Chilcot

2563 (1)If you missed it, yesterday morning the British published a report on the Iraq War. It’s two and a half million words, took thirteen years to prepare, and it says very little we didn’t know thirteen years ago. Chalcedon of at Jess’ site has written about it, better than I can. And yes, I believe it applies almost word for word to the United States, as well.

So, we know now what most of us thought we knew, which is that the Iraq war was undertaken because America wanted it and because Tony Blair wanted to stay in with America; not much to surprise us there. Victory has many fathers, and had things gone well, then many would have been claiming the credit; given that it did not, defeat, or at least this level of failure, ensured the opposite – that no one would claim paternity.

I began my academic career by studying the very first Anglo-American occupation – Operation ‘Torch’, the invasion of French North Africa in November 1942. I came to the conclusion that it was ineptly planned in terms of the follow through because no one on either side had bothered to think about the politics of the aftermath of a successful invasion. So, when it transpired that one of the Vichy leaders, Admiral Darlan, was in Algiers, the Americans cut a deal with him and then wondered why the press in America and Britain, and the Soviets, all complained that they were dealing with a Nazi collaborator. The same thing was true of planning for the 1944 D day invasion, when, again, the Allies planned to govern France and found that the French wanted to govern themselves-  and went ahead and did so. Much the same failures marked the Iraq invasion. Over-sanguine assumptions about how an invasion would be received, and over-optimistic calculations about how the invaded territories would be governed. So, whatever Chilcot implies, there is nothing new about the failures of Bush and Blair here. Churchill and Roosevelt were very fortunate no one conducted an 8 year inquiry into their conduct of those operations; none would have escaped whipping.

Blair did nothing that most post-war Prime Ministers have not done – he decided that at all costs Britain must keep step with America; Churchill started that line, Macmillan restored it after Eden broke it at Suez, and Thatcher and Blair perfected it. Those who think Britain should have an independent foreign policy, but who also distrust the EU, have a duty to explain just how such a foreign policy could be run in the absence of cooperation with the USA.

via Failure is always an orphan: reflections on Chilcot (1)

And I’ll add just a smidgen from today’s

The parallels between the reaction to Chilcot and Brexit ought to worry us. In spite of 2.6 million words which show that Blair believed the intelligence he was given, those who had already decided he was lying maintain it is so. Evidence? Experts? They don’t need those things, they have feelings, they are that most coveted of modern phenomena – ‘victims’. Chilcot thinks Blair should have challenged the Intelligence reports, but omits to specify on what grounds? Imagine for a moment that, as the Intelligence said, Saddam still had WMDs (he had had them, he had lied about having them, and he had used them in the past) and Blair had refused to believe it – and Saddam used them. Can you imagine what Blair’s critics would have said about his hubris in ignoring what every expert had warned him about? So, the experts were wrong? That happens sometimes, experts are just that, people with experience using their best judgment; they are not the Pope pronouncing on matters of faith and morals.

via The politics of emotion: Chilcot (2)

That happens sometimes (far too often actually), the experts were wrong. In fact, they’ve been wrong so often, that experts are in disrepute. Yes, to an extent with me as well. But the real problem with Iraq, was just as Chalcedon states above, like Torch, we had no realistic plan for victory, we started bringing troops home, and left a vacuum, and terrorism loves a vacuum. Eventually, Bush listened to some experts on the ground, and went with the surge, and we had it won, pretty much. All we really had to do at that point is stay on the ground, and keep watch, it was safer than being a cop in Chicago.

Then we bugged out because Obama didn’t have the stomach to continue the skeer. Now we have a horrendous mess, that has killed more Iraqis than Saddam and the US together. That’s why you must finish the mission. It’s also a testament to the futility of nation building, not to mention mission creep. Napoleon once said you can do anything with bayonets, except sit on them. He should have taken his own advice, he might not have ended up on St. Helena.

But he didn’t, and neither did the British, nor did we, and so now, as it has been for most of history, the Middle East is a dog’s breakfast, and the chaos is spreading into our homes as well. Quite a legacy.

And then There was One

35C6061F00000578-0-image-a-7_1467192492398From the £ Daily Mail. And why, pray tell, are we dependent on a British paper for this story? In any case, Staff Sergeant David Johnathan Thatcher, died last week, leaving Lieutenant Colonel Richard ‘Dick’ Cole as the last man standing. We’ve talked about some of their traditions before, and you can read that here, as well. Here is some of the Mail’s article.

The final Doolittle Raider, who was one of 80 fliers to take off on the first bombing attack of mainland Japan following Pearl Harbor, attended the funeral of his last remaining comrade-in-arms. 

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Richard ‘Dick’ Cole, from Comfort, Texas, is now the last of the brave airmen who took off from the USS Hornet on April 18, 1942. 

He stood beside his comrade, and friend retired Staff Sergeant David Johnathan Thatcher, who died in Missoula hospital in Montana last week. The 94-year-old former airman suffered a stroke before dying.

35C177B000000578-0-image-a-1_1467191620985The Doolittle Flyers were trained in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor for a top secret mission, known only to a few people. 

The men were told that the mission would be ‘extremely hazardous’ and were told at the beginning, this was the time to back out.

The audacious plan, developed by Lt Col James ‘Jimmy’ Doolittle, would see 16, B-25 bombers attack sites on mainland Japan – even though no body had managed to launch an aircraft that size from an aircraft carrier.

via Montana funeral for Doolittle Raider who helped mission on Japan following Pearl Harbor | Daily Mail Online

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

John Gillespie Magee, Jr

Send in the Cavalry

002-Cavalry-Regiment-COAYou know there’s some quite old traditions in America, one of them is that when you’re in trouble, you like to see the Cavalry coming. Still works that way, you know. Take, for instance, the Second Dragoons, they’ve been around since established by Andy Jackson, in 1836. In the years since they’ve spent much of their time on the frontier. In the American west, with the Army of the Potomac, in Mexico, in Cuba, and the Philippines, with Patton, in West Germany, in Kuwait, Iraq, in Bosnia, and back to Iraq, and finally back to Germany, always, they seem to be where there is trouble. The ‘Ghosts of Patton’s Army’ have pretty much always lived up to their motto Toujours Prêt, always ready.

So, where have the dragoons been lately? Czech Republic, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania and in Estonia is where, of course. Where there is war or rumor of war is where you find the cavalry. This is a demonstration of showing the flag, mostly, a patrol (a road march, they call it) showing everybody that the US is concerned and involved.

1-B-lu5Viis48FxuptInneVwDragon Ride II it’s called, and while the Strykers might not be really up to combatting the Russian army, well they said the same thing about the horse cavalry in the Great War, but the Dragoons engaged at the Aisne-Marne as mounted cavalry.

via The U.S. Army’s Great Green Fleet Returns to Eastern Europe — War Is Boring

1-SFiR8ibvQvKyKNoLq0DhsQ

These Polish folks seem fairly pleased to see the cavalry arrive, don’t they? A picture the US Cavalry has figured in all over the world for generations.

 

Remembering Planetary Soldiers

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The phrase comes from Robert Leckie’s The Wars of America and has been apt since the Spanish-American War. American Forces have fought just about everywhere and in just about every climate, in defense of freedom. And so this weekend, from Fort MacPherson, Nebraska, to Manila, The Philippines, to Luxembourg, to Cambridge, England and on Robert E. Lee’s own front lawn, free men and women will honor American soldiers who died for their freedom.

This is Memorial Day weekend when we honor those brave men (and often women as well) who gave their lives to save America, and to keep the beacon that was lighted so long ago, lit. America, the first Revolutionaries, winning our independence in war with the Greatest Empire of the Age and keeping the torch lit down through the centuries.

On 13 December 1636 a Royal Regiment of Foot was organized in Massachusetts from the pre-existing trained bands. From that regiment once known as the North Regiment is descended the 181st Infantry Regiment of the Massachusetts National Guard.

37762_132550020116358_2738621_nThe unit carries battle honors from French and Indian Wars, American Revolution, War of 1812, American Civil War, Spanish-American War, Mexican Expedition, World War I, World War II, Guantanamo Bay detention camp, Iraq War, and Afghanistan War.

Their honors include: Cited in the Order of the Day of the Belgian Army for actions in the ARDENNES (1944), French Croix de Guerre with Gilt Star (1918), French Croix de Guerre with Palm (1945), French Fourragere (1945).

This is the oldest military unit of the United States formed only 16 years after the Mayflower and in existence for 380 years. From that day till this we have depended on our military for the defense of our liberty and they have never failed us.

One of the places mentioned above is the Ardennes, and Uwe E. Reinhardt wrote about where some of those men rest the other day in The Wall Street Journal.

My wife, born in China and reared in Taiwan, and I, born in Germany and a longtime U.S. citizen, first visited the World War II cemeteries when our American-born children were young. We would tell them: Here rest some of the warriors who sacrificed their lives so that your parents and people in many parts of the world would be free from tyranny and could pursue their dreams in freedom. We made it clear to our children that this was not just a grown-up talk—that it was real and part of their proud heritage.

The lesson must have stuck. Last year our eldest child, now a fully grown man, urged me to come along to visit the battlegrounds in Germany, near the Belgian border, where U.S. troops fought so bravely and where so many of them—too many—met their early death.

This time we visited the large American cemetery near the Belgian town of Henri-Chapelle, about 20 miles west of the German city of Aachen. There rest the warriors who fell in the brutal, four-month-long battle of the Hürtgen Forest, followed by the Battle of the Bulge and the eventual push of American forces all the way to the Rhine River.

You can walk along the gravel paths of these cemeteries, and among the thousands of markers—crosses and Stars of David—beneath which the warriors rest. Pick a marker at random and adopt the soldier whose name is chiseled into that marker. Make him your father, or brother, or cousin, or a friend. Imagine him alive, and how you might have hugged him as he shipped out to the distant front.

However brutal his death may have been, you will draw solace from knowing that he rests here, in this serene setting, alongside his buddies who shared his fate. You may even imagine that somehow, don’t ask how, the fallen soldier may know that you are visiting him, to pay your respects.

Of them, General of the Army Douglass MacAurthur said this

Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American man at arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefields many, many years ago, and has never changed. I regarded him then, as I regard him now, as one of the world’s noblest figures; not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless.

His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give. He needs no eulogy from me, or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy’s breast.

But when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire, and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements.

In twenty campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand campfires, I have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic self-abnegation, and that invincible determination which have carved his statue in the hearts of his people.

From one end of the world to the other, he has drained deep the chalice of courage. As I listened to those songs of the glee club, in memory’s eye I could see those staggering columns of the First World War, bending under soggy packs on many a weary march, from dripping dusk to drizzling dawn, slogging ankle deep through mire of shell-pocked roads; to form grimly for the attack, blue-lipped, covered with sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain, driving home to their objective, and for many, to the judgment seat of God.

I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them: Duty, Honor, Country. Always their blood, and sweat, and tears, as they saw the way and the light.

And twenty years after, on the other side of the globe, against the filth of dirty foxholes, the stench of ghostly trenches, the slime of dripping dugouts, those boiling suns of the relentless heat, those torrential rains of devastating storms, the loneliness and utter desolation of jungle trails, the bitterness of long separation of those they loved and cherished, the deadly pestilence of tropic disease, the horror of stricken areas of war.

General MacAurthur’s words seem a bit dated sometimes, his verbiage a bit purple for our tastes but I say the deeds they commemorate are the only justification they need. And so.

Jutland

jutlandA hundred years ago Tuesday, the British Grand Fleet fought the Imperial German High Seas fleet off the coast of Denmark.

It was a quite incredible battle, the largest sea battle involving steel ships until then, and one of the costliest with a combined casualty count of 8645 killed, 1181 wounded, and the loss of 25 ships (in tonnage most British). Tactically the British perhaps lost, but in hindsight, it was a victory on the scale of Trafalgar itself.

Why? Because the German fleet never sortied again. If they had successfully caused the disruption of the Grand Fleet, Britain would have been driven from the war, or starved, by the combination of the U-boats and the surface navy. Without Britain, and it’s corollary the non-entrance of the United States, the Germans simply win. This was the only day that Britain could have lost the war. In the century since Trafalgar the Royal Navy had perhaps grown a bit complacent, there were problems all through the fleet, the kind of things that creep in unnoticed in peacetime. But they didn’t lose. Like our Admiral Spruance at Midway, Jellicoe’s job was to “rock ’em and sock ’em, but don’t lose your shirt”. It might have been possible in both cases to have won more complete victories, but it would have exposed irreplaceable assets to avoidable risk, for little gain.

The First Sea Lord said recently in a speech at The Maritime Museum in London

In all the reams of Jutland related reading material that have passed across my desk in the last few days, one fact that caught my eye was that no fewer than 8 future First Sea Lords were serving with the Grand Fleet during the Battle of Jutland.

For you, that’s an interesting historical fact. But for me, just 2 months into my own tenure at First Sea Lord, it adds to the poignancy of this centenary, as I consider my responsibilities, both to the nation and to our sailors and marines today.

Undoubtedly the most striking characteristic of the Battle of Jutland is the sheer scale of loss.

Admirals and Ordinary Seaman perished alike.

Never before had either navy lost so men on a single day.

When the battle cruiser Invincible was torn apart by an explosion she took less than 90 seconds to sink, taking over 1000 men with her.

Losses on this scale are difficult to comprehend. Nothing in our modern experience compares.

So it is important that in this centenary year, the focus be on remembrance.

But museums are designed to start conversations and encourage questions; and this exhibition is an important opportunity to reflect on the wider significance of Jutland.

Wider significance
Terrible as the losses were, the stakes in 1916 could not have been higher.

Without command of the seas, Britain’s maritime trade, the lifeblood of the war effort, would be in danger and Britain herself would be left open to the risk of starvation or even invasion.

Admiral Jellicoe understood the enormity of his responsibility.

He knew that the superiority of the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet had to be protected at all costs.

And this was the strongest adversary that Britain had faced in a century. The long, calm lee of Trafalgar, as Andrew Gordon so poignantly captured it, was very much over.

Certainly the sudden and spectacular loss of several capital ships, with almost all hands, was disastrous.

There were serious questions about the performance of gunnery, signals, armour and shells.

And there was a profound debate over the balance between regulation and initiative in the culture of the Royal Navy.

As many of you know, historians, academics and naval officers still exchange broadsides on these issues today.

Perhaps, with the benefit of what we would today call better situational awareness, Jellicoe could have inflicted a crushing defeat worthy of Trafalgar.

But in repelling, rather than sinking, the German High Seas Fleet, he had done enough.

As painful and surprising as Britain’s losses had been, in truth, they did little to dent the Royal Navy’s superiority.

The very next day the Grand Fleet was back at sea and ready to do battle again, and within in a month the losses in ships had been made good.

The High Seas Fleet had failed to break the superiority of the Royal Navy and command of the sea remained with Britain.

Royal Navy today
Much has changed in a century.

But the fundamentals remain the same:

Britain is still an island nation and a global maritime trading power.

We are still dependent on the sea for security and prosperity and the nation still looks to the Royal Navy to protect its interests at home and around the world. […]

Conclusion
Over the next week, this centenary will be marked in Scapa Flow, in the Firth of Forth, in our dockyard towns and at sea off the coast of Denmark.

But it also right that that the Battle of Jutland is remembered in London too, alongside so many other reminders of our island story here in the National Maritime Museum.

We will never forget those who fought and died in the North Sea a century ago.

But in a conflict otherwise remembered principally for the trenches of the Western Front, Jutland also serves as a necessary reminder of the enduring significance of sea power to our defence and to our prosperity.

Thank you.

From the MOD. via Think Defence

The reason this battle is arguably comparable to Trafalgar is this: without Trafalgar, the British may not have had control of the sea, with all of its consequences through the nineteenth century. Jutland ensured that the English-speaking people would continue that control throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. If Jellicoe had lost, that control would have passed to Imperial Germany, at least in the Atlantic, and possibly Imperial Japan in the Pacific. there is no telling exactly how it would have ben different, but the world would be an entirely different place, without the Anglo-Saxons controlling the seas.

For me, it was as was said earlier by another First Sea Lord, the Earl St. Vincent, and has so often proved to be true.

I DO NOT SAY, MY LORDS, THAT THE FRENCH WILL NOT COME.

I SAY ONLY THEY WILL NOT COME BY SEA.

The citizen-soldier: Moral risk and the modern military

takenoticeAs we move into Memorial Day weekend, and for once it legitimately is that, we are going to start thinking about the soldier, the sailor, the airman and the marine. More than most, they have made us what we are, and conversely, we have made them both what they are, and an image of us, and moreover an image of us at our best. And because of that, they have become the best in the world, and the best ambassadors of the American people. They, all of them, the quick, the dead, the maimed, the conservative, the liberal, yes, the ones who protest, as well as those who support, make us better.

This is long, it is also, in my judgment worth reading, and likely rereading, and a good deal of contemplation. By Phil Klay, and from Brookings.

The rumor was he’d killed an Iraqi soldier with his bare hands. Or maybe bashed his head in with a radio. Something to that effect. Either way, during inspections at Officer Candidates School, the Marine Corps version of boot camp for officers, he was the Sergeant Instructor who asked the hardest, the craziest questions. No softballs. No, “Who’s the Old Man of the Marine Corps?” or “What’s your first general order?” The first time he paced down the squad bay, all of us at attention in front of our racks, he grilled the would-be infantry guys with, “Would it bother you, ordering men into an assault where you know some will die?” and the would-be pilots with, “Do you think you could drop a bomb on an enemy target, knowing you might also kill women and kids?”

When he got to me, down at the end, he unloaded one of his more involved hypotheticals. “All right candidate. Say you think there’s an insurgent in a house and you call in air support, but then when you walk through the rubble there’s no insurgents, just this dead Iraqi civilian with his brains spilling out of his head, his legs still twitching and a little Iraqi kid at his side asking you why his father won’t get up. So. What are you going to tell that Iraqi kid?”

Amid all the playacting of OCS—screaming “Kill!” with every movement during training exercises, singing cadences about how tough we are, about how much we relish violence—this felt like a valuable corrective. In his own way, that Sergeant Instructor was trying to clue us in to something few people give enough thought to when they sign up: joining the Marine Corps isn’t just about exposing yourself to the trials and risks of combat—it’s also about exposing yourself to moral risk.

I never had to explain to an Iraqi child that I’d killed his father. As a public affairs officer, working with the media and running an office of Marine journalists, I was never even in combat. And my service in Iraq was during a time when things seemed to be getting better. But that period was just one small part of the disastrous war I chose to have a stake in. “We all volunteered,” a friend of mine and a five-tour Marine veteran, Elliot Ackerman, said to me once. “I chose it and I kept choosing it. There’s a sort of sadness associated with that.”

As a former Marine, I’ve watched the unraveling of Iraq with a sense of grief, rage, and guilt. As an American citizen, I’ve felt the same, though when I try to trace the precise lines of responsibility of a civilian versus a veteran, I get all tangled up. The military ethicist Martin Cook claims there is an “implicit moral contract between the nation and its soldiers,” which seems straightforward, but as the mission of the military has morphed and changed, it’s hard to see what that contract consists of. A decade after I joined the Marines, I’m left wondering what obligations I incurred as a result of that choice, and what obligations I share with the rest of my country toward our wars and to the men and women who fight them. What, precisely, was the bargain that I struck when I raised my hand and swore to defend my country against all enemies, foreign and domestic?

Grand causes

It was somewhat surprising (to me, anyway, and certainly to my parents) that I wound up in the Marines. I wasn’t from a military family. My father had served in the Peace Corps, my mother was working in international medical development. If you’d asked me what I wanted to do, post-college, I would have told you I wanted to become a career diplomat, like my maternal grandfather. I had no interest in going to war.

Operation Desert Storm was the first major world event to make an impression on me—though to my seven-year-old self the news coverage showing grainy videos of smart bombs unerringly finding their targets made those hits seem less a victory of soldiers than a triumph of technology. The murky, muddy conflicts in Mogadishu and the Balkans registered only vaguely. War, to my mind, meant World War II, or Vietnam. The first I thought of as an epic success, the second as a horrific failure, but both were conflicts capable of capturing the attention of our whole society. Not something struggling for air-time against a presidential sex scandal.

So I didn’t get my ideas about war from the news, from the wars actually being fought during my teenage years. I got my ideas from books.

My novels and my history books were sending very mixed signals. War was either pointless hell, or it was the shining example of American exceptionalism.

Reading novels like Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, or Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, I learned to see war as pointless suffering, absurdity, a spectacle of man’s inhumanity to man. Yet narrative nonfiction told me something different, particularly the narrative nonfiction about World War II, a genre really getting off the ground in the late-90s and early aughts. Perhaps this was a belated result of the Gulf War, during which the military seemed to have shaken off its post-Vietnam malaise and shown that, yes, goddamn it, we can win something, and win it good. Books like Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers and Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation went hand-in-hand with movies like Saving Private Ryan to present a vision of remarkable heroism in a world that desperately needed it.

via The citizen-soldier: Moral risk and the modern military | Brookings Institution

And so, this weekend, as taps once more rings over the land, and volleys sound across the land, it is time, I think for us to think about what we owe these warriors, living and dead, who created America, and have sustained her, and us, across the last 240 years. Because yes, we owe them care for their injuries, and to make them as whole as we can, and to honor their memory. But we owe them, in large measure also, our way of life.

 

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