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August 19, 2008

Comments

"(Please note that my own position on the war remains one of principled uncertainty.)"

I'm watching the cursor blink some more seconds way.

How is it that principled uncertainty is silenced and doesn't come back and malign certainty, principled and unprincipled, with the stress on the latter, is still neck and neck in the polls with Obama?

How is it that principled uncertainty gets its butt shot off and the others live to vomit their malignity another day?

They're very certain -- bunkered in their basements in the heartland, telling us it like it isn't.

...leaders who will not ask them to risk their lives in combat if it is not absolutely necessary, and who will do their utmost to ensure that it never becomes necessary to ask this of them.

I don't understand what "absolutely necessary" means here. Necessary for what? You might say "vital national interests", but I don't know what that means and more importantly, I don't how we build a political consensus for what it might mean.

For some people, the loss of ten thousand soldiers might be necessary for reducing the price of gas by 5% while others might recoil in horror at the though of losing a single soldier in order to prevent a genocide from killing a million brown foreigners.

Hm. I missed the earlier thread. Just to say, there are things one can do to help even unknown service members in a smallish way. In July I myself hauled a suitcase full of paperbacks donated by various New Yorkers down to Austin for Netroots Nation and then spent a few hours with @ 2 dozen other volunteers, packing up care packages for soldiers in Iraq who don't have access to basic supplies. So - soap, shampoo, lotion, conditioner, toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash, razors, shaving lotion, deodorant, sanitary napkins & tampons, "sand scarves," socks, underwear, flashlights, as well as more "frivolous" items such as snacks, pens, phone cards, books, and DVDs. We packed a large batch of boxes - don't have exact number - each with the correct packing list and customs form.

Please understand that I am not patting myself on the back. It's not something I've done independently (though I will now), but it IS something we can all do. There are rules to follow, but there are a lot of websites that provide specific soldiers' wish lists and spell out the procedures for packing and shipping.

A kinda-Tom Lehreresque singer named Roy Zimmerman has a particularly apt song about this called "Thanks For The Support". It's sung from the troops' POV, and it'll break your heart.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlUyNmUABbc

Turb- Personally, its like pornography. I can't define it, but I know it when I see it.

For me (and I suspect most, I've never met a real relativist), there are moral absolutes (even though in practice they're incredibly hard to pin down), and even when I can't nail down who's in the right, I have a generally good idea of what ought and ought not be done. The same idea applies to an 'absolutely necessary' war. A war to lower gas prices is obviously immoral, while one to prevent genocide certainly deserves consideration (specifics, execution, etc. are important, but you could sell me on it).

I'd like to hope that most people would agree with me on this. I hope the diehard Bush people really do think that he was correct about Iraq. Of course I'd argue that they're wrong about both Bush and Iraq, but it would be a discussion in good faith. The people who would sacrifice troops to save a quarter at the pump are the group I don't want to exist, because I doubt any argument I could make would appeal to them.

Building a political consensus on my beliefs? Not so clear-cut. ^.^;

"I can't define it, but I know it when I see it."

To some degree, couldn't the same be said about patriotism?

I remember as a young boy being enthralled by Rick Monday when a fan ran out of the stands and tried to burn an American flag at Wrigley Field, only to be stopped by the Cubs center fielder.

I didn't know what patriotism was at the time but I knew Rick Monday showed it.

Now as an adult, I am old enough to realize that even someone who burns the flag might be showing patriotism in an extreme sort of way.

And giving someone the freedom to burn the flag -- precious and even sacred to most of us -- is a form of patriotism unto itself.

A voice from the "heartland"...

The wonderful "success" of the surge...

What success? Tactically it was brilliant, (thank you petraues)I say this as one who saw the body of a young man I knew come home in the early days of the surge and I say it because there have been so many fewer bodies coming home since (maybe Jimmy didn't die for nothing)BUT...

Strategically, it has been an utter failure... Where is the political reconciliation that was supposed to follow? Still in the back alleys of Kirkuk.

So what happens now? Nothing much. We will continue to allow our war policy to be a slave to the Iraqi Parlaiment. Because the alternative is...

Defeat??? (heavy on sarcasm)

I have to admit, I am totally disgusted with the American "Politic". None of them want to face the uncomfortable truths.

For those of us who know people who serve in the armed forces, it's not hard to find ways to support them. For those of us who don't, however, it's not clear what we can do ...

Forgive me, Hilzoy, but it's perfectly clear what we can do to support the troops: agitate against war. Period, full stop.

However necessary war may be, it's not good for the troops. It may be in the best interests of the nation, but it is not in the best interest of the people we have taken to calling 'the troops'. Show me a 'troop' who wants to fight a war, and I will show you a human being who should be kept away from guns and ammo.

-- TP

For those of us who don't, however, it's not clear what we can do, beyond sending money every now and again to good causes, or putting one of those pointless yellow magnets on our cars.

The dichotomy between civilian and military is troubling right now in this country. It seems like people consider the military some kind of separate "warrior class", when it wasn't always that way in America (like in WWII). I suggest joining the military (or Peace Corps/NGOs if wearing a uniform isn't your cup of tea) as being the best way to support the country, but that probably isn't going to fly too well with most people, so I'd humbly suggest doing what Hilzoy said and staying informed.

It seems like people consider the military some kind of separate "warrior class", when it wasn't always that way in America (like in WWII).

Possibly because Americans don't want to get their hands dirty by thinking that they themselves could do this or are capable of using violence as a tool. Those on the left want to condemn it totally and consider the use of violence uncivilized, and thus all who engage in it uncivilized; those on the right would over-sentimentalize it and elevate it unnecessarily while still not engaging in it themselves.

Or, perhaps not.

Sorry, one more suggestion. Another important thing is accountability for senior leadership. SECDEF Gates (political appointee) recently forced the top Air Force officials into "resigning" because of some issues with loose nukes. I'm currently stationed at a base with nuclear weapons, and I hope the public's tolerance for error is the same as ours: zero.

Possibly because Americans don't want to get their hands dirty by thinking that they themselves could do this or are capable of using violence as a tool.

Our country has a history of violence, and I think there is precedent for it. Just ask the British at Bunker Hill.

"I'm currently stationed at a base with nuclear weapons, and I hope the public's tolerance for error is the same as ours: zero."

You're so picky. Lighten up! Gotta keep your sense of humor!

Since most know my personal situation, I won't belabor that. But I do have one nit to pick with hilzoy. Those yellow magnets are not necessarily pointless.

Symbolism has meaning, even if it really only has meaning for a few. Sure, some people use the yellow magnets in a casual, "look at me, see how supportive I am of the troops" kind of way. But others use those magnets, and other symbols, as a constant reminder that there is still the obligation to support our troops and all others that put themselves between the common citizen and danger.

john: my comment probably reflected my incredibly ambivalent views towards my own yellow magnet. I got it, oh, I think in 2002. Sometime around the end of 2003/beginning of 2004, I began to dislike it for its hollowness: it felt so empty. But I couldn't take it off. I don't entirely want to go into what happened to my feelings towards this (innocent, unsuspecting) magnet after Andy died; let's just say it didn't help our relationship any. But I still can't take it off.

Our country has a history of violence, and I think there is precedent for it. Just ask the British at Bunker Hill.

Perhaps I should qualify that as modern Americans (within the last couple of generations). And I agree that violence is part of our nature.

I don't approve of that impulse to segregate that violence from ourselves, by the way. People should be mindful that they're sending, well, people to do that violence. And decisions to employ the military should be done with a realistic comprehension of the cost of that military, both on personnel and on materials. And that a lot is asked of those people who undertake that task.

It shouldn't be decided frivolously. And it shouldn't be excluded on principal, either.

Symbpls aren't empty. The problem I think is that for boomers (I think Hilzoy is a boomer) symbols of patriotism were so abused and perverted during the Viet Nam war that they became at least to those who opposed the war symbols of jingoism and irresponsibility.

Which is a mistake. there is no more reason to let the rightwing define patriotism then to let then define morality.

So I say go ahead an slap that yellow ribbon on your car. it's presence doens't mean that your concern begins and ends with a bumper sticker and it doesn't mean that you are a jingoist wither. Plus its fun to piss off the jingoists by coopting and redefining their symbols.

Civilian control of the military is an extraordinary gift, and it imposes serious obligations on us.

I'm not sure we should take the existence of "civilian control of the military" as a given. There are scholars who study civil-military affairs for a living, and some very prestigious ones have claimed that civilian control of the military is questionable at best. For example, Andrew Bacivech (who you have cited favorably on other occasions) wrote:

The dirty little secret of American civil-military relations, by no means unique to this administration, is that the commander-in-chief does not command the military establishment; he cajoles it, negotiates with it, and, as necessary, appeases it.

To me, this does not sound like effective civilian control of the military. Does it sound that way to you?

Military historian Richard Kohn wrote an article entitled The erosion of civilian control of the military in the United States today (published in that traitorous leftist communist organ known as The Naval War College Review) where he claimed:

My fear, baldly stated, is that in recent years civilian control of the military has weakened in the United States and is threatened today. The issue is not the nightmare of a coup d'etat but rather the evidence that the American military has grown in influence to the point of being able to impose its own perspective on many policies and decisions. What I have detected is no conspiracy but repeated efforts on the part of the armed forces to frustrate or evade civilian authority when that opposition seems likely to preclude outcomes the military dislikes.

Kohn went on to write:

The Joint Chiefs of Staff responded by resisting, floating rumors of their own and dozens of other resignations, encouraging their retired brethren to arouse congressional and public opposition, and then more or less openly negotiating a compromise with their commander in chief.

Again, this does not look like effective civilian control of the military to me. Does it look like that to you?

I personally think that civilian control of the military is questionable at best, and I think that has serious implications for what kind of obligations I as a citizen have towards the military. Of course, I think we do have obligations to soldiers, but those obligations don't come from unverified civilian control of the military: they come from basic fairness.

Support the troops? Like the German Socialist Party in 1914 did by voting war credits for the Kaiser's hubristic ubernationalism? To "support the troops" and what they actually do (i.e., kill other people) makes mockery any critique of "moral relativism" and undercuts the lunacy of any asserted True Knowledge of "I know it when I see it."

But this is old stuff....Catch 22 stuff, Good Soldier Swcheik stuff.

Anybody else here read James Carroll's "House of War"? I highly recommend it.

Feel free to disregard the source of the fulsome praise for this book, but read it nonetheless.

"To 'support the troops' and what they actually do (i.e., kill other people) makes mockery any critique of 'moral relativism'"

Are you asserting that pacificism is the only moral stance?

Or does who and why and what the circumstances are of who the troops are killing make any difference?

To "support the troops" and what they actually do (i.e., kill other people)...

I want the best trained, best equipped, best cared for military possible. I just don't want to have to use it. Is that such a radical position? (I'll head off some criticism by saying that we should spend our money wisely, cost/benefit, and all that. No gold plated submarines LT Nixon. ^.^)

Bobbyp pretty much summed it up. Supporting the troops? May I ask in what? In carpet bombing foreign countries, raking up millions of charcoaled victims? Like the Gute Deutsche who apparently didn't know about what was done his/her name by the Wehrmacht, SS & Gestapo?

And yes, I am drawing parallels, and so would Robert H Jackson, Chief United States prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials 1945:

"We must make clear to the Germans that the wrong for which their fallen leaders are on trial is not that they lost the war, but that they started it. And we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into a trial of the causes of the war, for our position is that no grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy."

"If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us." - Nuremberg Tribunal

Now thats what I call a statement. Let it sink in people......

And aha, according to the rules back then, soldiers fighting in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan were or are part of a group of people who are committing what can be described as a war crime, the army conducting an aggressive war. The argument that the soldiers are simply following orders is in my eyes only mildly mitigating, they are still the ones committing the crime, the executioners. If you don’t want to be part of it, don’t be!! At least the soldier has a choice and a protective jacket, the many tens of thousands of now dead Iraqis who died "thanx" to their invasion did have neither.

When you enlist in the USAF you fuckin well know that should you have to fight somewhere, it'll be abroad, mostly against people defending their home country, empire building.

For millennia now, probably even while we were still living in trees, have there been people prepared to go out and raid other tribes, to kill and maim their fellow beings. All in the name of advancing one's own tribe of course, with the members back home supporting the raiding troops, licking their wounds when they came back with booty, slaves and loot. Hurray, long live the king.

Ah well, times gone past, these days the troops return to a heroes welcome after securing brutal victory in the name of ..... [insert any word you like, it'll sound alright].

The hypocrisy of it all makes me wanna puke. The ohh so Christian Armed Forces, with Lord Jesus on the banner, fighting God's good war.

Woah black woman thou shalt not steal Hey black man thou shalt not steal

We’re gonna civilize your black barbaric lives
And we’ll teach you how to kneel

And race is a contradiction that is understood by none
but mostly their left hand holds the bible,
the right hand holds the gun

Kev Carmody

On that note,

Greetings

John Miller: the obligation to support our troops and all others that put themselves between the common citizen and danger.

But there is no danger from the Iraqi people to the common citizen. There never was. The invasion was a war of choice based on lies. The occupation and "reconstruction", based on more lies and a web of corruption, have dismembered Iraq.

Given that, supporting our troops means bringing them home.

Until that happens, it means also supporting them personally, with care packages, and poltically/professionally, with legislation like Webb's 'dwell time' bill (that the Democratic leadership shamefully did not fight for), and adequate funding and care for those returning from deployment.

BobbyP and Juan, I'm interested in your response to Gary's questions (posed above):

Are you asserting that pacificism is the only moral stance?

Or does who and why and what the circumstances are of who the troops are killing make any difference?

As for supporting folks in the military: Wise leadership is of course important. One small additional way, however, is to donate to AmVets.

For fifty years, we've put half our national budget into military spending. The troops are a tiny part of that.

That the public and the politicians treat all military spending as sacrosanct makes a mockery of civilian control of the military.

It controls us. And "it" isn't the men and women serving, but the massive arms industry, the worldwide network of bases, and the commitment to full spectrum dominance combined with the pretense that this vast apparatus is all about "defense".

bedtimeforbonzo: Now as an adult, I am old enough to realize that even someone who burns the flag might be showing patriotism in an extreme sort of way.

The person who burns the flag (the original symbolism of which, by the way, was to purify the US flag made filthy by the actions of the US government) could be showing patriotism in an extreme kind of way: the person who stops a flag-burning is more likely showing idolatry - worship of a symbol, rather than of what the symbol represents.

For fifty years, we've put half our national budget into military spending. The troops are a tiny part of that.

Half?

I think you mean half of discretionary budget, which is by no means the entire budget. Defense spending is more like around 20-25% of the total budget, historically. Of course, lately it's a bit more.

Here, Table 3.1. I'm sure someone, somewhere has charted it.

I hope the public's tolerance for error is the same as ours: zero.

Me, too. I'm sure there was some combination of circumstances that made that a fluke, but procedures are supposed to prevent even really unlikely flukes from occurring. Someone departed from procedure, methinks. Probably more than one someone.

Juan: the posting rules forbid profanity.

"Supporting the troops? May I ask in what? In carpet bombing foreign countries, raking up millions of charcoaled victims? Like the Gute Deutsche who apparently didn't know about what was done his/her name by the Wehrmacht, SS & Gestapo?"

To my mind, supporting the troops does not imply supporting whatever they do. On the contrary: the whole reason I went on about the need to do our job as citizens is precisely to avoid asking them to do things they should not be asked to do.

We have armed forces. They are there for good reasons, e.g. the need to defend ourselves and our allies. There are, I think, some other good purposes that they can be used for -- e.g., I supported intervening in Rwanda, which did not involve either self-defense or defense of an ally.

There are, obviously, also a whole lot of bad things that the military can be used to do. Some of those things are unlawful. Others are just wrong or unwise. We need to elect good leaders in order to have some confidence that the military will be used to do the right things, but never the wrong ones.

To my mind, supporting the troops does not imply supporting whatever they do. On the contrary: the whole reason I went on about the need to do our job as citizens is precisely to avoid asking them to do things they should not be asked to do.

That's fine, but I think it should be clear that over the last 30 years, this approach has failed. It has failed to ensure soldiers' lives are only risked when necessary (whatever that means) and it has failed to ensure that other people around the world aren't killed by our soldiers for nothing. There is no reason to believe that this failed approach will start working. How many decades does this approach have to fail before we step back and consider more systemic changes? Must we endure a record of failure for a thousand years or a hundred generations?

We have armed forces. They are there for good reasons, e.g. the need to defend ourselves and our allies.

I wouldn't say that they exist to defend us per se. Much of our military consists of offensive capability. I would say then that they exist to make us safer.

In that sense, the military has failed, repeatedly. The military is making us much less safe right now. If we had a much smaller military, we could ostensibly defend our nation while at the same time being incapable of imperial overreach.

There are, I think, some other good purposes that they can be used for -- e.g., I supported intervening in Rwanda, which did not involve either self-defense or defense of an ally.

And the DOD fought tooth and nail against doing absolutely anything...It seems silly to talk about good things you would have done with the military when in practice, the military doesn't really go out and prevent genocide. Are there any other good non-war-fighting things the military does that could not be done cheaper by non-military groups? The only ones that come to my mind are anti-piracy efforts.

Military, schlimilitary.

The new Zogby poll shows McCain with a 5-point lead over Obama, with a nine-point differential in McCain's favor over who can better handle the economy being the deciding factor.

The fact is that while Obama is back on his heels it seems over McCain's tawdry little patriotism attacks, the American people don't give a crap about the troops.

They want to know (no they don't; they just want, want, want) how it is that it is so expensive now to fill the gas tank and go shopping, Remember, George Bush promised them uninterrupted shopping on underinflated, undertaxed tires.

McCain promises them a shopping surge using the Fannie Mae credit card bankrupted on their watch.

Obama should immediately propose drilling in Yellowstone Park using Dick Cheney's face as a drill bit.

He should immediately blow up the Glen Canyon Dam and flood Arizona with Colorado River water.

He should propose the immediate invasion of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan with attendant tax cuts and methods of reusing bloody VA bandages from Iraq to save money so we can cut the effing budget deficit.

Executive orders are coming out of the White House daily opening up the backcountry and elsewhere to drilling.

The Endangered Species Act faces similar gutting by the well-oiled lame duck.

The Republican Party wants all of the oil and all of the water and all of the air in their gastanks, in their swimming pools, and in their lungs.

The symmetry between the war in Iraq and the Republican war on environmental standards and law is a thing of malevolent beauty.

Meanwhile, Obama's not a patriot.

Here's what's for sure. There won't be any drilling off Republican beachhouses in California and Florida under a McCain Presidency. Dick Cheney will not have a derrick blocking his view of the netting over his bird cache. George W's ranch is not going into the national petroleum reserve.

I wish my ass was big enough for the American people to kiss it.

Phil Gramm's the new Treasury Secretary.

Hilzoy, that yellow decal shows you are thinking of the troops. It means something to a soldier when he sees it (or she, or sailor or Airman or Marine or Coastie- I hope I covered all the nit pickers)
BTW, Lt Nixon. The US neither confirms nor denies the existance of US Special Weapons at any particular site. I'm sure you ment that you are stationed at a place where nuclear capable systems may be present.

I was going to add something in that rant about Andy Olmsted's death, but he asked us not to bring him into it.

So I didn't. Because I'm a Democrat.

I hold my tongue. So I lose.

The Republican Party is really just a syndicate of parasites who feast on my good will.

It's time for Hillary to don her ninja outfit, scale the walls of the RNC, and sabotage their every strategy.

Wheel her out, wind her up, and let her rip.

The high road will be drilled too. No drilling on the low road; it obstructs the Republican Party's view of the White House.

It's time for Hillary to don her ninja outfit

I vote for that. I've even got a recipe for shiriken-shaped cookies.

Italico delendi!

I wouldn't say that they exist to defend us per se. Much of our military consists of offensive capability. I would say then that they exist to make us safer.

In that sense, the military has failed, repeatedly. The military is making us much less safe right now. If we had a much smaller military, we could ostensibly defend our nation while at the same time being incapable of imperial overreach.

It seems to me that the core of our problem with security and the military is that the USA is (as the historian Niall Ferguson puts it), an empire in a state of denial. For reasons having to do with our anti-colonial history and culture, there is great resistance in the US to admitting that we are an empire.

If we could get past that barrier then we would have a better chance of starting a national debate about what sort of empire (if any) do we wish to be, how are burdens and benefits to be shared, and what self-imposed limits can we agree upon, as well as do a better job of negotiating with the rest of the world what limits it collectively wishes to and needs to impose on us and our behavior, and a far better job of being prepared to decline gracefully when the time inevitably comes (Sic transit gloria mundi) for us to step down from our throne.

In the absence of this debate, we flail around in a fog of denial and deception without really getting anywhere. If this continues much longer*, at some point the rest of the developed world, especially Europe and East Asia, may come to think the unthinkable, which is that they need a military and political alliance designed expressly to contain the USA. Then we will get a taste of how NATO looks from the Russian perspective.

I’ve been telling friends ever since the run up to war in 2003 that I expected one of the long term historical legacies of the Bush Administration was to create the seeds of a possible anti-US alliance in Europe. I hope we can take steps to prevent that from happening, starting by not electing a new administration into office this year which looks to be even more Manichean in outlook than Bush, insofar as that is possible.

I really don’t know how to jumpstart the “Yes Virginia, there is an American Empire” conversation.

It almost seems to me like the anti-war left has a chance to open this debate up by admitting that empires in the past have been a morally mixed bag with both pros and cons, rather than an unmitigated evil, so that we can start to use the term “empire” in discussions of US policy without dragging along the baggage that the word has for us now, which stops the conversation in its tracks.

On the other hand, this almost seems to me like blaming the victim since it is asking for a rhetorical climbdown or walkback from the very people who in my estimation are correct, in terms on analyzing our current situation, in order to placate those on the other side who are not willing to argue in good faith or act like adults in evaluating the evidence, or who are in deep denial making them very hard to engage.

If somebody else has a better idea how to get us out of this impasse, please do tell.

Imperialism is like alcoholism I think – easy to get into, hard to stop once the addiction has been acquired, and impossible to stop if you can’t even admit that you have a problem to begin with. At this point I don’t hope for a cure (I see little evidence in the history of past empires that they ever stop being such until forced to against their will by a combination of internal and external forces), I’d just be happy to settle for the USA acting like a less destructive and more constructive sort of empire than we’ve been doing recently.

*a note on the time scales involved: it hasn’t really been that long, as empires go. Leaving aside for the moment the conquest of the North American Continent (“Manifest Destiny”) via the displacement and destruction of Native Americans and our war of aggression and territorial expansion against Mexico, I would date the start of the US as a global empire meddling in and dominating the affairs of people on other continents to roughly the 1890s, but that development was masked by the continuing predominance of Great Britain as a global hegemon while our empire was still in its adolescence. The American empire’s mature phase dates only to about 1943 or so, which is to say within living memory, and even then its nature was partially masked until 1989 by the containment strategy vs. the Soviet Union.

So realistically the US electorate has had about 2 decades to admit to ourselves what we really are without any excuses whatsoever.

Turb- How many decades does this approach have to fail before we step back and consider more systemic changes?

I agree that in the last few decades the public has basically sucked on matters of the military. What I'm curious about, though, is how to fix it. Do you have any changes in mind? I draw a total blank here, but hopefully you can do my thinking for me. ^.^

And open question, LT Nixon did serve on a sub, right? 'Cuz I'll replace the phrase 'gold plated submarines' with 'gold plated generic naval vessel' if need be.

Von, regarding Gary's and by extension your questions:

Are you asserting that pacificism is the only moral stance?

Or does who and why and what the circumstances are of who the troops are killing make any difference?


Not all that easy to answer. Let me start with the first one, is pacifism the only moral stance? Depends, as with so many questions, on how one defines pacifism. I do believe strongly that disagreements between countries are to be settled in a peaceful manner, and hence would refuse to join the gun lover gang in any offensive military action directed against a foreign nation.

Which brings me to your second question, are there circumstances when I would take up arms and fire on other human beings? I’d say yes, naturally, should I have to defend myself or country, without a doubt. And if I couldn’t fight myself, I’d sure as hell would support any troops defending me or my country. I go even further, as a pacifist I don’t like invaders full stop, regardless if they invade my country or any other. IMHO initiating military aggression is a war crime, kinda in line with what Justice Jackson had to say in 1945. I am sure there were plenty of true hearted pacifists fighting and dying to stop the Nazi pest invading one country after another, running concentration and torture camps. And back then the US really was helping to bring liberty to war torn countries overseas, although it took long enough to join the battle. My heart goes out to all those who did sign up in droves to defeat Nazi Germany, and should I have been around in those times I would have hopefully done so myself. Brave and courageous men & women indeed. One generation. Maybe two.

Then came Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of which moment in time I would have started wondering about just how little humanity is left in the US Command. Vietnam did the rest. Faith broken. And nothing that happened since was able to repair that loss of goodwill and respect. I had to eventually open my eyes and acknowledge that the US Forces have been for the greater part of their existence colonial enforcers. From Wounded Knee in 1890s, to the annexation of Hawai 1893, the dreadful history of US http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/02/25/080225fa_fact_kramer”>war crimes in the Philippines in the early 1900’s, and the list goes on to modern day. Building empire, manifesting US Exceptionalism. Ready to kill, anytime, anywhere. You want it 100% positively destroyed? Call the US Marines.

What needs to be understood here tho is that pacifism is not the issue at hand. None of our troops in Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq are or were defending the homeland. In the scenarios we are talking about its if anyone the Afghanis or Iraqis who are defending their country against armed and dangerous invaders, and our boys the ones who with jack boots and in Nazi fashion kick down doors at 3am and drag whole families out of their beds, mess up their homes and then arrest all males over 12 yrs old. It is our troops that have dropped more bombs over Iraq in 4 years than during the entire Vietnam war, killing countless of innocent civilians in the process.

Imagine the reaction in the US, the outcry, if any other nation but the US would decide to unilaterally invade a sovereign nation under the pretence of pre-emptive war, needing to eliminate the non-existing threat of WMD, fabricated by its secret service. The McCain/Bush/Obama bullshit rhetoric at the moment regarding Russia-Georgia is enough to give you an idea just how big the double standards are. According to US rationale, its totally OK for the US to have bases in Georgia, but should the Russians set up camp in Venezuela or Cuba it would damned sure be proof that we had to start WW3. From which deranged minds flows this double standard?

We call our people “Special Agents”, whilst theirs are “Spys”. When the Afghani resistance kills 10 foreign troops on their soil we call them terrorists, when our troops kill 10 civilians in an air raid, we call it collateral damage. Nothing to see here, moving right along.

Have you ever turned your TV off, your mp3 players, your air conditions, your SUVs with the fat exhausts, and when it’s meant to be all quiet, hung your head out the window and listened? Can’t you hear the screams of the people out there burning to death? Can’t you hear the breathing of the people who have hardly any air left? Can’t you see their eyes, begging for peace, can you feel the dry mouths for which there is no water? The thousands of dead bodies left in the wake of our grandstanding, lying around everywhere the US & allied forces unleash their unprecedented killing power, are we meant to step over them?

At the end of the day we all have to make decision for ourselves. There might even be no right or wrong. Who’s to say, you, me, them? I personally adopted a guideline which ultimately I can live with when it comes to looking in the mirror: Don’t do to others what you don’t wanna have done to yourself.

Do I want to have a bunch of hyped up foreign occupation soldiers in full combat gear ramming in my door at three in the morning, yelling at me and my family in a language we don’t understand, dragging us out of the house, destroying the place, handcuff and blindfold me to stick me for months or years without trial in some interrogation dungeon with aggressive dogs snapping at me? Just as much as I would want to join or support the US Armed Forces. Simple.

Hilzoy, sorry for the f word earlier on, must have gotten a bit carried away there. Although war and its realities are a highly emotional subject, I will try to refrain from using potentially offensive lingo. Also, I get your point about how supporting the troops does not automatically mean being in favour of their every mission. It’s getting pretty late here tho, so a more in depth reply will have to wait till t’row.

Best Wishes

"So realistically the US electorate has had about 2 decades to admit to ourselves what we really are without any excuses whatsoever."

But it was Morning In America!

And people are often so groggy in the morning.

Does anyone remember, "What if they gave a war and nobody came?" Well, I've come around to the view that "troops" are moral agents in their own right. And if the troops are -- by their own choice -- doing something that I not only do not support but am affirmatively against, then I do not have an "obligation to support the troops."

I'm not referring to those who signed up pre-Iraq war and may have been blindsided and, I would say, betrayed. But those who are signing up and re-upping right now? They are a problem that we should not be supporting. I'm not for any form of reviling, ostracizing, or abusing. The point is not that they should be punished but that we should not be encouraging others to do what they are doing.

Basically, I do not want to thank those particular troops for that particular service, lest it mislead some impressionable youths. Pretty radical stuff, I know. This is why I will never be president.

@ThatLeftTurn: Excellent comment. As to your question:

Let's start the conversation right here about the fact of U.S. empire.

(Andrew Bacevich is doing his part to get it going out in the wider world.)

Hilzoy, is the U.S. an empire?

Will you acknowledge that our troops, their equipment, our worldwide military structure, and the doctrine controlling them (full spectrum dominance) are not set up as a defensive apparatus, but to project U.S. power over as large a proportion of the globe as possible?

When we think of it on the level of individual service members, it's only human to want to put the best face possible on what they're doing. But it's simply not true that U.S. troops in Iraq (or Somalia or Colombia or Georgia) are or have been defending us, or keeping us safe, much less "keeping us free".

The troops are people, not better or worse than the population as a whole. We need to make sure that our government keeps its end of the bargain implicit in a volunteer force, the most fundamental part of which is not to start wars or to intervene in conflicts that do not directly threaten U.S. security.

Which brings up the $552 billion question: Who benefits, and how, from the idea that "U.S. security interests" extend to every corner of the world?

"I personally think that civilian control of the military is questionable at best, and I think that has serious implications for what kind of obligations I as a citizen have towards the military."

This may seem extreme -- living in this country we are immune to these things -- but giving up cilivian control of the military and putting it in the hands of the military sets up the ugly possiblity of a military overthrow of the government by rogue military elements.

Give those folks on FOX tanks and nukes, and hold your breath.

Do you have any changes in mind? I draw a total blank here, but hopefully you can do my thinking for me. ^.^

Drastically reduce the US' ability to project power abroad. Keep 2 or 3 carrier battle groups instead of 12 for example.

In the spirit of ThatLeftTurn's comment, I think we should reconfigure our armed forces so that they match threats we actually face. The ability to rapidly deploy more military power to anywhere on Earth than the rest of the world combined can seems much more useful for imperialist aggression than it does for defense. I mean, any one of us could go and spend 30% of our income on weaponry, year after year, thereby turning our homes into literal fortresses. But that would be an astonishingly stupid thing to do, no matter how appealing the capability to outgun local law enforcement might be. We have threats to deal with, and our capabilities should scoped to meet those threats, not to radically exceed them by orders of magnitude.

I strongly recommend watching the Andrew Bacevich interview Nell posted above. It is the August 15 edition of Bill Moyers' Journal.

@Slartibartfast: Thanks for the clarification. I meant and should have said 'half of discretionary spending'.

But, in the same clarifying spirit, it should also be said that the official budget figures for military spending have not included the significant amounts of money to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; those have all been funded through "emergency supplementals". Retrospectively, that has driven actual military spending 20-25% above official budget totals in each year 2003.

And -- last clarification -- spending on troops and their families is about a third of the military budget. Not "a tiny part", but the smallest part.

"Will you acknowledge that our troops, their equipment, our worldwide military structure, and the doctrine controlling them (full spectrum dominance) are not set up as a defensive apparatus, but to project U.S. power over as large a proportion of the globe as possible?"

In a world where it takes only hours to get from one hemisphere to another, where a satellite can make a full orbit in even less time, where we have a global economy, and live communications possible just about anywhere, a) these are not necessarily dichotomies; and b) definitions get very tricky and need to be as clear as possible.

I don't think the key is geography or distance, at all; it's cause that's key, and why violence and killing is arguably defensible or not.

And, yes, asking who benefits most is crucial.

I don't know how useful it is to argue over the definition of "empire" or imperialism, though. I'm dubious that it's more than a matter of semantics that usually winds up distracting from the real issues unless the parties in the discussion are already pretty much of like mind. I'm okay with saying the U.S. is a global empire of sorts, and that we're imperialistic and engage in imperialism, but having said that, the real arguments still wait, and if someone doesn't want to agree to that, I'm not inclined to spend much time arguing about those words, rather than getting to the real arguments about what we should and shouldn't do.

Hmm...pay and healthcare together are right smack in between the other two categories. I wouldn't generally use "smallest" to describe an amount that's average.

I agree with you, Turbulence, and several other people here about the need to face up to our imperialism, but you realize, of course, that Obama and the mainstream Democrats are not on our side. If, hypothetically speaking, a former close friend of Obama had ever suggested that the foreign policy of the US had something to do with 9/11, one can safely predict that Obama would distance himself from such a pariah just as fast as he could. And Obama is the relatively sane candidate.

Glenn Greenwald described the problem quite well yesterday--

Just to clarify where I'm coming from, Nell: I'm picking at the parts of your comments that are hooked into data because i think they're mistaken. Most of the rest is opinion; it's an opinion I don't happen to share, but I'm comfortable disagreeing with you and not saying so every single time.

I'm afraid that might not have clarified that well, but I wanted you to know that I wasn't attempting to administer the death of a thousand cuts to your opinion. It's yours, and I have no objection to your expressing it.

Gary: In a world where it takes only hours to get from one hemisphere to another, where a satellite can make a full orbit in even less time, where we have a global economy, and live communications possible just about anywhere, a) these are not necessarily dichotomies; and b) definitions get very tricky and need to be as clear as possible.

Nell wrote of the US' ability to project power around the globe. While it is true that any country can fly a small special forces unit anywhere on Earth at a moment's notice, that doesn't really have much to do with real power projection. That special forces unit doesn't have much staying power: it can't fight for long without resupply and it can't really do much.

Real power projection requires the ability to keep lots and lots of people and heavy equipment operating in theater for months and years, and it requires that that capability exist all the time, not only after spinning up for a few years. This is a capability which very very few nations possess. This is the sort of thing that you only get when you, for example, have enough extra carrier battle groups that you can keep two on station in the Persian Gulf while occasionally rotating new ones into place in order to limit tours.

To put it another way: if the US' ability to project power anywhere in the world was equal to that of France, I doubt Nell would be nearly as unhappy. Nell, is that true?


Donald: you realize, of course, that Obama and the mainstream Democrats are not on our side.

Yes, unfortunately, I agree with you. The best that I'm hoping for is that budgetary pressures combined with Obama's decent technocratic management skills might permit a rethink, but I have little hope. I'm not sure that it matters though: let's say that a President Obama went on TV and said "My fellow Americans, after intensive study, my SecDef has concluded that most of our military is not helping to keep us safe, so I'm sending a budget to Congress that cuts the Defense budget in half and passes on the savings to the American taxpayer." Do you really think that Congress could ever pass such a bill? Think of all the bases closing and all the little defense factories shutting down. While the President is generally most powerful when it comes to foreign and military affaris, defense procurement policies seem to be one area where Congress has a great deal of authority at least in terms of setting the overall level of funding.

@Gary: Excellent point about the cause for which we start shooting/bombing being the essential point.

A look at our post-1989 history of using force doesn't inspire confidence in the "it's all for defense" p.o.v.

The speed of global communications, aircraft, and missiles doesn't by itself justify our setup as defensive (forward bases all over the place, a carrier fleet that always has at least three groups patrolling the ocean, and that nuclear arsenal that no one proposes reducing). That case would have to be made by a realistic assessment of the actual threat posed by anyone else's military forces (and our treaty obligations).

...that nuclear arsenal that no one proposes reducing...

Surprisingly (to me at least), Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn have proposed reducing our nuclear stockpile along with a bunch of very sensible ideas for reducing risk (with one or two exceptions).

"and that nuclear arsenal that no one proposes reducing"

Actually, all sorts of mainstream foreign policy voices have proposed eliminating nuclear weapons. Obama proposed it years ago. Before him, Ronald Reagan. Even, well, here:

STANFORD—George P. Shultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry, Sam Nunn, and others called for a world free of nuclear weapons at a conference held at the Hoover Institution on October 24-25.

Their comments were made during a panel discussion following a dinner organized in conjunction with the institution’s “Reykjavik Revisited: Steps toward a World Free of Nuclear Weapons” conference.

George P. Shultz, former secretary of state and the Thomas W. and Susan B. Ford Distinguished Fellow at the Hoover Institution, hosted the panel discussion, asking each panelist to share his thoughts on nuclear weapons and nonproliferation.

Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger said he believes that nuclear nonproliferation is the most important issue facing the world today. Kissinger recalled that as security adviser he reviewed war plans, which included the use of nuclear weapons, and found that they would be difficult to recommend. “After a nuclear explosion of any magnitude, the world will never be the same again,” Kissinger said.

Sam Nunn, former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, said his views had evolved over the years. During the cold war he had always supported a strong defense effort, which he believes prevented an all-out war. “Now,” he said, “it’s necessary to take steps [to eliminate nuclear weapons] for a secure world. It’s going to take quite a while, but it’s time to get started.”

During his early government service, former secretary of defense and Hoover senior fellow William Perry said that he received a false alarm that 200 Soviet missiles were on their way to the United States. “At the time, it certainly impressed on me the danger of the way we were living in the cold war,” Perry said. Perry concluded that he no longer believes it is necessary to live with the fear of such a mistake.

Perry’s remarks led to a comment by Nunn on the need for the United States and Russia to to create a joint alert system and to work together to prevent catastrophic nuclear terrorist attacks, which he believes pose the greatest threat.

Sidney Drell, Hoover senior fellow and professor of theoretical physics (emeritus) at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, discussed steps toward eliminating nuclear weapons that were established at Hoover’s first Reykjavik conference in 2006. The steps were outlined in an op-ed written by Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn titled “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons” (Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2007). Some of these steps, analyzed at this year’s conference, include changing the cold war posture of deployed nuclear weapons to increase warning time; reducing the size of nuclear forces in all states that possess them; initiating a bipartisan process within the Senate leading to ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; and providing the highest possible standards of security for all stocks of weapons, weapons-usable plutonium, and highly enriched uranium throughout the world. Drell questioned the need for the current number of nuclear weapons that the U.S. and Russia have aimed at each other. He believes there are steps that can be taken to reduce those numbers.

Etc.

Hardly "no one."

Our nuclear arsenal has been greatly reduced since its peak. Should it be reduced more? I have no idea. Personally, I think that 11k warheads is rather more than is needed. But I'm not what you'd call an expert in nuclear arms policy. I think that bilateral arms reduction efforts probably went by the wayside about the same time as the Soviet Union was formerized, and there's no reason why they can't be resumed.

Except for possibly the walking-and-chewing-gum disability.

Turb's point about Congress is just what I meant by saying that the military complex (not "the troops", but the whole apparatus, particularly its upper levels and the military vendors) controls the civilian sector. It's all nicely set up to spread out the goodies so that no more than fifty votes could be found in the House to do any serious re-prioritizing.

But it's also iced in by an ideological rigidity that paralyzes political discussion, so that even without respect to particular bases or districts or weapons systems, military spending is sacrosanct and the only question is how much it will go up.

All this has been true for decades. In the last twenty-five years everyday life has been considerably militarized at the local level by the war on some drugs, and now, the ultimate fuser of military, intelligence, and police: "counterterrorism". Not to speak of the impact of the growth industry in private "security" and "intelligence" companies to which significant chunks of our wars and half our intelligence budget is handed.

Oh, to the France question: only if we cut back arms sales to below the French level also (and they're a major world player in that department).

Gary, thanks for reminding me of the one tiny ray of good news on the military limitation front.

I'll believe it when I see the 'Etc.', in the form of the next administration and Congress taking even baby steps, before celebrating, though.

here's some textbook Clinton-style BS:

"You can oppose the war without opposing the troops; people do that every day"

opposing the war means opposing the actions our troops take.

to normal people, supporting the troops means supporting their actions (even their many mistakes they seem too willing to tolarate in all but PR).

you cannot support the actions of the troops as soldiers and oppose the war.

Slartibartfast: I wasn't attempting to administer the death of a thousand cuts to your opinion.

Thanks for the concern, but I didn't think you were, since you're making factual corrections. If my credibility suffers, the wounds are self-inflicted.

I take for granted that you disagree with me overall on this topic; it would be most surprising given your line of work if you didn't. ;>

but the whole apparatus, particularly its upper levels and the military vendors

Don't forget Congress. The whole thing would fall apart without Congress. Influence-peddling doesn't work if you can't access the source of the cash.

I'd say that the worst of the MIC behavior is a couple of decades behind us, only I'm afraid I'm being horribly pollyanna-ish.

@redwood: Nice try, but too many normal people support the troops and oppose the war for you to pull that one off just now. In particular, some of those people are part of the troops themselves, and their families.

@Slarti:

I was talking about Congress. The Congressional problem, though, isn't the individual members, but the structural problem of the way mil spending is distributed through districts.

you cannot support the actions of the troops as soldiers and oppose the war

The first thing we need to do is abolish the usage 'the troops'. It is a usage calculated to reinforce certain subliminal associations and weaken others.

Troops take casualties. Soldiers bleed.
Troops seek victory. Soldiers want to get home.
Troops are gung-ho. Soldiers sometimes desert.
Troops are cogs in the war machine. Soldiers are human beings with families.

I'm not saying the 'troops' usage is a conscious conspiracy between militarists and the media. I'm saying it's a symptom of a subconscious acceptance of a certain world-view.

-- TP

redwood: "here's some textbook Clinton-style BS:

"You can oppose the war without opposing the troops; people do that every day""

-- Those were Andy's words, not mine. As he's not around to defend himself, I'll just say: since he was in Iraq when he wrote them, he knew what he was saying. You might disagree with him, but it was not BS, Clinton-style or otherwise.

TonyP: In my case, I use "troops" because it's so much more cumbersome to say "soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and anyone else I might have omitted".

And Nell: "Hilzoy, is the U.S. an empire?

Will you acknowledge that our troops, their equipment, our worldwide military structure, and the doctrine controlling them (full spectrum dominance) are not set up as a defensive apparatus, but to project U.S. power over as large a proportion of the globe as possible?"

To the second part: yes, of course. I should have been clearer in the comment (I think) this is responding to: I meant to say something like: there are good reasons why we have a military, not: the actual military is set up the way it is solely for these reasons.

As to whether we're an empire or not: there I get bogged down in terminology. Obviously the question isn't really about whether or not we have conquered other countries -- I mean, the charge that we're an empire is not based in the first instance on our occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and more remotely on our conquest of the territories of the various Native peoples. It's about the hegemony we exercise over much of the rest of the world. That's clearly not literally an empire (hence the 'neo' in 'neo-colonialism'); whether it's close enough to be called an empire anyways is above my pay grade.

I would, however, be completely comfortable accepting many of the facts you might be basing that claim on.

opposing the war means opposing the actions our troops take.

to normal people, supporting the troops means supporting their actions (even their many mistakes they seem too willing to tolarate in all but PR).

So our tropps are self-directed now, are they? Interesting.

Hilzoy:In my case, I use "troops" because it's so much more cumbersome to say "soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and anyone else I might have omitted".

I know, Hilzoy. I merely lament the fact that we don't have a different all-inclusive word than the bloodless 'troops' to describe that whole set of flesh-and-blood people.

-- TP

P.S.: you left out Coastguardspersons :-)

Tony P.: see what I mean? (Sigh...)

"you cannot support the actions of the troops as soldiers and oppose the war."

Since "the actions of the troops as soldiers" covers a huge range of things, and since there's a chain of command, and I hold people to varying degrees of responsibility for what they do, depending on their freedom of action, and the specifics of their activities, yes, in most cases, I can.

I'll make you a deal, though: I won't tell you what you can and can't do, and you don't get to tell me what I can and can't do.

As it turns out, one half of this deal is non-negotiable.

So our troops are self-directed now, are they? Interesting.

I think to a large extent right now they are. As I stated above, those who are signing up and re-upping right now are a problem that we should not be supporting if we oppose the war that they are volunteering to prosecute. I'd really be interested in why I am wrong about that.

"I'd really be interested in why I am wrong about that."

Since soldiers and sailors and so on don't make their own assignments, are you proposing we disband the U.S. armed forces entirely?

If not, what middle ground do you propose?

The war in Iraq was a political choice. I blame our civilian political leaders for it. I primarily blame the executive branch, but I also spread some blame to Congress for not watchdogging it, and for largely cheering it on.

And then I blame the American people, who should be able to exercise considerable power over Congress.

The soldiers, unless they're engaged in war crimes, I don't blame for doing their duty, and not mutinying or going AWOL, since I see no reason why they should bear more responsibility for the Iraq War than the American citizens who haven't stopped it, let alone the American Congress which has enabled it, let alone the President and his appointees who led us into it.

(I also blame myself for not having opposed it vigorously from the start, but that's another topic.)

If we could get past that barrier then we would have a better chance of starting a national debate about what sort of empire (if any) do we wish to be

A couple of thoughts.

First, this is not going to happen. At least, not beyond the point that it is already happening. There just is not going to be a public debate about "what kind of empire we want to be" outside of brainiac policy shops.

Second, I think we fall short of the standard definition of empire. As a political entity, we more or less stop at our own borders. I say "more or less" because we frequently mess with other people's polities, but we don't go all the way to explicit political control.

I believe the proper term for what the US is right now is global hegemon.

I think that power and dominance has a momentum of its own, and we are not likely to surrender it gracefully or voluntarily. Being in the position of global hegemon is pretty hard to reconcile with our own political traditions and ideals, but my guess is that the glittering prize will blind us. We'll try to hold on to the reins until the choice is on longer ours to make.

If we're lucky, we'll survive the day after with something like our core values intact (or, more likely, somewhat re-established). If not, we'll join the historical chorus of has-been great powers.

That's actually kind of a scary thought, because that scenario quite often breaks ugly, and we have a pretty formidable national security infrastructure that will be jonesing for something important to do with themselves, but there it is.

Hey, you know, everybody wants to rule the world. But payback is a b*tch and hangovers suck. I hope we get through it in one piece. But I don't see us voluntarily stepping down from the Sole Superpower throne without a fight.

One thing that does seem clear to me is that the rest of the world is no longer waiting around for us to show them the way forward, and whatever moral claim we might once have made on the leadership role has largely been pissed away. We could earn it back, but it will take some doing.

P.S.'s:

Thullen, you're beautiful when you're pissed off. Actually, you're beautiful all the time, but it acquires a lovely gravity when you're angry.

LT, many thanks for initiating a thoughtful and important discussion.

Thanks -

Dear Gary,

You asked me above: "Are you asserting that pacificism is the only moral stance?"

Why no. I simply pointed out that those who casually assert bright line moral absolute truths are generally self deluded fruitcakes.

"Or does who and why and what the circumstances are of who the troops are killing make any difference?"

Not generally. I am firmly convinced the historical record unambiguously backs me up on this.

Now a question for you: Who is the hero in Catch-22, Yossarian or Col. Cathcart? Why?

PS: I enjoy your comments most of the time since "I know good points when I see them".

Cordially,

The soldiers, unless they're engaged in war crimes, I don't blame for doing their duty, and not mutinying or going AWOL, since I see no reason why they should bear more responsibility for the Iraq War than the American citizens who haven't stopped it, let alone the American Congress which has enabled it, let alone the President and his appointees who led us into it.

First, soldiers have a perfectly legal alternative to mutinying or going AWOL: they can simply refuse to re-enlist. This is very legal. Margarita's comment was quite explicit in speaking about enlistment and re-enlistment; it said nothing about mutinying or going AWOL, so those issues seem off point.

Secondly, a soldier deciding whether or not to re-enlist has a lot more power than a random civilian. There's very little that random civilians can legally do to stop the war: however, a relatively small number of soldiers can make legal decisions that make the continuation of the war untenable. All they have to do is say "this war is illegal or immoral and I can't in good conscience support it by reenlisting." Soldiers are in fact not easily replacable: they take money and more importantly time to train. If enough captains and seargants left, the war would end. They are more responsible because they have more power. And the irresponsibility of others (like those in Congress) can not destroy their responsibility.

Now, I would greatly prefer that the executive branch and Congress did their jobs properly and honestly in the first place, thereby ensuring that our soldiers were never put in a position where they had to contemplate such things. It is unfair that they should have to think like this. But life's unfair. It is also unfair when some Iraqi family gets blown to bits; somehow, I think our brave soldiers can endure this much smaller burden.

"If not, we'll join the historical chorus of has-been great powers."

Maureen McHugh's China Mountain Zhang is sixteen years old now, and seems more relevant than ever.

Island In The Net is even older, written in 1988, and still bears relevance.

For a somewhat nearer-term view, all of Rainbows End is still readable for free, and I commend it to everyone's attention.

"But I don't see us voluntarily stepping down from the Sole Superpower throne without a fight."

Hard to fight if you're bankrupt and facing a richer, larger, more technologically advanced, set of foes.

"Or does who and why and what the circumstances are of who the troops are killing make any difference?"

Not generally. I am firmly convinced the historical record unambiguously backs me up on this.

So Nazis and Danes, Soviets and Finns, Federals and Confederates, Andrew Jackson's U.S. troops and Seminoles, Japanese Imperial Army and Chinese Army, North Korean and South Korean troops, 1950: all equally morally wrong?

"Margarita's comment was quite explicit in speaking about enlistment and re-enlistment; it said nothing about mutinying or going AWOL, so those issues seem off point."

Fair enough. But thus my query: Since soldiers and sailors and so on don't make their own assignments, are you proposing we disband the U.S. armed forces entirely?

Because if everyone doesn't re-enlist, that's the same thing.

Mind, I'm not arguing that there isn't a moral problem involved in re-enlisting, given one's lack of ability to choose one's assignment, and I'm not arguing with anyone who chooses not to re-enlist.

I'm just looking at the larger issues this would seem to take us to if logically extrapolated just slightly, and wondering if there aren't other problems here, and thus I have some questions about Margarita's second comment about "As I stated above, those who are signing up and re-upping right now are a problem that we should not be supporting if we oppose the war that they are volunteering to prosecute. I'd really be interested in why I am wrong about that."

I don't have any problem with her "Basically, I do not want to thank those particular troops for that particular service, lest it mislead some impressionable youths." She's entitled to thank or not thank who she wants, and I understand her point.

But I'm not convinced that everyone signing up to serve in the U.S. military should be regarded as a "problem," or that the phenomenon of people enlisting should be regarded as a problem in and of itself, rather than other things being problems, such as our political leadership and structure, and the political attitudes of much of our citizenry, and their levels of knowledge and concern about the world, and the structural incentives in our system of government and economy, and so on. Putting one's finger on those signing up to serve in the military doesn't seem to me to be a particularly acute analysis and doesn't strike me as going anywhere near where the serious problems that need to be addressed actually are.

YMMV.

I neglected to answer bobbyp's question: "Now a question for you: Who is the hero in Catch-22, Yossarian or Col. Cathcart? Why?"

I haven't read Catch-22 in at least thirty years or so, but who says it has a "hero"?

we're not an empire, never will be.

we're using our military to protect markets, which plenty of other nations participate in the governance of.

there is a case to be made that in using our military (including its volunteers) in this way, we manipulate markets. but even that falls far short of an imperial claim.

when we expand our territories, we include the newly acquired territory into our union. that's significantly different than what the Western Europeans and Japanese were doing.

For example, although Hawaii was admitted in 1900's and New York in the 1700's, any given Hawaiian today has more power than a New Yorker, which probably goes a long way to explaining why New York includes three of the ten poorest cities in the nation.

An empire would have worked the other way around.

okay, hilzoy, although I do own that little black book on Bullshit, I'll defer to you: B.S. implies a great deal about the intentions of the speaker beyond the usual self-affirming use of language, such as Nell's,

@redwood: Nice try, but too many normal people support the troops and oppose the war for you to pull that one off just now. In particular, some of those people are part of the troops themselves, and their families.

"families," Nell? Enough of the bogus sap!

Long gone are the days when a commander can unilaterally, unaccountably execute and solider!


geez louise, am I the only one around here who laughed at Borat's representations of American's bogus indignation, right and left?


Fair enough. But thus my query: Since soldiers and sailors and so on don't make their own assignments, are you proposing we disband the U.S. armed forces entirely?

Because if everyone doesn't re-enlist, that's the same thing.

I don't think "everyone not re-enlisting" is a plausible scenario. I mean, if every soldier publicly announced tomorrow that they were gay then we'd have a similar problem, but it doesn't seem worth worrying about.

If insufficient re-enlistments force the Army to leave Iraq, there is no reason to assume that the Army is totally useless. A force that doesn't have enough captains to run operations in Iraq AND Afghanistan at the same time may very well have enough to handle Afghanistan alone. And re-enlistments will rise AFTER the Army withdraws.

Also, I'm not sure where you're going when you say that soldiers don't make their own assignments. They don't, it is true. But they also have a pretty good idea what sort of assignment they're likely to get should they re-enlist, and that information plays a role in their decision to re-enlist.

The scenario I envision is that soldiers refuse to re-enlist during periods of time when they believe the Army is engaged in illegal or immoral wars of aggression. As long as the US Army does not do outrageously illegal or immoral things, it will have no problem. However, when it does, it will run into staffing problems. I don't see the problem in having our Army run into staffing problems when its soldiers are convinced that it is engaged in illegal or immoral operations. I mean, they're not stupid. And human nature being what it is, they're going to be judging very generously.

I'm just looking at the larger issues this would seem to take us to if logically extrapolated just slightly, and wondering if there aren't other problems here, and thus I have some questions about Margarita's second comment about "As I stated above, those who are signing up and re-upping right now are a problem that we should not be supporting if we oppose the war that they are volunteering to prosecute. I'd really be interested in why I am wrong about that."

I don't really see any problems if we're extrapolating just slightly. Now, if we extrapolate massively, by turning the knobs to 11 and assuming that every single soldier refuses to re-enlist, I do see problems, but, pretty much every plan on Earth breaks when you turn the knobs that high.

But I'm not convinced that everyone signing up to serve in the U.S. military should be regarded as a "problem," or that the phenomenon of people enlisting should be regarded as a problem in and of itself, rather than other things being problems, such as our political leadership and structure, and the political attitudes of much of our citizenry, and their levels of knowledge and concern about the world, and the structural incentives in our system of government and economy, and so on.

Saying that the decision to re-enlist is morally problematic does not exclude many other things from being problems. Just because George Bush is evil does not mean that Dick Cheney is blameless. When soldiers re-enlist knowing that they will very likely be sent to support an illegal or immoral war of agression, that is a problem in that one of the components of our civilization destroying war waging system has failed. This only matters because other components have also failed, but still, it is bad when the safety on your mass killing machine doesn't work correctly, especially when that not working leads to the loss of innocent life.

Putting one's finger on those signing up to serve in the military doesn't seem to me to be a particularly acute analysis and doesn't strike me as going anywhere near where the serious problems that need to be addressed actually are.

Well, if you think the war in Iraq is immoral or illegal, then it does seem to be a large problem that most of our military has no problem endorsing the war by re-enlisting long after the basic facts of the conflict have become apparent. That suggests that either many soldiers have a very different sense of morality or legality than you or that they don't care overmuch about such trifling issues. The second option seems extremely dangerous. The first is, at best, not a healthy state of affairs for a democracy.

My hunch, and it is only a hunch, is that most soldiers who re-enlist don't really care about the morality or legality of the war at all. I believe that because the US Army's research in WWII concluded that the primary motivation for staying and re-enlisting was the emotional bond soldiers formed with their comrades. If the fear of getting killed because of the stupidity of your commanders doesn't compel you to avoid re-enlistment, I doubt that something as abstract as the ethics of occupation will move you.

After reading the comments on this thread, it's pretty easy to see why the military personnel are, in general, a conservative bunch.

From the latest Military Times poll:

Very conservative-8.8%
Conservative-37%
Moderate-38.7%
Liberal-7%
Very liberal-1.4%

For all the rhetoric and argument about the military being baby-killers and people volunteering/re-upping being complicit in war crimes, remember that the military is the most respected institution according to recent polling, and is provided for explicitly in the constitution. Best of luck in your crusade.

redwood: "families," Nell? Enough of the bogus sap!

I've got my flaws, but one of them is not a taste for sentiment or pieties. And when I said 'families', I meant families; nothing bogus about it.

A friend in my hometown was opposed to the Iraq war before it began, joining in our pavement protests and Congressional lobbying trying to prevent it. Her nineteen-year-old son joined the Marines. Tell her she can't support her son without supporting what he's doing.

Andrew Bacevich and Jim Webb raised their sons expecting to serve the way many other people's children are raised expecting to go to college. Both were keenly aware of how wrong the Iraq occupation would be strategically, and what kind of damage it would do to an institution they respect and value. Both put their warnings in writing in 2002. By your edict, they have to jettison their hard-won judgments and intellectual integrity in order to support their sons.

Andrew Bacevich's son was killed in Iraq. But I guess that's just another bogus, sappy story.

Yes, families. Parents and siblings and children, wives, fiances, boyfriends, nieces and nephews -- every soldier and marine has some of them. Sixty to seventy percent of the population thinks the war was a mistake, wants it to end in the next year or two, if not sooner. Are people with relatives and spouses in Iraq not allowed to hold those opinions?

"families," Nell? Enough of the bogus sap!

Long gone are the days when a commander can unilaterally, unaccountably execute and solider!

geez louise, am I the only one around here who laughed at Borat's representations of American's bogus indignation, right and left?

Could you try restating your views? This is so incoherent I can't even tell what it is you're trying to say. It seems to be three non-sequiturs.

when we expand our territories, we include the newly acquired territory into our union.

So Puerto Rico, Samoa and Guam get electoral votes now, do they?

The Congressional problem, though, isn't the individual members, but the structural problem of the way mil spending is distributed through districts.

I'm not sure what you mean by that, but here's what I perceive the problem to have been. Possibly it's still this way, but there's now a great deal more oversight in place to reduce the occurrence. What has been the problem, as recently as a couple of decades ago, is that a given defense contractor resides in, just to take a random example, St. Louis. That contractor is rooted for by its representative(s) and (possibly to a lesser extent, because of dilution of votes) its senator. Even if the congresspeople in question don't have any unseemly ties to the company, they'll still tend to root for big-program awards to the company because it makes more jobs, and (to some extent) buys the vote.

So, for example, things can happen like: Defense Contractors A and B can bid on a program, and B has the better concept. A's congressperson can then swap favors to influence the selection process and persuade the Pentagon to require a rebid based on B's concept, and A then lowballs. This is exactly the result that A's congressperson wanted, so A gets the award. A then immediately turns around and requests more money from the Pentagon, which pushes their price to deliver above everyone else's.

This happened, back in 1985. Nowadays, there's an appeal and audit process, but I don't think there was, at least not to its current extent, back then.

All of this is exclusive of whether you think these programs are really needed. It just speaks to one of the manifold ways in which Congress can, or could, use taxpayer dollars to buy votes.

I don't generally enter discussions of whether our defense budget is too big or not, because that's my paycheck, and I don't like arguing from my wallet. As a blanket statement, though, I believe in having a strong defense, but agree that there's limits to how much strength we should be striving for.

Damn. First paragraph above should have been blockquoted.

Slarti: a given defense contractor resides in, just to take a random example, St. Louis. That contractor is rooted for by its representative(s) and ... its senator. Even if the congresspeople in question don't have any unseemly ties to the company, they'll still tend to root for big-program awards to the company because it makes more jobs, and (to some extent) buys the vote.

This phenomenon is exactly what I was referring to, and imposes its own constraints even without the shenanigans in your example following.

Contractors and pieces of projects exist in so many congressional districts that cutbacks would be extremely difficult to achieve even if somehow magically public opinion changed so that it weren't a political requirement to pledge to maintain "the strongest military in the world".

In theory, given that U.S. military spending is greater than the next twenty countries combined, we could cut back by half and still fulfil the near-religious requirement. But the wide distribution of military contracting (and now also "counterterror" and intel contracting for CIA and DHS) makes it hard to imagine the Congress doing do any serious cutting.

Tell her she can't support her son without supporting what he's doing.

that's exactly what I'm telling her, Nell. She's having it both ways.

she can forgive him if kills an innocent to keep from being killed.

but she has to stop supporting him as Bush's soldier, even if that means turning her back on him.

it's not a war without soldiers.

"even if that means turning her back on him."

That's where your argument falls apart. I have a lot of sympathy with the point you're making, but when you start telling mothers they have to turn their backs on their sons, congratulations--you've just become the first person to advocate attacks on motherhood as a matter of principle. Good luck with the politics of that. I mean, Jesus can tell people to hate their parents when He wants to make a point, but I don't think anyone is going to listen to you.

Turbulence is making your point more effectively, IMO. I would like to see massive numbers of people refusing to re-enlist because our foreign policy is imperialistic. In a way, though, maybe we've got that situation already--look at the numbers LT Nixon supplied. A convinced anti-imperialist is unlikely to sign up for military service, I'm guessing. Pat Tillman, a Chomskyite, did, but he thought the war in Afghanistan was a just one.

redwood: If you're saying that a mother ought to stop supporting her child -- not necessarily agreeing with everything he's done, but supporting him -- to end the war, then I can only say that that's both heartless and unimaginative.

It's not as though there are no other things a citizen can do to try to end the war. I proposed just doing our job and thinking seriously about who to vote for, for starters. We can all work as hard as we can to try to reach voters who feel differently, and to convince them. We can do a lot of things before we need to get to recommending that parents turn their backs on their children. Especially since that might not end the war either -- kids have been known to do what they want regardless.

It's also completely possible for a soldier to believe that the principle of civilian control of the military matters, and that in this instance, it requires being willing to go to Iraq, even if that soldier does not personally favor the war. Whether you agree with that position or not, it's not so obviously wrong as to warrant a complete lack of respect or support.

The people who are to blame for the war are, first, the civilian leadership who decided on it; second, the voters who elected them; and third (in this instance) some of the most senior members of the military (e.g. Tommy Franks), who could have pushed back but didn't. Ordinary soldiers did not decide to wage this war (unless in their capacity as voters), and they have already paid an enormous price for that decision. Moreover, unless you really don't support the principle of civilian control, they were doing what they should have done when they followed orders.

I find the idea that we should take it out on them, rather than on the people who actually got us into this mess, unfathomable.

Hard to fight if you're bankrupt

Danger, Will Robinson.

but she has to stop supporting him as Bush's soldier, even if that means turning her back on him.

There's a certain mathematical consistency to your argument but it has no relationship to the reality of how human beings live.

Do you approve of US drug laws? If not, then you must refuse to support the police, any officer of any US court, and anyone affiliated with the US criminal justice system.

Do you think No Child Left Behind is good policy? If not, then you must refuse to support teachers.

Was the Clear Skies initiative good policy? If you think not, you must refuse to support folks who work, in any capacity, for the EPA.

You must refuse to support these people because their participation in the institutions through which those policies are implemented makes them culpable in your eyes.

If they are family members, you must choose between them and your personal conviction about those policies.

You'll save on birthday and holiday presents, I guess. But for basically everyone else in the world, life doesn't work that way.

Thanks -

But, redwood, I do sympathize with your dislike of the "support the troops" meme. Many lefties have tried to redefine the phrase to mean support for GI benefits and better armor protection and health care and so on, and I'm for all those things, but I still think the phrase contributes to a situation where the military is worshipped. I don't think it's good that the military is trusted as an institution more than Congress (not that Congress deserves much trust). What do people mean when they say that anyway? I'd rather just say I'm for GI benefits and health care and better armor protection and steer clear of bumper sticker slogans.

Redwood,

Do you mean to tell me that if your son or daughter were fighting in Iraq you would disown your child because he or she was fighting in a war you don't support?

Just doesn't make sense to me.

And I have to agree w/ LT Nixon that this whole notion of "people volunteering/re-upping (in the military) being complicit in war crimes" is absurd.

While I don't think this opinion is widely held, it's the kind of thinking that gives Democrats a bad name.

Let's say I feel prostitution should be legal. Does it make me a hypocrite if I mourn the death of police officer who gets killed in the line of duty during a raid on a brothel?

Turb- Downscaling the military to the point where we have enough for defense actually seems like a great idea in theory. (I'd like to see a small reactionary force, just in case, but nowhere near the size we have now.) The only problem with the plan, though, is that it seems politically infeasible. The military budget is sacrosanct and I can't imagine any politician taking on such a challenge, much less succeeding at it.

I think I'll read up on some historical empires a bit and see how the anti-imperialists behaved. (Its public library day! Hopefully they'll have Nixonland too.) Unfortunately, I get the feeling that America doesn't have what it takes to say no, but we'll see.

Russell: "Do you approve of US drug laws? If not, then you must refuse to support the police, any officer of any US court, and anyone affiliated with the US criminal justice system."

I was posting before I read your comment. We were on the same wavelength.

I don't want it to seem like were ganging up on redwood. He or she sounds young to me and many of us share in redwood's frustration over the prosecution of the Iraq war. Still, as hilzoy said, there are better ways to express this frustration.

LTNixon and others seem better versed in military matters than I. But this whole idea of downsizing the military seems foolhardy -- unless one prefers the United States become isolationist in its thinking, and with a strict reliance on nukes.

DJ: See, I want to redefine it not just to mean supporting veterans' benefits and voting for responsible leaders, but also to preclude worshipping the troops, since (imho) any unrealistic view of them makes it harder to support them.

So, for instance, if you thought that all the troops were wonderful paragons of virtue, unlike any other known group of human beings, you would not see the need to take care, by training them within an inch of their lives and providing them with really good officers and so forth, to minimize the chances that they would ever do something in the heat of battle that they would regret for the rest of their lives. That's important for the sake of the civilians they might do such things to, of course, but it's also important for the troops themselves.

I mean: suppose that you were in combat, and some of your closest friends got killed, maybe in a specially gruesome way, and you flipped out and killed some innocent people. The main reason to try to do everything possible to avoid that ever happening is to protect those innocent people from being killed. But another reason is to protect you from having to live with that for the rest of your lives.

Anyone who assumes that you are just totally perfect in all respects would not see the need to try to prevent this from happening. That would not be supporting you, and of course it would not be remotely fair to the civilians around you.

(Or consider how completely appalling it was to put untrained troops with no expertise in detention work in charge of Abu Ghraib, and then to leave them apparently almost unsupervised. It was one of the (many) things that made me really, really furious about that.)

And that's why I want to say: I support the troops, but for that very reason I think it's important not to hold some sort of idealized view of them.

Hilzoy, if that was the generally accepted meaning of the phrase, then I'd gladly slap it on my car bumper. My feeling is that it is most often used as a way of moral blackmail--if you don't support the mission, you don't support the troops.

DJ: I know.

I just hate, hate, hate conceding the meaning of terms that refer to things I really care about to bullies.

I mean: I am damned if I'm going to start saying: oh, OK, I concede that I don't "support the troops", I am not "patriotic", I don't care about "morality", etc., etc., etc., just because there are people who have tried to commandeer those phrases and make them mean something other than what they actually mean.

But this whole idea of downsizing the military seems foolhardy -- unless one prefers the United States become isolationist in its thinking, and with a strict reliance on nukes.

Why "isolationist"? There are lots of ways to engage with the rest of the world that don't require military intervention, even if the Bush administration doesn't seem to know any of them.

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