughter's graduating class from high school are four seniors accepted to service Academies in the fall. Their appointments were handed to them at an all-school prizes and awards meeting also attended by parents the night before graduation to great applause. In this one school (at least!) we celebrated the warriors who will fight for us.

The above hissed in response by: MTF [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 31, 2006 9:29 AM

The following hissed in response by: cdquarles

Amen, Sachi!

Yet, we should also remember that not all of our warriors serve in government nor in the military. Our warriors are also members of law enforcement, including the judges as well as the police, members of emergency services, including the doctors, nurses, EMT's and the drivers, as well as the firefighters; and finally, every one of us who must defend our homes against those who would harm us whoever they may be or whenever they do their evil work.

The above hissed in response by: cdquarles [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 31, 2006 11:15 AM

The following hissed in response by: Terrye

I grew up in Oklahoma, not far from Tinker Air Force base. I was born not far from Fort Sill. My Dad and his three bothers were in the service. I have had relatives who were career in every branch, including an Army Nurse.

I have two relatives who have survived in Iraq, one with the Fourth ID and the other with 1st Cavalry, up north in Iraq working on blackhawks.

I am sure that as far as a lot of people are concerned my family is odd because we have so many soldiers.

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 31, 2006 11:57 AM

The following hissed in response by: Papa Ray

Bill had a lot to say about this. He finally got so pissed, he wrote "Tribes" and the rest is history.

For those of you who have not read it, read it, you will be glad you did.

Papa Ray

The above hissed in response by: Papa Ray [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 31, 2006 2:44 PM

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