Dulce et Decorum Est

If Someone Else Has to Do It

December 28, 2007

I have just received the November issue of the magazine of the American Legion, in which I discover an article by one Ralph Peters, reminding me of why, having joined the Legion on impulse, I have never gone to the Post. The piece is entitled “Twelve Myths of 21st Century War.” A better title might be, “A Pedestrian Compendium of Agonizingly Cliched Jingoism.” (I guess he didn’t think of calling it that.) Anyway, Ralph believes that Americans have become too comfortable, have lost their taste for war, no longer want to pay the butcher’s bill. Ralph is for war. Not much for history, though.

As a diagnostic exercise in intellectual pathology, let’s look at some of these clichés. Ralph speaks of “the terrible price our troops had to pay for freedom” in our various wars. Ah. In exactly which wars did the military protect our freedoms?

The Mexican War of 1847 didn’t protect our freedoms. In the view of Ulysses Grant—a participant in that war, and unconvincing as a limp-wristed liberal—it constituted sheer unjustified aggression. In the Civil War the Confederacy posed no danger to our freedoms, if by “us” one means the Union. The South wanted only to be left alone to misbehave in peace. The Spanish-American War of 1898 was also unjustified aggression: Neither Cuba nor Spain posed the slightest threat to our freedoms. World War I didn’t protect our freedoms, nor probably those of Europe. It was an internal war between colonial powers led by idiots. World War II was justified retaliation for attack and a plausible long-term peril for freedom. The Korean War wasn’t about our freedoms—many observers assert that it took place in Korea—and neither was Viet Nam. We lost the latter and seemed no less free than before. Iraq has nothing to do with our freedoms. It couldn’t threaten the freedom of Guatemala.

One for eight, Ralph. It wouldn’t fly in the NFL.

Ralph, a doubtless well-paid commentator on television, complains that our elites do not fight in the country’s wars. True. Neither do our Ralphs. Relying on his biography in the Wikipedia, I find that he was born in 1952, making him of military age in 1970. The war in Viet Nam being at its height, he went to Europe for ten years. Rough duty, it was. Cirrhosis always looms in those beer gardens. He retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel in intelligence. (Officers usually being peters, it is not surprising that Peters was an officer.) In the Marines we referred to such people as “admin pogues” or “REMFs,” rear-echelon motherfuckers. I confess to a loathing for those who shelter safely behind the lines yet send others to fight, bowwow, grrrr, woof. Still, his record is not irrelevant to his views. War looks exciting to office workers, but has less appeal to those who are forced to fight. It has even less appeal for those who are hit.

I remember lying in the NSA hospital in Danang, across the way from some guys whose tank had been hit by an RPG. I couldn’t see them because my face was bandaged. Still, we talked. They were badly burned, but seemed likely to live, though with ghastly scars.

The RPG had ruptured the hydraulics, they said, and the cherry juice cooked off. The two across from me had gotten out. The other two crewmen had burned to death. Apparently they screamed a lot. You panic, it hurts, you are blinded, you can’t find the hatches, that kind of thing.

I could tell a lot of stories like that. I don’t because then I get very strange and want to hit something. A loud-mouthed REMF, for example.

Don’t take this as denigration of Ralph, though. Intel work carries its perils. He could have broken a nail on his shift key. Sure, a trip to the nails parlor would fix it, but those things hurt.

Ralph of course speaks of the sacrifices our boys are making. They aren’t making sacrifices. They are being sacrificed. Sacrifices are voluntary, but if the troops decline to fight, they go to jail. The mechanics go this way: Having an all-volunteer army minimizes objections to the war since no one of any influence has to go; if a lot of high-school grads from Tennessee are getting killed, well, it’s not a good thing of course, but who really cares? This facilitates hobbyist wars. A voluntary army is a small army, so you have to send the same troops for tour after tour until they are half-mad and their families wrecked. Who cares? They are just rednecks anyway—not our sort of people, nobody a general would let his daughter date.

What are the current wars about? Ralph thinks, or says he thinks, that our wars serve to protect civilization, decency, and apple pie. This is either boilerplate brainlessness or deliberate cant. Permit me to cite a contrary view:

“War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives…A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small "inside" group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”

Many will recognize this as the writing of the celebrated leftist Noam Chomsky, but this would be a case of misidentification. The author is, of course, Marine Major General Smedley Butler, holder of two Congressional Medals of Honor, even more than Ralph. But what does Butler know about war, compared to an office-weenie veteran of Europe’s beer chutes?

War is a racket. The military budget is absolutely huge after you add up the usual budget, the expenditures for the current wars, the intel outfits, the black programs, the Veterans Administration, and Homeland Security. Each of these jelly jars attracts its swarm of hungry bees. Always a new weapon is needed. Some threat pullulates in the darkness, ready to defeat the weapons we have. Some of these programs become virtual kingdoms. A fighter can take a quarter century to develop at wonderful cost. Then you get to produce it for decades perhaps, and sell spare parts and upgrades and then you slep it (Service Life Extension Program, become a verb). Money, money, money. An occasional war provides plausibility.

Of course we are in Iraq to protect our freedoms, Ralph. Who could doubt it? Only by coincidence does colonization put American troops on the borders of Iran and Syria, enemies of Israel, and in a position to control by intimidation the oil of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and the UAE. Coincidence, I assure you.

A bloated military requires enemies. Ralph sees one in the Mohammedans, a desperate recourse but the only one available. Enemies have to be frightening so as to justify the budget. The Soviets were serviceable in this regard, having a huge if low-grade military and a history of occupying places. When the commies punked out, no believable bugaboo was at hand, so makeup was applied to Moslems to let them serve until China comes online. Already one reads of the ominous buildup of the wily Chinee. Evil lurks everywhere, fearsome shapes twist in the fog, send money.

Why does Ralph think Iraq threatens our freedoms? Because he is supposed to. To quote Smedley Butler further, “Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.”

Actually it is much more true of officers, who are issued their minds when they sign up. They seldom turn them in upon retirement. Enlisted men know less but think more.

Enough. I can’t stand it. Ralph complains that the presidential candidates have never been in uniform, but I note that Hillary’s combat record exactly equal Ralph’s. Frauds, phonies, poseurs, always saying, “Let’s you and him fight.”