Random Thoughts, Mostly Military

Lady Liberty?

W.J. Astore

Doing some housecleaning of the mind, so to speak:

  1. I recently read a book that argued the U.S. military loses its wars due to poor strategy and lack of understanding of “limited” war. It was a sophisticated book that cited the usual suspects in classical military theory, like Clausewitz. And it got me to thinking.  I don’t think the U.S. loses wars because of poor military theory or improper applications thereof.  And I don’t think the U.S. can win wars by better/smarter theory.  Rather, the wars the U.S. has been fighting since Korea should never have been started or joined to begin with.  Whether it’s Vietnam in the 1960s or Afghanistan and Iraq today, these are and never were “winnable” wars.  Why?  Because they were unnecessary to U.S. national security.  And the only way to “win” such wars is to end them.

Unnecessary wars persist for many reasons.  A big one is profit, as in Ike’s military-industrial complex.  Perhaps as well these wars are sustained by a belief the U.S. military could win them if only the generals hit on the right strategy.  But there is no smarter way to win dumb wars.  You win them when you end them.

  1. War criminals. There’s been talk lately of President Trump wanting to pardon war criminals and how this would jeopardize order and discipline within the U.S. military.  But let’s leave aside low-level offenders (your sergeants and captains) and talk about high-ranking war criminals.  Indeed, what about the men who chose to go to war under false pretenses in the first place?  If you choose not to prosecute men like Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld, why pursue and prosecute the little guys?

I once read that the guilt for war crimes is greater the further you are from the crimes you effectively ordered.  Adolf Eichmann didn’t dirty his own hands; he was a deskbound murderer. And perhaps that’s the worst kind.

Historically, we recognize the moral and legal culpability of high-ranking murderers like Eichmann.  Should America’s top leaders be held responsible for the murderous results of wars that they launched?

  1. Lady Liberty Locked and Loaded. The U.S. routinely brags of having the best military ever while leading the world in weapons sales while professing to be an exceptional bastion of liberty.  And most Americans see no contradiction here.  Simultaneously, men like Trump continue to vilify brown-skinned immigrants as bringing violence to America.  Lady Liberty, in short, no longer lights her torch for the huddled masses.  If we (or the French?) were making her today, she’d carry a .44 magnum (or an assault rifle?) in place of a torch.  Do you feel lucky, immigrant punks?

Coincidence: A friend just sent me the Global Peace Index for the world’s 163 countries.  The USA ranks #128.  (Iceland is #1, followed by New Zealand at #2.)  USA!  USA!  USA!

  1. A friend of mine sent along a campaign ad for a woman running for Congress in Texas. Kim Olson is her name, and she has some good ideas.  But the ad itself is telling for different reasons.  A retired Air Force colonel, Olson appears in her military-issue flight jacket, complete with her rank, wings, and command patch, as she talks about being a “warrior.”

I have nothing against Colonel (retired) Olson.  She’s gutsy and committed to public service.  But enough of the “warrior” talk and enough with the military uniforms!  You didn’t see Ike campaigning for president while wearing a jacket with five stars on it.

  1. Readers of this blog may know that I taught at the Air Force Academy for six years. Impressive?  Not according to the Secretary of the Air Force.  In her words: “We are now boarding and recommending people for instructor duty and you’re not going to be able to do it unless you’re the best of the best. Historically, we didn’t value instructor duty. If you taught at Lackland or at the Air Force Academy or ROTC…that was kind of because you couldn’t get a better position and it was kind of a dead end. So now we’ve flipped that.”

I’ve changed my call sign to William “Dead End” Astore.  It has a nice ring to it.

In all seriousness, the military has always favored doers over thinkers.  Nowadays, you’re supposed to be a warrior, constantly doing…well…something.  So we’ve been doing something, usually the same thing, repeatedly, in Iraq and Afghanistan, regardless of results.  And history?  Who cares?  America’s military members barely know their own history, let alone the history of foreign peoples and cultures.

Incredibly, the military’s push for better education (defined as “intellectual overmatch,” I kid you not) is couched in terms of out-thinking the Russians and Chinese.  In other words, we’re doomed.

As I put it to a friend, “The services need to develop senior officers with depth and breadth of vision, but the system is designed to produce narrow-minded true believers.  It’s a little like trying to reform the Catholic church and its hierarchy of conservative, insular, cardinals and bishops.”

Or, as one of my Air Force friends put it, waxing satirically: “But you know, the problem really is that we don’t award enough ribbons, haven’t changed the uniform in a few years, and are allowing transgendered to serve while violating the rights of commanders by not allowing them to share [with subordinates] their [conservative Christian] faith.”

That’s enough random thoughts for this Thursday.  What say you, readers?

10 thoughts on “Random Thoughts, Mostly Military

  1. On your comment on Kim Olsen – I feel the same way about M.J. Hegar and the stuff she sends to my mailbox, as well as about Buttigieg’s dragging in his military service into every conversation (and he took a leave of absence from being MAYOR to do it, which if he were mayor of MY city I would not want him to do).

    We fetishize and verbally laud military service but have little regard for the actualities of the real men and women involved. It’s a LOT like the Catholic church and the hierarchy, great comparison.


  2. I agree with your sentiment that no public servant should be allowed to campaign for any office during a term as an elected office holder. I would include any campaign for reelection. We elect people to perform the duties of the office to which we elect them, not to pursue careers for higher office at our expense.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. In the long run, very few nations win wars of occupation, including the British in the 18th century. It’s just a matter of how long one continues the exercise in futility before accepting the reality that the “home team” has you beat. We win wars when we fight invaders or when we fight against tyranny. We lose wars when we fight for them for the wrong reasons.


  4. Re: Wars and winning them.

    Joseph Tainter, in his book “The Collapse of Complex Societies” (1988) wrote that all empires reach a limit, beyond which they cannot expand, no matter how much effort they expend.

    America’s failure to win wars in Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East might be an analog. Tainter’s reasons for his position were:

    1 – A geographically expanding state eventually encounters a competitor.
    2 – Beyond a certain distance, lands are difficult to govern.
    3 – Once the accumulated surpluses of conquered nations have been consumed, the cost to administer, govern and defend them must be paid out of yearly income. (p. 148, 149)

    Tainter noted Jones’ observation about Rome: “In general, most revenues were raised in the richer lands of the Mediterranean, and spent on the army in the poorer frontier areas such as Britain, the Rhineland, and the Danube.” (p. 149)

    One might consider the rapid rise in U.S. National Debt, from the Reagan era to the present, as having a correlation with the U.S. effort to play the Great Game in South Asia and the Middle East.

    As your post states: “Whether it’s Vietnam in the 1960s or Afghanistan and Iraq today, these are and never were “winnable” wars. Why? Because they were unnecessary to U.S. national security. And the only way to “win” such wars is to end them.”

    As Sun Tzu wrote: “It follows that those skilled in war can make themselves invincible but cannot cause an enemy to be certainly vulnerable. Therefore it is said that one may know how to win, but cannot necessarily do so.”

    Roosevelt’s actions toward the conquest of Japan happened at a time that all other major powers were embroiled in a war among themselves: Britain, France, Germany and the Soviet Union. By the time North Korea invaded south, the major powers were all sitting and watching. With China unified under the Communists, the time for expansion of the American empire was coming to an end, and the United States still has not managed to end that war. One wonders at the investment, in lives and material, to hold that part of Asia since 1950.

    In a similar manner, given the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan against the Soviets in the 1980’s, it is beyond wonder that the politicians and the generals did not see the same type of war being used against the United States on its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The Soviets threw in the towel after less than a decade, while the United States appears to be unable to absorb the lesson, as we approach the two decade mark.


  5. Speaking of corporate-imperial military (or, more accurately, militarist) thoughts, Jimmy Dore has a good interview with former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel, now an 89-year-old candidate for the Democratic party’s 2020 presidential nomination. See: Mike Gravel Smashes War Machine With Facts, the Jimmy Dore Show (June 18, 2019). My favorite quote:

    “Most people don’t realize that we have more admirals and generals, right now, on the payroll, than when we had 12,000,000 people under arms in the Second World War. Does that not say something? The military have a grid system that covers the entire world. So we have divided up the world into a grid system where we have an admiral or a general who covers these areas because, of course, we’re the world’s Hegemon and we’re responsible for controlling everybody.”

    What a telling illustration of the US military as the perfect combination of Parkinson’s Law and the Peter Principle: namely, that (1) the work will expand fill the time allotted for its completion — no deadlines means infinite expansion — and (2) in any hierarchy people tend to rise to their level of incompetence. Looking aghast at the vast accumulation of intellectual and moral deadwood parading around in front of corporate cameras as uniformed “US military experts,” I cannot help but recall Lord Nelson’s observation about the aristocratic captains commanding the ships of his fleet before a major battle: “I can only hope that when the enemy reads a list of their names, that he trembles as I do.”

    If the American public had any common-sense survival instinct at all, their collective trembling at the thought of yet another US-instigated-and-led “war” (like with Iran) would register somewhere north of 6.0 on the Richter scale. Not that their psychotic, bubble-enclosed, corporate military (pardon the redundancy) “leadership” would acknowledge noticing. For the fruit-salad-encrusted brass have only one “explanation” for their trademark pooch-screwing and fucking-up soup sandwiches: a demand that working-class wage slaves allow them to double-down on dumb, yet again.

    For my part, however, as a veteran of the Nixon-Kissinger Fig Leaf Contingent (Vietnam 1970-72), I’ve heard this same “military expert” bullshit so many times that I just see flapping lips moving soundlessly to the tune of this maniac mantra:

    The Shit-Splattered Bungle

    Hey there, man, can you tell
    From the sound of their song?
    What the brass wish to sell:
    One more chance to do wrong

    Since it’s all that they know:
    Fucking-up to advance
    Got some trillions to blow?
    Just give these dolts a chance

    Kissing-up, kicking-down,
    Up the greasy pole they
    Madly climb, noses brown:
    Grifters out to make hay

    In their pants dropping stools
    Screwing over some troops:
    Market-conqueror’s tools,
    CEO-statesman’s dupes

    Watch these corporate clerks
    Hawking stocks for the boss,
    Skimming off all the perks,
    Leaving workers the loss

    Just as Smedley once said,
    Of the general’s cluck:
    Uniform and shaved head?
    Racketeer for a buck

    So let taxpayers balk
    When the Joined Chefs of Stuff
    Demand “MORE!” for cheap talk,
    ‘Cause they’ve done quite enough.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2019


    1. Hi Mike: I saw Mike Gravel on Jimmy Dore. He made excellent points. I hope he gets into the debates in July.

      The MI Complex has captured our government, just as Ike warned. Connected to this is a coarsening of the human psyche, a violent mindset that sees war as a solution rather than as man’s biggest problem. And nuclear war? As Gravel notes, cue nuclear winter and the end of civilization as we know it.

      Our hubris/arrogance is stunning — Mike Gravel makes this plain.

      Liked by 1 person

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