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August 19, 2006

Comments

Great speech. It is one of life's ironies that the cruelest acts are sometimes necessary to preserve the greatest good. One lesson to always remember (which I think combat veterans actually know better than anybody) is that no nobility actually flows from killing for such a high purpose. It always coarsens the killer and leaves him damaged no matter how noble the cause. Which, by the way, is another important reason to revere those who serve, since they suffer more than we can know.

I suspect that many misunderstood the drift of Mattis' remarks because we live in a time when too many in our own leadership do not embody the values that you have catalogued so well. We do have some socipathic leaders of the type that you indicate are not sought by the military. The best evidence of this is the promotion of torture as a legitmate policy tool -- those people are sociopaths and continue to be rewarded.

So its understandable why some are frightened by words that have a dual meaning -- that can express the satisfaction of protecting one's country (Mattis' apparent meaning), even though it involves the heinous act of killing, or be used to express a sociopathic thrill.

I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it.

This is the part of the speech that gets my hackles up. And the attitude it expresses is in play in real life among active-duty and veteran military when incidents like Haditha come to light -- that no one outside the military has the right to expect an accounting.

My attitude is: Sorry, Colonel, you'll just have to make time, and answer our questions whether you have the inclination to or not.

I'm also one of the very tiny number of people in the country who hasn't seen A Few Good Men, so maybe that's what Lt. Weinberg more or less says in response.

Nell,

I probably should have elided that, as I concur with you in that respect. On the other hand, while I ultimately don't endorse that perspective, I can understand Jessup's frustration.

I think that soldiering must be one of the most difficult jobs in existance, not because of the danger of being killed or injured, but because of the danger to one's character. Warfare puts people in situations which could bring out the worst in them as well as the best. The normal rules of civilized behavior don't apply in war. The soldier has to be able to abide by a standard of behavior that allows killing sometimes but not other times, that promotes seeing people as not people, then suddenly requires seeing them as people again. The statement that it is fun to kill could mean that it is satisfying to do a dangerous, difficult,important job well or it could mean that the soldier has lost his/her moral groundinngs and likes to kill.
I read Hilzoy's article to my dad, a WWII vet. He enlisted during the mop up part of the war and got sent to the Philipines. He was just turned eighteen and his impression is that he and his fellow soldiers got run through training pretty darn fast. Anyway there wasn't any preparation for the emotional shocks and moral disorientation of wartime situations.
He was part of a group that rounded up Filipinos that had fought with the Japanese. They ended up with hundreds of Filipino men in custody and not much idea what they wer supposed to do with them except make them walk from one place to another, several days' march away. They marched off in the heat and after awhile the Filipinos started to drop dead. My dad was a medic which meant he was assigned to dig holes for the bodies. No one was concerned about why the Filipinnos were dying. When they got to a river the Fillipinos broke into a staggering run for the water--only then did the Americans realize that they were dying of thirst and heat prostation because they had nothing to drink while marching.
It wasn't the equivalent of the Bataan Death March. The Americans had not intended to cause unnecessaary deaths. More like manslaughter. The Americans had not been directed to see to the Filipinos' wellbeing, just march them, so that's what they did. The Filipinnos had little bags of food annd clothing that they carried, so no one thought about them needing water.
My dad remembers this with great sadness. His memory is that the American soldiers were scared and confused and focused on their own emotional survival and became callous and selfish in a way that none of them would have demonstrated under other circumstances.
So what's my point? Well that to be a good soldier means that a person has to really work at keeping what makes a human good because the circumstances of warfare make it easier to lose one's moral compass than the cirumstances of ordinary civilian life. From what hilzoy posted, it seems like Lt Gen Mattis understood this and worked hard to help the men and women of his command avoid that disorientation that the soldiers of my dad's memory experienced.

there are no small number of people who live in a fantasy world where we could all get along if it wasn't for military people instigating wars

I've never met one, but don't doubt that you have.

And for Nell, here's a little more of the scene, before and after the part Andrew quotes. Tom Cruise (Kaffee) is examining Nicholson (Jessup), who is evading (Weinberg is Cruise's co-counsel):

Jessep: You want answers?

Kaffee: I think I'm entitled to-

Jessep: You want answers?!

Kaffee: I want the truth!

Jessep: You can't handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lieutenant Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said, "Thank you," and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand opposed. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to!

Kaffee: Did you order the Code Red?

Jessep: (quietly) I did the job I was sent to do--

Kaffee: Did you order the Code Red?!

Jessep: (shouting) You're goddamn right I did!!
[stunned silence]

Everyone but Nicholson realizes that he's confessed to the murders

[some dialogue skipped]

Judge: The court members will retire to an anteroom until further instructed.

MP: All rise!

Jessep: What is this? I did my job, I'd do it again. I'm gonna get in a plane and go back to my base.

Judge: You're not going anywhere, Colonel. MP's, guard the Colonel.

MP: Yes, sir!

Judge: Captain Ross.

Ross: Colonel Jessep, you have the right to remain silent--

Jessep: What is this? I'm being charged with a crime? Is that what this is? I'm being charged with a crime? This is funny. That's what this is. This is-- [leaps towards Kaffee, MP's restrain him] I'm gonna rip the eyes out of your head and piss into your dead skull! You f*cked with the wrong Marine!

Ross: Colonel Jessep, do you understand these rights as I have just read them to you?

Jessep: You f*ckin' people. You have no idea how to defend a nation. All you did was weaken a country today, Kaffee. That's all you did. You put people's lives in danger. Sweet dreams, son.

Kaffee: Don't call me son. I'm a lawyer and an officer in the United States Navy. And you're under arrest, you son of a bitch. The witness is excused.

And I see that the Wiki from which I copied this has a terrible typo -- it's not 'stand opposed,' but, as Andrew has it, 'stand a post.'

Heh. Actually, that's a typo, too. It should be 'stand to post.'

I do have problem with the idea that it is inherently noble to be in the military. For some people, maybe it is. For other people the military is a means to an end: college money, job training, employment when none other is available. My second cousin joined because he couldn't find a job. He couldn't find a job mostly because he's a slob. I wouldn't want to be around him when he is armed.
My cousin David is one of those guys who came back from Viet Nam and never said one word about the experience. I remember what people said we were fighting for then: "democracy" ( wrong-our democracy wasn't under attack and the government we were supporting wasn't democratic) and "stopping communism"(but the domino theory was a misapplication of a historical lesson). For those slogans we killed about a million VietNamese civilians.
I don't think it is noble to kill for slogans. There was an interview in the paper the other day with an Iraq vet who said we were fighting there so we wouldn't have to fight here. For that brainless piece of crappy sloganeering he was willing to kill people? I doubt if he'd go buy a car based onnoting but a slogan. That isn't noble.
Well you predicted that someone would go off like this annd I guess it's me. There is a nobility in taking risks for a higher cause. But I think for military service to actually be noble the cause actually has to be high.

lily,

A more precise phrasing would have been 'military service can be a noble calling,' as it is not inherently noble and it was not my intent to suggest otherwise.

Andrew I don't think you actually said that it was inherently noble. I think I made an assumption based partly on the way the NROTC program at my high school is managed. The message to the students is defintely that the military is inherently more patriotic annd more noble than other endeavors and, in a very limmited way, I agree. I agree in the sense that good service requires a person to be very committed to monitoring their own behavior and attitudes to make sure that circumstances don't overwhelm judgement. Like being a cop, only more so. Military service can be very demanding of moral courage. However, that is not how the NROTC teachers presented it. Their pitch was that the mere joining of the military made one more noble annd patriotic than other people. I hated that.

That cause is, unsurprisingly, patriotism: while people have many reasons for choosing military service, it is rare that patriotism doesn't play a role.

Well, while people may join up for patriotic reasons, I thought that the general opinion was that soldiers under combat are unlikely to risk their lives for counrty, but are more willing to do so for their comrades in arms, and that most modern training reinforced the idea that you fight for and with your buddies.

Course, you might be in a better position to say...

While I am somewhat sympathetic to your comments, I believe that it is part of the compact that a soldier must be willing to take responsibility for his or her actions. Just as he or she should be willing to take a bullet to protect our country, he or she must take the consequences of punishment when that soldier has performed such a task.

If you are willing to accept death, you should be willing to accept public dishonor when it is necessary to have a scapegoat.

Interestingly enough, I am now reading War by military historian Gwynne Dyer, which I highly recommend. It's a thorough overview of war, and was based on a television series he did in the late seventies or early eighties. Full of pretty good stuff. Fersinstance, we are now at a period where fewer people are being killed by war than probably at any time in human history, about 1%, versus about 25% in most pre-civilized cultures (which is the same proportion as in chimpanzee societies, and yes, Chimpanzees practice the same kind of warfare as primitive humans did).

I also just bought myself a copy of Patton. Love that movie.

Permit me to be cynical and state that all this hoopla about the military being inherently more noble, patriotic, etc., is a very good way of convincing idealistic young men to take on what is a very dangerous activity.

Historically, wars (especially the petty ones) also have an aspect of "getting the testosterone-stuffed males out of the city and getting them to butt heads against each other rather than running around causing problems in town."


"I don't believe he means it is literally fun to pull the trigger and see another human being die, but that eliminating the enemies of his country is a good feeling because his actions have real meaning."

So does eliminating an enemy of your country offer the same satisfaction as simply neutralizing it? Might Mr. Mattis have followed up on his statement with "... but not as fun as handing them over to the court."? Actually, in a "but not as fun as [ ]" type speech, what would you have filled in the blank with? I have to imagine there are situations a soldier can encounter that are more gratifying than eliminating enemies.
I'd love to see you do some posts on the more positive experiences you've had in your military career, Andrew.

A quibble about the speech.

This gets quoted a lot, but it seems to me that the sentiments are largely cribbed from a speech at the end ofThe Caine Mutiny Court-Martial. The JAG, Barney Greenwald, having gotten his client acquitted by destroying Queeg on the stand, then makes an impassioned speech in defense of Queeg at an acquittal celebration, saying much the same thing Jessup says.

No big deal, I guess, but it annoys me, in a Farberesque way, that the Jessup speech is so often quoted, at least on the Internet.

"I do have problem with the idea that it is inherently noble to be in the military."

There is a line from Band of Brothers about saluting the rank not the man. I do believe there is a nobility in soldiering that endures outside the man, his cause, those who give him orders, or even his actions. It is a particular and unique nobility, but not particularly special or particularly noble.

There is a nobility in cooking for the chef who served Goehring;the nobility of cooking may be more admirable than soldiering. Soldiers, like chefs, think far too highly of themselves.

(Watching an episode of Sharpe on BBC America as I write this. Sharpe's estranged wife near the end of the show says to Sharpe:"You're an animal. You know nothing except how to kill. You cannot live without a sword in your hand." There is a painful grain of truth here. Sharpe is a professional soldier and although very honorable, cannot seem to stop fighting. He is good at it.)

PS:Been getting all Medieval lately, and am reminded of the White Company in 14th century Italy. English bandits become a mercenary army when there really no other armies, they changed sides at the sight of a florin, were as brutal as you could imagine, and fought only for money at a time, like now, when you were supposed to fight for noble causes like honour, God, and King. They were very good at fighting. When the leader died, the entire European world grieved and paid their respects. There remain monuments in their honour today.

I also assume that patriotism gets the amateur in the door, but the veteran professional soldier soldiers cause he enjoys it (most of the time like all jobs) and is good at it. But what do I know.

Here is a link about John Hawkwood and the White Company. I need to get through Tuchman.

And here is link to a Wilfred Owen poem, actually a Wikipedia article about "Dulce et Decorum Est" Dulce et Decorum Est

I read Wilfred Owen every Memorial Day. Kinda like soldiers, and ain't horrified enough by war and killing. It is the damn noble causes and moral condemnations I can't stand.

My vague understanding was that causes were much less important in getting people to risk their lives than camaraderie. The Sacred Band of Thebes comes to mind - it was made up of pairs of gay lovers - and more recently a naive observer gets the sense that e.g. the Marines fight with a great sense of love for each other. Or it might just be an unwillingness to bug out when one's companions are at risk, out of friendship or shame.

Hmm, perhaps this is a more individual way of looking at things, perhaps you're thinking more about army-level motivation.

The First World war poets get all the attention. Read the poetry of Keith Douglas (in particular 'How to Kill') and Sorley MacLean for the best poetry of the Second World War. There's none of the easy rhetoric and bluster of the speech quoted so approvingly by Andrew (sorry for that); Douglas and Maclean are real writers and they tell the truth.

The Landsknechts were another famous mercenary group during the late-Medieval/Early Renaissance time - Swiss in origin (I think) and in hot demand throughout Europe for their ruthlessness.

But they're most famous for being nomads who literally carried their riches on their backs. They looted battlefields, stripping weapons, jewels, and clothing off the dead (and not-so-dead); then they'd bedeck themselves in what they took. They made quite a sight: multiply doubletted and pantalooned, glittering head to toe in gold and jewels, and bristling with swords, daggers, and whatnot. Presumably they had some sort of baggage wagons to hold the surplus while they were actually fighting.

I imagine, for mercenary armies, esprit de corps was of paramount importance, since they were hardly fighting for "God, King and Country." Money, too, of course (and some freedom from social caste structures; and quite a few had probably fled one step ahead of the law and/or outraged relatives). Money might get you onto a battlefield but, unless you can trust the folks fighting beside you, it surely won't get you off one in one piece.

Andrew,

You have highlighted for me one of the most problematic speeches in cinema in making your case. I suspect (with no actual knowledge beyond the rest of his career's writing) that Aaron Sorkin did not intend that scene to have the resonance it has had with the American public, but rather he expected people to recoil from Jessup, and to shrink from him ignoring his duties and the lives of the men in his hands. That he has instead become something of a folk-hero causes me (and if I read Sorkin's later works right, him) a lot of anguish.

To me, Jessup is making the case for a dictatorship. He is saying that he is taking on to himself the power to determine whether anyone else can judge his actions, rather than accepting the nature of the institution he is a part of, and accepting Kaffee's role in the same institution as giving him the right to look over his shoulder and ask whether he did the right thing, much less the right of any civilian to do the same, in spite of our Constitution placing elected civilians in control of the military.

While being a member of the military is an honorable profession, words like Jessup's suggest to me that it is the only honorable one, and that our society does not give the members of the military their due by presuming that anyone else can judge their actions.

I don’t think there is any point in countering your argument, Andrew, since it is an expression of your beliefs, and in a sense could be not unfairly characterized as religious sentiment, and on that basis I can respect it, if not agree with it.
Just to be certain I am getting the tenor of your thoughts correctly, I interpret what you say as follows: Humans have a violent past as well as violent present. This being the case, someone or some ones need to protect various groups of humans from other humans. In the extreme cases of such protection this is called war and our some ones then try to kill the other some ones. As the plumber says, it’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it.
This seems to me to be your basic argument. You then elaborate upon it by positing that the some of the ones who take on the role of protection can rise to a nobility of purpose thereby - they not only willingly place themselves in harms way but they also bond together, as the movies say, as a band of brothers, intent on mutual self protection while engaged in the dirty job of killing other humans. Plus heroism and valor, etc.
My problems with this scenario arise from a number of observations. Perhaps the most important is that it is extremely rare that any observer can honestly portray any armed conflict as being defensive. This is particularly true of the conflicts that the United States has involved itself in during our lifetimes. I was born at the end of WWII, and since that conflict took place before almost anyone who has ever commented on this forum was born and because in many ways it is a special case, quite different from the conflicts that have ensued since 1945, I will comment only on those latter conflicts. In the 61 years since WWII, the United States has involved its armed forces in conflicts around the globe, yet only that in Afghanistan can be characterized fairly clearly as being in response to a direct threat. In the same period of time, U.S. military expenditures have grown to consume a gargantuan proportion of the total discretionary expenditures of our federal budget. We have, further, become the largest arms dealer in the world, dispensing arms to every crack pot dictator oligarchy in the known world, arming to the teeth every island and continent except Antarctica. Our military budget is greater than the combined totals of the next ten largest economies.
So, to start with, fine for protection from threats to the society. But, in reality, in almost all cases in the last 50 years, aggression has been military’s true role - maybe politics by other means - but certainly almost never have we used military force for our own defense. One might argue that we have protected the weak against the strong but I think those cases are few and easily arguable. I realize that the military itself is not to blame for where it is sent, but the glorification of military service, extravagant funding and the panoply of choices that have led to installations around the globe have created a situation of empire with the continuous threat from the United States that we will use naked force for any purpose that serves us, leads me to the conclusion that your argument for the need of the military is an oversimplification that obscures and ignores the reality of exactly what the military’s role is these days.

Hmm. I've always thought we very much need to talk about this stuff, though maybe not at parties; and that part of the real problem is the assumption that civilians want there to be a military in some deep down place that they hide from themselves, rather than in the light of day.

That lets civilians off the hook much too easily; it also lets Jessup cast himself as some sort of necessary monster, and exempt what he does from criticism on the grounds that everything he does is what the rest of us really want him to do, in those deep down unspoken places (which, somehow, he knows all about, even though we won't even acknowledge them to ourselves, let alone to him. How is he so sure about what the rest of us really feel or want? Whether he uses it that way or not, that certainty, which cannot possibly be well-founded, is a blanket authorization for anything.) (Note: I haven't seen the movie; I'm just going by this one speech, plus the parts CharleyCarp quoted.)

I prefer to have these conversations up front, and kudos to Andrew for starting it.

"That lets civilians off the hook much too easily"

The more I think about this the touger it gets. Tuchman is neat because she is describing the period when a lot of this modern stuff was born.

Serfs and merchants became free taxpayers, and King, dude, we pays our taxes and don't get protection. Protection from whom? Professional soldiers, the knights and nobility fighting for fun and profit. So the King, says , whoa, how do I keep these guys under control? I know, I'll invent the nation-state and patriotism! Cue Henry V. But the best soldiers, the officer corps, were the knights, and they fought not only for money, but for honour and glory.

Jessup should not be ignored. Officer corps in South America, the ME, whenever and wherever, eat whole nations for breakfast. The most dangerous man is the one who can get others to kill and die for him, knows the art and craft of effing WAR, for God's sake.

If Jessup wants a parade, this peasant votes for a parade.

I agree with Dan about Jessup, and would guess that he, like me, reacts to this scene more in the narrow role of lawyer, than the broader role of protected civilian. Lawyers I know are always joking about how to get the witness on the other side to give a 'you can't handle the truth moment.' The speech, and the abandon required to give it, wins the case for Kaffee, and gets Jessup in jail.

And down at the base, I've gotten into discussions about where it is that Jessup's back yard must have been to be how ever many feet from the Cuban border. He's way over the top, and while I can see how some in the Armed Forces might succumb to a certain vanity -- I mean really, what is Jessup protecting in Guantanamo, iguanas? -- there's enough truth to the thing that the temptation is very real. But it's very problematic: anyone who goes into the armed forces expecting gratitude is going to end up mighty disappointed. (Not unlike going into a thousand other fields expecting gratitude). And that way lies frustration and resentment.

"I suspect (with no actual knowledge beyond the rest of his career's writing) that Aaron Sorkin did not intend that scene to have the resonance it has had with the American public, but rather he expected people to recoil from Jessup, and to shrink from him ignoring his duties and the lives of the men in his hands. That he has instead become something of a folk-hero causes me (and if I read Sorkin's later works right, him) a lot of anguish."

I suspect that is due to a deep divide in Hollywood/Broadway civilian culture and military/working-class culture.

I've talked about that scene with a number of my Marine friends (there are a lot of them in San Diego). If I were to try to distill those conversations I think they would say something like:

There is a balance of positive and negative motivational techniques (for individuals AND groups) that have to be employed in order to get a unit to function at the intense levels needed by the military. That balance is a fine one, and Jessup went too far--but not very much too far.

"He's way over the top, and while I can see how some in the Armed Forces might succumb to a certain vanity -- I mean really, what is Jessup protecting in Guantanamo, iguanas?"

Two things.

First, look at the time period. The play was in 1989--before the fall of Communism. This is still Cuba as backed by the USSR. This is still the Cuba of the Cuban missile crisis.

Second, it isn't really about Guantanamo at all. It is about what is required to train a man to become a Marine.

I think that unless you are careful you cannot talk about the Landsknecht and the Condotieri and all of the others as if they are the same thing as a modern army. I think that if you are talking about civilians and state sponsored armies and Clausewitz, you are talking about the Westphalian world and not about anything before it. What remains to be seen is just how applicable any of this is to the post-Nuclear, and potentially post-Westphalian world.

I think that people who fight together fight for each other. They have to. They are not individuals. They live and die as a unit. I think that the warband identity predates and overlays the state sponsored army, and that the most effective of an army's units are warbands. I think that states recruit individuals for armies but that they then put them in units to become warbands. These two things are not the same. I also think that problems arise when the person is asked to be both an individual citizen and a member of a warband. There is no warband as such when primary loyalties lie outside of the group.

I also think that the conflicts that we have engaged in since WWII are not conflicts that can be settled by an army in the traitional sense. They have all been civil wars of some sort and Clausewitz has nothing to say about civil war, only about war between two national states. Once there are no longer armies of two sovereign states on the field, then there is either no state or there is a state in need of policing, and police are not an army, nor are police units warbands.

This is still the Cuba of the Cuban missile crisis.

Big difference between 1989 and 1962. I thought in 1989, and think today, that a whole lot of hay was made all through the 80s by exaggerating the danger.

(This will cue GF and/or OCS to cite, again, to that time in the early 80s when the Soviets started to get really alarmed about a training exercise we were doing, because of all the trash talk that had been recently come out of the US. One can say that this shows that the danger wasn't over-exaggerated, I suppose, but that sounds a lot to me like someone who's killed his parents asking to be pitied for being an orphan).


Here's what I was thinking about earlier:

Jessup: I run my unit how I run my unit. You want to investigate me, roll the dice and take your chances. I eat breakfast three hundred yards away from four thousand Cubans who are trained to kill me. So don't think for one second that you can come down here, flash a badge, and make me nervous.

and there are no small number of people who live in a fantasy world where we could all get along if it wasn't for military people instigating wars, as if the human race as a whole has a natural tendency for peace that the military undermines.

While that's a fair enough point, I'm uneasy with the implication, namely that "military people" don't instigate (or at least escalate) wars. I think there's some pretty inarguable evidence that in fact they do (e.g. MacArthur in the Korean War among myriad others) and while there's a certain logic to it -- if you've been trained to be a hammer, every country looks like a nail -- it's nevertheless a dangerous tendency that needs to be curtailed.

Dantheman:

That he has instead become something of a folk-hero causes me (and if I read Sorkin's later works right, him) a lot of anguish.

I would guess that a Jessup hero-cult would result from the words becoming disembodied from the character that actually spoke them. The words themselves are stirring, but the man who speaks has become an obvious monster even though he belives he is living his life pursuant to that noble creed. I think part of what makes the scene work is that Jessup obviously believes in something that is a noble sentiment, but has become twisted to such an extent that it is monstrous to hear it out of his mouth.

Does that make the words themselves twisted? No, but in context it has a very spooky quality.

Hey -- all of the evil tyrants have spoken stirring words to their soldiers concerning duty, honor and patriotism. If anything, the real lesson about Jessup is that the martial spirit must be harnesed to something good in order to be good, and is most certainly not an inherent good itself.

But the best soldiers, the officer corps, were the knights, and they fought not only for money, but for honour and glory.

Except, when ever they meet an opponent who is organised, they lose. And they lose big time. French knights, for King and God, get hammered by English longbowmen. The Hungarian knights get slaughtered at Mohi. The English cavaliers die on the fields of the English Civil War at the hands of the New Model Army.

I would rather have men who fought for money than for honour or glory.

Honour and glory lead to stupidity.

grackel: I don’t think there is any point in countering your argument, Andrew, since it is an expression of your beliefs, and in a sense could be not unfairly characterized as religious sentiment, and on that basis I can respect it, if not agree with it.

Agreed - kinda. (Speaking as a pacifist.)

That is, in the special sense in which I respect religious beliefs, yes, I respect Andrew's right to believe it, without actually agreeing with any part of it.

But religious beliefs have the special right to be respected only so long as the believer does not impose those beliefs on others. Can this really be said of someone who believes in the military?

"Can this really be said of someone who believes in the military?"

The military doesn't need you or me to believe in it. I agree partway with Andrew. The world is not quite a Hobbesian jungle. War is a hassle, and lacking external restraints my city of Dallas is not going to rape and plunder Fort Worth. The bankers and electronic assemblers don't have enough motivation, kinda lack the skill set.

Unless a guy shows up who can inspire, lead, organize, train, plan etc. A soldier. Now I can't predict when or where the soldier is gonna show. But from Alexander thru Napoleon, maybe including Cromwell, Bismarck, Hitler, up to the marginally capable Bush/Rumsfeld and Osama/KSM I can almost guarantee that military leaders are gonna show, and some people will get optimistic enough to follow them. If they show on the other side and you are not prepared, you are gonna get stomped.

Now maybe sometimes the people want war, and find a leader. Washington. Pre-empire France?
Mobs can do a lot of local damage, but mobs are really crummy at logistics. They don't travel well. And mobs cannot command competent leadership.

Jefferson Davis and friends may have chosen secession. It took Lee and Jackson to make it war. Bush could have wanted to invade Iraq;only the Pentagon could make it happen.

You say that the military does not want to create sociopaths, but I contend that the military - and members of the military - spend a lot of time doing things they don't want to. They have to recruit someone. You follow the orders you have; recruiting standards and procedures are orders, as are quotas. If the standards and procedures intended to weed out sociopaths are changed so that quotas can be met, you follow the new orders. That's why we keep seeing the stories about rising gang activity within the army. Some recruiters or drill instructors who have been convinced that quantity is more important for their mission than quality might go even further than that, which is why we also see stories about mentally disabled kids being rushed through and put in uniform.

I know it's fashionable to temper any criticism of the military's missions with praise for its members, lest one be accused of not supporting troops. I know I'm supposed to say that our military is full of excellent people, but I'm not sure I can. Certainly that was true not too long ago, and many of those people are still there, but they've been joined by many who are less excellent. Morals aside, the best recruits given the best training don't give you debacles like Abu Ghraib or Hadji Girl or too many other examples. I'm not sure they give you LTG Mattis either. Much of what we see is evidence of decline, and we dismiss that evidence at our own peril.

Really interesting discussion, but just getting back and reading over the threads, one notion that hasn't come up is that we humans more often than not desire the ability to express righteous anger. We had a thread rather recently about anger and a number of commentators expressed really surprising thoughts about what they were willing to do. I don't condemn it, the desire to engage in retribution undergirds a lot of why I've done martial arts for over 20 years. The military uses that desire for righteous retribution, but when coupled with the push button technology of killing, we have a problem. I said in another thread that one of our aims should be to move the military to do what a police force would do, which is to take every possible step before inflicting civilian casualties. Assuming that Mattis' comments were on the up and up, he is making essentially the same point. Unfortunately (and I think that Eisenhower was prescient in talking about the military-industrial complex, but I don't think it is such the condemnation that a lot of leftists see it as), we are more led than leading, as discussions about China persist, even after memorable takedowns, seem to suggest. And when those civilians in charge of providing guidance seem to be more taken with feats of derring do, you have a recipe for disaster.

Many of the things you point out fail to take into account the distaste that has arisen with the advent of modern war. WWI, with its limited civilian damage and static trench warfare, while making an impression by the bleeding dry the young men, but nonetheless did not have the impact that WWII had with widespread civilian deaths and massive refugee movements. While some would suggest that it was atomic weapons that brought the standoff, I think that there are some profound reservations about turning a major city into a Stalingrad or a Tokyo. And this is not a bad thing. Yet I am sometimes left with the impression that a redux of those kinds of civilian casualties is something to be contemplated as an option. Can it ever really be one anymore?

Platypus: Morals aside, the best recruits given the best training don't give you debacles like Abu Ghraib or Hadji Girl or too many other examples.

Abu Ghraib isn't a debacle, though. (The US war in Iraq is a debacle, and Abu Ghraib is one of the reasons why it is.) The torture and murders committed with impunity in Abu Ghraib by US soldiers were actions committed under orders - orders which had approval at the highest level.

From an I'm-not-in-their-position POV, I can safely say "Of course they should have disobeyed the order to commit torture: of course they should have reported the murders that were being committed" - but then, I wasn't in their position. Of course the soldiers who tortured and murdered prisoners should be prosecuted and given appropriate sentences. But when the orders for torture are coming down from the Department of Defense - when lawyers in the White House are working out a way torture can be defined as legal - then it's unfair to blame the recruits for what was happening, and not correct to call a "debacle" actions committed under orders by officers who had themselves been told that the orders were legal.

And this is why I am fundamentally mistrustful of the military: there is no military anywhere in the world where you could count on soldiers to refuse to obey illegal orders. That's not what they're trained to do. Soldiers obey orders: once in a while you get an anti-military hero, like Joseph Darby or like Hugh Thompson, who will have the courage to stand up against illegal orders, against the whole military structure of discipline designed to make sure no soldier ever behaves like Darby or Thompson, and do what's right - whatever the consequences. That's not what soldiers do. But it is what heroes do.

1. I would never say that all members of the armed forces are fine and decent people -- they're human after all, and have the full range. I'm more than willing to believe, though, that fineness and decency occurs at higher levels than in the general population. Graner and the others at Abu Ghraib -- at the fringe within military society -- are a lot closer to the mainstream in civilian life. (BTW, I know that Lynndie England's unit was trained in the laws of war, and proper POW handling, because I know the Army lawyer who trained them. On a fineness and decency scale, I'd put him against anyone I know, as well as on an effectiveness scale. Those folks were untrained.)

2. I don't think we're having reservations about Stalingrad or Tokyo at all -- we just haven't gotten into a situation yet where we really think they are necessary. When we get there, we'll do it again. What do you think will happen in year 3 of the Iran War?

I really don't understand how Jessup is held up as somehow noble or reflecting anything honorable about the traditions of the U.S. military. A Few Good Men is not an anti-military play/movie, but the "few good men" are definitely not the military represented by Col Jessup, but rather the JAG corps that prosecutes the murder and really know what honor and duty are about.

Col Jessup has lost his way and forgotten his oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. In his zeal to defend the country he loved he has forgotten what it stands for. If Jessup is right and his chain of command (remember he is addressing a military court and his superior officers, not the American public) can't handle the truth, then there is no point in defending the U.S. against either the nonexistent threat of the Cubans or the whatever threat the Russians constituted in the late '80s. This is a hazard of being in the military. Unfortunately, this attitude is all too common in the current war on terror.

As for LTG Mattis, his words, whatever he meant by them, were ill-chosen. The Marines are the most gung-ho and, shall we say the most earthy branch of the military. But an officer who has reached the second highest rank in the military should know better than to ever publicly say it is "fun" to kill people. That is inexusable for a man in his position, whatever the circumstances or whoever the audience.

But religious beliefs have the special right to be respected only so long as the believer does not impose those beliefs on others. Can this really be said of someone who believes in the military?

Or in pacifism?

I don't think we're having reservations about Stalingrad or Tokyo at all -- we just haven't gotten into a situation yet where we really think they are necessary. When we get there, we'll do it again. What do you think will happen in year 3 of the Iran War?

Well, 'we' isn't really 'we' so much as everyone on the planet. I mean, can you picture Bagdhad along the lines of the aftermath of the Tokyo firebombing or Dresden? It's hard to imagine any level of support or sympathy for the US, and a lot of people who even now might support a stand fast approach, might give up. In fact, I remember one incident where a Representative (Kaloogian) went to Bagdhad and then posted some pictures from Turkey as being representative. Of course, I thought that would be a big thing, but it wasn't, so maybe I'm wrong about this. I hope we'll never have to find out.

I'm more than willing to believe, though, that fineness and decency occurs at higher levels than in the general population

I am at a total loss as to how you could know or measure that. Why should they be any better than, say, doctors, housewives or bus drivers? Does this apply only to the majority of US soldiers or to soldiers of all countries and times? If the former - how come these fine and decent people managed to kill 1 million people in Vietnam? If the latter - would you be willing to include e.g. the Wehrmacht and their Japanese counterpart? On what stage of the Kolberg scheme is this decency located?

oops: Kohlberg

Nations that have avoided war generally either have strong militaries that can repel potential invaders, or geographic advantages that make conquering them too difficult to justify.

So how does hilly but not mountainous, military-free Costa Rica fit into this theory?

The torture and murders committed with impunity in Abu Ghraib by US soldiers were actions committed under orders - orders which had approval at the highest level.

True, but if I understand military law correctly, legally the soldiers involved should have refused to obey the order to torture because it is a violation of a standing order against committing war crimes or atrocities that supercedes the illegal order to torture. I realize that it would be very hard for a soldier to disobey an order given by his immediate superior, no matter how hideous the order, but legally they are required to resist illegal orders so they are by no means blameless.

Jes: "But religious beliefs have the special right to be respected only so long as the believer does not impose those beliefs on others. Can this really be said of someone who believes in the military?"

I think so, if the military that the person believes in is subject to civilian control.

A lot of the problems we're having, including some referenced above, like lowering recruiting standards, are the result of stupid decisions by the civilian leadership. I don't know whether the military is responding in the best possible way to the pressures on recruitment, but it's civilians, not the military, who are responsible for those pressures existing.

Nell got it in one early on. That we ask and expect of soldiers behavior that we would very much like to avoid ourselves does not put them beyond accountability (although it should certainly discourage easy us-and-them moralizing.) Sorry, Col. Jessup, but you have to answer precisely because of what you're defending.

My brother (USMC Lt., Vietnam 1968-69) once said to someone who opposed the My Lai prosecution: "Not to prosecute would be an insult to every soldier and unit that didn't behave that way."

I think part of what makes the scene work is that Jessup obviously believes in something that is a noble sentiment, but has become twisted to such an extent that it is monstrous to hear it out of his mouth.

Exactly right. You have to remember that scared young Marine washout, dying at the hands of none-too-bright soldiers sent on Jessup's orders.

As one of those soldiers reflects later in the scene, after Jessup's offstage, the guy they killed was one of the people they were supposed to protect. Jessup never for a moment realized that, because of his contempt for anyone not in uniform (or who didn't belong in uniform).

CharleyCarp: (BTW, I know that Lynndie England's unit was trained in the laws of war, and proper POW handling, because I know the Army lawyer who trained them. On a fineness and decency scale, I'd put him against anyone I know, as well as on an effectiveness scale. Those folks were untrained.)

Maybe I'm thick, but I don't get the last sentence here...

Let me see if I can answer a few of the comments.

I'll note first that I do not see Jessup as a hero, and I noted in the essay that he was wholly wrong to allow his Marines to take the blame for the bad results of his order. We see this problem throughout the film: Jessup belittles his XO in front of a junior officer, he disobeys an order from the CNO in ordering the Code Red, he abuses his rank in sexually harassing LCDR Galloway and belittling LT(JG) Kaffee, and I'm sure there are other things I've missed. I see Jessup as more of a tragic figure, in that he has given his life in the service of his country, but got lost somewhere along the way despite the best of intentions.

The passage of the speech I consider accurate is the opening: "Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it?" That is a fact. Is his current assignment vital to national security? I don't think so, but even a Colonel doesn't get to make that call. His orders are to hold Guantanamo and to protect his Marines, and he is attempting to do so. (Fenceline shootings, while rare, are not unknown.) But in the bigger picture, until humanity decides it's 'not gonna study war no more' military personnel will remain a necessary evil. The rest of the speech I do not generally agree with, but as I noted above, I can sympathize with Jessup's position. It can be frustrating to be judged by people who have no idea what military service is like. But, I'd rather live under that system than any other.

Soldiers do generally fight, once in combat, to protect their squad mates and friends. But the patriotism is an important factor in keeping them around when they're not fighting, and in getting them into the fight in the first place.

So does eliminating an enemy of your country offer the same satisfaction as simply neutralizing it?

That's hard to say. I suppose it would depend, in great measure, on whether or not the threat is truly neutralized. I doubt I'm alone in sometimes worrying that the court system may not be the best place to address people like Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein.

If you are willing to accept death, you should be willing to accept public dishonor when it is necessary to have a scapegoat.

If I gave a different impression, let me establish here that I concur. As I noted, Jessup's biggest crime as a leader was his failure to accept responsibility for the consequences of his actions.

grackle,

I will just point out that all we can do as soldiers is volunteer in the service of our country. It is up to our elected representatives to ensure we are used properly (beyond issues like war crimes, of course). While wars like Vietnam may have been a mistake, I'm not aware of any evidence that they were illegal. Our duty as soldiers, then, was and is to fight honorably and well. We don't get to make the call on where and when we fight, nor do I believe we should; civilian control of the military is an important aspect of our government and I believe it should be maintained as strongly as possible.

Charley,

For the record, at no time at Guantanamo do you get anywhere near the fenceline unless you're a sentry. I spent four-plus months their in support of Operation Sea Signal and barely even saw the fenceline.

Anarch,

it's nevertheless a dangerous tendency that needs to be curtailed.

Agreed, which is why civilian control of the military is so important.

I contend that the military - and members of the military - spend a lot of time doing things they don't want to

Yes, we do. Most people don't want to spend a year at a time away from their family. They certainly don't want to do so while getting shot at. Are there mistakes made? Absolutely. I've been frustrated for years about some of the decisions we make about who we recruit and who we keep. But if I quit, what exactly does that solve, other than to remove another (reasonably good, IMHO) officer who then must be replaced? Again, a lot of those decisions are made by our civilian leadership. I'm not going to claim that the generals maybe ought to stand up to the leadership a bit more on those issues, but then, I've never worked at level so I don't know what it is they're telling the SecDef. (From what I've heard, it doesn't appear he's listening anyhow.) Each of us can only do our best to attract good soldiers, try to get them to stay, and to put out those who clearly don't measure up. Might I suggest that if you're truly as concerned as you claim, perhaps you should talk to your elected representatives, who could help us to attract higher-quality recruits by providing better pay and benefits?

the best recruits given the best training don't give you debacles like Abu Ghraib or Hadji Girl or too many other examples.

I don't mean to be rude, but if you think Abu Ghraib and Hadji Girl are in the same league, your moral sense is twisted beyond my ability to understand. Abu Ghraib: abuse and torture of detainees, breakdown of military discipline. Hadji Girl: a Marine sings a silly song. If you consider Hadji Girl a debacle, well, I can't stop you, but I think you're so off-base as to be outside the stadium.

Reading COL Jessup's speech, I thought one thing: while it's the military man's job to keep the civilain safe from the enemy, it's the civilain's job to keep the military man from becoming the enemy by losing too much of his humanity to the brutality of his job.

I think the constant tension is a good thing, at least in a healthy society.

I worked at DoD in 1980-81 and as a result I came to have a great deal of respect for those who put their lives on the line for our country in such a direct fashion. War is, by its very nature, hell. And you have to have those people that can outlast it and actually thrive in it to be successful.

That is why you make your decisions to go to war very carefully. Because the rationale for going to war has to withstand all the shocks and killings and degradation that come in war's wake. And unless that purpose is very compelling, then you as individuals and as a country will be dragged into an ethical morass that in some cases can destroy utterly.

The war in Iraq was wrong for these reasons.

I would add to Anderson's observation that we haven't discussed yet (I skimmed the thread) Lt. Matthew Anderson Markinson (played by the late J.T. Walsh), who advises Jessup early in the film to redeploy Santiago.

Markinson knows about the lies regarding Code Red, goes AWOL, and puts a bullet through the roof of his mouth rather than testify against his superior officer and damage the reputation of the Corps. Nobility, honor, and cowardice all in one character, as I see it.

See, it's a film. And the central conceit is that Jessup could have agreed to transfer Santiago to less demanding duty. Just like Patton could have resisted the urge to slap the soldier, the dope.

It's like a haunted house movie: couple moves into house on hill despite creepy music on the soundtrack and rumors of death in the attic, and the neighbors' odd silences. Mouse noises heard in attic in middle of night? Why, yes, the female character trudges up the attic stairs in see-through nighty with a flickering candle to be garrotted and disembowelled.

They could have bought the condo with the jacuzzi. And the movie would have been over in 11 minutes, with popcorn sales down sharply.

Same with Henry V. Young Hank could have stayed in the pub with Falstaff and avoided the troubles. But, no.

Anyway, this is a good post. And I don't believe there are too many soldiers, professional or draftee, who enjoy killing.

More likely, the human response is post-traumatic stress syndrome, or as in earlier generations for the most part, a reluctance to talk about combat to folks who might not understand.

My father-in-law signed up at 17 for WWII and flew 32 missions over Europe. He was patriotic, of course, and caught up in the mood of the times. But, that didn't stop him from puking when he was sent out to help clean up a landing runway when a bomber crashed and he found a guy's arm on the tarmac. (The death rate in training missions, let alone in combat, was exorbitant; flying those machines was like flying a piano, which is why the next guy who accuses George McGovern, decorated pilot amd liberal, of being unpatriotic, gets to fight me.)

It also didn't stop my father-in-law from making a decision on, I think, his 5th mission. Patriotism got him into the plane. But he was standing mid fuselage with frostbite in his feet (it's cold up there) and a piece of shrapnel from an anti-aircraft gun opened up the metal in the floor like a flower, and the shrapnel went past his nose and out the top of the plane. He remembered thinking to himself: "Those bastids are trying to kill me!"

It wasn't the warm feeling of patriotism, and cuddly, noble thoughts that made him do his job a little better for the next 27 missions. It was keeping his ass connected to his torso that did it.

I'm not so worried about those on the left who believe soldiers enjoy killing. I'm more worried about the fat guys on conservative websites who have never experienced combat, but sit in their basements with a mouse in one hand and a "mouse" in the other, who slaver their brainless digging of patriotism, nobility, honor, and combat all over the rest of us.

Which is why Obsidian Wings is lucky to have Andrew on board. He's close enough to the wall to get it.

But I doubt Jack Nicholson would be cast to play Andrew in the movie, ;) especially after seeing his musical tastes.

Let's remember, too, one California Representative Randy Cunningham, who you might want as a wingman in a squadron of fighter jets, but who turned out to be not fit for civilian duty.

a silly song

We'll just have to agree to disagree about the scenario in that vile song being "silly".

Yep. But, really, do you consider singing a song, whether silly or vile, a debacle? Let's get just a little perspective here.

nell: scenario: not silly. Song: possibly silly.

For the record, at no time at Guantanamo do you get anywhere near the fenceline unless you're a sentry.

We were specifically trying to guess the distance to the fenceline up that draw behind the CBQ on the Leeward side. It's a little closer, I'd guess, than the beach cabanas on the Leeward side. As the crow flies, anyway. (See http://www.cubavacationstravel.com/cubamaps/Guantanamo/guantanamo_bay_US_naval_base.html>map.) Obviously, Jessup would've been to Windward. I would suppose that you, like Lt. Kaffee, landed on the Leeward side, then took a ferry across, and stayed on that side. I would also guess that you would have mostly stayed around the main part of the base rather than going where the prisons are.

I figure than an inch on the map (on my monitor -- one has to adjust) is about 2,000 yards, making the width of the runways at the Leeward strip (and the area between them) about 300 yards. It wouldn't be anywhere near as dramatic, though, for Jessup to say that he eats breakfast every day over 4 miles away from the Cuban army, with mountains in between.

Maybe I'm thick, but I don't get the last sentence here...

They were told what the rules were, under long standing legal principles, and were trained in conformity with those rules. Then later they were told that those rules didn't apply, and that new looser standards -- for which there was little training (and what training there was hadn't been vetted over decades) if any. I suspect that they were told 'the old rules don't apply, as a matter of law, so just do what these guys tell you' [points to MI guys] I think it's a lot to ask that a private is going to hear this, and say 'wait a minute, those old rules are required by law, and your interpretation is clearly and obviously wrong.' It would have been tantamount to accusing the President and the Secretary of Defense of being war criminals.

I doubt Jack Nicholson would be cast to play Andrew in the movie

We're currently in talks with Danny DeVito.

Two more comments about mercenaries vs. nation-state armies:

1. Patriotism. If you can get the people in the armies to believe it, you get to pay them much much less. (Modern example: the difference between what our soldiers get and what those who have quit the US army and have signed on as mercenaries in Iraq get.) A lot of the restraint on squabbling between the Italian-city-states arose from the difficulty of raising the $$$ to pay the mercenaries. It did, however, provide an impetus for the growth of banking all over Europe....

2. Historically, mercenaries could switch sides. I think the record for this was some mercenary leader during the 30 years war in Germany, who managed to switch sides three times. (He finally got assassinated by someone who was fed-up with his antics.)

1. Thullen, I'm with you on Sen. McGovern. I was with a politically mixed audience in the fall of '02 where he was the speaker. Beforehand, Republicans griped, quietly, about people on 'the other side' -- remember, we were having a particularly divisive moment in the fall of 02. He told the story -- I'm sure it's on the net -- about a mission over Vienna where they were hit and couldn't get over the Alps to get home, and so had to drop their load on an Austrian farmhouse. As he brought it to climax, you couldn't just hear a pin drop, you could paddle a kayak in any eye in the place.

2. Debacle may be a strong word for the song, but a very important element of the mission is bringing Iraqis of all persuasions to see us as a force for good. This kind of thing makes even the people who are willing to take our money and accept what protection we can offer feel like doing so is just a lesser of evils.

It wouldn't be anywhere near as dramatic, though, for Jessup to say that he eats breakfast every day over 4 miles away from the Cuban army, with mountains in between.

Plus, based on Sorkin's track record on The West Wing, I think it's safe to say that factual research is not his strong suit. I suspect he got the 300 yards from the same place he got the Vermont/Ontario border.

Andrew,

You have done a great job of trying to explain something which is almost impossible to explain well to someone who has not been there.

As someone who was a career soldier, I share your feelings about the character Jessup. His frustration and anger is entirely understandable, while at the same time, many of his actions were utterly deplorable.

I think on this last point, civilians often fail to get military culture. To go to a real example, during the Iran Contra controversy, I knew lots of people who thought Oliver North was trying to do the right thing, but I do not remember any of my fellow officers thinking he was a hero, or was treated unfairly, because he lied. And, in a world where an officer's word is a very important thing, that was unforgivable.

It is the same with Jessup. I do not know if the term "Code Red" is a real term in the Marines, but the Army has (or at any rate, had back before I retired) a similar practice. It's hard to imagine that an officer (much less a senior officer) would order soldiers to engage in such conduct, although many might not look too hard to stop it, as long as it did not get out of hand. But when Jessup ordered the Code Red and it got out of hand, he was both cowardly and despicable to not admit that it was his responsibility, and, even worse, to let two young marines take the rap for it.

I think when civilians see military people be sympathetic to Jessup, it is easy to misunderstand why. Were he real, he would be held in more contempt than most civilians would understand for the lying, the cover-up and letting two subordinates take the blame. However, he is sympathetic because he voices the frustrations soldiers have voiced forever--being looked down upon and judged for doing the hard, dirty work that keeps others safe. Like refusing to shake the hand of a butcher, because of the bloody work he or she does, people are often uncomfortable with--indeed, sometimes contemptuous of--the things soldiers have to do in service of their country. Jessup reacts to that contempt, and it is with that reaction I can sympathize, while at the same time recognizing that there are many good arguments why Jessup overstates the contempt (although there is vast ignorance, but that is a different thing) or ignores why he nonetheless must be judged.

"It can be frustrating to be judged by people who have no idea what military service is like. But, I'd rather live under that system than any other"

I would rather a lt more people had a little military experience, useful for everybody.

"civilian control of the military is an important aspect of our government and I believe it should be maintained as strongly as possible."

The above mentioned broader base of experience would make this a smaller problem, or a different problem. The all volunteer military (with its indirect effect on enlistments) will suffer a selection bias.

"generals maybe ought to stand up to the leadership a bit more on those issues, but then, I've never worked at level so I don't know what it is they're telling the SecDef. (From what I've heard, it doesn't appear he's listening anyhow.)"

The Generals do not serve the CinC only;and on many issues should feel empowered to go over his head. The Constitution gives Congress much authority.

"...who could help us to attract higher-quality recruits by providing better pay and benefits?"

This is a problem, not a solution. No other business or army has reached its peak efficiency by maximizing pay at the lowest level of worker.

Like refusing to shake the hand of a butcher, because of the bloody work he or she does, people are often uncomfortable with--indeed, sometimes contemptuous of--the things soldiers have to do in service of their country.

I was going to say that I didn't know anyone like that, but after this past week I'm not so sure. Unfortunately.

andrew--

let me start by expressing my gratitude to you for not only starting this discussion, but being willing to keep responding to questions.

Since many of the people you are talking with here have not been in the military, you are also probably feeling a leetle bit like the token foreigner being asked to explain and justify the Exotic Native Customs of your country. My first reaction whenever I get that one overseas (i.e. "why do you Americans all...?") is to say that it's a big, big country, and the Americans who come visit you overseas are already unrepresentative of the Americans back home, simply because most of us don't bother to travel.

So too, here--you're being asked to represent The Uniformed Soldier, when in fact the very fact that you are writing on a blog, answering questions, hashing it out with Jesurgislac and lily and all comers, shows that you are not exactly a typical G.I..

That said, I'm still going to ask you if you'd be willing to answer a question about military morale, something that puzzles me as a civilian.

It's just this: why do the ground forces persist in the deeply counter-productive policy of never leaving dead bodies of comrades on the field?

We know from Somalia that the code of taking your dead with you can sometimes result in the failure of a mission, or the deaths of many more soldiers slowed down by lugging corpses. It's bad tactics. But it is clearly a very central code, and I have always heard it chalked up to morale issues.

But, look--customs like this are malleable. The code could change. Furthermore, this is not what the Navy does: the custom there for centuries has been that when you die in a sea-battle, you go over the side.

And why should a decent Christian care about the body in any case? After death, the man is no longer in the carcass--it's nothing but an empty shell.

So why persist in a counterproductive custom that reduces unit effectiveness? Is the morale issue really that important? Why not just set about changing the custom?

(Note that I am not talking about leaving behind the wounded, or even people whose status is in doubt. Just the clearly dead.)

A nation that came into being during a war of independence underlines the fact that the military serves an important respected role in this country.

But, during that war, it was underlined in the Declaration (and reaffirmed in the Constitution, esp. the 3A) that the civil is supreme to the military power. This doesn't mean the military is evil or even not good in various ways, but it does suggest a fear of its dark side.

If this is kept in perspective, I think Andrew's remarks are well taken, and the comments as usual adding further interesting commentary.

The Hadj Girl song is not silly. It represents a sentiment that can only be described as several steps toward actually torturing and killing innocent civilians.

It certainly has no comparison to Abu Gharib ( so Andrew's basic point is correct), but it can fairly be desribed as the beer hall song of those who would repeat Abu Gharib.

That said, I'm still going to ask you if you'd be willing to answer a question about military morale, something that puzzles me as a civilian.

It's just this: why do the ground forces persist in the deeply counter-productive policy of never leaving dead bodies of comrades on the field?

I am sure Andrew can provide a better answer, but how about this. Reverence for your buddies is basic to small unit morale and effectiveness in heavy combat. Since our culture already has built into it a high degree of respect for the remains of the dead, it only makes sense that it becomes part of the core values that supports morale in combat. You might as well ask why we show such respect for the rotting remains of protoplasm in the first instance.

Is this Hadji Girl song any worse than
"Hinky Dinky Parlay Vous" really?

Lets not be too politically correct here. Silly, ribald songs & taunts have been part of military life since Roman times.
People actually got hurt at Abu Ghairib .
Lets have a sense of proportion here.

I have to agree with Jesurgilsac here:

there is no military anywhere in the world where you could count on soldiers to refuse to obey illegal orders. That's not what they're trained to do. Soldiers obey orders

Do those of you with military training disagree? Are soldiers given any kind of training to help them distinguish legal from illegal orders? Anything about "how to know if you've been ordered to commit a war crime, and what to do about it"?

Are soldiers given any kind of training to help them distinguish legal from illegal orders? Anything about "how to know if you've been ordered to commit a war crime, and what to do about it"?

Yes. And they are trained that they may not follow an unlawful order. Of course, this does not help much with things on the margins--"Gee, I'm not sure, but if the Lieutenant says it's OK, it must be OK," nor does it help with a lot of the stuff that has been in the news from Iraq--raping and then killing people is not about being confused about whether an order is lawful or whether you have to obey it.

Let me re-ask Doctor Science's question with what I think is a bit more precision: in real-world situations are there militaries where one can count on soldiers actually refuse illegal orders? What if the orders aren't illegal on their face -- "Go rape that woman!" sort of obviousness -- but if their illegality has been gussied up with some kind of governmental imprimatur (e.g. Gonzales v. the Geneva Convention)?

Do those of you with military training disagree? Are soldiers given any kind of training to help them distinguish legal from illegal orders? Anything about "how to know if you've been ordered to commit a war crime, and what to do about it"? Posted by: Doctor Science
Military training is all about removing sensibilities toward the nasty. You have a giant bureaucracy of dysfunctionality.

However, he is sympathetic because he voices the frustrations soldiers have voiced forever--being looked down upon and judged for doing the hard, dirty work that keeps others safe.

Kipling (from memory):

For it's "Tommy this," and "Tommy that," and "Chuck 'im out, the brute!"--
But it's "Thank you, Mr. Atkins" when the guns begin to shoot.

bureaucracy of dysfunctionality

Isn't that redundant?

in real-world situations are there militaries where one can count on soldiers actually refuse illegal orders?

Sorry, I forgot to add: "of the kind that are actually given?"

why do the ground forces persist in the deeply counter-productive policy of never leaving dead bodies of comrades on the field?

kid,

There are several reasons for this. The first is, as dmbeaster pointed out, practical. People dislike the idea of their body being dragged naked through the streets a la Mogadishu. The knowledge that their buddies will risk life and limb to get to them if they are wounded or killed helps convince soldiers to go into battle in the first place.

It is also a matter of honor and professionalism, I believe. Those are our comrades, dead or alive. We do not leave their bodies on the field of battle as trophies for our enemies. It is difficult enough to tell the parents or spouse of a soldier that their husband/son is never coming back. I can't imagine trying to explain that we can't even give them anything to bury.

Hadji Girl lyrics:

I was out in the sands of Iraq
And we were under attack
And I, well, I didn’t know where to go.

And the first thing that I could see was
Everybody’s favorite Burger King
So I threw open the door and I hit the floor.

Then suddenly to my surprise
I looked up and I saw her eyes
And I knew it was love at first sight.

And she said…
Durka Durka Mohammed Jihad
Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah
Hadji girl, I can’t understand what you’re saying.

And she said…
Durka Durka Mohammed Jihad
Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah
Hadji girl, I love you anyway.

Then she said that she wanted me to see.
She wanted me to go meet her family
But I, well, I couldn’t figure out how to say no.

Cause I don’t speak Arabic.

So, she took me down an old dirt trail.
And she pulled up to a side shanty
And she threw open the door and I hit the floor.

Cause her brother and her father shouted…
Durka Durka Mohammed Jihad
Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah
They pulled out their AKs so I could see

And they said…
Durka Durka Mohammed Jihad
Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah
(with humorous emphasis:)
So I grabbed her little sister, and pulled her in front of me.

As the bullets began to fly
The blood sprayed from between her eyes
And then I laughed maniacally

Then I hid behind the TV
And I locked and loaded my M-16
And I blew those little f*ckers to eternity.

And I said…
Durka Durka Mohammed Jihad
Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah
They should have known they were f*ckin’ with a Marine.

Ribald -- just like Abu Gharib (per Limbaugh) was a fraternity prank.

Jimbo:

Military training is all about removing sensibilities toward the nasty.

No, it's about dulling sensibilities toward *certain* kinds of nasty -- e.g. killing other human beings, destroying property, starting fires -- while increasing certain "noble" sensiblities -- small-group cohesion and the acceptance of personal risk, for instance.

But I do not know of any evidence nor I do see how it's possible logically to combine the ability to question whether an order is moral or legal with the ability to follow orders swiftly and thoroughly, as though by reflex.

Personal disclosure: the veteran I know best is my father, who entered the Marine Corps in June 1945, immediately after high school graduation. He says he was the guy who when the Sgt. gave an order, asked "Why?" -- and knowing him, he wasn't being a smartass, he really wanted to know.

He finished out his hitch as a cook, reading every book he could get his hands on between meals, went to college on the GI Bill and became an English professor.

The point being that someone with a questioning mind is not what the military is looking for, but that kind of person is the sort most likely to detect illegal or immoral orders.

The most interesting thing about Jessup's speech was that he was ranting and raving about how Santiago's death probably saved lives. But Jessup's base was in Cuba, which is hardly a dire threat. I always thought that this speech was Sorkin's way of pointing out that the "we're protecting you while you sleep" argument was a cynical and dishonest way of justifying the unjustifiable.

The point being that someone with a questioning mind is not what the military is looking for, but that kind of person is the sort most likely to detect illegal or immoral orders.

With all respect to your father, people who like to do what they want rather than what they are told are not IMHO necessarily more likely to be the ones who play the role of the solatary hero, questioning the illegal order when all others follow blindly. Rather, it is, in my experience, people who lack the discipline to do what they are told and trained to do--for example, not mistreat prisoners--who are most likely to be the bad actors. The view that ignoring orders is noble and brave is a trope that exists mostly in the movies and books, and not so much in real life.

Or, to put it more simply, since it is a clear and universally known rule that you may not obey an illegal order, the people who are most likely to follow an illegal order (or even more, to give them) are those who insist on placing their own judgment above that of the rule that you cannot give or obey illegal orders.*

*It is a slight simplification to say that you may not obey illegal orders. One can imagine illegal orders that could be obeyed--a commander telling a soldier to loan him money--but that does not come up a lot and is not relevant to the conversation at hand.

"Hadji Girl" is rather ugly, and I'm not sure how using human shields fits into the rules of engagement. But if the fictional enemies were luring the Marine into an ambush and had a "little sister" in the midst, well, what were they thinking?

The song itself is of course yet another variation on the femme fatale, spicing up that theme's sexism with the natural dread of being amongst a strange culture whose language one doesn't understand.

If the events as depicted occurred, an inquiry would be in order. As a song ... yawn ... possibly bad for discipline, if it does in fact encourage violations of the rules of engagement. But not exactly Nuremberg material.

Idealist: one of my little pet peeves about contemporary culture is how many movies, novels, etc. there are about the brave, tough-minded, honorable person who breaks the rules because he (normally he) has to in order to do the right thing in the face of a wimpy bureaucracy populated by hidebound nitwits, and how very few there are about people who think they have to break the rules when they don't really, and end up wreaking havoc.

Idealist: Rather, it is, in my experience, people who lack the discipline to do what they are told and trained to do--for example, not mistreat prisoners--who are most likely to be the bad actors.

And yet, in Abu Ghraib and in Guantanamo Bay and in Bagram Airbase, disciplined soldiers followed orders to torture prisoners, and as happens when people are being tortured, sometimes torture ended in murder. This wasn't "bad actors": this was good soldiers doing what good soldiers do - follow orders.

Because the orders they were being given were disgusting and inhumane, it seems clear that in Abu Ghraib, Bagram Airbase, and possibly also Guantanamo Bay this led to a predictable breakdown in military discipline - where soldiers were more brutal to their victims than they had been directly ordered to be, or brutal when they had no orders to be brutal. Disciplined soldiers with good records committed torture and murder in Abu Ghraib: they were following orders.

While I understand the distaste for the description of the Marine taking the little girl as a human shield, I still don't see that as particularly bad. It's a song intended to relieve some of the frustrations the Marines were no doubt feeling from their counterinsurgency operations. It's not easy or pleasant to have to deal with people every day, never knowing when one of them will reveal a weapon or detonate him or herself next to you. The song speaks to that. As Anderson notes, as long as the song isn't encouraging people to use human shields (which I find unlikely; there may be some question over whether certain forms of torture are war crimes, but using a little girl to protect oneself is clearly in the 'right out' category.) It's just a way of blowing off steam. The only thing wrong is that it shouldn't have gone on the internet, as it's really not appropriate for mass audiences.

And the use of 'Dirka dirka, Mohammed jihad' is priceless. I loved Team America.

As for the level of training required to prevent all illegal orders, I'm not sure if that's possible. While I'm comfortable calling techniques like waterboarding torture, I'm not aware of any legal definition of torture that would, in fact, demonstrate that it was a violation of any laws or treaties. (Which may just be ignorance on my part; there's a lot of information out there and I'm able to review only a tiny slice of it.) Then there's the question of ex post facto decisions by the courts. There's still a lot of dispute over whether or not Hamdan was correctly decided. Do we hold a soldier well down the chain of command responsible for violating it when, prior to Hamdan, he had been told by lawyers that Article 3 didn't apply (actually, he'd probably never even heard of Article 3)?

As Anarch notes above, most of these questions are not obvious ones. We're not talking about 'Do I shoot the unarmed guy who's trying to surrender?' We're talking about complex questions where the answers aren't as obvious as we'd like. War is already about doing unpleasant things; it's tough to ask a soldier to know precisely where to draw the line, and we can get into a lot of problems in the gray area in between.

I agree with Anarch and with you, Andrew.

I agree that a soldier told to torture someone by a superior officer is in a tough position - especially as (we know from first-hand accounts) it isn't presented as "Torture that prisoner of war": but as "Keep that guy awake for 24 hours, we don't care how", or "Tie that guy up in that position and keep him there" or "Get your dog to growl at that prisoner to scare him" or "Tell this man we've got his son - make his son filthy and cold and then show this man his son and let him think about what else we'll do to the boy if he doesn't talk". And a soldier is trained to obey orders and those orders often involve doing hateful things to the enemy: not trained to read up on international law/military codes and say "You can't order me to do that, it's illegal."

But that's why I distrust the military: Abu Ghraib is one perfect example of what military discipline unchecked will lead to.

Jes,

And I think we can also agree that's why we shouldn't even wander into the gray area. Once you open that door, people will continue to push; it's boiling the frog, if you will. That's why, although I have no idea how good the Hamdan decision was as a matter of law, I was happy to see it. (I know, I'm a hypocrite.) Do we take certain risks by treating all prisoners perhaps better than they deserve? Sure, but I'd rather take those risks than expose my fellows to the moral degradation of being asked to torture or otherwise abuse prisoners.

That's not what soldiers do. But it is what heroes do.

As a side note: A good example of such a soldier is Major Michael Mori. Major Mori is currently the defence lawyer for David Hicks, one of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Despite the obvious political pressure on him to assist in finding his client guilty, he has fought tooth and nail to get David freed.

There is a transcript of an interview with him here:
http://www.abc.net.au/tv/enoughrope/transcripts/s1709428.htm

An excellent interview, and I thought perhaps a good example for the discussion of whether the heroic soldiers are those that follow the rules or not.

people who like to do what they want rather than what they are told are not IMHO necessarily more likely to be the ones who play the role of the solatary hero, questioning the illegal order when all others follow blindly.

I'm not talking about that sort of person, the "fuck you" individualist. I'm talking about people like my father, the sort of person who is perfectly willing to do what they're told as long as they know *why*. But military organizations need obedience to be mostly unquestioning -- though IMHO they push for a higher degree of unquestioning obediance than they need.

What's the protocol for a soldier refusing what seem to be illegal orders? "Sir, I can't do that, sir; it's illegal" or "Lieutenant, Sergeant Smith told me to do something I'm not sure is legal"?

In the first instance, I can see the immediate superior responding with, "Are you calling me a criminal, pussy?"

Or, anent Abu Ghraib, "The orders come from General Miller, boy; you wanna take it up with him?"

Or, "Follow that order or I'll shoot you myself."

Training soldiers to recognize illegal orders, and telling them they don't have to follow illegal orders, is one thing. Making sure there's a procedure to actually refuse - without the soldier suffering immediate and possibly lethal consequences - is quite another.

"There's still a lot of dispute over whether or not Hamdan was correctly decided."

"...I have no idea how good the Hamdan decision was as a matter of law..."

Are you waiting for a higher court to decide this? And exactly what court would that be? Or are you saying you disagree with the Supreme Court or what?? Inquiring minds want to know.

One point, and it may have been made by other commenters (I stopped reading about 50% of the through, but your explanation of a Code Red is missing the word "unlawful" before "disciplinary action." It's rather important to the plot as well as understanding why Jessup's position was so outrageous. It's probably also important to talk about the outcome, where the two soldiers were held to account for following an unlawful order. If that doesn't say why so many of us believe the U.S. military must behave better than all others, I'm not sure what does.

Sujal

IMHO they push for a higher degree of unquestioning obediance than they need

I'm a bit confused by what you mean here. If you are saying that the military is all about unquestioning and uncritical obedience to orders, you are quite mistaken.

If one wanted to make a general statement about how command in the military works, it would be that people tell their subordinates what to accomplish, but not how to accomplish it. Indeed, an essential part of that process is making sure that your subordinates understand why they are doing what they are doing. That is, what the overaching goal is and how what their unit is supposed to accomplish fits in with what other units are doing. If you think it is all simple unexplained orders and unknowing and unthinking obedience, you are mistaking the real military for the one in books and movies. Indeed, since retiring twelve years ago and having the opportunity to work with civilians, it has always struck me how much less freedom of action and responsibility most civilian workers have compared to military leaders at similar levels of responsiblity and experience.

What's the protocol for a soldier refusing what seem to be illegal orders? "Sir, I can't do that, sir; it's illegal" or "Lieutenant, Sergeant Smith told me to do something I'm not sure is legal"?

Either.

Andrew: While I'm comfortable calling techniques like waterboarding torture, I'm not aware of any legal definition of torture that would, in fact, demonstrate that it was a violation of any laws or treaties. (Which may just be ignorance on my part; there's a lot of information out there and I'm able to review only a tiny slice of it.)

Katherine has done a great deal of the reviewing for us Obsidian Wings readers. A look at her archive of posts here would definitely be worth your time. Charley may be able to point you to comments of his own that touch on these issue.

But it is what heroes do

in the US, there's a good many people who think soldiers are, by definiton, heroes.

to me, that cheapens the word. i think it requires a truly superlative action (one worth of song, even). if there are hundreds of thousands of people doing the same job, they can't all be heroes.

of course that's the kind of opinion that gets me into arguments.

c'est la vie.

Thanks, idealist. The inevitable follow-up question is what happens then?

Who decides if the order is legal or not? How long does deciding take, and what does the soldier do in the meantime? Let someone else carry out the (possibly) illegal order?

Who sends the question up the chain of command if the person the soldier initially speaks to can't or won't?

Who protects the soldier from reprisal?

Who protects the soldier from reprisal?

This is an important part of the job of serior people. They're failing, at least with regard to the guy who turned in the Abu Ghraib folks, and probably others. It's an awful thing.

I've mentioned before how struck I was the first time I visited America's Tropical Gulag Paradise, more than a year ago, and the interior of the prison (where we were anyway) was staffed with Navy enlisted folks, who'd taken over from the Army a weeks or so earlier. There were a number of minor bureaucratic screw-ups -- nothing big -- but we had plenty of time to talk with the Navy guards. If they'd been selected for thus assignment because of their unflappable bearing, and emotional maturity, I don't think I'd have been able to tell: we had good discussions on a number of relevant points. One thing that struck me, though, was the certainty on the part of these Navy E-4s and -5s that (a) the folks at Abu Ghraib had not been deviating in any particular from their orders and (b) they were going to be left hanging out to dry by their superiors.

I am reminded by this discussion of one of the central tensions in O'Brien's Aubrey-Maturin novels, where Aubrey represents the career military man, who fights because that's what he's best at (like Sharpe, mentioned earlier,) as opposed to Maturin who fights because he feels he must for moral reasons, to rid the world of tyranny. Interestingly Maturin's role is to fight in the most ignoble manner according to the 'rules' of war, as Aubrey repeatedly notes.

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