Alright, bombs away.
I was viewing a BBC documentary on the United States defeat in Vietnam. I didn't really learn much I didn't already know (though viewed materially the Tet Offensive was nearly a Pyhrric Victory for the North Vietnamese was news to me) and in the comments section was the usual internet rager about how the U.S. Public cost the military the war by undermining support for it.
I stopped to chew the idea for a change, and from this came my thesis when I realized how that argument was wrong.
The military doesn't, and shouldn't, make policy for war. I feel for the losses and sacrifices (though I won't for a second suggest that indeed "I feel their pain") but that's not the deal. When the public turned against the war, or any war, that meant that war was over.
As has been amply demonstrated when a military starts picking it's conflicts it has consumed the most function on it's former government and isn't far off from choosing the priorities of the rest.
At that point the general staff has become a political oligarchy that can maintain power through intimidation and the initiation of conscripts -Josef Koney's militias make for an excellent example. They worked by (largely though not solely) kidnapping children from target villages and forcing them to be initiated either by corporal punishment or by complicity in some other kind of brutality. Survivors and deserters reported feeling so degraded by what they were forced to do that they found that they came to identify with their tormentors and gradually took them as peers and allies if not friends.
It's Stockholm Syndrome meets street gang initiation ritual.
But that's not the point.Love the Warrior, Hate the War.
There are two facets to this:
The first is that however unfair and demoralizing the citizenry -up to and including political elites from any party or philosophy, legally own the power to start and end wars and the second is that they don't have a choice in recognition of that responsibility.
However admired or despised the underlying nature of a soldier (here used as a stand-in term for any members of formal military structure) is that of a government worker. They fight for We The People. We decide when, how, why where and against whom. And they stop when we demand it.
(That's some of, btw, the reasons why veterans deciding to recommit to returning to hunt ISIL as civilians is a super bad idea.)
And we have an equal duty to recognize that we own everything they do. For example the assumed wisdom is that "war crimes" are as inevitable as rain. But with that jaded expectation has to come recognition that without civilian sanction those soldiers wouldn't be in those situations with that training and those weapons. That applies to everything that occurs from unheralded acts of valor and sacrifice to horrors like the My Lai Massacre.
And I think this is where we fall down.
The shame and disgrace that greeted Viet Nam veterans upon return was utterly unfair. Not just wrong, but misplaced -they didn't start that war and they largely had no impact on how it's prosecution was implemented. They didn't decide who to attack or where or by what means and while individual crimes demand impartial justice with that condemnation has to come with the understanding that we the civilians have one hand on every weapon fired and bomb dropped.
I wonder if it's telling that we apparently have such a crap record for prosecution and conviction of war crimes -if we don't acknowledge it we can't be made to feel it. No harm, no foul -and fuck those dead brown people. It's their fault for living in a country we were invading.
The military is not, and has never been, a thing that occurs separate from the rest of society. When I hear some AM radio bloviator discharging about how unmotivated and worthless "the kids" are I spit. That windbag is also shit-talking all the vets of my generation. I'm 100% sure he doesn't mean it like that, but cast a net that's the width of an entire generation and you'll end up catching people you admire as well as those you scorn. It's not that simple; it's never been that simple.
So we've got to get wise. We've got to separate the warrior from the war. We've got face the cost military buccaneering because if we don't we'll eventually face disaster in the form of all-consuming military spending that drains the rest of the nation or covert wars that never seem to end and that inflict greater opportunity costs on future actually worthwhile engagements to even a possible military coup -it's not hard to find a place on the planet where the military leadership woke up one morning to realize that they held all the guns and grunts, and decided "fuck Mr. 'President For Life,' I'm in charge now."
(Let's not scoff too loudly about that last point.)
(Our borderline Ancestor Worship of the Founding Fathers and the Constitution only has value in so far as we honestly follow their advice and cleave to the lessons of history. We have the spectacular advantages of resources and geography, but they aren't infinitely forgiving of our delusions about Right Making Might. There's also another crucial upside and that's this: we relieve the soldier of at least some of his or her burden of duty.)
Part of why we get so gooey-eyed about WW2 was the shared sense of commitment and sacrifice. Everyone saw the need to fight, and everyone had some part to play. Yes, to be sure the vote on the declaration of war was close -51/49 IIRC, but that's the wacky thing about Democracy: it works regardless of the margin as long as everyone agrees to abide by the result.
And now we look back on it, and Desert Storm (also a formally declared war), as American Military Triumphs.
Yeah it helped that we won, but whatever the linkage between formal civilian commitment to a war and it's outcome not having armies of demonstrators making headlines about how some schmuck politico is trying to achieve some materially nebulous goal at the cost of a billion dollars a week corresponds to fighting and winning.
The waste of lives is on us. The destabilization of nations is our fault. With that recognition comes some really ennui about war and that's a damn good thing.
Were the goals ambiguous and the methods contradictory? The tools unreliable and the preparation slipshod? That's not the soldier's burden. That's on us. They did because we commanded as we commanded and we owe them an honest reckoning. Careers need to end and leaders need to be shamed, but our veterans deserve -at the absolute minimum
, honest compensation and honest respect that isn't "better you then me" because, motherfucker
, they ARE us.
We must mourn the tragic losses so that we can own the hard-won glory, and when we own our wars no one dies in vain because they died for our shared will to fight.