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"Long Wars Are Antithetical to Democracy"

 
 
Reply Tue 29 Jun, 2010 09:33 pm
Washington Post wrote:

Endless war, a recipe for four-star arrogance

By Andrew J. Bacevich
Sunday, June 27, 2010


Long wars are antithetical to democracy. Protracted conflict introduces toxins that inexorably corrode the values of popular government. Not least among those values is a code of military conduct that honors the principle of civilian control while keeping the officer corps free from the taint of politics. Events of the past week -- notably the Rolling Stone profile that led to Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's dismissal -- hint at the toll that nearly a decade of continuous conflict has exacted on the U.S. armed forces. The fate of any one general qualifies as small beer: Wearing four stars does not signify indispensability. But indications that the military's professional ethic is eroding, evident in the disrespect for senior civilians expressed by McChrystal and his inner circle, should set off alarms.

Earlier generations of American leaders, military as well as civilian, instinctively understood the danger posed by long wars. "A democracy cannot fight a Seven Years War," Gen. George C. Marshall once remarked. The people who provided the lifeblood of the citizen army raised to wage World War II had plenty of determination but limited patience. They wanted victory won and normalcy restored.

The wisdom of Marshall's axiom soon became clear. In Vietnam, Lyndon B. Johnson plunged the United States into what became its Seven Years War. The citizen army that was sent to Southeast Asia fought valiantly for a time and then fell to pieces. As the conflict dragged on, Americans in large numbers turned against the war -- and also against the troops who fought it.

After Vietnam, the United States abandoned its citizen army tradition, oblivious to the consequences. In its place, it opted for what the Founders once called a "standing army" -- a force consisting of long-serving career professionals.

For a time, the creation of this so-called all-volunteer force, only tenuously linked to American society, appeared to be a master stroke. Washington got superbly trained soldiers and Republicans and Democrats took turns putting them to work. The result, once the Cold War ended, was greater willingness to intervene abroad. As Americans followed news reports of U.S. troops going into action everywhere from the Persian Gulf to the Balkans, from the Caribbean to the Horn of Africa, they found little to complain about: The costs appeared negligible. Their role was simply to cheer.

This happy arrangement now shows signs of unraveling, a victim of what the Pentagon has all too appropriately been calling its Long War.

The Long War is not America's war. It belongs exclusively to "the troops," lashed to a treadmill that finds soldiers and Marines either serving in a combat zone or preparing to deploy.

To be an American soldier today is to serve a people who find nothing amiss in the prospect of armed conflict without end. Once begun, wars continue, persisting regardless of whether they receive public support. President Obama's insistence to the contrary notwithstanding, this nation is not even remotely "at" war. In explaining his decision to change commanders without changing course in Afghanistan, the president offered this rhetorical flourish: "Americans don't flinch in the face of difficult truths." In fact, when it comes to war, the American people avert their eyes from difficult truths. Largely unaffected by events in Afghanistan and Iraq and preoccupied with problems much closer to home, they have demonstrated a fine ability to tune out war. Soldiers (and their families) are left holding the bag.

Throughout history, circumstances such as these have bred praetorianism, warriors becoming enamored with their moral superiority and impatient with the failings of those they are charged to defend. The smug disdain for high-ranking civilians casually expressed by McChrystal and his chief lieutenants -- along with the conviction that "Team America," as these officers style themselves, was bravely holding out against a sea of stupidity and corruption -- suggests that the officer corps of the United States is not immune to this affliction.

To imagine that replacing McChrystal with Gen. David H. Petraeus will fix the problem is wishful thinking. To put it mildly, Petraeus is no simple soldier. He is a highly skilled political operator, whose name appears on Republican wish lists as a potential presidential candidate in 2012. Far more significant, the views cultivated within Team America are shared elsewhere.

The day the McChrystal story broke, an active-duty soldier who has served multiple combat tours offered me his perspective on the unfolding spectacle. The dismissive attitude expressed by Team America, he wrote, "has really become a pandemic in the Army." Among his peers, a belief that "it is OK to condescend to civilian leaders" has become common, ranking officers permitting or even endorsing "a culture of contempt" for those not in uniform. Once the previously forbidden becomes acceptable, it soon becomes the norm.

"Pretty soon you have an entire organization believing that their leader is the 'Savior' and that everyone else is stupid and incompetent, or not committed to victory." In this soldier's view, things are likely to get worse before they get better. "Senior officers who condone this kind of behavior and allow this to continue and fester," he concluded, "create generation after generation of officers like themselves -- but they're generally so arrogant that they think everyone needs to be just like them anyway."

By itself, Team America poses no threat to the constitutional order. Gen. McChrystal is not Gen. MacArthur. When presenting himself at the White House on Wednesday, McChrystal arrived not as a man on horseback but as a supplicant, hat (and resignation) in hand. Still, even with his departure, it would be a mistake to consider the matter closed.

During Vietnam, the United States military cracked from the bottom up. The damage took decades to repair. In the seemingly endless wars of the post-Sept. 11 era, a military that has demonstrated remarkable durability now shows signs of coming undone at the top. The officer corps is losing its bearings.

Americans might do well to contemplate a famous warning issued by another frustrated commander from a much earlier age.

"We had been told, on leaving our native soil," wrote the centurion Marcus Flavius to a cousin back in Rome, "that we were going to defend the sacred rights conferred on us by so many of our citizens [and to aid] populations in need of our assistance and our civilization." For such a cause, he and his comrades had willingly offered to "shed our quota of blood, to sacrifice our youth and our hopes." Yet the news from the homeland was disconcerting: The capital was seemingly rife with factions, treachery and petty politics. "Make haste," Marcus Flavius continued, "and tell me that our fellow citizens understand us, support us and protect us as we ourselves are protecting the glory of the empire."

"If it should be otherwise, if we should have to leave our bleached bones on these desert sands in vain, then beware of the anger of the legions!"

Stanley McChrystal is no Marcus Flavius, lacking the Roman's eloquence, among other things. Yet in ending his military career on such an ignominious note, he has, however clumsily, issued a warning that deserves our attention.

The responsibility facing the American people is clear. They need to reclaim ownership of their army. They need to give their soldiers respite, by insisting that Washington abandon its de facto policy of perpetual war. Or, alternatively, the United States should become a nation truly "at" war, with all that implies in terms of civic obligation, fiscal policies and domestic priorities. Should the people choose neither course -- and thereby subject their troops to continuing abuse -- the damage to the army and to American democracy will be severe.

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University. His book "Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War" will be published in August.


Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/25/AR2010062502160.html

I think the author articulates many of the things I've been incapable to organize on my tongue. So what is worse: A standing army and living in a constant state of conflict with other countries or having a civilian army filled by draft and a real state of war declared?

Are long wars are antithetical to democracy?
R
T
 
Fido
 
  1  
Reply Tue 29 Jun, 2010 09:51 pm
@failures art,
Nonsense... War, and primarily, foreign wars are not the product of democracy... Democracy is purely defensive, and there it is at its best since each man inclined to think for himself also acts as his own general... Defense is best on home territory, but it also requires an armed population which no rulling class will allow... Once they have forced people to live without justice,, it is a small matter to get them to deliver injustice else where... But, when people own their land, and unite to fight for it, and for their rights -there is no want for support... As soon as people realize that they were pushed into foreign conflict on a lie, with only a mere majority misled into war, support will wither, as it should...
failures art
 
  1  
Reply Tue 29 Jun, 2010 10:04 pm
@Fido,
I think you misread the essay. He didn't say foreign wars were the product of democracy. He said that long wars hurt/damage democracy.

A
R
T
msolga
 
  3  
Reply Tue 29 Jun, 2010 10:08 pm
@failures art,
Art, I don't think it's a matter of how long these wars have lasted.
To me, it's more of a question about why some wars (Vietnam, Iraq & Afghanistan, even) were instigated by the US in the first place. To me, that's the real (antithetical to democracy) issue.
Robert Gentel
 
  2  
Reply Tue 29 Jun, 2010 10:11 pm
The duration of a war can determine whether war weariness begins to mount in a society, and yes, war wearness is more acute in a Democracy.
plainoldme
 
  1  
Reply Tue 29 Jun, 2010 10:20 pm
Long wars are antithetical to most things that are beneficial.
0 Replies
 
Fido
 
  1  
Reply Tue 29 Jun, 2010 10:26 pm
@failures art,
failures art wrote:

I think you misread the essay. He didn't say foreign wars were the product of democracy. He said that long wars hurt/damage democracy.

A
R
T

I am telling you that a democratic people do not consider war, look for war, or export war... There is no greater proof that we are ruled by a plutocracy, or oligarchy than our inclination to end up in wars... People denied justice at home are all too willing to seek it abroad, and take it as spoils from others; but if they cannot defend their justice at home what hope have they of keeping on foreign shores???

I would apologize, but too often in political statements, if you buy the presicate you buy the whole speal... I don't buy the predicate... Our current wars are stupid and unnecessary, and our military is a fascist/religious clique... There is where our next revolution will begin, as counter revolution..
Fido
 
  0  
Reply Tue 29 Jun, 2010 10:42 pm
@Robert Gentel,
Robert Gentel wrote:

The duration of a war can determine whether war weariness begins to mount in a society, and yes, war wearness is more acute in a Democracy.
More non sense RG...

We have been lured into wars by lies, and when that heppens sooner or later the lie gets found out or wears thin... Democracies are defensive forms of social organization, pure and simple, but if we cannot defend our rights, property, and persons from the rich, then we are in no position to demand the truth in the matter of foreign affaris or any other subject essential to our survival... And the truth is essential to our survival, and what they say; that knowledge is power, and that the truth shall set you free is no lie in a democracy... But we must accept the government because we have no alternative... And we must believe the government because we have no choice... They know, and they keep us from knowing for our own good; but really, for our absolute harm..

Every true democracy has nothing in common with majority rule... Every true democracy seeks consensus... Every true democracy invokes and demands the honor of all its members... Look at the Greeks at Troy... It was no woman that sent them there, but their own honor, to make common cause... It was for honor that Achilles wept like a child by the boats, knowing he could not leave, and honor that held him from the fight, and honor that made him join the fight... A money enonomy is the furthest thing from an honor economy, and the difference is, that when we cannot trust our leaders, and our leaders only need a small majority to take the whole people into a war for no ones benefit but the rich; then there is no limit to the lies that will be told... But those lies will not hold the people in folly for ever... So,, the so called leaders either have to find a new lie, or finish their war in a hurry... So, mission accomplished... They got us into a war we cannot win... Only we can get us out...
BillRM
 
  1  
Reply Wed 30 Jun, 2010 04:54 am
@msolga,
Quote:
Afghanistan, even


So those large holes in the ground in New York City where there used to be skyscappers was instigated by the US?

Quote:
Iraq


So it is our doing that Iraq invased it neighbors?
msolga
 
  3  
Reply Wed 30 Jun, 2010 05:57 am
@BillRM,
Quote:
So those large holes in the ground in New York City where there used to be skyscappers was instigated by the US?


No, they weren't Bill.
But to me, anyway, 9/11 does not justify 9 years of deaths, injuries & destruction in the lives of innocent Afghan citizens who had absolutely nothing to do with what occurred in NYC. Nor has loss of life of US & other army personnel been worth it, either, in my honest opinion. What do you think has been achieved by those 9 years of war?

Quote:
So it is our doing that Iraq invased it neighbors?


I'm not sure what you're saying here. The "official" reason (at the time) for the invasion of Iraq by the US & its allies was to do with weapons of mass destruction. (which were never found there)

The trouble is, the justifications for such wars kept on changing. There appears to be no definite end in sight to the war in Afghanistan.
plainoldme
 
  2  
Reply Wed 30 Jun, 2010 07:28 am
@Fido,
I think that few who have responded to Failures Art's (that seems a misplaced possessive!) posting would disagree with your statement that a "democratic people do not consider war, look for war, or export war."

That is democratic with a small d, in the spirit of the founding of western democracy during the Enlightenment. I think today that little of the Enlightenment's spirit, probing intellect, philosophy and weltanschauung exists which is to our detriment as a people not just as a nation.

Consider this passage from Bacevich:
Quote:
To be an American soldier today is to serve a people who find nothing amiss in the prospect of armed conflict without end. Once begun, wars continue, persisting regardless of whether they receive public support. President Obama's insistence to the contrary notwithstanding, this nation is not even remotely "at" war. In explaining his decision to change commanders without changing course in Afghanistan, the president offered this rhetorical flourish: "Americans don't flinch in the face of difficult truths." In fact, when it comes to war, the American people avert their eyes from difficult truths. Largely unaffected by events in Afghanistan and Iraq and preoccupied with problems much closer to home, they have demonstrated a fine ability to tune out war. Soldiers (and their families) are left holding the bag.


Bacevich is a retired career officer in the US Army and is currently a professor at Boston University, teaching international relations. He is the most reasonable of American conservatives to have a voice that is heard nationally and I have a profound respect for him (I hear the sound of repeated thuds as readers faint in front of their computers in disbelief that I would respect any conservative.).

This passage from Wiki's biographical sketch of Bacevich illustrates why I respect him:

On August 15, 2008, Bacevich appeared as the guest of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS to promote his new book, The Limits of Power. As in both of his previous books, The Long War (2007) and The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War (2005), Bacevich is critical of American foreign policy in the post Cold War era, maintaining the United States has developed an over-reliance on military power, in contrast to diplomacy, to achieve its foreign policy aims. He also asserts that policymakers in particular, and the American people in general, overestimate the usefulness of military force in foreign affairs. Bacevich believes romanticized images of war in popular culture (especially movies) interact with the lack of actual military service among most of the U.S. population to produce in the American people a highly unrealistic, even dangerous notion of what combat and military service are really like.
0 Replies
 
Robert Gentel
 
  1  
Reply Wed 30 Jun, 2010 10:56 am
@Fido,
Fido wrote:
More non sense RG...


Maybe so, but the rest of your rambling post has nothing at all to do with what I said, and demonstrates no such thing.
0 Replies
 
Cycloptichorn
 
  3  
Reply Wed 30 Jun, 2010 10:59 am
War Weariness was always the greatest drawback of Democracies, when playing Civilization.

Cycloptichorn
Robert Gentel
 
  1  
Reply Wed 30 Jun, 2010 11:12 am
@Cycloptichorn,
Indeed, and it is an insightful point. Democracies, and their free press, tend to allow for more dissent and allow for the war weariness to develop. Authoritarian rule allows for more censorship and control of the narrative.

So what you see is modern military considering PR as an important tool. Lots of the American military think that the people and their war weariness lost the Vietnam War, so in modern wars they buy up satellite time and embed the reporters to try to control the narrative. And they argue against disclosures such as the Abu Ghraib abuse on the basis of it putting soldiers in harms way through inflaming opposition.

In the modern wars we have been seeing we are watching a new kind of PR, which is seen as an increasingly vital military weapon and largely due to the war weariness a thriving democracy can support.
Cycloptichorn
 
  1  
Reply Wed 30 Jun, 2010 11:15 am
@Robert Gentel,
The Pentagon's propaganda budget is something like 4.5 billion dollars a year. That's a lot of press!

The recent Rolling Stone/McChrystal dust-up has really brought out the inner suckups in a lot of our modern press, who want to protect their access to these people more than actually report what's going on. I mean, how much do we see from Afghanistan or Iraq on the news? Practically nothing and it's all majorly sanitized.

Cycloptichorn
0 Replies
 
panzade
 
  1  
Reply Wed 30 Jun, 2010 11:18 am
@Robert Gentel,
Quote:
Authoritarian rule allows for more censorship and control of the narrative.


Even so. The breakup of the Soviet Union dovetails nicely with the end of Russia's incursion into Afghanistan; about 10 years or so. No amount of PR it seems could dispel war weariness for this authoritarian regime.
In my mind Art's premise doesn't ring true. Rather it should be: Long wars are antithetical to Society.
Cycloptichorn
 
  1  
Reply Wed 30 Jun, 2010 11:20 am
@panzade,
panzade wrote:

Quote:
Authoritarian rule allows for more censorship and control of the narrative.


Even so. The breakup of the Soviet Union dovetails nicely with the end of the Russia's incursion into Afghanistan; about 10 years or so. No amount of PR it seems could dispel war weariness for this authoritarian regime.
In my mind Art's premise doesn't ring true. Rather it should be: Long wars are antithetical to Society.


Oh, I dunno. The Hundred-year war didn't break up British or French society. And that's exponentially longer than our longest one.

Cycloptichorn
panzade
 
  1  
Reply Wed 30 Jun, 2010 11:28 am
@Cycloptichorn,
Quote:
The Hundred-year war didn't break up British or French society. And that's exponentially longer than our longest one.


True. So you're saying "Long wars are not antithetical to Democracies."
Cycloptichorn
 
  1  
Reply Wed 30 Jun, 2010 11:29 am
@panzade,
panzade wrote:

Quote:
The Hundred-year war didn't break up British or French society. And that's exponentially longer than our longest one.


True. So you're saying "Long wars are not antithetical to Democracies."


Haha, no - those weren't democracies, they were Feudalistic monarchies. But their societies weathered the wars just fine.

Cycloptichorn
0 Replies
 
BillRM
 
  1  
Reply Wed 30 Jun, 2010 03:18 pm
@msolga,
Quote:
What do you think has been achieved by those 9 years of war?


A base that our enemies were using to stage attacks on us was taken away from them.

Second if you would care to look at the films of women and men being kill as a blood sport in the public squares of Afghan in whole scale lots you might not be so sure that the citizens of that sad country are worst off because we stop a murderous cult from controlling that country.

Turning half the population the female half into sub-human animals that could be kill by their male families’ members at whim.

Who would be beaten if found outside of their homes not in the company of an adult family member.

Who was not allow any kind of an education either.

 

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