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.


Let us stop pretending that the Iraq War was the Worst Thing Ever.

Map of major operations and battles of the Ira...

Map of major operations and battles of the Iraq War as of 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This! From Moe Lane.

(Via Instapundit) This is a pet peeve of mine, and it got triggered by this otherwise not-as-bad-as-it-could-have been article on Obama’s Syria debacle (the NYT prefers the term ‘nightmare’):

American interventionism can have terrible consequences, as the Iraq war has demonstrated. But American non-interventionism can be equally devastating, as Syria illustrates.

Stop. Freeze-frame. Rewind.  Look at those two sentences. Also look at that word ‘equally,’ which means that the author of this piece wants his readers to conclude that there aretwo separate military situations here, each one of which was, well, equally disastrous.

But that’s not even remotely true. We have one situation here. To wit: from 2001 to 2003 the United States did some long overdue corrective actions in the Middle East.  First, we went into Afghanistan and broke the neck of the regime that hosted the group that attacked us on 9/11. Then we went into Iraq and broke the neck of the regime that had been an active danger to the entire region for the previous two, three decades – and that we had unfinished business with, too. Kind of important, that. After all of that we had an insurgency develop – which is something that happens when you occupy nation-states – and then we proceeded to beat that insurgency without resorting to the usual rule of slaughtering the population*.

Source: Moe Lane » Let us stop pretending that the Iraq War was the Worst Thing Ever.

Shock and Awe, Iraqi Freedom 10 years on

Statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Fird...

Statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Firdos Square after the US invasion of Iraq. Found on the US military website. CAPTION:The statue of topples in Baghdad’s Firdos Square on April 9, 2003. Three years later, Iraqi forces increasingly are taking the lead in securing their country. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Remember what you were doing ten years ago this week? I surely do. I was sitting fascinated, watching the American, British, and Australian forces make the conquest of the largest army in the middle east look easy. It’s already ten years since the execution of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I remember sitting there half the night watching the embedded reporters send back videotape of what looked for all the world like a road march. Never have the armies of freedom looked so all-powerful. Remember Iraq had fought Iran to a standstill for ten years, but they barely laid a glove on our forces.

To the point of listening to Baghdad Bob tell us how they were winning as we watched American armored forces drive by the hotel in Baghdad.

Nothing like it in recent history

And remember too, it was America’s war. No matter what they said later, the war had wide (and bipartisan) support. Naval War College professor of national security affairs Stephen Knott had this to say behind the Wall Street Journal’s  paywall in an op-ed last weekend.


In the U.S., there was a bipartisan consensus that Saddam possessed and continued to develop WMD. Former Vice President Al Gore noted in September 2002 that Saddam had “stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country.” Then-Sen. Hillary Clinton observed that Saddam hoped to increase his supply of chemical and biological weapons and to “develop nuclear weapons.” Then-Sen. John Kerry claimed that “a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his [Saddam’s] hands is a real and grave threat to our security.”

Even those opposed to using force against Iraq acknowledged that, as then-Sen. Edward Kennedy put it, “we have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing” WMD. When it came time to vote on the authorization for the use of force against Iraq, 81 Democrats in the House voted yes, joined by 29 Democrats in the Senate, including the party’s 2004 standard bearers, John Kerry and John Edwards, plus Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Sen. Joe Biden, Mrs. Clinton, and Sens. Harry Reid, Tom Harkin, Chris Dodd and Jay Rockefeller. The latter, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, claimed that Saddam would “likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years.”

Support for the war extended far beyond Capitol Hill. In March 2003, a Pew Research Center poll indicated that 72% of the American public supported President Bush’s decision to use force.

If Mr. Bush “lied,” as the common accusation has it, then so did many prominent Democrats—and so did the French, whose foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, claimed in February 2003 that “regarding the chemical domain, we have evidence of [Iraq’s] capacity to produce VX and yperite [mustard gas]; in the biological domain, the evidence suggests the possible possession of significant stocks of anthrax and botulism toxin.” Germany’s intelligence chief August Hanning noted in March 2002 that “it is our estimate that Iraq will have an atomic bomb in three years.”

According to interrogations conducted after the invasion, Saddam’s own generals believed that he had WMD and expected him to use these weapons as the invasion force neared Baghdad.

The war in Iraq was authorized by a bipartisan congressional coalition, supported by prominent media voices and backed by the public. Yet on its 10th anniversary Americans will be told of the Bush administration’s duplicity in leading us into the conflict. Many members of the bipartisan coalition that committed the U.S. to invade Iraq 10 years ago have long since washed their hands of their share of responsibility.

We owe it to history—and, more important, to all those who died—to recognize that this wasn’t Bush’s war, it was America’s war. […]

We ran into some trouble later on, of course. A good bit of it is structural to the American armed forces.

Huh? What?

This is what I mean. The American forces are by far the best combat force ever seen in the world, they can go farther and faster than anybody anywhere, and destroy anything in the way. (The British and Commonwealth forces aren’t very far behind.) But because of the high level mechanization, American forces are always short of straight leg infantry. This was true as far back as World War II. In some ways our army was founded on the Indian campaigns, we can move very far and very fast (although with a large logistic tail). We can destroy almost anything, and do it quickly.

But men with bayonets are always in short supply, and to occupy a country what you need most are guys with bayonets, and ears, and mouths, to interact with the natives. That’s the other thing, ask the locals around any of our armies, their ruling classes may hate us but almost without exception the common people love the American grunt. They’re the best ambassadors we could ever have.

I think Rumsfeld made it worse in Iraq by trying to make war on the cheap, and so the shortage of infantry was even worse than it had to be. But it is the structure of the army that is the basic cause.

I’m not sure there is an answer, really. The American army is basically an expeditionary force, designed for complete victory over any opponent, anywhere. If that is the mission, unless we add follow on forces that are basically leg infantry, with limited transport, and added exposure to casualties, and more expense, this is the best we can do. Often we have allies or indigenous forces that can help with the constabulary mission but not always.

Shock and Awe, it’s what we do and no one has ever done it better

America’s Place in the World, and Why It Is and Must Remain So.

The Colossus of Freedom

I write a lot about America, where we came from, who we are, where we are, and where we are going. I firmly believe that while we can’t be the cop walking every beat every where in the world, all the time; we must act to prevent the worst outrages and assure world peace.

As the Navy says, “A Force for Good“. Anybody who doesn’t believe that about America is an uneducated simpleton or has nefarious designs of their own. America has been “the indispensable nation” for a century now and the world has become a far safer place for it. And that doesn’t include the far better living standard, far lower disease rates, and far higher standards of personal liberty that America has wrought, worldwide.

If we pay attention to our knitting now, this happy state of affairs for the world population will continue for the foreseeable future.

Yesterday, Great Satan’s Girlfriend had quite a lot to say about this too, in her own inimitable style, of course.

“Living in Amerika – Coca Cola – Wunderbra”

Rammstein”s timeless delightful little ditty (j’ever note they look a lot like ancient dead 3rd Reich cats – it’s true der F himself along with a posse looking a lot like a younger healthier Reichsmarshall, Reichfuhrerand Org Todt”s Speer? Just saying)underscore the ancient fakebelieve Iraq War meme that Great Satan was single handedly jamming up the whole world beyond repair.

The world turned against Great Satan. Anti-American sentiments have swept the globe. Foreign leaders, pundits, and ordinary ppl decry Great Satan, at best proclaiming their heartbreak that the American values they once admired have vanished, and at worst condemning America as a criminal state beyond redemption

Regime changing Iraq (defeating the largest Arab army in history in 20 days!) on a guess no less, blowing off Kyoto, the spread of American movies, American music, KFC and Mickey D’s unto the ends of the earth. Incarcerating especial creeps at Club Gitmo in those ‘4ever Detentions” – not to mention the barbaric practise of executing killers, often after years of incarceration.

Alla that unbound Great Satan Hating piled up faster on a girl than uncles at a Thanksgiving game of touch football and tend to create

“… a feeling that Great Satan, once a force for good in the world, is
abusing its position as the world’s sole superpower. “

The meme has changed a bit into all that decline chiz – yet it is nigh imposs to LOL decline as anything other than a choice. Albeit a woefully weak minded, 2 dimensional choice, either deliberately deceitful or uninformed choice. (Not a cut – yours truly has made tonnes of suck choices – often while critical thinking  was dismissed in the uh, heat, of , uh, combat). 

Most cats in Great Satan never got the memo that decline is inevitable. In fact an amazing 70% of Americans today desire and enjoy globestomping, kicking assets and being the world’s hyperpuissant hottie – unique – the only one of her kind!

Why cause?


1st off – most Americans – for whatever reasons – are alot like those wickedly delish uberselfish hotties – “Yeah. Guys have feelings too, but like, who cares!”

Americans simply do not care what all foreign haters, goobs, creeps, control freaks and girl haters think of Great Satan – and by extension – all her hot fun and free choice allies and little sisters like Taiwan, Nippon or SoKo etctoo.

Plus –

“It is premature for us to conclude, after ten thousand years of war, that a few decades and some technological innovations would change the nature of man and the nature of international relations.”

See, Great Satan is as hot as she ever was – and let us speak plainly here – gon get even hotter!   

One-third of all the R&D in the world happens in Great Satan, one-quarter of the world’s economy is America (with 6 percent of world population) and is increasing. Add the fact that the Great Satan”s military power is way more powerful than the next 12 largest militaries combined and hello Batman!  It magically creates what that French foreign minister cat nom d”guerr”d “l”hyperpuissant”

Read it all, and think about it, this election year.

So there you have it. America’s place in the sun, otherwise known as “The City on the Hill“, why it’s good for the (especially common) people everywhere and why we need to continue on our uniquely American Journey.

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