James Wolcott - Quaking to the Clang of Iron Jockstraps
A few years ago, with America still reeling from September 11th, Robert D. Kaplan, not to be confused with all those other Kaplans and Kagans clogging the aquarium tank, brought out a high-testosterone tract called Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos, which received the Newt Gingrich pawprint of approval (scroll down to readers' comments):
"Kaplan's brilliant essay should be read by every citizen deeply concerned about America's role in the world and the realities of an evolving and uncertain global system."
But to go forward, we first must go back.
"Kaplan argues correctly that the modern world is much like the ancient world."
"Humans are human and the problem of violence in and against society is as eternal as Cain and Abel."
A tautology and a yawning banality ("as eternal as Cain and Abel") in a single sentence: nice work, Newt!
But it is no doubt petty of me to trivialize the importance of Kaplan's work, which earns the following endorsement from Newt:
"I highly recommend Kaplan's new book to anyone who is trying to understand what needs to be done to response to September 11."
As a devotee of The Americanization of Emily, I had my doubts about the wisdom of injecting the steroids of warrior culture into the political system--Sparta on the Potomac didn't seem to me quite what the Founding Fathers intended, and a lot of Kaplan's rhetoric struck me as muscle flexing between the ears. It could only bring out the worst in the chickenhawkery.
But if historian Peter Robinson is correct, the warriorization that Kaplan advocated and is being inculated into the uniformed ranks doesn't even work militarily. Rather than being too soft , we're futilely beating our hard heads against the realities of what we're facing. In the Spectator UK, Robinson, taking a leaf from the late Col. John Boyd, laments in an article called "The Way of the Warrior":
In the decisive battle for hearts and minds, the moral image an army projects is as powerful as, if not more powerful than, the physical force it wields. From this perspective, a new report issued by the US Army mental health advisory team makes for gloomy reading. According to the BBC, the report, based on a survey of 1,700 American soldiers in Iraq, found that ‘less than half the troops in Iraq thought Iraqi civilians should be treated with dignity and respect. More than a third believed that torture was acceptable if it helped save the life of a fellow soldier or if it helped get information about the insurgents’. If this is true, the moral battle is close to being lost.
And the moral battle is being lost precisely because of the tribalization that's fluffing the military's tail feathers.
Much of the problem, I believe, lies in the obsession in US military circles with the ‘warrior ethos’. The US military does not have ‘soldiers’ any more; it has ‘warriors’. Air Force recruits, for instance, finish their basic training with a ‘warrior week’, and cadets at the Naval Academy in Annapolis take a course on ‘the code of the warrior’. The army’s Platoon Leader Development Course is now the ‘Warrior Leader Course’, while the military’s Walter Reed Hospital provides ‘warrior care’, not, of course, to its ‘patients’, but to its ‘wounded warriors’. And the army has issued a ‘Warrior Ethos’, which everyone is expected to memorise:
I am an American Soldier. I am a Warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the United States and live the Army Values. I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade. I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself. I am an expert and I am a professional. I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat. I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life. I am an American Soldier.
Not to be outdone, the US Air Force has recently brought out a similar ethos of its own. ‘I am an American Airman,’ it begins, ‘I am a warrior ... guardian of freedom and justice, my nation’s sword and shield, its sentry and avenger....’
These are similar to the semi-official Victor Davis Hanson Shield of Honor Oath that citizen-warrior-bloggers must recite before they're allowed to flag battlefield reports from Michael Yon and eat without a bib.
"Warrior status goes beyond mere words," Robinson observes.
...it is a matter of appearance, too. The smarter forms of military dress are now rarely to be seen. Instead, combat uniforms are de rigueur, no matter the place or event. Top generals visit universities and public institutions dressed for digging trenches; soldiers, and even cadets at some university Officer Training Corps, graduate from basic training not in parade best but in baggy camouflage gear; and when the head of the army, General Pace, visited West Point, the entire corps of cadets turned out to meet him in combat uniforms.
As military units bond as "honor groups," their primary loyality is not to civilian society but to their fellow warriors--a regressive development that's destructive to the polity and counterproductive in the field.
It is soldiers that the Western world needs right now, not warriors. The warrior is a savage, anarchic and disordered; the soldier is a professional, disciplined and restrained. The warrior ethos is the path to defeat. It needs to be discarded before it is too late.
As far as "the surge" is concerned, it may already be too late, according to the softspoken Larry C. Johnson:
The current U.S. offensive will fail. We will punch ourselves out on an enemy that is smart enough to retreat in the face of overwhelming force. We will go house to house rousting able bodied men from their sleep and humiliating them in front of their wives. We will detain some of these folks but eventually let them return home. When they return home they will be fully prepared to support whatever insurgent group will help them reclaim the honor we took from them.
We have employed these insane tactics for four plus years. And what have we achieved? A steady increase in terrorist violence and insurgent attacks. More U.S. soldiers have died in the last six months then in any six month period since the war began. And what do we have? A modern version of Colonel Banastre Tarleton whining about the insurgents who run away. Well General Odierno, those run away cowards are kicking our ass. I suggest you pull your head out of yours and come up with an effective strategy that does not play into the hands of the "terrorists".
Johnson then lays out his 5-point plan, its particulars (Convene a regional peace conference) doomed to dissatisfy those possessed of a more pagan ethos. Logic has a hard time penetrating the caked layers of warpaint that continue to insulate them from the debacle they've helped create.