24 March 2007

I'm sure they mean well. . .

One of the most frustrating things about a certain type of person involved in the debate on the War in Iraq is the person who just gets fuzzy-headed, sighs, and says, "Well, I just want the troops home safe." or the equivalent.

What sort of patronizing garbage is this?

Let me be perfectly clear on one point.

I hate going to Iraq. Iraq sucks in a way that I am simply incapable of communicating to anyone who hasn't been there. You know what sucks more than Iraq?

Sending your wife to Iraq.

You know what sucks more than that?

Going to memorial services.

You know what else sucks?

Dreaming about Iraq.

Now that we have established that I am aware that Iraq sucks--because, you know, my chops on THAT score after 2 tours totalling 25 months and my wife's 12 month tour aren't automatically assumed to be up to the level of some civilian who watches the war on CNN--let me move on to an analysis of how much I think this should influence United States foreign policy.

About diddly-shit.

That's right, let me say it again and in full.

I do not think that casualties (actual or potential) nor psychological problems nor stress in relationships nor any other negative consequence Soldiers experience from deployment should have the slightest impact on decisions on how the United States conducts foreign policy.

Don't get me wrong--I believe that if the United States chooses to use armed force, the United States has an obligation to take care of the Soldiers and their families as best they can once they return. But we cannot permit fear of the consequences of using armed force to deter us from doing so.

If we are deterred by the prospect of casualties, any casualties at all, then we are defeated. That's what defeat is. Americans have this idea of defeat that says that a nation is defeated at war when the enemy rolls into the capital city, arrests the national leadership, etc.

Ask the Finns. It doesn't always work that way. Sometimes you find yourself incapable of continuing resistance and end up with a humiliating peace treaty where you lose large chunks of territory, pay millions of dollars in reparations (back when that meant something), lease naval bases to your former enemy, etc. Of course, for the Finns to get to this point required them to
suffer about 60,000 casualties, get pushed back out of their fortified border positions, and for their allies to be thrown back so far that they could no longer offer meaningful support.

Could the United States suffer 60,000 casualties without surrendering?

Actually, we already know the answer is no.

Sometimes surrender doesn't look that way. Sometimes surrender is merely a Great Power allowing another Great Power's proxy state a free hand to overrun an erstwhile ally while that Great Power withdraws its citizens in humiliation.

Carl von Clausewitz said that 'War is an act of force to compel the enemy do our will." When writing about the aim of war he said, "The aim of war should be the defeat of the enemy. But what constitutes defeat? The conquest of his whole territory is not always necessary, and total occupation of his territory may not be enough." Read some Clausewitz sometime, if you never have. Well worth your time if you are going talk on the subject of armed force.

War is, to a certain extent, a zero-sum game. If the question were resolvable by discussion or debate, then it would be before the shooting starts. Once the shooting starts, it will continue until one side or the other decides the price of fighting is so high that they will resume negotiation from a position of weakness rather than continue to pay the price. Note that it is a generally safe assumption that negotiating from a position of weakness is a Bad Thing, and that therefore the price of continuing to NOT negotiate must be high. Since we are all rational players, we wish to negotiate from a position of strength and thus to inflict a higher cost on the enemy than he is willing to pay to continue in a manner contrary to our will (cf the Clausewitz quote above).

The entire point of the above paragraph is this: That the enemy wishes to inflict casualties upon the United States armed forces in order to break our population's will to continue to pay the price of not doing the enemy's will. The will of our civilian population was correctly identified as our Center of Gravity by Ho Chi Minh and Võ Nguyên Giáp in a development of 'Mao Zedong Thought' on People's War.

So, how does one defeat this sort of enemy? Counterinsurgency theory in general is beyond the scope of this essay. But the single most important element is this:

Don't Lose.

The counterinsurgent is in a position of strength. His strength may be exceedingly difficult to apply correctly to end the insurgency, but the insurgent's strength is vastly inferior to that needed to overthrow the counterinsurgent through main force.

The only way to lose a counterinsurgent war is to surrender.

If you stop fighting, you lose. The insurgent's goal is to inflict casualties in a splashy manner that shocks Joe and Jane Citizen watching the evening news. Then Joe and Jane Citizen say to themselves, "This disturbs me. I don't like seeing this. I'd rather watch American Idol."

The insurgents have just defeated Joe and Jane Citizen. How many little defeats, how many little Chamberlains are needed before it infects enough of the government to make defeat the policy of the State?

Well, if you ask Nancy Pelosi, we've already lost. She has been defeated and in order to avoid paying a further price, will do the insurgent's will.

Just like everyone else who says, "I just want the troops safe."

"But John! That's divisive! You're saying anyone who doesn't support the War supports terrorists. You're a Karl Rove operative! You're horrible! You probably kick puppies!"

Actually, no. I don't kick puppies. I have shot stray dogs with pistols, rifles, light machine guns, and grenade launchers. But that's an essay for another day.

And due to professional ethics, I could not accept money from Karl Rove. I will accept anonymous contributions to the Pay Off the Land Note Fund or the Down Payment on the Construction Loan Fund. Drop me an email and I'll send you a payment method. If I'm going to be accused of shilling for the Republicans, then someone ought to give me money.

I am, quite likely, horrible and divisive. Deal with it. My left breast pocket says 'United States Army', not the Happy Joy-Joy Peace and Love Foundation For Rainbows and Smiley Faces.

I am not saying, however, that anyone who doesn't support finishing the job in Iraq supports the terrorists. No one who was raised in America and remains mentally stable (and not a Muslim, but I repeat myself) could support folks who cut off other people's heads for kicks. The terrorists are horrible bastards, and not even Murtha and other collaborators really, deep down, think they are really cool people.

You merely advocate surrendering to them. Zero-sum game, remember? War is by definition a zero-sum game while it is in the shooting phase. Either they are going to negotiate from a position of weakness or we are. Either you support killing the bastards where ever we can find them when ever we can until they come to the table, or you support giving them Iraq to do with as they please. Do you remember how that turned out last time?

Now, that's all well and good. Big, logical argument on why you shouldn't say, "But I just want the troops safe."

Let's talk it from a different angle. Most of those I hear this argument from are, frankly, of the female persuasion. One of the many fun things I have learned from being married is that women are less affected by big, logical arguments than they are by a discussion of feelings. So, let's talk about how I feel when some person makes this argument.

I feel patronized. I feel insulted. I am a professional Soldier. I joined the Army knowing full well the potential consequences of my decision and the obligations I would assume. I chose to risk what I risk because I believe in the United States of America, and my Army.

So did everyone else who joined the Army since 1973.

I do not appreciate being treated as if I am too stupid to be aware of the consequences of continuing to fight in Iraq. As I mentioned above, I have 25 months time in Iraq. That's April 2003 to March 2004 and January 2006 to February 2007. I've lost friends and comrades. I scan the Army Times casualty lists looking for names I recognize, and I've seen more than a few.

I got notified of a close friend's death via the internet while I was home on leave during my last tour.

I found one of my old Drill Sergeants on a list of casualties just skimming for fellow Engineers. I hated that bastard, and it was a real shock to see him killed in action. For one thing, I figured he was way too mean to die.

I could go on and on. I could discuss some of the nightmares I had after my first tour. We could discuss a lot of things. If I haven't made my point already, I never will.

I know about the Suckage that is Iraq. But I'm an adult, and I made my choice. Going on and on about it makes me feel like certain members of the American Public think I'm perpetually four years old, and need to be protected and coddled to prevent any injury. Soldiers don't need to be protected. If you want to protect people, you don't have an Army. You have an Army to train and equip people to protect others. This is an inherently dangerous proposition, and those of us who have chosen to take up that calling know that. We are OK with it. None of us wants to die, but we have agreed to take that risk so that those of you without our training, equipment , discipline, and leadership don't have to run that risk.

I also suspect that the current concern over military casualties is false. It is fake. It is not real because it is driven only by current public awareness of military casualties. There's the really interesting chart I'd like to call your attention to. In 1985, there were 2,252 deaths in the Armed Forces. 2/3 of those were in accidents. Even now, you are only 50% more likely to die of hostile action than in an accident. Where is the big public drive for better funding for equipment maintenance to reduce the accident rate? How about increasing manning levels so we have more bodies to do the work so there are fewer accidents due to fatigue? Oh, wait.

Those deaths aren't on CNN. They don't serve anyone's political purposes.

Nobody fucking cares.

Now, to be realistic, serving in the Military is an inherently dangerous proposition. You use heavy equipment that moves at a high rate of speed. That equipment is mechanically complex and sometimes, it breaks. This is bad when you are driving a tank (500 M-1 crewmen died in fires during the first 10 years the M-1 was in service) but it is far worse when flying a helicopter or running around the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. You use explosives, shoot firearms, and run on pavement (proven to destroy knees). By the time you retire after 20 years of that crap, most Soldiers have hearing loss to some degree, and bad knees or a bad back. If they are extremely fortunate, that's all that is wrong with them.

Your recruiter may not tell you this.

By the time you graduate Basic Training, you've probably figured it out for yourself. If not, there are easy ways out of the Army if you are willing to live with the consequences of a General Discharge, which honestly probably aren't that bad. Personally, I give props to anyone willing to wet himself in formation, which is a quick ticket out of the Army.

Where am I going with this?

I feel that anyone who attempts to throw the danger inherent in my profession back in my face (even as prettily phrased as 'I just want the troops to be safe') as an argument for forcing my country to submit to the will of a pack of punk terrorists is dishonoring me, my profession, and my nation.

Do I make myself clear, boys and girls?

I made my choice to protect your freedom to blither on like an idiot if you so choose. I am not required to either agree with your opinion, nor even to respect your opinion as something worthwhile. You could have the opinion that the sky is stunning shade of puce, but just because it is your opinion doesn't mean anything to me. Your right to hold that opinion has nothing to do with whether that opinion is based on facts or on falsehood and bad logic.


Anonymous SpecialRpt said...

Your posts are often profound in a very down-to-Earth, reaching to the every-man kind of way. This is one of the best.

I hope you don't mind the feature link. If I have encroached on you in any way, I will remove the post.

If I haven't said it before; Thank-you and your wife for defending our liberty, despite the ingratitude of some. I thank God daily for those who do the hard work of keeping America safe and free.

6:02 PM  
Anonymous Montieth said...


7:27 PM  
Anonymous Nanci said...


Thank you.

You are the best, to say it. And you are the best, at saying it.

8:23 PM  
Anonymous ToraKiyoshi said...

Thank you for putting to words the thoughts, feelings and ideas I have had since the war began. It sickens me to hear people say "I support our troops" and in the next breath say "bring them home safe." They don't understand what it means to support them when they take the platform out from underneath. I am disqualified from service, but I will never stop being thankful for you and the men and women with whom you serve, and I will loudly curse the government leader(s) that brings you the same defeat given to our soldiers in Vietnam.

1:53 AM  
Blogger Consul-At-Arms said...

I've quoted you and linked to you here: http://consul-at-arms.blogspot.com/2007/03/hat-tip-to-armorer-at-castle-argghhh.html

9:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


4:23 PM  

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