Their Own Self
On Recent Wars
Things Not Figured Out
May 17, 2006
People ask how we got into our splendid mess in Iraq and why we can�t get out. The question is a subset of a larger question: Why, since WWII, have so many first-world armies gotten into drawn-out guerrilla wars in bush-world countries, and lost? Examples abound: France in Vietnam, America in Vietnam, France in Algeria, Russia in Afghanistan, Israel in Lebanon, etc. Why don�t they learn?
The answer I think is that militaries are influenced by a kind of man�call him the Warrior�who by nature is unsuited for modern wars. He doesn�t understand them, can�t adapt to them.
The Warrior is emotionally suited to pitched, Pattonesque battles of moral clarity and simple intent. I don�t mean that he is stupid. Among fighter pilots and in the Special Forces for example it is not uncommon to find men with IQs of 145. Yet emotionally the Warrior has the uncomplicated instincts of a pit bull. Intensely loyal to friends and intensely hostile to the enemy, he doesn�t want any confusion as to which is which. His tolerance for ambiguity is very low. He wants to close with the enemy and destroy him.
This works in wars like WWII. (Note that the American military is an advanced version of the military that beat Germany and Japan.) It does not work when winning requires the support of the population. The Warrior, unable to see things through the eyes of the enemy, or of the local population, whom he quickly comes to hate, wants to blow hell out of things. He detests all that therapeutic crap, that touchy-feely leftist stuff about respect the population, especially the women. Having the empathy of an engine block, he regards mention of mutilated children as intensely annoying at best, and communist propaganda at worst.
On the net these men sometimes speak approvingly to each other of the massacre at My Lai. Hey, they were all Cong. If they weren�t, they knew who the Cong were and didn�t tell us. Calley did the right thing, taught them a lesson. There is an admiration of Calley for having avoided bureaucratic rules of engagement probably dreamed up by civilians. War is war. You kill people. Deal with it.
If you point out that collateral damage (dead children, for example) makes the survivors into murderously angry Viet Cong, the Warrior thinks that you are a lefty tree-hugger.
Today, the battlefield as understood by the enemy, but seldom by the Warrior, extends far beyond the physical battlefield, and the chief targets are political. In this kind of war, if America can get the local population to support it, the insurgents are out of business; if the insurgents can get the American public to stop supporting the war, the American military is out of business. This is what counts. It is what works. The Warrior, all oooh-rah and jump wings, doesn�t get it. Vo Nguyen Giap got it. Ho Chi Minh got it.
Thus the furious, embittered insistence of Warriors that �We won Tet of �68. We slaughtered them! We won, dammit! Militarily, we absolutely won!� Swell, but politically they lost. It was a catastrophe on the order of Kursk or Dien Bien Phu. But they can�t figure it out.
The warrior doesn�t understand what �victory� means because he thinks in terms of firefights, courage, weaponry, and valor. His approach is emotional, not rational. Though not stupid, he is regularly out-thought. Why?
It�s not mysterious. An intelligent enemy knows that America cannot be beaten at industrial war. So he thinks, �What then are America�s weaknesses?� The first and crucial one is that the American government enters into distant wars in which the public has no stake. Do you want your son to die for�get this�democracy in Iraq? You diapered him, got him through school-yard fist fights, his first prom, graduation from boot camp, and he comes home in a box�for democracy in Iraq?
The thing to do, then (continues thinking the intelligent enemy) is to make the Americans grow sick of the war. How? Not by winning battles, which is difficult against the Americans. You win otherwise. First, don�t give them point targets, since these are easily destroyed by big guns and advanced technology. Second, keep the level of combat high enough to maintain the war in the forefront of American consciousness, and to keep the monetary expense high. (Inflation and gasoline prices are weapons as much as rifles, another idea that the Warrior just doesn�t get. Bin Laden does.) Third, keep the body bags flowing. Sooner or later the Americans will weary of losing their sons for something that doesn�t really interest them.
However, the Warrior does not grant the public the right to grow weary. For him, America exists to support the military, not the other way around. Are two hundred dead a week coming back from Asia? The Warrior believes that small-town America (which is where the coffins usually go) should grit its teeth, bear down, and make the sacrifice for the country. Sacrifice for what? It doesn�t matter. We�re at war, dammit. Rally �round. What are you, a commy?
To the Warrior, to doubt the war is treason, aiding and supporting, liberalism, cowardice, back-stabbing, and so on. He uses these phrases unrelentingly. We must fight, and fight, and fight, and never yield, and sacrifice and spend. We must never ask why, or whether, or what for, or do we want to.
The public of course doesn�t see it that way. In 1964 I graduated from a rural high school in Virginia with a senior class of, I think, sixty. Doug took a 12.7 through the head, Sonny spent time at Walter Reed with neck wounds, Studley I hear is a paraplegic, another kid got mostly blinded for life, and several, whom I won�t name, tough country kids as I knew them, came back as apparently irredeemable drunks. (These were kids I knew, not all in my class.) It was a lot of dead and crippled for a small place. For what?
Cowardice? I was on campus in 1966 on a small, very Republican, very patriotic, very conservative, very Southern campus. The students, and their girlfriends, were all violently against the war. So, I gather, were their parents. Why? Were they the traitors of the Warrior�s imagination? No. They didn�t want to die for something that they didn�t care about.
This eludes the Warrior. Always, he blames The Press for the waning of martial enthusiasm, for his misunderstanding of the kind of war we are fighting. Did the press make Studley a paraplegic? Or kill the guy with all the tubes who died in the stretcher above me on the Medevac 141 back from Danang? Did Walter Cronkite make my buddy Cagle blind when the rifle grenade exploded on the end of his fourteen? Do the Warriors think that people don�t notice when their kids come back forever in wheelchairs?
They don�t get it.
318 Thoughts on War317 Multiculturalism316 Eighth Grade in Mexico315 Playing At Manhood314 Mexican Immigration Law313 The Hills of Mexico312 In Darkest Africa311 Thoughts On Hornets310 Stolen Viagra, Yet309 Fred's House308 Bush Babies307 In Search Of Darkness306 The War Against Religion305 Eternity And Pickletops304 A Colony Again
303 Intelligent Design302 New Year In Guad301 Israel And The Press300 In Favor Of Extermination299 Who Wants Diversity?298 Soldiers and the Press297 Will Someone Marry Maureen?296 Death of the Media295 Paris Burns294 Brass Pole In Bsngkok293 PMS
292 Yet More Evolution291 The Excuse of Poverty290 Wanna Enlist?289 Eye-Balling China288 Looting In New Orleans287 Thoughts on Slavery286 Terror in D.C.285 How To Bail To Mexico284 Community Policing283 A Dangerous Woman282 Things In Heaven And Earth
281 Hant Ponders Furrin Policy280 Dumb-Ass Stamps In Mexico279 Chain Saws278 What Price Iraq?277 The Chinese Tide276 Dissolving The Social Contract275 The Praise Of Rednecks274 Pitying The Poor273 Tossing Democracy272 How We Were271 Marriage in Mexico, Etc.270 The Path Of Democracy269 Reflections On A Funeral268 Twisted And Twisteder267 Fredwin On Evolution266 Hunter Thompson265 Wussyism At Harvard
257 War's Other Price256 A Visit To Washington255 Fred On The Election254 Fred Endorses Hillary253 Psychotherapy252 Death Of The Schools251 Fredwitz On War250 The Nature Of Mexican Immigration249 Solutions From Fred248 The Jews 247 The Telescreen246 Cluesless In Bagdad245 In Praise Of Mexicanas244 Fred: Mostly Useless243 On Escaping Democracy
232 Lockstep Thinking On Evolution231 Gay Marriage230 Uppity White Male229 Anybody Seen America?228 Grotesque Self-Promotion227 Faking Democracy226 Criminality At NASA225 The Decline Of English224 Peddling Ourselves To Death223 Green Kid Loose In America222 Crime South Of The Rio Bravo221 Maybe We Ain�t Bin Ladened220 Loose in Bangkok219 Scamming Blacks218 Uncle Hant And The Law217 Universities And Athletes Foot216 Fooling Around In Laos215 Fred For President214 Istanbul213 The Mess in Potamia212 Sunsets And Mosquito Hawks211 Apple Pie And Psilocybin210 More On Mexico209 Questions Of Faith208 Deserved Contempt207 Instinct And Society
183 The Appeal Of War182 Building Semi-Literates181 The United States As International Mother-In-Law180 What's A White Guy To Do?179 Watering Jane Fonda178 A Country Eating Itself177 The Automaticity Of Resegregation176 The Nature Of Net Journalism175 The Supreme Court173 Cathouse Journalism172 The Suicide Of Marlboro Man171 Partying In Mexico170 Left And Right Together169 Birthing The Ogpu168 Dropping The Golden Gate
159 Bin Laden Day158 Expatting We Will Go157 Flogging The Kaboom156 Steve Hatfill And Anthrax155 How Stable Is America?154 The Ascension Of Wunxputl153 Military Reflections152 Madison Avenue And Killer Slugs151 Marx In Disguise150 To Marry Or Not
149 Racial Condescension148 A Subliminal War147 Going Faster And Faster146 Doing The DC Bob145 Hillary Comes To Florida144 The Legal System, If Any143 Exploding At The Airport142 Immigration And Ebola141 Hant Explains Space Aliens140 Women And Accountability139 Race, Evolution, And Behavior138 Cannibalism In The Ivy League
137 Outlawing Childhood136 Nuking New York135 Women In Combat134 Queer Studies At Hahvud133 Airline Security: We Aren't Serious132 Posing In The Pluke Bucket131 Whither The Military? 130 Violence And Plastic Soldiers129 Approximating Democracy128 Race And Basketball127 The Attitudes Of Blacks126 Abolishing Christmas125 Pondering Web Journalism124 Managing Us123 The Plague Of Self-Esteem122 A Conspiracy For Fred
121 Safened To Death120 Sex Finally Explained119 Reading About Afghanistan118 More On The Death Of The Schools117 Why White Men Prefer Asian Women116 American Schools Go Crazy115 In Favor Of Discourtesy114 Hant On Policy. If Any.113 Terrorism: Where Are We Going?112 The Tide From The South114 The Trade Center113 Training Neutered Poodles
110 Hant Explains Democracy109 Reparations For Slavery, Yesss!108 Storm Sewers And Bottle Rockets107 China. Bring Your Umbrella.106 Fred, Fount Of Bulimia105 Adventuring With Octopus Woman104 Heresy Regarding Integration103 Conversations With Hant
99 Draining The Federal Udder98 Pondering The Underclass97 Tag. The Horror. Oh, The Horror.96 Looting In Cincinnati95 Napster94 A Codpiece For Hillary93 Grade School Attacked By Laser92 Diaper Rash In Academia91 Getting Shod In Berkeley90 Horror In The Suburbs
83 Martin Luther King82 The Canoe As Camel81 Terror On The Playground80 Getting Rid Of McKinley79 The Man Beneath The Bed78 Dodgeball And Violence77 How Star Trek Turns Your Brains To Grits76 Slavery, And Why It's My Fault75 The Few, The Proud, The Slightly Loony
70 Bossy And Aerodynamics69 Sour Reflections On The New America68 War, Reality, And Ditz-Bunnies67 Pottifying The Navy66 Movies For Giraffes65 Why You Should Stay Out Of The Military64 Keeping Sanchez In His Place63 Why Jonny Cant Rede62 The Decline Of Manners, And A Cure61 Interracial Dating60 Vaporizing Nearly Everywhere59 The Schools Vs. Boys
33 Godzilla, Mothra, And Other American Art32 Men, Women, and Mathematics31 The Time I Wasn't In Playboy30 Gun Control: Gimme A Break29 Marry Virtually Anything28 Should Voting Be A Felony?27 Illegitimacy As An Urban Hobby26 Americana: On The Road In 1969
25 The Gummint's Watching, Sort Of 24 Geeks, Dweebs, and Grief Therapy23 The World Wide Web As Journalistic Apocalypse 22 Pistons, Teen-agers, and Ultimate Meaning21 Swedenborg Comes To Matamoscas20 Are White Males Gods?19 The Hispanification of America18 Bat Cagle Comes To Washington 17 The Virtues of Bars16 Women In The Military II: Letters
15 Racial Profiling, If Any, And The Cops 14 The Marine Corps As Psychotherapy 13 Journalism As A Character Defect 12 Against Marriage (Think About A Collie) 11 Americana: Elvis Seen In UFO10 Let's Fondle Boy Scouts! 9 Women In the Infantry 8 Why Is John Kennedy Special?