Monday, July 23, 2007

Dangerous Questions

[posted by Callimachus]

Cpl. John Matthew Bishop, a Marine serving his second tour in Iraq, wrote an essay that ran in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He tells of the first death of a friend in the war, a loss that still haunts him despite the other deaths that followed. And he takes the opportunity of our attention to his grief to give us the straight talk we need to hear:

First, war should never be an enterprise undertaken by nations that require certainty. Uncertainty and setbacks are a part of war and a daily reality on the streets of Iraq. No professional soldier feels betrayed when, in the course of a mission, he encounters hiccups, dilemmas, or bad odds. Nor does he feel betrayed because his mission involves death, for that is the predictable plight of a soldier: to kill and to be killed, to "do and die" as chance or destiny dictates. But to watch one's brethren cut down as America alternately pounces, vacillates, backpedals and chases her tail - this is a betrayal beyond reckoning.

Second, as great patriots such as Daniel die for causes they presume their nation is committed to achieving, a great nation, in turn, accepts nothing less than the victory for which it has bade its sons and daughters bleed.

On either part - soldier and nation - there is the presumption of honor.

And so regardless of what determination America reaches concerning the fate of Iraq, I urge her, so long as she exists, never to enter another war unless she goes to win. Should she ask her sons and daughters to take up arms, may she honor their sacrifices with the unflagging conviction and strength of conscience that is necessary to achieve victory. And if she cannot stomach the stakes involved, if the sacrifices of young men such as Daniel do not bolster her resolve but merely plunge her deeper into moral confusion and hysteria, may she, for her own good and for the good of the world, cease pretending at war altogether.

Right. War may be "diplomacy continued by other means," or whatever the phrase is. But it also is a fight to the death, for those actually in it. Don't start it if you don't mean to win it. Don't think you can just walk away in the middle of it. Don't vote for it, then say you didn't really have the time to think about what you were voting for, or say you only voted for it because you thought it would be easy.

And that path leads very quickly into the uncomfortable set of questions Americans generallly avoid.

Here we are, again, finally, in Vietnam. Iraq is not Vietnam. But the homefront now is the homefront then: Free speech producing a steady stream of artful anti-American propaganda eagerly embraced by the enemy, important political and media leaders on both sides with agendas that transcend the mission on the battlefield, a media whose prime purpose is to shove the biggest spash instantly into publication and then go get another one 15 minutes later.

The weaknesses are woven into our identity, our American-ness. They cannot be cured out of us. Which is why our successful wars typically have been run in parallel with repression of dissent, suspension of rights, propaganda, and something close to temporary totalitarianism. Until 1950 or so, the home front was the lesser danger when America went to war. Now it is the battlefield.

Now we face a patient and ruthless enemy with an ideology from the Dark Ages that yet knows how to manipulate the latest technology and exploit every non-military weakness we have.

Corporal Bishop says: Do it right, or don't do it at all.

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