Posts Tagged ‘Warfare’

Fighting wars just to show US can win one

January 31, 2014

When I was a schoolboy, I was taught that the United States had never lost a war.  Reasonable people can differ over the War of 1812, but the United States not only defeated, but utterly crushed, its enemies in the Mexican War, the American Civil War, the Indian wars, the Spanish-American War, World War One and World War Two [1].


The Vietnam Conflict, on the other hand, was an unambiguous defeat — the first in American history.  The Nixon-Kissinger administration was the first, but not the last, U.S. administration whose objective was not victory, but to mask defeat in the guise of an “honorable” withdrawal.  The U.S. outcome is symbolized by the fact that our heroes in that conflict were defiant prisoners of war (and they really were heroes, I don’t question that) rather than triumphant conquerors.

Subsequent U.S. administrations did not seek to avoid military interventions.  Instead, starting with the Reagan administration, they sought to overcome the “Vietnam syndrome”, which was perceived as the American public’s cowardly refusal to support open-ended wars in far off lands.

This was weakness rather than strength.  Strong nations do not need to go to war merely to project an image of strength.


Torture, warfare and obedience

February 20, 2013

The blogger known as B Psycho made a good observation the other day about torture, warfare and obedience.  He wrote that although we’re told torture and assassination are needed because we’re in imminent peril from terrorists, the direction of causation is the reverse.   It is because of the torture and assassination that we need to believe in the peril.   The more complicit we are, the more faith we need to have in authority.

B Psycho’s post was prompted by a blogger known as CK MacLeod, who argued that there is no bright-line distinction between a torturer and a warrior.  He said that both obey orders to inflict harm on people in order to defend their communities and loved ones.  B Psycho responded:

ABU GHRAIB PRISONCK suggests that deep down the real object of torture is breaking the torturer.  … … The prisoner is a prop in the submission of self to The Cause, adding yet another layer of sickness to what was already a disgusting demonstration of what government authority does to people.  Reminds me of how 1984 ended — the book, not the year.

…  We’re already part of a greater whole, one that doesn’t ask us to destroy each other.  That isn’t the only place where the formulation in the mind of this hypothetical soldier rings false though, far from it:

No war is ever, ever has been, or ever will be fought purely for family, community and country.  No warrior is ever, ever has been, or ever will be given orders by family, community, or country.

via Psychopolitik.

I just finished reading A.J.P. Taylor’s history of the First World War, a war which nobody wanted, nobody won (except in the sense of avoiding defeat), and nobody would have begun if they had known the mass killing that was in store.  But once the mass killing had  begun, the purpose of the war had to be defined in a way that justified the mass killing.  It became a war of good versus evil, a war in which no compromise was possible, precisely because it was so pointless to begin with.

During the 1950s, French officers decided that the only way to pacify Algeria was to torture suspected insurgents and get them to name other insurgents.  While many or even most of the victims might be innocent, the real insurgents would be caught up in the sweep.  Use of torture began as a repugnant necessity, became accepted as a routine and, for some, even became pleasurable.  When the French government began to negotiate with the rebels, a portion of the French officer corps rebelled, not out of patriotism but because an independent Algeria robbed them of justification for their crimes.

A warrior (or anybody else) who is governed by an internal code of honor has something that nobody can take from him.   General Robert E. Lee [1] was defeated despite using every honorable means to win, but his self-respect was intact.   If your self-respect is instead based on pleasing authorities, or acceptance by peers, or even accomplishing a mission, you are not in a position to question authorities, the collective or the mission’s objective, and your self-respect is something that other people have the power to take away from you.