Friday, August 27, 2004

Dulce Et Decorum Est

War isn't glorious. Sure everybody knows that. They claim.

War is evil and ugly and at worst you see people you love in pain and dying, and at best you kill other human beings who were once cute little 3-year olds whose parents loved them too.

War is the infliction of suffering until one side says "enough." You can't take the suffering out of it for that is what war is - suffering. Sometimes, though, the alternative to not fighting is worse. That is usually rare, much less often than the number of times we've been to war.

It isn't parades and nobility - its being under fire and having to take a dump. You never see that in the movies - some guy having to take a dump.

It's being so filthy that the bugs just stop biting.

It's seeing Panamanians so happy and excited that they run into the street to give you water and thank you for kicking out Noriega - and some PDF assholes shoot down the street and a mother drops dead in front of her little kids, and they scream in horror and run out there too, and there is nothing you can do except burn in rage and hatred for such evil. And continue the mission.

It's being on a casaulty notification team and seeing a mother and father turn dead inside, aging before your very eyes, watching a man sink to his knees and a mother just stand there and say in a monotone "when will he... his body... come home?" And then seeing the news identify him as a Marine instead of a soldier and none of the civilians around you understand why you care.

And then some asshole says years later "you ever kill anybody?" or "I'd wouldn't serve because I wouldn't want to kill anybody" or WORST OF ALL "I love the military. You guys are great. I didn't serve because I had opportunities, but I always wanted to..."

Sure I'm glad Noriega is gone, so are the Panamanians. Perhaps we were right to go in - we didn't have to stay long and we turned the country over to the Panamanians quickly. And Noriega had been begging for it for some time. But the family of SPC Philip Lear, B 2/75, would gladly re-install Noreiga if it meant Butch could come home to them. He died at Rio Hato and nobody knows where that is.

Maybe it was worthwhile to the nation, especially to those who don't have to pay the price. I think it was the right thing to do. But it isn't something to be happy about. I wish there had been another way.

And then 15 years later you attend law school with people who ask you if you "ever saw any action?" Who say "we invaded Panama?" Who say "did you see Blackhawk Down? Cool, huh?" And who assume you are a Republican.

Service isn't just about war either. Serving in the military is ALWAYS honorable, including peacetime.

There was a military before 9/11, even if many people just discovered it.

Being in the military before 9/11 is having nobody know about Somalia and bloody October and then "Blackhawk Down" comes out and everybody knows about it (and seemingly half of the "vets" you meet were there) and everybody talks about it all the time, but nobody knows about El Salvador, or Honduras, or Columbia (still going on now) or the guys hurt or killed in training. Because nothing ever happened and nobody ever got hurt before Somalia and then later on 9/11.

Nobody knows about the 19-year old fuel handler, not an infantryman, who couldn't stop talking about his baby boy who was "on the way" and "my wife's ready to pop" and "my baby is going to be a genius." Then he's taking a steep desert grade and his wheels start to slide on loose rocks and his fueler slides, slides, and then rolls down the hill, rolling over and over and over and you watch the cab get crushed smaller and smaller and you know what it will look like inside before you get there. But you rush anyway, you can't help it. And his wife has to clear housing in 90 days because she isn't married to a soldier anymore. And it was on a peacetime exercise anyway.

It's being in Korea and having a driver working on an M1 turret when some dumbass powers it up and swivels, and you have to have somebody hold the guy, the body, while it swivels back in order to free what's left of his head.

It's having people on a hardship tour, who have been accepted to college and DO have other opportunities, ask you to swear them in during their re-enlistment ceremony. And that being incredibly important to you.

It's having privates who think you are a dick for chewing their ass for not following ground guide procedures, or for punishing them when they walk between moving vehicles in the motor pool, and you not giving a damn because even if they don't like you they damn sure aren't going to get killed for something stupid while you are in charge.

Serving before 9/11 is chewing the ass of an E-5 buck sergeant who dismounted his vehicle and ran up a hill chasing after a map during an exercise, while tanks and brads swarmed about at high speed, and realizing he thinks you are mad because he almost lost his stupid map. So you say "to hell with the god damned MAP dumbass, we can always get another one of those. How the hell do I get another one of YOU!? Call your parents and order another just like you and wait 25 years!?" And seeing him change as he realizes you are so mad and losing your officer "cool" because you were scared shitless he was going to die. And having him, after you finish telling him he should have his ass kicked for being a stupid fuck, say and mean it "thank you sir. I really respect you for that. I wasn't thinking." And it isn't kissass when he says it.

Serving is nothing like what Fox news portrays. In that world the president calls on units and soldiers to serve, instead of some harried and overworked personnel officer who needs some guys with a specific MOS and sends out an order to find some, and somebody does. And the president has no idea what their MOS is or does, much less that the unit was called up. But his steely gaze into the camera as he orders strangers off to war is considered brave and noble. Is it? Really?

Serving post 9/11 is the same as serving pre-9/11. We have always lived in a dangerous world, it is just that some of you didn't know it. We just have more dead soldiers now, and that's not a good thing. It might be unavoidable, but damn if I'm not 100% sure we did all we could to avoid some of it.

Of course we had to fight back - we were attacked. But did that have to mean Iraq, who didn't attack us? Did we really try to avoid it, did we really try all the options? "But we waited over a decade and Saddam" - sure, but we waited longer than that and the Soviet Union fell. Were we wrong to wait? Was that appeasement? If we knew we could wait another decade and with little threat to us then should we have waited? "But the Iraqis," you say. "The Iraqis were under the heel of a brutal dictator." True. Isn't Castro brutal, and much closer? What about Saudi Arabia, a monarchy with no democracy? What about North Korea? Even if you want to take them all on, should we have picked Iraq first?

Afghanistan I feel deserved twice or three times as much attention as it got, but I wonder if we tried as hard as we should have to avoid invading Iraq.

Of course, to the right that makes me a weakling. An appeaser. An ally of Saddam and of terrorists. They much prefer the "line in the sand" and talk of service and brave, brave Bush. Sure, we were wrong about WMD but he might have had them. He might have used them. He might have given them to our enemies. And Saddam was a bad man. Can't you see?

I have friends that are absolutely convinced that we were right to invade Iraq - but they still aren't happy about it. They've seen the dead kids too.

Maybe they are right. I don't agree. But why can't our nation debate it rationally? And should we respect those that either cut off the debate with "unpatriotic hippies" or "warmongering fascists?" Why are the extremists on both sides driving the middle?

I'm not sure the President tried as hard as he should have to avoid this war with Iraq. That doesn't mean I want to lose in Iraq - that for damn sure wouldn't leave us better off. But why can't we, in the midst of a Presidential election, honestly discuss whether this President was wise to invade Iraq without accusations of appeasement, betrayal of our soldiers, accusations of ignoring the "lessons" of 9/11? Did the President make a wise and careful decision, and was he right after all? Many say "of course he was."

If the Army War College and the Chief of Staff of the Army on 9/11 thought it a big mistake, and predicted EXACTLY how it would turn out so far, why isn't that discussed? Does it matter what national security professionals who aren't aligned with any one political party say?

War is the most important decision our nation faces. Why did we leave it to one man to make for us? That isn't how the Founders wanted it. Congress abdicated, writing a blank check. Why aren't we pissed about that too?

What is wrong with never going to war unless Congress formally declares war? That doesn't mean we can't deploy troops to hotspots - it means a war that takes six months or more to deploy for, that everybody calls an invasion or a war, should be treated differently than a deployment to Haiti. It should be treated as a war. We invaded Panama and nobody calls that a war. Everybody calls the invasion of Iraq a war. Would there be any more national prestige or committment on the line in Iraq if Congress had formally declared war? "But that would tie the President's hands" you say. Yes. And? So? Isn't that exactly what our Founding Fathers had in mind?

Why, if war is so terrible (and it is), is it politically easier to vote for it instead of against it? And why, if voting against it is political suicide, are those Congressmen and Senators who question it or vote against it called weak or cowardly?

Why can't we separate the war on terror from the decision to invade Iraq? I'm not saying there isn't a link (although I don't believe there is). I'm saying invading Afghanistan and going after AQ and the Taliban was a no-brainer. 3rd graders knew we had to do that. Not doing that would have invited more attacks, as well as letting those that attacked us on 9/11 get away with it. There is no reasonable debate there about this - shoot at me I shoot at you. If you are a pacifist then there is never a justification good enough for you, so debating is pointless. I'm talking to the vast majority who believe it better to defend ourselves and punish those that attack us.

But was invading Iraq the right thing for us to do? Isn't right now, before we decide to choose the next president, the right time to judge whether this president made good choices? Why is that considered weak or of comfort to the enemy?

Before we have more families get the knock on the door that my friend SPC Lear's family got, shouldn't we be able to honestly say "we tried our best to avoid this, but there was no other way. It was the best thing for us to do. And the right thing." I don't know how Butch's family feels, I haven't talked to them in over a decade. They probably support Bush and the war in Iraq. That doesn't change my point.

War seems exciting on TV, but it is actually us spending our kids lives. It is math with human lives. It is the same as taking a stadium-full of people and saying "we have a choice. We can draw lots and 1,000 of you will die, and Saddam will fall, or you can all go home safely." Well, if you believed that your friends at home would face more danger if you didn't take the risk, then you might stay for the drawing. If not you would get the hell out. But wouldn't you want to know ALL the details?

Sure you would. But what if you weren't in the stadium, and none of your friends were, or family members? Would you care as much?

Before you answer, name me five possibly hostile countries that we know have WMDs - the information is freely available on the web. You don't know off the top of your head? Then how can you be sure that we were right to invade Iraq? You didn't look into it, you trusted your president.

Fine. I actually don't have a problem with that because we have a representative democracy and our lawmakers and President make those decisions, not us.

But now decision-time is approaching for us. Before you decide you don't "like" Kerry or that he is "worse" than Bush, don't you think you should really investigate if he was right to invade Iraq? Not based on Instapundit or Fox News or NPR or the Kerry Campaign. Based on balanced assessments? And shouldn't you know how your congressional representative and your Senators voted? How many of you know? How many of you know who your Congressional Representative is?

If you can honestly say that Bush was right then you should be comforted. I can't, and it doesn't reassure me that those that disagree with me question my committment to our nation and our national security when I want to debate it. Especially after all those years I spent showing my committment not with words, but with action.

I hate war but accept it as sometimes the only option. It should be the last option, though, used only when we are sure there is no other way to defend ourselves. That doesn't mean sit by and get attacked first. It means that the burden of proof should be very, very high before we attack. That there should be very little doubt about the need for it. Very little.

Anybody that lowers that bar for war is not fit to lead our nation, however steely a gaze they have or how determined they seem. And we should at least be debating it without soundbites and simplistic, opportunistic conclusions.

We should defend ourselves while trying very, very hard to avoid dead soldiers and dead kids. Are we so sure we tried as hard as we could have to avoid this one?

Here are some sources that I wish all voters would read (non-partisan sources with a national security background, all from the Army War College):

Bounding the Global War on Terrorism found at

IRAQ AND VIETNAM: DIFFERENCES, SIMILARITIES, AND INSIGHTS at It notes that most comparisons overplay the similarities and understate the differences.

Strategic Consequences of the Iraq War: U.S. Security Interests in Central Asia Reassessed at


91ghost said...

Very poignant post. Yeah, you hit on the "un-coolness" of having served before 9/'s kind of funny how the nation started realizing things that soldiers knew all along. I had a friend in Basic Training. He was a redheaded kid from upstate New York--one of the genuinely nicest guys I've ever met. He was not in my platoon, but for some reason, we were always stuck on KP or some other detail together--the Drill Sergeants called him "Rusty." Toward the end of basic, when we got our orders, we were both assigned to the 7th ID in Fort Ord--for whatever reason, mine were changed to Germany, but his remained the same. As you know, the 7th went to Panama. Rusty, literally one week out of basic, went riding into combat in a helicopter ferrying his crew's 105 gun. When he stepped off the helicopter he literally got his head blown off by enemy fire, becoming one of the "few" casualties.

alix said...

i don't know what it is that you guys ingest every morning...what switch flipped in your minds as you signed up and served, but damn.

there's a place in my soul - not just my heart, i'm sure of it now - that will forever look at a soldier, every soldier, a different way. i knew *nothing* about our fine fighting men and women before i started reading cb's blog. then i was directed to blog after blog that afforded me an incredible insight into the hearts, minds, and gut-level wisdom of each. i have been enriched by mere association.

i am touched by your post today, TWD, and though i know that's not exactly your objective with this piece, i wanted you to know.

this we'll defend said...

Thank you Alix. I am not sure I had any objective at all.

vrangel said...

Good sentimental post . Nothing wrong with being sentimental from time to time, we want to retain our humanity.

Now let me remind you about the other side of the world we are living in.

Each year 43,000 people in the US die in traffic accidents. That's a lot of dead people, year in, year out. Do we hear a lot about it ? No, because we as a society accept it as a price of living our way of life.

Being in the military is not the most dangerous profession. According to BLS it's being an alaskan crab fisherman (400 deaths per 100,000 per year), followed by other fishermen, professional drivers and construction workers.

We as a society are actually tolerant to inevitability of violent deaths in large numbers related to what we do and the way we live.

But we decided not to tolerate 9/11 , because it was about our enemies trying to destroy that way of life we have chosen. It required the use of military.

Afghanistan was a tactical decision, Iraq was a strategic one. In Afghanistan we eliminated an enemy base. But Middle East itself is a larger enemy base. We cannot just take over the whole thing. Of course we can nuke the whole thing, but we chose a different solution. We took over an important part of it and are trying to transform it.
If we are successful there then the whole thing will be transformed over time. Just like Condi Rice said, it's a generational effort.

A lot of people died fighting the Cold War, including Korea and Vietnam. And it was worth it.
Now it's War on Terror. We will fight ,we will take our losses and we will win.

Now if you excuse me I will start my car and drive around a bit. I feel rather fatalistic today.

ALa said...

RE: Ghost's comment- I think firemen (I know ,I know..firefighters) feel the same as the military (re: the post 9/11 thing). A friend of mine that just graduated from Fire School said all the old guys keep telling him how different things are since much nicer people are -how they feel less taken for's 'cool' to be a fireFIGHTER now, but to them -they're just doing what they've always done.

this we'll defend said...

Well, Vrangel, I guess I'm a little upset about our undertaking a "generational" committment to an entire region of the world now considered an "enemy base" under false pretenses, without proper debate, tied into the actions of only a few from that region (and NONE from Iraq), and against the best advice of the military and national security professionals.

I love democracy, of course I do. But when I hear "we will bring democracy to the Middle East" I hear the "we will civilize the savages" language that the European imperialists used to justify exploitation and constant warfare in the 3rd world.

If our intent was to establish democracy where it has never been then
1) there were better places to start, with a greater liklihood of success, and
2) the American people should have been briefed that this was going to be generational effort about bringing democracy to a place that has never known it, instead of false ties to 9/11 and non-existent threats of WMD attack (non-existent threat is different from whether Saddam had chem weapons or not - even if he did he was not a threat).

The second is much more important than the first. WE the people are in charge, and a "generational committment" was foisted on us under false pretences.

Finally, the neo-cons who proclaimed how easy it would be and prevented the military from planning for success, and Rumsfeld who refused to allow the military to have more boots on the ground in the first few crucial weeks and months after the fall of Saddam, have made the effort much, much tougher. Who will be held responsible? Apparently nobody. After all, Rummy is doing a "great" job according to Pres. Bush.

As for how easy Wolfowitz and others thought it would be, we tried to install democracy in Korea too. It took decades. Fine. But that isn't what they told the American people about Iraq before we invaded. Instead it was all "Japan and Germany were reconstructed" and "it will be quick" and "they will greet us as liberators" and "if we don't they will kill millions of us."

Who is held responsible for not only ignoring Gen. Shinseki's warnings, but for publicy chastising him? Isn't he owed an apology? Aren't we all?

I plan to register my anger on election day. Not only are we NOT safer than we were on 9/11, we are LESS safe. And I don't recall at ALL any "generational committment" talk until we had already been in Baghdad for months. This was a dumbass idea executed poorly by the Bush Administration, and the fact that it still stands a chance of success is only due to the incredible skill and power of our military.

But it didn't need to happen at all, and the neo-cons who ordered it made it tougher for the military to succeed by believing their own best-case scenarios and punishing those who disagreed.

Labor statistics on job safety don't include military jobs. Being an infantryman is probably not nearly as hazardous as fishing in PEACETIME, and combat of course is more hazardous. Even then, with about 135,000 troops in Iraq and almost 1,000 deaths it sure is more hazardous than fishing off an alaskan boat.

Your highway statistics are inappropriate. Soldiers take those risks too - the death rate for them is ABOVE the general average which included traffic fatalities. And perhaps most chillingly, the Johnson administration used this same reasoning to try and make Vietnam casaulties less scandalous.

As for your conclusion that fighting the Cold War was worth it, of course. As for your conclusion that this means Vietnam was justified, no way.

That is actually a great example. We were sold the Vietnam war as part of the war against communism. It was not. We were sold the Iraq war as part of the war against 9/11, and there is a lot less justification for that.

Suzanne said...

Thank you.

Whether or not the decision to go to war in Iraq will turn out to have been a good one (and I do hope things will turn out well in the end there), it was not made with all the info necessary for it to be a well informed decision. The plans were not made with all the info necessary for them to be well made plans. The info was out there and it was ignored.

No matter how strategically important and morally right it turns out to be for us to have sent Americans in there, those Americans and the Iraqis they went in to help were not respected enough by our leaders for them to take the time and make sure they understood everything they needed to understand about the situation from the very beginning.

And no matter how many or how few people die daily from any cause, we should do our best not to get used to it. We should always be looking for ways to decrease those numbers.

vrangel said...

TWD, you are overly focused on a procedural matters.
As I said before, this is not a court of law situation, this is a war situation.

Why weren't we told the future ? Perhaps because we don't have oracles on a payroll. Enemy has his free will, he makes his own decisions, whether stupid or smart. We deal with it.

Less safe ? Proof of a pudding is in eating . There were no terrorist attacks on US soil since 9/11 .
"Less safe" so far is hysterical campaign demagogery.

Vietnam wasn't part of war against communism ? I spent 9 years in the Soviet Army, all that time I was told the opposite.

vrangel said...

Hehe, just found this:

"I've been working on my costume and sign for Sunday's big peace rally in New York, and it's taken me days to dry out the palm leaves so I could make a proper conical hat. And don't even start me on the difficulties of finding a suitable Ao Dai in this place!

I'm going as a Vietnamese peasant, with a sign reading: "John Kerry Shot My Dad".

this we'll defend said...

Procedural matters? Deciding if the invasion was correct or not is not a procedural matter, and our Constitution is not a "legalism." We are unique in the world in that we are a nation united not by race, religion, or geography, but by an idea. That idea is our Constitution. Our soldiers don't take an oath to the President or even to the United States. They take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution.

So no I don't think I'm focusing too much on procedural matters when I say that we shouldn't go to war unless Congress declares it, as the Constitution says. The People are the ultimate sovereign and they (We) ordered it so. It upsets me when that is ignored for political expediency.

As for the "oracles," Gen. Shinseki predicted what would happen and he has been shown exactly right. Was he rubbing a crystal ball?

The statement that there haven't been any terrorist attacks on US soil since 9/11 doesn't prove that invading Iraq is the cause. Especially since terrorists who wish to attack us now have easier access to Americans by shooting at them in Iraq.

Are we less safer? Terrorist recruiting has skyrocketed, opinion of the US is at an all-time low worldwide (after the entire world stood with us on 9/12), relations with our oldest allies are in tatters, our military is fully committed with our "reserves" serving anything but a reserve role anymore, and we have spent over $100 billion on Iraq that could have been spent on improving our defenses - or paying down the debt that is hurting our economic power.

But yes, we did overthrow Saddam, the leader of an ever-weakening tyranny that had been successfully contained for over a decade and that grew weaker and presented less of a threat every day. Yay.

Our war in Vietnam was due to our misunderstanding of the threat communism presented. We saw a global monolithic communism and missed the internal divisions of communism - shown by the war between communist China and communist Vietnam only a few years after the fall of South Vietnam. Now Bush sees all Muslim nations that aren't our allies as terrorist threats, despite no credible evidence to support it.

this we'll defend said...

Oh, and thank you Vrangel for helping me debate what I so want to debate. I might not agree with you but I really enjoy your comments.

vrangel said...

Our enemies hated us in 1993 when they tried to destroy World Trade Center the first time.
They grew stronger as we tried to be nice.

Fortress America is not a winning approach. We take the fight to the enemy instead. We will win there.

this we'll defend said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
this we'll defend said...

I agree, we should take the fight to the enemy that attacked us. We simply disagree over whether that was Iraq. I want a little more evidence than you do to justify our going to war.

But, I guess that makes me weak and unwilling to stand up and defend our nation - or that is what I've been told, usually by non-veterans who have no idea how ironic it is that they are addressing such comments to me.

vrangel said...

Slow decay of authoritarian paternalistic ME societies is what produces enemies of us.
In their eyes we are rich, powerful and seemingly in charge of the world.
They are the opposite of it. Their elites channel this frustration and hopelessness our way to cling to power as long as they can.

You say Saddam was weakening anyway. They all do and that's a problem. What would have come after Saddam ? Al-Sadr or another taliban I am afraid.
Same process is under way in entire ME.

We are trying to preempt that by introducing freedom, democracy and free market capitalism as a way out.
We started in Iraq.

As one blogger from Egypt writes, "I don't care about Egypt now, it's Iraq, Iraq, Iraq."
He hopes we deliver on our promise there. Then he will have hope for his own country.

Captain Holly said...

I probably am entering this discussion too late, but what the heck, I'll jump in with both feet.

Well, Vrangel, I guess I'm a little upset about our undertaking a "generational" committment to an entire region of the world now considered an "enemy base" under false pretenses, without proper debate, tied into the actions of only a few from that region (and NONE from Iraq), and against the best advice of the military and national security professionals.Oh, you're talking about Iraq here. I thought you were talking about Germany, Japan, or Korea. My bad.

Thanks to the internet, we now know that things did not go that well in Germany, Japan, or Korea after those wars ended. In late 1946, for example, the Media were shreiking that we had completely messed up the post-war occupation. General MacArthur in Japan told President Truman to "give me food, or give me bullets", because if things didn't improve, the Japanese would revolt.

Someone clearly "blew it" back then.

Of course things are not going as well as they could in Iraq. But they're going far better than your hallowed Prophet Shinseki predicted. In fact, if I remember correctly, the All-Wise Shinseki said we would need twice as many troops to take Baghdad within three months. He was proved wrong on that count.

But he was in good company; alot of people were proved wrong on April 9, 2003. Baghdad was supposed to be the graveyard of the American Army; even the Sages at the Army War College were predicting up to 3,000 KIA in the Battle for Baghdad.

Back then it seemed no one but Rumsfeld and the Nefarious Neo-Cons thought we could take Baghdad in just three weeks with minimal casualties. And, of course, General Franks, whose recent book is quite supportive of President Bush's decision to invade Iraq. But perhaps that's because he's from Texas.

I suspect your disdain for Bush and his Defense Secretary is based more on the fact that they have an "R" by their names than by any gross incompetence. After all, it was Bill Clinton (who dodged the draft and publicly declared that he "loathed the military", BTW) who made regime change in Iraq the official policy of the US government.

Do you remember Operation Desert Fox? December, 1998? Attacking Iraq because, in part, Saddam Hussein had refused to comply with the UN resolutions, and because we had very good intelligence that he still had chemical weapons?

In fact, everyone thought that Saddam still had chemical and biological weapons. General Franks was told that personally by both Egyptian President Mubarak and Jordan's King Hussein prior to the invasion. Are they part of the NeoCon cabal?

The idea that America was popular before we invaded Iraq is silly. I remember the post-9/11 good feelings began to fade the instant we invaded Afghanistan. I remember alot of "prophets" telling us that we would never succeed where the British and Russians failed, that we would never last through an Afghan winter, that the Afghan people were too ethnically splintered to be able to embrace democracy, that the Northern Alliance was too weak to defeat the Taliban, that we would need thousands more troops, etc, etc.

In fact, alot of the same people who opposed Iraq opposed the Afghan operation because we weren't supposed to fight back. We were supposed to understand the Muslim world's anger towards us and do the only thing that would appease them: Cast Israel adrift. Invading Afghanistan was only going to "inflame" the all-powerful Arab Street and topple Arab regimes like dominoes.

Iraq is not Viet Nam, nor anywhere close to it. The best indication is in the casualty count. The country is awash in Kalashnikovs; if just 10% of the population started taking potshots at US troops we would have hundreds, if not thousands, of casualties every month. While they may not like us, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis recognize that life under the Americans is far better than life under Saddam. They're willing to put up with us because we offer them a better future.

Incidentally, this is why Muqtada Al-Sadr's two attempts to start a Shi'ite revolution have gone nowhere. The support for it just isn't there.

In fact, come to think of it, Viet Nam isn't Viet Nam, either. The last US combat troops left in mid-1973, yet the country didn't fall until April 1975, nearly two years after the fighting stopped. Why? Because the US Congress, dominated by anti-war Democrats taking advantage of President Nixon's weakness, cut all military aid to Viet Nam. Of course the South Vietnamese lost; they had no weapons or ammunition.

We didn't lose in Viet Nam. We gave it away.

Monday-morning quarterbacking is standard operating procedure in any war, especially among ambitious generals. Many Americans would find this hard to believe, but President Lincoln was highly unpopular during his first term. Your description of the War in Iraq (unconstitutional, unpopular, divisive, costly, bloody) can be applied, with extreme emphasis, to the Civil War.

Many Americans, north and south, hated the war and President Lincoln. It was expected that the vainglorious "war hero" George McClellan would trounce Lincoln, and justly so. After all, Lincoln had "mismangaged" the war, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of American lives. Worse yet, he refused to fire that "incompetent butcher", General Grant, even though many of his own troops didn't like him.

(Some more interesting comparisons to George Bush: Lincoln was sneeringly called "The Gorilla"; Bush's nickname among the anti-war left is "The Chimp". Lincoln was also considered to be an imbecile by the media of his day. Just thought you'd like to know)

In conclusion, the war in Iraq is going poorly simply because you see it as going poorly. The real verdict on the War in Iraq won't be known for decades; when Iraq is a prosperous, functioning democracy and US ally, then perhaps those who opposed it will grudgingly admit they were wrong. Whether or not we lose in Iraq is up to us; we're the only ones who can defeat ourselves.

this we'll defend said...

That premise ignores that the 9/11 hijackers (and most of the known members of al queda) come from stable, middle-class or even rich families. Osama is (I wish I could say "was") a coddled rich boy whose family is worth millions. He has a higher education. Most of the 9/11 hijackers attended college in the west. None were from poverty-stricken families. Many of them and their financial backers are the elite you suggest are channeling the frustrations of the powerless. If your premise is correct then the 9/11 hijackers would have been Palestinian, one of the poorest and most oppressed people on earth and a known breeding ground for terrorism and anti-American sentiment. None of them were. They might have been Chechens or Bosnians. Nope. They were Egyptian and Saudi Arabian, and educated. And supported by wealthy Saudis. You write that "In their eyes we are rich, powerful and seemingly in charge of the world." Our terrorist enemies are the rich and powerful.

You write that terrorism is produced by the "Slow decay of authoritarian paternalistic ME societies." Then why weren't any terrorist attacks against the US prior to our invasion of Iraq launched by Iraqis?

And if we aim to destroy the kinds of societies that produce terrorists, why weren't Egypt and Saudia Arabia, the two countries that between them produced every single one of the 9/11 hijackers and the vast majority of Al Queda, on the top of that list?

Our enemies are evil and want to destroy us. Shouldn't we at least have an accurate picture of them and what motivates them before we decide "strategy" that might play right into their hands?

Your words (and Bush's, and Rice's, and Wolfowitz's, etc.) all sound wise and well-thought out, but they fall apart upon further examination.

I think the supporters of the war are coming up with a great reason to invade Iraq AFTER the invasion has shown their original claims were as hollow as so many said.

vrangel said...

Heh, comparing Bush to Lincoln might be a bit of a stretch, because Lincoln was also called a tyrant for suspending Habeaus Corpus.
Let's just say he was like Bush&Ashcroft combined !


vrangel said...

Vladimir Lenin was from middle class family, as were most of bolshevik leaders. They led disposessed and confused.
That's the way it works.

Making the case after the fact? Not so, I've heard this before the war began. That's how I was convinced .
Perhaps you relied on mainstream media at the time and missed it.

Yes, Saudi Arabia or Egypt could have been on top of the list. You would be saying, why not Iraq or Syria then.
Saddam was the most brutal of them all by far, sounds like a good reason to me.

Regardless, we are in and we must finish what we started.

this we'll defend said...

CPT Holly:

Your WWII analogy talks about the reconstruction of two nations that we had just fought total war with, including dropping two atomic bombs, a conflict in which we lost more Americans than any other. And the US was united in that war, and both Germany and Japan had a history of liberal democracy.

And I'm not the "shreiking media."

So your analogy doesn't fit. Unless you are suggesting that Iraq declared war on us first, as Japan did on Dec. 7, 1941, and as Germany did a few days later?

Korea is a better analogy - it took decades for democracy to flower there. What made us think it would be easier in Iraq? Yet our "leaders" thought so, despite so many people telling them otherwise. Bush and Rummy were wrong. I want them held responsible.

Shinseki (and many others) said that victory over the Iraqi military was assured, but that the day after was the issue - and if we had the troops Shinseki wanted in those first crucial days and weeks and months after the fall of Saddam we would have a much easier time of it. You are engaging in the typical right-wing trick (perhaps unknowingly) of answering a question that has not been asked. Shinseki never doubted victory over Saddam. Nobody did. We didn't expect to take Baghdad in 3 weeks, but we expected a quick and total defeat of Saddam and his degraded and decrepit military. And we wanted and needed more boots on the ground to consolidate our military success. It didn't happen.

As I said in 2002 in an editorial (the first entry on my blog at

"Our military is the best the world has ever seen. Success against the Iraqi military is a certainty, and thus the President’s call for “regime change” is bound to happen if we invade. We need to be certain, however, that such a change would result in a safer world. That is the test for success, not removing Saddam. Ralph Waldo Emerson noted that men don’t ride events, events ride the man. The war could (and probably would) have consequences beyond what most of us can predict now. The eminent military philosopher Carl von Clausewitz cautioned that when preparing for war political leaders should never take the first step until they know their last. If war with Iraq is worth U.S. blood and treasure it is worth establishing and articulating a desired political end and a plan for the political consolidation of our military success. We must not take the first step until we have thought our strategy through to the last step, until we understand all the risks and rewards. This has not been done."

Yet you claim Rumsfeld is vindicated because we defeated Saddam so quickly. You are simply wrong. Shinseki was right, and you shouldn't twist what he said or what the Army War College said. And we have nearing 1,000 dead and many many more wounded, and the war is NOT over. Bush and Rummy were wrong and I want them held responsible.

Not everyone thought Saddam was a threat - read my first post - and possessing chemical weapons is not the same thing as presenting a threat to our nation. Find out how many nations have them and get ready for a long, long fight if we conclude possession alone constitutes a threat. BTW - they suck as weapons AND as terror devices. Conventional explosive works much better - or worse, depending on whether you are attacking or being attacked.

You write that "the idea that America was popular is a myth" but that is not what I said. We might not have been popular in the Islamic world, but formally nuetral people are enraged against us now. I have never minded what already hostile nations think of us because they already hate us. It is the making of new enemies that doesn't seem a good strategy to me. You are living in your own little world if you think we aren't at a low point in our relations with the rest of humanity.

The war in Afghanistan isn't over either, so hold off on that victory banner. The Soviet Union's assault into Afghanistan was actually much more of an effort against a much stronger and more modern and better-equipped Afghani military. The Russians seized total control in a brilliant and quick offensive. They declared victory and installed a friendly government. And it was stable and seemingly secure for quite a while. They pulled out a decade later after many casualties and chaos ensued until one force took over most of the country - the Taliban. Yes we succeeded in toppling the weakest and poorest regime in the world. Yay. Did you forget why we went there? To find and kill Al Queda and most especially Osama, not to liberate the Afghani people. Most of the bad guys got away, US soldiers are still under fire, and Karzai dare not leave Kabul without enormous security. The Taliban are not gone. And the Afghan people are certainly not embracing democracy since most of the country is under the de facto control of warlords.

You say: "In fact, a lot of the same people who opposed Iraq opposed the Afghan operation because we weren't supposed to fight back. We were supposed to understand the Muslim world's anger towards us and do the only thing that would appease them: Cast Israel adrift. Invading Afghanistan was only going to "inflame" the all-powerful Arab Street and topple Arab regimes like dominoes." With respect, that is a steaming load of poo. Are you suggesting Gen. Shinseki thought that? Or me?

You lump everybody who disagrees with you into one category, but they don't fit. Most of those opposed to the Afghan operation are either pacifists and opposed to ALL operations, or they are anti-American. Most of those opposed to the Iraqi invasion are NOT in that category - and my essay points that out clearly. That is a blatantly false attempt to take valid criticism of the invasion of Iraq and paint it as extremist and unpatriotic. I don't buy it and neither should you.

Your talk of most Iraqis thinking life is better without Saddam is hopefully true. I think so. I hope so. I think we did a great favor for the Iraqi people. And I'm NOT IRAQI. I judge our military actions by whether they help or hinder OUR national security, not IRAQI national security or quality of life.

There were piles of ammo all over South Vietnam when that government fell. It was the lack of American air power coupled with the disastrous decision to retreat from half the country before launching a counter-offensive that led to the downfall of that nation. That said, once we had committed to South Vietnam I think we should have honored that commitment. Nixon's "Peace with Honor" and "Vietnamization" was a face-saving way to get the hell out, and blaming the democrats for South Vietnam's defeat show you are more influenced by the D next to a person's name than I am by any R.

That said, so what? How Vietnam fell doesn't indicate whether we were right to be there in the first place. As I said, I want us to win in Iraq. I want it to be a stable and functioning democracy. Does that mean I will say I was wrong if we succeed? NO. Because I'm not wrong. Again, I'm not Iraqi. If Iraq is a stable and functioning democracy that is great, but the cost WE are paying is too high and doesn't help OUR national security. Losing would be even worse, but that doesn't mean invading was right at all. You are again answering a question that was not asked. You are trying to prove that we can win in Iraq. I'm trying to show we shouldn't have been there in the first place and hold George W. responsible for it. But I also want us to win. I think the two issues are separate. Just like Al Queda and Saddam - two different things.

Your analogy to Lincoln and how unpopular he was with many Americans kind of ignores that he was fighting a CIVIL WAR - you know, the kind where brothers fight brothers? So it would be pretty difficult for him to be popular with a lot of people - if he were there wouldn't have been a civil war, would there? But even in that war few people blamed Lincoln for STARTING it.

Lincoln's patience and continual attempts to bring the South back into the fold is a great comparison to George W and his failure to display the same skill set and W's lack of committment to waging war only as a last resort. George W opened fire, Lincoln did not. Lincoln made good decisions, W did not. Lincoln did relieve a series of commanders before he found Grant and kept him. W has not relieved anybody, not Rummy, not George Tenet, nobody, despite the incredible ham-handed missteps that have plaugued our efforts in Iraq. Good comparison, and very unfavorable to your candidate.

Your claim that Grant's troops didn't like him is a myth, by the way. He wasn't revered like Lee, but he was quite respected. And another myth is that Lee was the better general. Grant at Vicksburg did what Lee could never have done, and the numbers were against him. It was ballsy as all hell. But that is another topic.

MickeyMe said...

I read an article written by an Army officer who was sent to a small town in Montana to notify a family of their son's death in Iraq. First he had to go to the assigned local clergy and ask the pastor to accompany him to the family's home. As it turned out, the pastor knew the family well. Not that it made things easier, but at least one of these two wouldn't be a stranger.

The officer was there for the funeral, burial, and then the reception at the VFW hall afterwards. All of the soldier's life long friends, neighbors, and siblings expressed love and gratitude to one another. On a table in the center of this gathering was a photo of a young man in dress uniform. Next to that was a large wicker basket with a hand-lettered sign, "Please place donations here. This money will be used to buy and ship kevlar bulletproof vests to our Americn troops."

You see, their son was one of God only knows how many of our fighting troops that didn't have one of these vests. He had written home and asked his parents to buy one and send it to him. Before they could get their order placed, he became a casualty in a long line of casualties.

Now I've read that the Department of Defense has corrected this shortage. Too little, too late.

91ghost said...

In regards to MickeyMe's comment: I've said it before, but I'll say it again--the lack of proper body armor was inexcusable, unforgivable, and unconscionable.

Captain Holly said...

Interesting response. I don't read anywhere in my original comment where I compared you to the "shreiking media", so I am puzzled as to why you would think I did.

But no matter. In your original post, you ask the question:

But why can't we, in the midst of a Presidential election, honestly discuss whether this President was wise to invade Iraq without accusations of appeasement, betrayal of our soldiers, accusations of ignoring the "lessons" of 9/11?I admit the debate between the pro-war and anti-war camps has gotten quite vicious. But I would submit that the anti-war, anti-Bush left is the main culprit in this regard. One only has to compare the amount of money spent by anti-Bush 527's to that of the Swift Vets 527 and others to realize that the pro-Bush camp has been quite restrained.

In fact, I detect in your writing the same vitriol that you condemn in others. A perfect example is this statement that you made in your original post:

Service isn't just about war either. Serving in the military is ALWAYS honorable, including peacetime.I agree. Yet in your previous post, "What a POWER TOOL" you excoriate one of your fellow troops for his unabashedly patriotic, if not highly tacky, website. You sneeringly call him names like "dork" "ass" "knob-polisher" and "chucklehead".

Apparently your "Band of Brothers" doesn't include anyone from the Signal Corps.

Now before you jump on me, I tend to agree. The guy's a pogue. He clearly has ambitions beyond the military; his website should be viewed as the first advertisement of his 2020 congressional campaign. (Kind of like John Kerry requesting his first Purple Heart, or filming re-enactments of his combat exploits, or turning against his fellow troops when home to ride the crest of anti-war sentiment). There's plenty of ambitious, budding, obnoxious politicians in the military (see Clark, Wesley).

But he's serving honorably. He put his civilian life on hold to answer the call from his country. And he's in Iraq now, even if he's in a relatively secure rear area.

So which is it? Is the Army a team, or are only combat MOSs worthy of praise and emulation? Are infantrymen the only ones who can have genuine feelings of pride and patriotism? How does being shot at automatically make you wiser and more patriotic than the soldier who delivers your MRE's? The "attitude of condescension" that you accuse him of having towards the infantry is more than reciprocated by you.

And that, I think, is symptomatic of the debate about Iraq. During the 8 years of the Clinton administration, we were told that military service was irrelevant. Now we find out that George Bush "betrayed" his fellow Americans by serving in the National Guard and not going to Viet Nam. We are now told that John Kerry is better qualified to be President simply because he was in combat for 4 1/2 months.

(Indeed, it's not because of any plan he might have; not even the Kerry campaign seems to know what he would do if elected).

So in other words, if you want to have rational, invective-free debates about Iraq, you need to tone down your own rhetoric. We can indeed debate the whys and wherefores of our involvement there. But you need to accept the opinions of others as valid, even if they are in the Signal Corps.

Captain Holly said...

Incidentally, chemical and biological weapons are the perfect terrorist weapons. The ultimate purpose of the terrorist is not to destroy or maim (although that is a desirable by-product). It's to create chaos, uncertainty, and to provoke extreme reponses in the targeted country with the ultimate goal of causing them to conform to the terrorist's demands (Spain is a perfect example of a crushing terrorist victory).

Less than one ounce (30 mL) of Sarin properly released in the New York subway system could kill more people than jets did on 9/11. But more valuable to the terrorists would be the psychological trauma to the population.

Indeed, just a couple of anthrax-laced letters caused a massive national response. As one who was intimately involved in said response, I can say my agency wasted thousands of man-hours and dollars responding to hundreds of "white powder" complaints from paranoid citizens. During October and November of 2001, we (figuratively) ran around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying to reassure terrified 85 year-old grandmas that the dust from their Publisher's Clearinghouse letter wasn't going to kill them.

And all of it was created by less than 1 gram of Anthrax spores.

The anthrax attack of late 2001 was probably, in terms of the ratio of effort expended versus response generated, the most successful bioterrorist attack in history.

Now imagine what a group of 9/11-style plotters could do with a pound of anthrax spores. Considering that one could fit a fully-functioning Anthrax production lab into a truck trailer, that was certainly on the minds of the Bush Administration in the fall of 2002.

Saddam Hussein had not verified that he had disarmed as required by eighteen UN Security Council resolutions. He had documented ties to several terrorist groups, including Al-Qaeda (even the 9/11 Commissioners admitted that). And he had ample reason to strike back at America.

Now, you're the President. You don't know anything for sure, but you do know alot to worry you. What do you do? Wait for him to attack (as John Kerry said he would do)? How many people would have to die before you responded?

I don't know that, but I do know that Bush would get far more grief and second-guessing than he does now. Right or wrong, he made a decision to prevent another 9/11; in effect, he chose the lesser of two evils. And despite what critics like Scott Ritter and General Shinseki say now, no one in March 2003 really knew if Saddam had biological or chemical weapons (and we still don't know).

Captain Holly said...

Regarding Lincoln, he was indeed alot less popular than George Bush. He didn't even get a single vote in the seven original states of the Confederacy. But it was his election that triggered the secession process. By the time he was inaugurated, he was facing a de facto rebellion and an organized, functioning Confederate States of America. Nothing he could have done would have prevented that, and his victory was the reason it happened.

In April 1861 Lincoln was faced with a decision: Fight the South, or give up and let them become a country? We all know what he did. He chose the "belligerent" option. After Sumter was fired upon, he called for 75,000 volunteers from the North -- and in turn caused the secession of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas, and almost Kentucky, Missouri, and Maryland.

Talk about "ham-handed missteps".

And the criticism of Lincoln was merciless during his entire Presidency, arguably much worse than anything Bush has faced. He went through generals simply because he had to win a battle to keep public opinion on his side. The supposedly inferior Bobby Lee ran circles around everyone Lincoln sent against him, including McClellan, who, incidentally, was beloved by his troops. Indeed, Grant had not one but both his flanks turned by Lee during the battle of the Wilderness.

Speaking of Grant, he was indeed respected, but that was after the war was over. During 1864, he was derided by everyone as an drunkard and a bloodthirsty bumbler. After the debacle at Cold Harbor, he lost what little respect he had among his troops after he sent thousands of them into the teeth of Lee's defenses, and then refused to call a truce to recover the wounded. Under 100 days of his command in 1864, the Army of the Potomac suffered more casualties than in the previous three years combined.

Grant was a great general for the same reason Patton was a great general: He knew how to fight. It wasn't because he was a great tactician, or because his troops loved him, or because the Media and Congress thought he was the man for the job. To put it simply, he was successful because he wasn't afraid to let his troops get killed to win a war.

And I daresay that if Grant was in Iraq right now everyone would be calling for his head, just as they called for Patton's head in WWII. Great generals are not necessarily the most popular ones.

this we'll defend said...

Wow, that's a lot of stuff to respond to. I will have to skip most of it or this will be 20 pages long.

I've discussed Swiftvets on other pages, and I don't think it applies to what I wrote above. That is changing the subject.

I don't see what my bashing chucklehead power tool has to do with my common on honorable service. He is serving honorably. That doesn't mean he isn't a dork or a wuss.

Your comparison of Dork to Kerry, and your assertion that Kerry went to Vietnam (and was under fire) in order to further his political ambitions are offensive. As Missick shows, you don't need to put yourself under fire in order to play the "war hero" card. And your trashing of Gen. Clark is despicable. Had Clark put his political aspirations above his military duties he would't have argued with his bosses so much, he would have been an apple polisher like Missick.

Your charges that I only respect the infantry seem to be more of the "even if a charge is false just repeat it enough times" variety. I suggest you reread the previous article and my comments - and reread the post above as well, especially my recounting of a 19-year old non-infantry fuel handler I saw die.

I served in uniform during the Clinton administrations - and the first Bush, and under Reagan. Your take on the "neglected military" during the Clinton era is a common theme of the right wing, and totally false and unfounded. It also doesn't apply to the debate above, quit changing the subject. Clinton didn't invade Iraq.

Chemical and biological weapons are effective only when their true capabilities (or lack thereof) are unknown. Instead of educating Americans about how ineffective they are the administration used fear of them to stoke up passions for the invasion. Sarin in the Tokyo subways was big news, but few died and had the Aum Shiriko terrorists placed ordinary explosives on those trains instead there would have been a lot more dead and injured, as well as more damage to the subway itself. Not to mention the millions that terrorist organization spent that could have been spent preparing conventional attacks. Japan was lucky that the terrorists were fooled as you apparently are about the effectiveness of chemical weapons.

It is fear of the unknown that allows terms like WMD to be so powerful. Nuclear technology is truly horrific, but chemical and biological weapons, sometimes called the "poor man's nuclear weapon," are ineffective. Even Hitler, who had them, didn't use them. Even the Japanese in WWII stopped using them. Saddam stopped using them. Why? Because they suck.

Five people died from anthrax. Five. 3,000 died when 19 freaks with box-cutters hijacked four airplanes. So we invade Iraq to prevent anthrax production (even though Ritter showed and Hans Blix agreed there wasn't any to prevent) but create more angry zealots? How does that help us? It would make as much sense to wage war on box-cutter production facilities.

The fear you dealt with about anthrax from the population (85-year old grandmas afraid of their Publisher's Clearinghouse letters) was not caused by less than 1 gram of anthrax spores. It was caused by the administration stoking fears among the population in order to build support for the invasion of Iraq. More people died from lighting strikes in September 2001 than died from Anthrax attacks in the past... ever. In any case the anthrax used in the letters to the Senate, etc. didn't come from Iraq, even the administration admits this because the Army tested the strain and compared it to known strains of anthrax. It was anthrax from the United States. Are we invading ourselves?

Spain's voters responded in anger against their government for LYING about the true nature of Madrid bombings. The govt tried to blame ETA when it was clearly the work of Al Queda. I call the govt defeat a victory for democracy, not a victory for terrorism. Before you call the Spanish cowards, they have been dealing with ETA terrorism for decades and have refused to give in. Basque separatists will NOT win. The Spanish are NOT "caving in to the terrorists." They threw out a govt that sent troops to Iraq despite the overwhelming disapproval of the population, and that later lied about the cause of the Madrid attacks and got caught in that lie. Claiming the terrorists won because a right-wing govt was replaced by a left-wing one is false but is now conventional wisdom. The Spanish are still fighting terrorism, and ETA is on the run, and the Spanish are tracking down and catching or killing Al Queda every chance they get. The Spanish people didn't confuse Iraq with Al Queda. Conventional wisdom is wrong.

The "ties" you mention Saddam had with "terrorist groups," - nice phrasing. He did support Palestinian groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, as many Arab nations do include our "allies" Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Jordan. They don't consider them terrorist groups. In any case we aren't going to war against all terrorists, we are at war with those who would attack US. No Palestinians were involved in the 9/11 attacks, and while there is a great deal of anti-American sentiment among the Palestinian people they aren't targeting Americans. They were not part of 9/11. Saddam's "ties" to Al Queda are well documented. Using that same standard we have "ties" to North Korea - we meet with them and discuss things. We had "ties" to Saddam as well, much more than Saddam had with Al Queda. We had "ties" with the Taliban. We even have "ties" with Hamas and Hezbollah. Did we support any of those groups? There is no more evidence to support Saddam allying with AQ then there is to support the US allying with North Korea.

The decision to go to war is always uncertain, but as I discussed it is such a risky proposition, with such uncertainty involved about the results, that it should be done only as a last result. Our invasion of Iraq was a war of choice based on faulty and in some cases known-to-be-false information. I'm not "second-guessing" or monday-morning quarterbacking. I said before we invaded that this was a bad idea, that it was based on deception, that there was no plan to win AFTER we beat the Iraqi army, and that the President had not shown us credible evidence to support such a decision.

If I were president I would hope and pray that the People would hold me accountable for my actions.

And your civil war comments are simply incredibly wrong, but that is another topic. Here's a quick one though: calling Lincoln "belligerent" and suggesting his call for volunteers helped spark the war (and the seccession of four more states) ignores that Fort Sumter was fired upon already when he did that, and the US flag was forcibly removed from federal property by treasonous South Carolinians who would destroy the union rather than submit to the results of the election. South Carolina already had US Army soldiers in custody and were calling them prisoners of war. The war was already underway when Lincoln called for volunteers to save the Union and the Constitution from destruction.

But analogies to Lincoln fall flat in any case. We faced the greatest threat to our national existence during the Civil War. I don't think AQ ranks up there with secession, the 3rd Reich, the Empire of Japan, or the British in 1812 when it comes to threats to our nation. Of COURSE we will defeat AQ. Egypt successfully defeated the Muslim Brotherhood. We will defeat AQ. It is the "add-ons" that Bush is lumping into the misnamed "war on terror" that concern me the most. Like the war in Iraq that had nothing to do with 9/11 despite your repeated contentions that it did. And it is the neglect of the war against AQ coupled with the outrage in the Muslim world over Iraq that increases the risk of another 9/11, rather than decreases it as you have said.

this we'll defend said...

I hate to go on to a topic I shouldn't have started, but Grant is a hero of mine. You do say he was a great general, but I want to emphasize the point because I love talking about him. (readers who don't care should skip this comment)

Yes his forces suffered more casualties. He was attacking, not defending.

Lee, who had been in command of his army for years, was fighting on home turf, and had better scouts, did turn Grant's flanks in the Wilderness. And Grant saved his Army and continued to fight, surprising Lee. In a short time Grant's Army had sky-high morale and he went on to victory. Nothing builds morale like victory, and Grant's troops sensed it.

Lee was brilliant, but Grant's sending Sherman through Georgia and back up to North Carolina was revolutionary. Grant was without a doubt the better general.

His army of the Potomac suffered more casualties in 100 days than in the previous three years because a succession of previous commanders (notably the beloved McClellan) had not joined battle when they could and usually sought to avoid prolonged engagements despite knowing that this was the only way to win. Lincoln once wrote to McClellan that if he wasn't using his army, Lincoln would like to borrow it for a while. Had Grant been in charge earlier the war would have been won with fewer casualties overall on both sides - but that horrible 100 days would still have happened.

And his conduct at Appamattox Courthouse showed how lucky we were to have him on our nation's side. After fighting treasonous confederates who sought to destroy the Union and the Constitution, Grant ordered his troops to stop cheering when Lee was leaving the house where the surrender documents were signed. He said "the Southerners are our Countrymen again." He allowed Confederate officers, who would have been executed in any other civil war, to keep their sidearms and return home unscathed. He even allowed rebels to take home their horses in order to get the farms going again.

Perhaps most incredibly, he had Union soldiers present arms to honor the army of Northern Virginia when the confederate regiments arrived to turn in their colors in defeat. The man who commanded the honor guard and accepted the colors? Joshua Chamberlain, the officer who did more than any other to save the Union at Gettysburg. Grant had class.

To Lee's credit, although he committed treason and was an enemy of the US Army, shortly after the war he was interviewed and made it a point to refer to the United States as "my country" and "our nation."

I find it strange that Southerners who call those questioning the war in Iraq "traitors" and accuse protestors of helping the enemy always seem to have a confederate battle flag on their cars or in their homes. Don't they know the confederacy was the deadliest enemy our nation ever faced?

I used to piss people off when I was in college in the South by telling them I was in the Union Army. After all, I was.

Captain Holly said...

I share your interest in brevity, so I'll put my rebuttals in bullet points.

1. Your opinions on Sgt. Milsack. I went back and read all the comments in the original post, and I withdraw my argument.

2. Lincoln did indeed trigger the secession of Virginia and the other "border states" with his call for 75,000 troops. Lincoln issued his call on April 15, 1861; Virginia's governor responded with an angry letter denouncing the decision, and the state legislature voted to secede on April 17, 1861. Virginia was soon followed by the other states. Prior to that, they had all been "neutral" in the debate.

Instead of isolating the Confederacy, Lincoln's decision to call for troops almost doubled it in size and population. He had to do a careful balancing act to keep the others in the Union.

I'm not saying Lincoln was a bad president; far from it. He did the best thing he could, given the situation. But his decision could be (and was at the time) criticized as short-sighted, ill-conceived, and rash, much as Bush's decision to invade Iraq has been criticized.

3. The competency of General Grant. I agree that Grant was the general who won the war. I also agree that he understood what was necessary to defeat the South, unlike many of his predecessors.

But you ignore the painful year between April 1864 and April 1865. Grant, who had been hailed as the hero of McHenry and Donelson and Vicksburg when he came east, soon earned the nickname of "Butcher" for his high casualty counts. Washington was full of rumors of alleged drunkeness, corruption and mismanagement.

But Lincoln stood by him, despite the criticism. And that is my point. We consider Grant to be a great general because we have the perspective of history. We can see what the politicians and soldiers and media at the time could not see. But after Cold Harbor, there were probably many, if not a majority, of people both inside and outside of the Army who wanted his head on a pike.

Rumsfeld's true legacy will not be known for at least a decade. And like General Grant, I think he will be vindicated.

Historical note: I checked my sources, and those bloody six battles took place within 40 days, not 100, and the casualty count wasn't quite as high as the previous years combined. But it was close.

4. Your breezy dismissal of WMD terrorism. I was there in the thick of it in the chaotic days after the first deaths. There was no need for Bush to ramp up the hysteria; it was spontaneous.

In fact, Bush wasn't even talking openly about Iraq at that time. This was 2001, not 2002, and the country in our crosshairs was Afghanistan. The talk about invading Iraq didn't begin until the next year.

Despite your continued denial of the dangers of WMD terrorism, the potential is real. A single, suitcase-sized "dirty bomb" could contaminate several downtown blocks, denying their use just as effectively as if they had been obliterated by a conventional weapon. The Aum Shinryko attack was not as bad as it could have been (they didn't have a very good delivery system) but it did shut down the subway for days and sickened hundreds of people, including many first-responders and hospital personnel. 100 grams of properly prepared anthrax spores in the air system of an average indoor area could eventually kill and sicken thousands.

To get a similar effect with a conventional bomb, you'd need a Ryder truck.

WMD terrorist attacks in the past haven't been as bad as they could have been. But that doesn't mean that the potential isn't there. And considering the fact that so little is required to cause so much devastation, I think we are justified in preparing for them.

Which, incidentally, we have done since September 11th. I can tell you first hand that our country's level of preparedness for any terrorist attack, not just WMD, has changed completely since then. The current network of local, state, and federal agencies and the military that I am a part of simply did not exist before 2001. And in my opinion, it is largely due to the Bush Administration's policies. The fact that John Kerry is promising to increase funding for that system (probably to get the firefighter's union vote) speaks volumes about how effective it is.

That's why I'm voting for George Bush, even though I didn't vote for him in 2000 (I voted Libertarian).

Like you, I could spend alot more time and bandwidth addressing your other points, but since I, like you, have alot of other things to do, I'm done for now.

redleg said...

To throw my 2 cents in

Grant was a strategic general. Lee was an operational general. Strategy trumped operational need, but not in body count sadly. Grant was indeed the better general.

Quite a few of us here have seen boys die in both peacetime accidents and wartime missions and we keep trying to come to grips with that. It is not easy, nor should it ever be. It is not to glamorize or place war in a special place of honor. It is to be accepted as a part of service. As a leader you try to minimize the risk to you and your soldiers. But you can't always do that for a variety of reasons. At the end of the day, I think it was worth it. I think Iraq is worth it, depsite the cost personal and professional. I hate that soldiers are dying to make Iraq a better place, but that is what we are there for.

Bush back in office will let us complete that mission and further the war against international terror. Kerry will bring us back pre-9/11. No matter how much we want to go back to that we can't. Too many have died on both sides for that ever to happen. We will see if the nation accepts that version of reality or creates another on Nov 2. I know what I will decide.