News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Engaging the Enemy Without from Within

Friday, June 10, 2005

Engaging the Enemy Without from Within

One thing that you can learn from several movies on Vietnam, such as Platoon and Apocalypse Now, is that the military should be left to fight the battles and not the politicos. Indeed, this fact of modern warfare is something that most US military strategists would say was the main lesson of Vietnam. I believe this to be true, yet I also find that this truth is also the reason to limit any military involvement by the US to the barest minimum.

Like ancient Sparta, America is perhaps the greatest fighting machine in the 21st century. It is the best equipped, best trained, and most technologically advanced fighting force in history.

One reason for American military superiority--besides its technological infrastructure and equipment--is that it has learned from its mistakes. The lessons learned from Vietnam were numerous. It could be said that one reason that America left that war in disgrace was because it had met an enemy that was simply too adaptable and that could match American weaponry with improvisation and ingenuity. Or one could say that America lost that war because the will to win was not there. The troops sent to the warzone, while adequately trained and equipped, were not mentally prepared for the tenaciousness and zealotry of an indigenous army fighting for its own independence.

It has been reported that Henry Kissinger at the peace talks to end the Vietnam War confronted a North Vietnamese diplomat with the simple fact that the Viet Cong had never won one battle against American forces. "True," this diplomat responded, "but that is beside the point." What the diplomat went on to say was that America had lost the most important battle of all--the political war.

All of these things contain an element of truth and, I believe, American politicians have learned their lessons, as have the military. The generals and the officers should be given as much freedom as possible to win any combat in which American soldiers are sent to fight.

It is this lesson, however, that makes many military officers reluctant to commit to war in the first place and only as the last resort. That is, they realize that once the awesome amd formidable fighting power of our troops are in the field, then there will be consequences for any opponent, as well as any bystanders who might sympathize even remotely with the enemy.

Given free rein, the American fighting machine can devastate a country. In method it is ruhtless, if only to shorten in the long run the will of the enemy to fight. Carrying out devastating attacks meant to shatter the resolve of an enemy as well as the sympathy of sympathizers, the US military will carry out that mission with surgically correct and thereby seemingly merciless exactitude.

These words are not meant to be judgmental--in many ways, they are simply descriptive of the reality on the ground, as it is experienced by our soldiers, their enemies, and those who come within a very ill-defined radius of lethality.

Given this situation, the reluctance of US commanders to send our troops into battle is understandable. They know the "take no prisoners" mentality that they must use by necessity to achieve their two primary objectives: win the war and protect our soldiers. It is an awesome and fearsome responsibility; one, I believe, that those who command our military forces in no way take lightly.

Once in the theater of war, it is therefore understandable why these commanders are so chary regarding any intelligence that might reflect badly on their troops. They understand the need to maintain good morale. They also understand the brutality and emotionally disturbing effect that war has on those who kill--for no matter the justness of the cause, the righteousness of the undertaking, our soldiers are human beings, and human beings suffer horribly when they are witness to and must by necessity perpetrate one of the most spiritually damaging acts that a human can commit.

For no matter how justified a soldier may be in protecting his or her own life as well as the life of their comrades, they still commit acts that are not normal for any civilized human being to do. Despite the seeming winsomeness with which killing is portrayed on television, the actual act itself is devastating to the human psyche. No amount of training can adequately prepare anyone for the calculated taking of human life.

Having said this, it has become apparent that the current war in Iraq must be weighing heavily on our military leaders' souls. While they have been given the green light to carry the out this war with as much leathality as they require, they also see the political war once again rearing its ugly head. They must be aware that the moral justification for the war has simply evaporated. The strategic justification has been formulated over and over again on an ad hoc basis. Their troops have been in the field for nearly two years, and yet the insurgency against which they fight does not appear to be abating but instead seems to grow every day.

One can only imagine what is secretly going through the heads of many military commanders today. They were trained to believe that America would never enter a war without an reasonably defined end-state prepared, as well as an exit strategy. They were trained to believe in the machinery of war and the technology. They were trained to believe that the politicians would let them fight the war their way. And in most cases, they have gotten what they trained for.

Yet, again, war has a strange way of dissolving the most cherished resolve that one has inculcated during peacetime. Taht is why it is war--it never goes according to plan, it never follows the script, and it never leaves one with the sense of peace that one has hoped it will establish. For the effects of war last for years--it tells its tales in the leveled buildings and ruins, in the shattered limbs and minds of young and aold, in the nightmares of even the toughest warrior.

There must be a secret hatred stirring in the hearts of our military men and women. With the ghosts of the past and the future stirring in the shadows, they must be starting to question the wisdom of a man who they know in their hearts never had the guts to set foot on a battlefield and yet so willfully sends young men and women into danger. If the bile in their mouths has not curled their tongues to keep them from speaking, they whisper it to each other and to their loved ones at night.

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