Of Agency and of Chickenhawkism at The DailyKos

July 29, 2007

I peruse the DailyKos occasionally to see the decadent left in action. This morning I was struck by this post about the immorality of having American men and women enlisting in our armed forces to fight in a war we are engaged in.

She writes:
“It is difficult for me not to consider the recruitment tactics as brainwashing based on the things my boys told me before they left this last spring.”

I despise when people view the military of our country as victims. They are described as victims of war, of evil recruiters, “brainwashing”, of chickenhawks, of the right, etc. This argument is wrong because it denies our volunteers agency. We deny that they, as citizens, decided that it was worth their while to take a few years of their life and do some service for country. They further deny their deeds under fire. In their world, the only songs sung for these soldiers and Marines are the songs of the funeral. These lamentations are true, and are a part of the experience of a society at war. But the other parts of the experience are forgotten: Their songs of bravery, courage, and stoic hardness are left unsung. Unsung, their deeds pass from memory and are ultimately forgotten. I wrote more about this here.

She continues:
“I am not anti-military; my father and husband are veterans, my brother is active duty (and thank god has survived 3 deployments since 9/11). But I am anti-occupation and I know, even if my 18 year old students don’t, that they will be sent to the front lines of this heinous hellhole we are continuing to perpetuate. Will they survive until their 19th birthdays? I can barely stand to think of it.”

Ok…so she “supports the troops”, just not the mission. Never mind that it’s difficult to support troops when they are in a fighting retreat because the home front lost nerve.

By the way, I’m not anti-gay. I have lots of gay friends. My dog is gay. I just don’t like what gays do late at night in public parks. (Actually, I am not really anti-gay. I just think it’s interesting to make a parallel argument).

She continues:
“Will they survive until their 19th birthdays? I can barely stand to think of it.”

Odds are that they will. And their 20th, 30th, and 40th. There is a view in the home front that Iraq is a meat-grinder. And in some ways, I suppose the argument can be made, but certainly not in military terms, which is, after all, what we’re talking about.

The Battle of Tarawa, in 1943, saw the Marines suffer some 1,001 killed in the space of three days. A further 2,296 Marines would be wounded due to enemy action. This was in a country with a population less than half the size of the current United States. But that generation was not soft as most Americans are today, and coming out of the Great Depression, they certainly were not decadent.

Thus far we have seen some 4,000 killed in the space of 6 years of war. This is certainly tragic, but not a reason to quit fighting. Mind you, there is an enemy out there who would like nothing more than to see green flags of Islam flying over the West, and see secularists and Christians, not to mention Jews, destroyed and banished from the living. I suppose it’s easy to forget that when we’re worried about Gaia and whatnot.

She writes:
“I weep for our democracy when the boys with means who want to be leaders in the Republican party eat up and spout back out the propaganda of an illegal and immoral occupation while the poor boys get seduced by the same propaganda – and both groups lose their way.”

I weep for our democracy when the men of our country think they owe nothing to their country, to their fellow citizens, and to their fathers and mothers.

Here she makes a variant of the Chickenhawk argument, saying that men of means who grow up to be Republicans have no right to “support the troops” because they themselves do not serve. I grew up as a child of means. I went to an elite university. My parents are conservatives, as am I. My father is a C-level executive for a mid-size multi-national corporation. I chose a commission in the Marines. So, on a personal level, her argument is in shambles.

I don’t buy chickenhawk arguments when they are brought up, because generally the people who complain of chickenhawk policy are people who themselves have not served. They often say that the chickenhawks cannot be truly pro-war because they have not seen the suffering of service. Does the reverse argument hold true? Are only military people allowed to comment on issues of war and peace? No…no peacenik would renounce their capacity to discuss war, yet they generally have not served either.

Really, the chickenhawk argument is just the reverse of the “Support the Troops” folks, but has the same effect: It prevents frank and open discussion, and is anti-democratic, as all citizens are expected to have opinions on war and peace, whether they have escaped service or not.

She finally finishes:
“The only difference is the poor boys are more likely to die before they become men.”

Does she then support a draft to relieve our society of chickenhawks, and to spread more equally the burdens of defense. Something tells me the answer is “no.”


Violence Without Context: No True Glory

July 6, 2007

I was driven to post on this by viewing the Obligatory Fourth of July Post at the decadent Pandagon site.

The author, Amanda Marcotte, wrote placed photos next to the words Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Specifically, she placed the following photo next to the word ‘Life’, so as to juxtoppose the ideal with the ‘reality’ she is trying to convey.

She traffics in feelings, emotive, and entirely subjective. Looking at the photo, we see that some sort of tragedy has taken place, and that somebody was probably killed, or at least gravely issued. We have no context. Who died? Was it deserved? An American? An insurgent? A mass-murderer? A killer of chidren? No one knows.

She is not alone. The New York Times, almost daily, prints the Names of the Dead column, listing simply the name and location of the servicemember who died. Though a matter of public record, such simplicity in reporting negates the value of the deeds of the fallen. Furthermore, there are other matters of public record which the Times neglects publishing, like the awards for deeds of valor. We do not hear of the Navy Cross or Silver Star awardees. We do not hear of Bronze Stars or Distinguished Flying Crosses. We scarcely hear of Congressional Medals of Honor. And by the absense of these citations, the Times negates the objective reality in favor of trafficing in subjective tragedy.

…Except, of course, the troops (who, I’m sure, they ‘support’), do something evil. That is the only time you will see the Newspapers of Record digging for the truth. Witness Abu Ghraib.

There does not even have to be impropriety, only the appearance of it: During the Battle of Fallujah a Marine shot dead an unarmed enemy prisoner of war, at a time when many such prisoners were booby-trapping themselves with bombs. The Marine made a correct tactical and lawful decision. A reporter caught the act on tape, and caused a small firestorm when the tape reached the news outlets. The Marine was cleared of wrongdoing. But the emotive news media videotaped and released the violence–without context–thereby negating the act of courage of the Marine and placing him, and his fellow Marines, under the judgement of the viewership of the networks.

The lack of witness to the deeds of merit and valor is not found everywhere in our culture. We fawn over Al Gore’s Academy Award. We admire atheletes. We dedicate columns to the late terrorist leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Yasser Arafat. The West is a culture that cares grately about winning, and about recognition. But not for our warriors.

The lack of context for much of the war reporting ultimately denies the objective reality of the virtues of the servicemembers. Honor, Courage, and Committment are negated, and expressed only as a fallen victim of war in the corner of page A-4. Some postmodernists would have you believe that these servicemembers are victims. Yet they are not. They acted, and by their actions, they prove the existence of heroism. I say this while admitting that there is not much heroism in dying in a mortar attack, or a random IED blast. But the willingness to sacrifice their lives for their brethren is common to all true soldiers: indeed, running from such a fight, risking the lives of fellow troops, would be a supreme act of cowardice, and be the antithesis of the warrior ethos. But through all these actions, one thing is clear: by our actions, and our actions alone, do we show our virtues as people and as warriors. We do not honor warriors in short faux-obituaries.

By not providing witness to these actions, the media negates context, and thus denies the humanity and heroism of the troops. Instead, they become victims of a meat-grinder, with virtue denied, and heroism unsung. They become another victim-group to be pandered to. And this is wrong.

From page 324 of Bing West’s superb accout of the Battle of Fallujah:

“In The Iliad, a warrior in the front ranks turned to his companion and said, “Let us win glory for ourselves, or yield it to others.” For Greek warriors, there was no true glory if they were not remembered afterward in poem or song. There will be no true glory for our soldiers in Iraq until they are recognized not as victims, but as aggressive warriors. Stories of their bravery deserved to be recorded and read by the next generation. Unsung, the noblest deed will die.”

Recommended Reading:

No True Glory, West
Medal of Honor Citations
The Distinguished Flying Cross Society
Marine Corporal Jason Dunham Congressional Medal of Honor Site (USMC)
Dunham: American Son

On the Record

July 4, 2007

I am in favor of a mandatory national service for the youth of the nation.

I want a draft.

I am a serving Marine officer. I am in a Corps of elite warriors, drawn from the best and most motivated recruits, trained specially for fighting wars, and bred with an élan of professionalism. My brethren and I take our professional obligations extremely seriously. Some of the single-term Marines (who intend on getting out after a single enlistment) look at professionals like me and my peers as ‘lifers’ or ‘careerists’, bringing to mind a slew of negative connotations. Bottom line, I’ve been called to defend the United States and it’s Constitution, and that is why I freely pledged my life to its defense. I’m a member of several associations dealing with the Profession of Arms. The studying of my craft has never ceased since it began ten years ago, and hopefully it will not end for another 30 years. I study my craft on my free time, in formal schools, during exercises, and in actual combat. I have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have sailed on Navy ships, visiting ports and showing the flag to people of a dozen nations. I will continue to do this so long as I am able.

And yet I want a draft. I want a bunch of individualistic, averagely-educated, smart-talking, dirty, rich, poor, and middle-classed people to join my military because the country has deemed it right to force them to.

In World War I, the draft in America was imposed to ensure equal measures of sacrifice were exacted from the population. It was not aimed at whom you would expect: the upper classes. The draft’s goal was to ensure that not too great a sacrifice was exacted on the opinion-makers, tycoons, sons of the political classes, etc, as these groups tended to enlist at far greater rates than the poorer classes. (source: AWOL, p. 108) Perhaps it was a sense of noblesse oblige that was remaining from Victorian times that caused this. Perhaps there was a sense of duty that was bred into the young people, and a sense of obligation to maintain (and restore, as necessary) the freedom bestowed by the earlier generations.

Indeed, military service was common to the political class of those years. And once power accrued to those members of the political class, their young continued to serve. FDR’s son James served in the Marines–not in a cushy staff job, but as a front line combat Marine in the elite 2d Raider Battalion. Another FDR progeny, Elliott, served with distinction in the Army Air Corps. TR’s son served in World War I. Harry Truman and JFK served, though their children did not. GHW Bush served with distinction, and his son GW Bush did as well (although with an extreme lack of distinction, to put it very mildly). Al Gore served.

Clinton did not serve. Nor did Dick Cheney, who managed to escape service by means of 11 draft deferments.

The vast bulk of our representatives and senators have no service under their belts. Rather, they are attorneys. And that is a serious detriment to our national power. What specifically qualifies a person with political connections and a law degree to authoritatively comment on American national power? Sure, after several terms, the Representative/Senator may garner enough experience to muddle his way about the armed forces, but only after several terms of trial and error.

Furthermore, how many Senators and Representatives were bruised at being called ‘unpatriotic’ in the run up to the Iraq War? Many claim this, and there may be some truth to it. But a large reason they are vulnerable to this charge is that they lack any terms of service as a soldier. Notice that nobody questioned the patriotism of James Webb (Democratic Senator from VA), or the few others with national service.

Widespread service would allow us to escape the paralyzing ‘Support the Troops’ politics. Having served, we would know what real support is. Having children who are currently serving would ensure we are intimately connected to their needs at all times–not just when it is politically advantageous during the election cycles. Furthermore, it could prevent unnecessary foreign wars, as our sons and daughters would be intimately familiar with the front lines and decisions in Washington would have grave or wondrous effects on the battlefield. And for those wars we are engaged in, a draft army would stiffen the resolve, as those who do serve know that war are not ‘Ended,’ as Code Pink would have you believe. Rather, they are ‘Won’ or ‘Lost’, in proportion to the resolution, generalship, technical ability, and moral clout of the nations fighting.

A draft is certainly demanding. It is demanding to the corps of military professionals to deal with, frankly, a mass of amateurs. More so, it is straining on the individual Americans who would be obligated to serve. Yet this is not immoral, unjust, or wrong.

The professional military can cope with masses of citizen soldiers. Not overnight, but given time, we will rediscover the institutions necessary to make good soldiers, sailors, and airmen. We have done so in the past, and other militaries continue to do so today. This problem is not insurmountable.

It would seem immoral, unjust, or wrong only to those who have been so pampered by “safe” existence provided by over-protective nanny-parents, and to those who have escaped the burdens of guarantying freedom by wealth and influence. Is it too much to ask that we, as democratic citizens, require, in equal measure, to pay our debt incurred by the freedom we exercise? Are we content to rely only on the professionals (those who have been called) and the bribed (those who receive astronomical bonuses to stay in) to guaranty defense?

There is the economist argument against the draft, too. Milton Friedman, conservative arch-economist, famously argued against the draft, saying that it is not economically efficient for the individual or the state. There may be some truth to that. Nonetheless, I do not subscribe to economism–that all worth is determined by monetary value. Furthermore, capitalists understand the importance of the liberal order they conduct business in. The institutions of private property rights, political freedom, transparency, due process, and fair regulation are all prerequisites for a successful market capitalism. These prerequisites must be guaranteed, such guaranties are not always economically efficient.

Nor does economic efficiency translate into military effectiveness, except at the grand-strategic level, where political, military, economic, cultural, and other forms of national power are indistinguishable. At this level, a nation more-solidly and resolutely under arms only adds to national power.

Now, surely, I would allow those with demonstrated conscientious objection to decline military service. They would not escape service–there is other work to be done as well.

Nor would I take away the volunteer complexion of the Marines or of other special units like the Special Forces, Rangers, or Submarine duty. Volunteerism also counts, especially in elite and special units.

I would also maintain a professional officer corps and a professional corps of senior enlisted troops, as a single term of duty is insufficient to provide the leadership at high levels that is due to the sons and daughters of America.

National service, especially military service, strengthens our democratic society. It ensures the sacrifices are levied in a democratic manner with equal hardship to all. It ensures a more informed polity, more familiar with the good and bad aspects of American power. It would help us to avoid conflicts not vital to our interests, and would stiffen our resolve in the fights we do engage in.

Most of all, a draft would ensure freedom is maintained by all, for all. Not by the few, for the remaining.

Recommended Reading:

The Emergence of a Seperate American Warrior Caste, by Dymphna (at Gates of Vienna)
On Forgetting the Obvious, by Kaplan
AWOL, by Roth-Douquet and Schaeffer
Citizen Soldiers, Ambrose
One Bullet Away, Fick
Carnage and Culture, Hanson