Retired Colonel and now-Professor Andrew Bacevich opens his commentary on the recent McChrystal brouhaha with a splash of cold water that this nation desperately needs to counter the effects of wayyyyy too much Kool-Aid: “Long wars are antithetical to democracy”.
And long wars work their dark and deadly magic by corroding “the values of popular government”.
You can’t run a military like a democracy but in a war situation it is the military ‘values’, the military way of doing things, that have to take precedence in order to get the thing won and get back to normal. You do things the military way, you look at things the military way, you only let yourself think in the military way.
War has to be like that, for civilians as well as for soldiers. When, that is, a democracy wages war.
The good news – theoretically, at least – is that the war won’t last long, the deforming effects upon the civilian and democratic polity are removed, and the living organism of the polity returns to its natural upright position from the hunched and bent crouch that always accompanies the military way (with all respect to it, in its proper place).
The fact that there is a lethal and profound difference between the democratic, civilian way and the military way is not in essence the result of overweening Prussian (and macho male) military arrogance. First and foremost it is the result of the utterly overriding priority of Achieving the Objective, of Winning. In War (and, ahem, Revolution, War’s first cousin) nothing – not the time necessary for building a consensus and deliberating, not the due respect for ‘mixed feelings’ and ‘bad feelings’, not nuthin – can be allowed to distract from the urgency of Achieving the Objective.
One guy gets to call the shots, you hope he knows what he’s doing, and you do what you’re told. It’s how the military works because it’s how War requires the military to work. (It’s also the way Lenin and Mao saw their Revolutions working, and so you can see where Revolution ala Lenin or Mao isn’t healthy for democracies either.)
If you try to democratize (or – as the cadres say nowadays – “de-masculinize”) the military you’re only going to weaken its ability to operate in that darkling world of Ares Ferox et Atrox (Ares the Ferocious and Merciless, God of War). It is the curse of the male – yes, I’ll say it – that Nature provided him with the wiring to respond to the call of Ares, and the various endowments necessary to fulfill that terrible responsibility.
Which is why, by the by, the powers of the Male need to be carefully guided and shaped … which is something Human Civilization realized millennia ago, but has recently been replaced by a lusty tendency to simply make fun of the Male and anticipate his imminent irrelevance. Such progress.
No other priority can be allowed to override the Iron Law of Ares: not Charity, not Patience, not Truth, not Justice (while I actually kinda like military music, especially Sousa and anything before him, I have to agree that ‘military justice’ is as frakkulent a contradiction in terms as one is likely to find this side of Perdition).
Ditto therefore in their very essence neither ‘revolutionary justice’ nor the ‘justice’ that any Revolution demands are ‘justice’ in any democratic (or Western) sense of the word. Every Revolution has its “wall” to which – as Lenin insisted – those who disagreed were to be quickly sent. There will always be more people born to replace the ones you get rid of, but you are blessed with the Wisdom of the Revolution only once. Yah.
Professor Bacevich senses that the recent McChrystal affair* constitutes an ominous warning sign of “the toll that nearly a decade of continuous conflict has exacted on the US armed forces”.
I can’t help but think of former-General Hasso von Manteuffel, who reflected postwar that after the failure of the Battle of the Bulge the German soldier and the German Army simply didn’t have the heart or muscle to continue any but the most defensive operations.
And I note that Bacevich – with understandable delicacy – refrains from mentioning the obvious: that the military has experienced not only almost a decade of unremitting operations, but also almost a decade of OTV (Other Than Victorious) operations.
“The military’s professional ethic is eroding”, Bacevich reports – and his professional experience establishes his credibility when he makes that announcement.
I can’t help but think that the military has taken some serious whacks since that glorious Moment at the very end of the 1980s when it became clear that its nemesis, the USSR, was quickly dissolving before the world’s eyes, melting palpably like the Wicked Witch.
But then came the far-too-easy victory in the Gulf War, enabled greatly by Saddam’s militarily witless and doomed decision to simply sit still as the Americans ponderously consumed months assembling their field force (and twisting assorted arms around the world for contributions to cover costs – which was itself a rather ominous sign).
And then came the concerted assault by the cadres of the Feminist Revolution to a) de-masculinize the military while b) denying that their gimlet-eyed machinations but addled visions would have any adverse consequences for military competence or efficiency on the field of Ares Ferox et Atrox. (There wouldn’t be any more ‘combat’ and Ares, like the traditional Christian ‘male sky-god’, would be summarily dethroned by Congress and those to whom it panders.)
Then came, almost simultaneously, Clinton’s “humanitarian interventions” – which guaranteed that there most certainly would be more fighting (especially in those parts of the world where Our death-hug alliance-without-treaty with the Israeli Realm guaranteed the ignition of implacable ill-will and resistance).
But the Feminist Revolution would now be assured of a planet-full of oppressed victims to keep their Advocacy in business and the defense-contractors would get fatter battening on the mercenaries and ‘civilian contractors’ who would constitute a tail bigger than the actual field force, which itself was now unable to get through its day without world-class quantities of AA, AAA, C, and D batteries for personal devices and as much air-conditioning as could be managed. It was a national policy and a foreign policy on which Big Pain and Big Money could lustily agree.
What was not to like?
And then came 9-11 (just how remains curiously shrouded in mystery) and Bush-Cheney saw a way of keeping all of the foregoing interests, plus Big Oil, as well as the Staunch-Ally-Sans-Treaty happy as well: and whereas the piddling problem in Afghanistan (base of the now-implacably aroused) was quickly dropped after initial success, the much more telegenic invasion of Saddam’s Iraq was whomped up in the demonic, ultra-classified kitchens of the Beltway. We would be greeted as liberators. Yah.
Bacevich quotes George Marshall, guiding genius of American military victory in WW2, who would later serve as Ike’s Secretary of State and unfold the Marshall Plan: “a democracy cannot fight a Seven Year’s War” … which stuns in both its acute candor and its simplicity. Oh, and in its assumption of a common knowledge of ‘Western’ history.
It was the type of a thing that old guys of that era would know, especially if they had commanded huge armies and fleets and all the productive industrial and technical capacity necessary to sustain them. Even JFK – a mere puppy of a PT Boat commander in the Good War but still no dope – knew it and was getting ready to back out of Vietnam (while also entertaining the dream of breaking up Allen Dulles’s CIA “into a thousand pieces” and telling the Israelis, as Ike did before him, that their covert efforts to build their own nukes was not at all helpful … when you’ve made THAT many powerful and well-placed enemies your chances of a quiet retirement are pretty much zilch).
LBJ – who got himself a cozy officer gig in the Navy and had a mighty Good War, and got himself awarded a Silver Star for breathing smartly – learned little from his time in uniform, and threw the military around as if it were a football, like a big guy who didn’t know how to play ball but, being the biggest SOB on the field, figured he didn’t need to.
Ditto Nixon, who was more interested in how the military ‘piece’ would fit into the larger board of the puzzle that all of Life and History seemed to him, assisted by his Game-Master, Henry Kissinger, mastered the art of appearing like the super-patriot military leader while continuing to spin his own webs.
Carter had his hands full with his own Party’s bosses – spearheaded by ‘bipartisan’ Tip O’Neill – who decided they would rather play in the sandbox with the Republicans than support their own Party’s President (who had run on a populist sorta theme and wasn’t a Party-player). And the military, stunned simultaneously by the final outcome of the Seven Years War in Vietnam and by the Boomers’ rejection of authority and order and ‘structure’, simply staggered through the rest of the Seventies, measuring moustaches and sideburns and such.
It was Reagan, master Illusionist on a stage larger than anything Warners or MGM in their heyday could have provided for him, who seemingly stopped the declining American sun in its tracks and made it appear to move backwards toward bright high noon. Money (all borrowed) flowed again, the military was flooded with cash and kudos (even the battleships of WW2 were brought back with appropriate hoopla and brave, cheerible words of resolve), and the military swelled to a credible simulacrum of the old military of yore just in time to provide a mightily impressive parade-and-funeral detail for the obsequies of the USSR.**
American wars, because of the “impatience” of a democracy, had to be quick and successful; folks used to being ‘free’ don’t like to see their lives and treasure poured away with no useful (read: successful) result. Curiously, the Germans in two World Wars had been under the same constraint for different reasons: they had to face enemies on all sides, and their only hope was to quickly knock out one and turn to the other end of the country’s borders to deal with the other … it made them do some nasty things in WW1, and in WW2 they were also high on the Kool-Aid of National Socialism’s in-your-face New Order. Nor was their mood improved as they began to meet failure after failure, and Reality began to close in on all sides. Nastiness in war never ends well – no matter what the ‘reason’ for it.
Bacevich impressively indicts the All Volunteer Force – the military’s effort to sidestep the wrack of Vietnam by eschewing the traditional citizen-army and its draft, and going instead for a force of ‘volunteers’. You can’t maintain a solid and vital connection with the energies and life-force of the national polity if you have written off most of the Citizenry and tried to simply ‘attract’ recruits the way a college tries to ‘attract’ the right kind of applicant.
And then the assorted cadres of the assorted Revolutions got into the act by insisting upon just what were the ‘right’ kind of applicants, and justified it by proclaiming that military service was really just a job-opportunity that should be open to everybody who, if given enough TLC and not too much stress, might have a good time in uniform and feel better about themselves.
No wonder, long before Obama picked up the baton, the military had had a lot more civilian input than it felt it could handle.
But then, since you weren’t going to get promoted to the stars if you didn’t smile – or at least keep a straight face – as all this went on, the bosses and the aspiring bosses ‘went along to get along’, refusing to take a principled stand. And several professional generations of bosses have been running that play now.
And then came Iraq – and if you think that the generals in the field are simply throwing a hissy-fit, it’s only because you don’t know – none of Us have been allowed to know – just how bad things are going on ze Eastern Front.
They know what’s wrong, the bosses.
But they’d like to retire with their pensions and a few more medals, and enough creds to maybe pick up a far more remunerative job consulting for a defense contractor or sitting on this and that Board.
The ‘hollowness’ goes right to the top now.
And – as evidenced by General Petraeus’s ‘extraordinary’ (to use the polite British for it) performance in front of the Congressional committee – it’s enough to make them want to throw up or pass out.
We are not, Bacevich says , really “at” war; there’s one or two going on, but We are advised to go shopping – or were, back when it was still the Global War On Terror. Now We are just spectators, and although We are paying not only for the seats but for the stadium and the team (“Team America”), there is a hundred-foot canvas erected around the field and all We get is what We can see on the Jumbotron (which may not even be showing what’s happening beyond the canvas out and down on the field).
Anyway, We have enough to worry about, no? The economy is taking on water faster than the pumps can handle it, there are only enough lifeboats for first-class, and half of the crowd (Males) are living under the Permanent Indictment of the Feminist Revolution and could be picked up on that General Warrant at any time.
It’s a good thing the beer and peanuts are holding out. And it’s almost the 4th of July so as long as there’s enough gas for the grill, then We can all do under the influence of a good BBQ what the Flower Children did on the grassy, sun-drenched slopes of San Francisco during the Summer of ’67 under the influence of a fat joint.
But I don’t accept that the American People is quite at the point of praying “Mother of God, is this the end of little Rico?”.
There is the strongest freshness deep down things in this country, and I mean in its People.
We are facing a challenge as serious as that which confronted the People of the Depression and even the Good War: We must People this nation through a painful contraction – and quite possibly a decline. And We must do it in such a way that there is still something left after all the Deconstruction and all the economic frakkery and all the bootless warring.
As things contract at home in step with the sempiternal non-victories abroad, We must still keep the homefires burning, for the young and for the generations of Americans yet to be born.
And maybe now We can Sense – as the lights burn a bit dimmer – the genuine glow of the real Gift to History that is the American Vision: that a bunch of human beings can unite as a People, govern their government, and provide a beacon and a model for what is still the most remarkable act of political faith in human history: a population governed not by elites, but by the strength of its own Founding vision and the solidly-grounded maturity of its own members.
And let Us not forget for a single moment, that in very awful places at this very moment, many are standing or crouching, staring Ares Ferox et Atrox in the face, obedient to Our word.
The buck stops here. With Us.
The President is not ‘Our’ commander-in-chief; he is Our employee. He is neither the national Parent nor the national Teddy-Bear. And most certainly neither he nor Congress is Carol Gilligan's omnipotent and all-caring Mommy at the breakfast table, doing whatever it takes to soothe or mollify a motely assortment of squalling kiddies based not on the Rule of Law or Reason but on the ostensibly omniscient intuition of the Nurturer.
It is time to put away the things of the political child and walk upright, as in the day of maturity.
If there are few Help Wanted signs in businesses, you would not be far wrong to imagine that the entire polity has a sign hanging on it: Genuine Adults Wanted – Start Immediately.
Have a Meaningful Fourth!
*And I for one am not at all satisfied with the ridiculous story that McChrystal’s boss and now replacement, General Petraeus, passed out in a Congressional Hearing the week before that because – despite a staff numbering in the dozens, all of whose only purpose in military life is to make sure he is well cared for – he “forgot to have his breakfast” and “forgot to drink enough water” … these are excuses that are acceptable among first-week boot-camp recruits, but not General officers of the highest rank and station.
**So for example, the Navy of his day was a shade under 400 ships and aiming for 600; today it is a shade under 285 and hoping for 320 by 2020 or so, maybe, if everything works out OK. And let it be said: when you are the Navy of a world-hegemon, numbers DO count. No matter how competent and marvelous a technologically advanced ship – even one commanded by a lantern-jawed, butch-cut woman – that ship still can’t be in two places at the same time.