Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Patton Medicine

[posted by Callimachus]

Stephen Green noticed it while watching the State of the Union address Tuesday:

All this "surge" talk strikes me as unnecessary and probably unwise. I don't remember any stories about FDR talking up D-Day before the fact, and trying to weasel support out of Congress for it.

Neurotic Iraqi Wife, writing from the Green Zone in Baghdad and hearing the insurgent mortar blasts and the tears of the survivors, noticed essentially the same thing:

One thing I also dont get is why advertise the security plans to the whole world? Word in the Iraqi street is that Muqtada told his followers, the ones high up in the hierarchy to leave to Syria or Iran. Until things calm down. I have also heard from people here, that some militia members are hiding their cache of weapons and moving down South. Hmmm, so basically everyone is gonna be gone. Then reappear once again when the offensive is over. Wowwww. Great planning, I must say.

Many in the U.S. military have noticed it, too. The administration's unseriousness about this whole operation has become so pervasive we hardly notice it anymore. Yes, the political opposition, left intelligentsia, and legacy media are unserious about it, too, if not committed emotionally to American failure (as a necessary tonic to hubris and a rebuke to Republicans). But it's the president who runs the show.

But this goes deeper than the White House. Can open democracies win long and desperate wars against fundamentally undemocratic powers? Do the feet of the war-makers tangle in democracy's freedom and openness and transparency of government? This is not an argument for the opposite -- anything but. I've written a great deal elsewhere damning the Lincoln Administration and its fellow travelers; what they did to the Constitution and the political structure of the republic was worse than what they did to Atlanta, and has never been totally undone. [No doubt I'll be called a "fascist" anyhow.] But just because the question points to a possible ugly answer doesn't mean you shouldn't ask it. It's a question bigger than Iraq.

It also suggests another question. Rumsfeld, if I am to believe the pundits, convinced Bush to fight a "light" war in Iraq and indeed it seems to be the president's tendency to treat the whole response to 9/11 as something that needn't much trouble the popular mind. Go shopping and let the Marines sort it out. Some people have pointed out that this is alarmingly naive (and have been called warmongers for their trouble).

While the administration talks loudly about what it's going to do with troops in the field -- the thing that ought to be kept secret -- it has been quietly retooling the executive branch for a permanent state of shadow war -- the thing that ought to be done deliberately and collectively by the nation, if it is to be done at all.

If you don't like war, good. It's inhuman and illiberal in the extreme. But unless you want to be an outright pacifist, get some muscle by wrestling with the questions this one raises. Don't expect to be taken seriously if all you are capable of is hiding behind funhouse caricatures of Bush.

Would we have, did we ever have, what it would have taken to show up in Iraq with the kind of aggressive force and homefront unity that would have snuffed out every tendency toward insurgency, every temptation of neighborly meddling, every instinctive nationalist instinct to IED the invader? Would it have been endured here at home? (I think we can agree on how it would have been welcomed in foreign capitals.) What price, ultimately, would we have had to pay for the kind of victory that would have allowed a reconstruction a la Germany and Japan? Or Appomattox?

Is that who we are anymore? Osmar White, the Australian journalist who rode into Germany with the U.S. 12th Army group as it smashed up the dying Reich in the last weeks of World War II, foresaw the problem. He was, in many ways, a modern war correspondent: Certainly closer in intellectual style to Peter Arnett than to Ernie Pyle. He disliked the average American soldier's crude self-righteous confidence, as he saw it, and was sympathetic to the Soviet authorities and thus misguessed a great deal of what was going on in 1945.

But he wrote well and saw some things clearly. The Americans already were using their industrial and technological advantages to win the war. At the time, the marriage of hardware and aggression made them unstoppable, but already they were coming to rely on the machinery and on air power to do the old and brutal business of killing and dying in battle.

Patton was the only general who really got the most out of being able to deliver ten shells to the enemy's one. Disliking Patton as I did -- his childish love of notoriety, his foul mouth, his preoccupation at his periodical press briefings with corpses -- it was distasteful to admit that the man's genius as a commander in the field overshadowed that of his fellow generals. Yet the admission had to be made. The lesson seemed to be that to be a good general one must enjoy the corpses as well as Patton did; that if Britain and America ever had to fight a war without an overwhelming industrial 'edge' on the enemy, they would almost certainly lose it. Anglo-Saxon civilization was reluctant, even in dire peril, to give its Pattons their proper stature."

Or, he might have added, had he foreseen it, if they had to fight a war where all the mighty advantage in technology could be effectively neutralized by the enemy's tactics.

White, by the way, wrote that about Patton for a book ("Conqueror's Road") he compiled after the war. He did not write that way in the "Melbourne Herald." In the original introduction to the book, he described his work as a war correspondent during wartime as "that of seeking out the truth, recognizing it, and telling as much of it as could be told without giving aid and comfort to the enemy."

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