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.

 

“Trigger Warnings”, “Special Snowflakes”, and Failure

Condoleezza Rice London, England March 1, 2005...

Condoleezza Rice London, England March 1, 2005 source (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the blogs I most enjoy, is written by a neighbor (the way we figure things out here, anyway) Hercules and the Umpire, who is a Federal Judge in Nebraska, and yep, he is the one who had the guts to comment on how women (and sometimes men) lawyers dress in court. I have no idea what his politics are, although I suspect that like mine, they are based mostly on reality. Anyway yesterday, he posted this, and while I don’t have a courtroom, I think this is an appropriate warning to any of you ‘special snowflakes’ who wander in here as well because frankly, my dears, I don’t give a damn about your feelings. Here we do and say thing based on experience, success yes, but more often failure, reality, and figuring things out enough to keep most unintended consequences at bay. Here’s Judge Kopf, read and heed, because it applies to life as well as his courtroom.

 

By the way, there are no “trigger warnings” in my courtroom, just a mean ass guy who doesn’t spend a lot time worrying about your feelings. Be damn sure you grow up before you begin practicing law. That’s legal realism.

via Note to law students: No “trigger warnings” in Kopf’s court « Hercules and the umpire..

 


 

 

From the things that do NOT work file: Rutgers University.

 

If you remember they disinvited Condoleezza Rice from being their commencement speaker. It sounded to me like they were afraid that their graduates might not survive a few minutes contact with the real world.  Anyway since he is a nice guy, P.J. O”Rourke penned a piece to help them out. Here’s some excerpts

 

I hear Condoleezza Rice stood you up. You may think it was because about 50 students—.09 percent of your student body—held a “sit-in” at the university president’s office to protest the selection of Secretary Rice as commencement speaker. You may think it was because a few of your faculty—stale flakes from the crust of the turkey pot pie that was the New Left—threatened a “teach-in” to protest the selection of Secretary Rice.

“Sit-in”? “Teach-in”? What century is this?

I think Secretary Rice forgot she had a yoga session scheduled for today.

It’s shame she was busy. You might have heard something useful from a person who grew up poor in Jim Crow Alabama. Who lost a friend and playmate in 1963 when white supremacists bombed Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Who became an accomplished concert pianist before she tuned her ear to the more dissonant chords of international relations.

Secretary Rice was Phi Beta Kappa at the University of Denver and received a B.A. cum laude in political science—back before the worst grade a student had ever heard of was a B-.

The professor who influenced her most was Josef Korbel, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s father.

Secretary Albright and Secretary Rice don’t agree on much about international relations. But they don’t sit-in or teach-in at each other’s public appearances.

Secretary Rice got a master’s in political science from Notre Dame, a Ph.D. in political science from Denver and, in the meantime, was an intern at the Carter administration State Department and the Rand Corporation and studied Russian at Moscow State University.

Well, maybe nobody does need to be smart. But that’s your problem, sitting here thinking you’re so smart for graduating from Rutgers.

She rose from assistant professor to provost at Stanford. (Ranked fifth-best university in America byU.S. News & World Report. You’re ranked 69th.) While she was doing that, she also served, from 1989 to 1991, as the Soviet expert on the White House National Security Council under President George H. W. Bush. […]

Some of your professors don’t believe that Secretary Rice would be worth listening to. Some believe you need to be taught to disapprove of her morals and ethics. I am quoting your state’s Star-Ledger newspaper: “‘Attending the teach-in will be a strong signal that we will not sit quietly while a small group of irresponsible people [although I’d thought we’d established who they were during the sit-in] dishonor our beloved university,’ said history professor Rudolph Bell.”

Rudolph “Jingle” Bell. It is to be hoped poor Rudolph doesn’t have a very shiny nose.

Anyway, you might have heard something good from Secretary Rice. You’ll hear nothing good from me.

Here you are graduating from Rutgers, which is, as I mentioned, the 69th-best university in America.  Maybe Rutgers should add more vegan selections to its cafeteria fare. U.S. News & World Report scorekeepers go for that kind of thing. Actually, you’re tied for 69th with Texas A&M, an NFL first-round draft with a small college attached.[…]

Now let me address just the young men in the audience. Guys, of the 21.8 million college students, 12.5 million are women and 9.3 million are men. Guys? What? As someone who’s been married a couple of times, I can tell you your wife was always going to be smarter than you. But you’re letting her frame it and hang it on the wall.

I have done research. I have done mathematical analysis. I have also done fieldwork. That is, I’ve talked to people who went to college after the jingle bells of academia took over the institutions. Gosh.

What constitutes a “college education”?

You need to study history, so that it doesn’t come around again and, per Santayana, bite you in the Ukraine. You’re thinking, “Santayana—historically great guitar player.”[…]

Eight or so subjects to get a college education. Think you could find 100 wonderful experts in each of these, 800 professors, for $1.4 billion? That’s $1.75 million a year apiece. There would be applicants. You could hold classes in the Moose Lodge or at the Y. Classes would be large. So was the agora where Socrates taught. But there’s no free WiFi in the Moose Lodge.  And this kind of college education sounds like work.  Which is something you’ll be looking hard for, starting tomorrow.

Go Forth and Fail.

via My Commencement Speech to Rutgers’ Geniuses: Go Forth and Fail

 

And along that line, Bill Whittle has something to say about our old friend failure as well.

 

 

Now start thinking, and failing until you get it right, just like every generation has done.

 

 

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta
%d bloggers like this: