Sunday, September 13, 2009

Comment rescue: Marshfox on finishing what we started

In response to one of my usual rants against interventionist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, commenter Marshfox raises an important point:

Here is what I remember about 9/11, I went back to war, for the second time in my career. Only this time, the attack was on us. I have a problem with the WMD issue, and history says that the odds are against us in Afgan.

That being said, I know now what the Vietnam Vets feel like, alone and abandoned, they did what they thought was right, and look what they got for it. I equate my position on this like that of the commander of the U-Boat in Das Boot. He is my kind of patriot, compared the the true beliver Nazi first officer he had. You may find fault with my analogy yet it fits for me.

My eyes aren't blind, I am no mindless robot, but we started it now we need to finish it, if not you betray those who gave their lives already. I am old, but I go and volunteer for the kids, they need old hands and maybe I will bring them all home again safe one more time.

War is cruel and ugly, we agree there, and there is never a good one, but I will do whatever it takes to keep my men safe, and as long as I am not asked to draw my sword against my own, I will keep doing my duty. I remember a King lost his head once partly because he helped a bunch of rebels fight tyranny, sure he wasn't pure in his motives, but I wonder if he thought it was worth the price he paid?

To point out something at the start: I am a 21-year military veteran, and have lost people in Iraq, and have had people I trained or trained with at risk in both wars. As a platoon sergeant and then a first sergeant I understand completely the necessity of doing whatever it takes to keep your people safe and accomplish the mission.

As a soldier, it was necessary for me to believe that I was being asked to risk my life and the lives of my people based on sound policy, honorable intentions, and good decision-making. They tell us where to go, who to kill, what to break, and we do that because having people who will do that on order is essential to protecting our country.

As a citizen, I have different responsibilities. There I am accountable for insuring that--as far as possible--no troops are ever asked to make futile sacrifices, to go into harm's way for reasons of politics rather than legitimate strategy, or placed in conflicts they cannot possibly win.

A soldier's job is to figure out how the hell to win the war no matter what the odds, and to keep trying to execute that plan until death comes or the recall is sounded.

A citizen's responsibility is to help figure out when there have been sufficient deaths, when there is no longer a reasonable possibility of victory, and when the war itself has been a horrible mistake.

You do not keep faith with your troops who have died by getting others killed unnecessarily.

This is what too many people don't understand: if I believe that Afghanistan is the wrong war, that Afghanistan is an unwinnable war in the current context, and that our military commitment to Afghanistan has more to do with corporate profits, the Israel lobby, and the interests of China and Russia, then keeping faith with my fellow troops requires me to tell what I see as the truth loudly, repeatedly, and without equivocation.

I will keep doing so, as much as I respect many of the people who disagree with me.


Anonymous said...

As I sit here doing college homework, yes, I peaked at the site and caught your comment. Wounln't be the first time you and I have disagreed, but I respect you and your opinion more than you know. Getting more killed, no, not on a useless war, I agree, but Vietnam was said to be that too, and we could have won, I happen to think we can win this one too, that is our division. I have visited you for a long time, you have a valid point about these two wars, but even Jefferson, my personal favorite, got himself tangled up a time or two, and he was a strong advocate against that. I equate you to Smedley Butler, last time I checked he won two Medals of Honor, not bad company Id say, but he changed too after he retired, I am sure you well know. I like the fact that unlike most today, to include those liberals up there with you that we can discourse civily. When this whole outing business went on, I almost came up to defend you myself, but anger does not befit two men of our age and service background. Thank you for trying to watch out for me and the kids, I honestly mean that. I hope and pray that one or both of us are sucessful, and in the mean time my sincere thanks goes to you for what you do and have done, I know that you will be with me next year, and maybe I can check in from time to time. Any chance you can get a Libertarian as Governor in our state before I retire, I may just come back. I at leat have Munger down here to hope for.


Steven H. Newton said...

Perhaps we could have "won" in Vietnam.

Perhaps we can "win" in Afghanistan.

In a military sense, I think you are at least technically right in both cases, given the willingness to use disproportionately massive resources, and--oh--to be completely and utterly ruthless in a way we rarely manage to be.

But what would we have won, politically speaking, in Vietnam, and what could we hope to win in Afghanistan? Neither Central nor Southeast Asia are areas legitimately or logistically within our area of influence. Neither, quite frankly, is as critical to our overall security as suggested.

Exactly what happened to all the dominoes after Vietnam? Cambodia, Laos--wonderful prizes for the Chinese, eh? The Philippines never fell, as we were told would happen. Our Allies did not desert us in the Cold War because we left Vietnam. Hell, today we have political, cultural, and economic ties with Vietnam. My own university runs programs there. What in fact did we (other than our veterans, I will always grant you that) lose by losing?

And what would we win by propping up a puppet regime in Afghanistan, a traditional non-state, whose government would depend on us to support an army and police force which requires a yearly budget six to eight times the whole country's GDP?

Would it make the nukes in Pakistan more secure? Nope. Would it make the Iranian situation progressively less stable? Very likely. Does India really want the US sitting on the other side of Pakistan every time the two countries go to the edge of war over Kashmir?

There are no good wars, you are right. But there are wars that have to be fought, and those that don't, and even those that you have to be able to walk away from.

This is currently a war being fought because, for the senior brass "it's the war we've got," and because Barack Obama made campaign promises about it and can't afford to be seen to be weak.

Personally and professionally, I do not think those reasons merit the loss of another American.

Townie 76 said...


I do not disagree with your sentiment. You might remember, when in graduate school I was close to resigning my commission over the Reagan policies in Central America!

I think if there is one lesson which American History teaches us, is the US does not like protracted wars, nor do we like wars without definitive end points.

Part of the problem we have in Afghanistan is an unrealistic belief that we can somehow move the country from (you pick the century) to the 21st Century in one step. More importantly we are viewing and devising our policies through our Western Centric lens which are as foreign to Afghanistan as its culture is foreign to the US.


Townie 76

Anonymous said...

I spent 20 years in the military with the U.S. Navy retiring as a Chief Petty Officer. My career started off with the Gulf War, continued with the Kosovo campaign and then finished with two deployments to the Iraq War.

I will echo the comments written above about duty and then add some more to that: it is a soldiers duty to do what is necessary to win a war and to protect the men and women assigned to them.

It is a politician's duty to provide the soldiers they send overseas with the proper amount of men, equipment and material to win the war. We were winning in Afghanistan before someone, in their lack of infinite wisdom, decided to start the Iraq War which took away men and equipment needed to fight in Afghanistan. You don't start a new war without finishing the first one. In my honest opinion, our leaders have failed our soldiers but then what do you expect from people who never have served in the military? They've no idea how to fight a war.

The citizens duty is to keep their politicans honest and true which Americans on the whole have failed miserably to do. A second duty is to support their soldiers not only in the field where they are fighting, but when they come home too. I won't even go into the Veterans Administration for too much has already been written about that bureaucratic disaster. The citizens of this country have failed in their duties to keep their leaders honest. They are too interested in American Idol, their bank accounts, whatever, instead of our country and the leaders who are supposed to run it. They abdicated their responsibility.

Because both the citizens of this country and the leaders we have elected have failed to do their duties, our soldiers are losing the fight in Afghanistan.

As a serviceman, I did my duty regardless of the orders given me, the long hours I worked or the conditions I worked in. I disagreed with the reasons we invaded Iraq but in contrast I wholly support the efforts in Afghanistan. Regardless of either position, I can say, proudly, I did my duty -- whereas others not in uniform have failed in theirs.

Is this a cynical position? Yes but then I spent half of my life in a military used for political ends by meatheads in Washington who don't have a clue and college bred know-it-alls who are even more clueless.

In World War 2 there was a poster that read, "Give me what I need to fight and I'll win this war".
The time for fun and games and petty discussion is over. There are men and women in Afghanistan dying and who are outnumbered by an enemy who will have no mercy on our country if we quit. This isn't Viet Nam. It's time for us to get out of that defeatist mindset and put the metal to the grindstone and finish what others started on our country. This is no time for quitters.

As a veteran, I have seen with my own eyes and now know exactly how my stepfather and uncle (both Viet Nam vets) now felt ... abandoned and betrayed by our own countrymen who have neither the will nor the stamina to fight. We are just too soft. I did my duty ... has everyone else done theirs?

Anonymous said...

I remembered this quotation about duty by Teddy Roosevelt. I carried it for the last 12 years of my Navy career. I've never forgotten it:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

tom said...

With no disrespect intended to the people who think we can win a war in Afghanistan, what does it mean to win?

Specifically, what conditions need to be met before we can definitively declare victory?

Will we be able to bring the bulk of our troops home and stop spending our money after after said victory?