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.

 

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

The Leaders: General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

Map of ground operations of Operation Desert S...

Map of ground operations of Operation Desert Storm from February 24-28th 1991. Shows allied and Iraqi forces. Special arrows indicate the American 101 st Airborne division moved by air and where the French 6 st light division and American 3 rd Armored Cavalry Regiment provided security. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A man who led effectively has left us. General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. died last Thursday 27 December 2011. In Vietnam he won 3 Silver Stars, one of them for saving troops in a minefield, as well as a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, and three Distinguished Service Medals. But what many of our citizens and those of our allies remember is the stunning performance of 3d US Army along with our allies in Desert Storm, which is often called the 100 hours war.

In it Schwarzkopf fought a classic American mechanized action, in his predecessor George S. Patton’s colorful language, “he held ’em by the nose while he kicked them in the a**.” And thus we were privileged to see what an army of freemen could do to an army more afraid of its leaders than the enemy. Think about that for a bit now. Iraq was held up to us all, as a fearsome regional, if not world power, in only a hundred hours, it forces were reduced to an unarmed rabble running across the desert for home.

It was a traditional way for America to fight, not the aberrations we see so often when the military is controlled from Washington. This was the truest vision of American capabilities since at least Inchon, if not World War II.

But the real thing about “Stormin’ Norman” was that he loved the troops, a soldier who liked soldiers. As I’ve met officers over the years, in progressively higher ranks as I got older, I was amazed how unusual that was, especially in flag rank.

A friend of mine, Dale Wilson, of Command Performance Leadership posted yesterday about the General. Before I send you there, I want to single out a quote of the General’s that I think sums up Schwarzkopf but more sums up the proper way of leading any group. It is

On Character
Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.

Here’s Dale:

We have lost a giant in the ranks of great military leaders throughout history.  General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., who commanded the U.S.-led international coalition to drive Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait in 1991, died on Thursday, December 27, in Tampa, Fla., of complications from pneumonia, according to press reports.  This comes as a shock and surprise because this larger than life man seemed to be invincible, never willing to give in to defeat of anything in war, nor in life.  He was a soldier’s general who “embodied the warrior spirit,”[i]

General Schwarzkopf was commissioned a Second Lieutenant after graduating in 1956 from the United States Military Academy at West Point.  He received advanced infantry and airborne training at Fort Benning, Georgia.  He attended the University of Southern California, receiving a Master of Science in mechanical engineering in 1964.  In 1966 he volunteered for Vietnam and served two tours, first as a U.S. adviser to South Vietnamese paratroops and later as a battalion commander in the U.S. Army’s Americal Division.  He earned three Silver Stars for valor — including one for saving troops from a minefield — plus a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and  three Distinguished Service Medals.[ii]

Of course, General Schwarzkopf’s most notable and celebrated career achievement was when he was Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Central Command.  In 1991, Schwarzkopf commanded Operation Desert Storm, and a coalition force from 34 nations, against Iraq in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.  It was Schwarzkopf’s blueprint for the defense of the oil fields of the Persian Gulf (against a hypothetical invasion by Iraq), which was the basis forOperation Desert Shield, the defense of Saudi Arabia.[iii]  During the Gulf War, he commanded more than 540,000 U.S. troops and 200,000 allied forces in a six-week war that routed Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait.  The sweeping armored movement he employed during the ground campaign is seen as one of the great accomplishments in military history.  The maneuver ended the ground war in only 100 hours.


We have lost a giant in the ranks of great military leaders throughout history.  General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., who commanded the U.S.-led international coalition to drive Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait in 1991, died on Thursday, December 27, in Tampa, Fla., of complications from pneumonia, according to press reports.  This comes as a shock and surprise because this larger than life man seemed to be invincible, never willing to give in to defeat of anything in war, nor in life.  He was a soldier’s general who “embodied the warrior spirit,”[i]

General Schwarzkopf was commissioned a Second Lieutenant after graduating in 1956 from the United States Military Academy at West Point.  He received advanced infantry and airborne training at Fort Benning, Georgia.  He attended the University of Southern California, receiving a Master of Science in mechanical engineering in 1964.  In 1966 he volunteered for Vietnam and served two tours, first as a U.S. adviser to South Vietnamese paratroops and later as a battalion commander in the U.S. Army’s Americal Division.  He earned three Silver Stars for valor — including one for saving troops from a minefield — plus a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and  three Distinguished Service Medals.[ii]

Of course, General Schwarzkopf’s most notable and celebrated career achievement was when he was Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Central Command.  In 1991, Schwarzkopf commanded Operation Desert Storm, and a coalition force from 34 nations, against Iraq in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.  It was Schwarzkopf’s blueprint for the defense of the oil fields of the Persian Gulf (against a hypothetical invasion by Iraq), which was the basis forOperation Desert Shield, the defense of Saudi Arabia.[iii]  During the Gulf War, he commanded more than 540,000 U.S. troops and 200,000 allied forces in a six-week war that routed Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait.  The sweeping armored movement he employed during the ground campaign is seen as one of the great accomplishments in military history.  The maneuver ended the ground war in only 100 hours.

The Leader Who Was General H. Norman Schwarzkopf.

As is usual for Dale, there are numerous links to follow, all are very good, as well.

Paul Greenberg at Town Hall also wrote about the General, an article well worth reading. It’s here, I recommend it highly. He quotes General Swartzkopf’s statement upon his return from the Gulf War, I think we need to ponder deeply on it.

The day I left Riyadh to return to the United States, Gen. Khalid made a statement in a speech that every American should think about. He said, ‘If the world is only going to have one superpower, thank God it is the United States of America.’ When I think about the nations in the past 50 years that could have emerged as the world’s only superpower — Tojo’s Japan, Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China — and the darkness that would have descended on this world if they had, I appreciate the wisdom of Khalid’s words. Because we have emerged as the only remaining superpower, we have awesome responsibility both to ourselves as a nation and to the rest of the world. I don’t know what that responsibility will mean to the future of our great country, but I shall always remain confident of the American people’s ability to rise to any challenge.”

The time when America rose to the challenge, the time of American greatness, has not passed with the general. It will return. An eclipse does not mean the sun will not shine again.

And so, once again, the trumpets sounded as a great American leader crossed over to join the long gray line, to keep company with Scott, and Lee, and Grant, Pershing, and Eisenhower, MacArthur, Patton, and Bradley, reporting, of course to the senior officer present, General Washington himself.

Well done, Sir.

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