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​Truth: Do I Kill The Guy With The Rifle — Or Ask Him To Tea?

Gadfly | March 11th, 2015

The Tragedy: A Country At War And A Public Who Is Not

We have been at war for 13 years. Presently out of 320 million people we have 1.4 million on active military duty and another 850,000 in the reserves. At the very end of World War II we had 16 million in uniform, about 10% of the population. Most able-bodied men served along with a few women. Almost every family was familiar with the armed forces. Now we have over four million people living on the country’s 2.1 million farms. In 2015 we will have 300,000 students studying abroad — while only 200,000 young will volunteer for the military services. A total of about 2.5 million served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan from 9/11 on, some with as many as 14 tours before being killed. In the Jan./Feb. issue of The Atlantic James Fallows has written an important article about the military that every American should read. The title is “The Tragedy of the American Military,” and the subhead is as important as the main title: “The American public and its political leadership will do anything for the military except take it seriously. The result is a chickenhawk nation in which careless spending and strategic folly combine to lure America into endless wars it cannot win. The American military is exotic territory to most of the American public.” We have a lot of politicians who seem eager to go to war in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Central Africa and other “exotic” parts of the world — as long as someone else is going. We have already been in a few of those wars, Korea and Vietnam, for example.

Americans do admire the military. Respect for every other major entity in modern life — the media and press, courts, particularly the Supreme Court, big business, organized religion and The Best Congress Money Can Buy — has gone below the charts. Only about a third has faith and confidence in the entire medical field, while only seven percent even recognize Congress as a functional entity. Why do Americans still have respect for the military? Is it because they are admitting “there but for the stupidity of volunteers go I?” Is it “out of sight out of mind?” Is it because soldiers represent courage and sacrifice? Is it because an individual feels he does not need discipline and regimentation like others? I think it’s a very foggy combination of these questions. Besides it gives those living in poverty in many distressed counties in the U.S. a job.

The Most Expensive, Best-Equipped Military In The Last Half Century, Which Has Never Won A War

We keep hearing our “professionalized” army is the best trained, best equipped and most highly motivated and disciplined military in the world. We are now spending 50 percent more than we spent through the Cold War and the Vietnam War. We spend as much on “defense” as the next 10 nations combined — about four times as much as China, and eight times as much as Russia. The rest of the world spends about two percent of Gross National Product on defense while we spend four percent. We have spent at least $1.5 trillion on our 13 years of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and hundreds of other places where we have troop detachments and 700 bases at last count. Experts say the costs will run as high as $6 trillion when we count another 50 years of disability, medical and retirement costs. So why haven’t we won a war in the last 65 years? Did we attain our goals in Korea? Check the lights in South and North Korea from space at night. What did we attain in Vietnam? We had 58,000 KIAs and pushed a lot of helicopters off ships that had flown from the roof of our embassy in Saigon as we fled. Don’t even mention Reagan’s “war” in Grenada where we tossed 7,000 medals to the 6,000 troops that took part. In the end, the Fargo Police using pontoon boats probably could have captured the few commies who were on the island of 110,000.

We won nothing in the Gulf War because we had to fight it twice about a decade apart. Fallows writes we have achieved only one clear strategic goal in our longest war: the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Killing Saddam Hussein cloned about another hundred Saddams in the Middle East. A car bomb killed 40 and wounded 64 Muslims in Baghdad recently. We have about 13 times the population of Iraq in the U.S., so that blast is the equivalent of killing and wounding 1,352 in this country. Muslims have been killing each other for 1,400 years, and now we have politicians who want us to supply lethal arms and intervene in Syria, Iraq and another dozen places. There are only 1,200 “free” Syrian groups! I think Senator Dirksen was right. He said we have two political parties in Washington: the Evil Party and the Stupid Party. Now we have the best deal we can get at this time — Muslims killing Muslims by the gross. We should send diplomatic notes to all Muslim countries, sects and tribes and announce we will only help them join the family of nations when they stop killing and torturing each other. And further, we should not spend a dime training their armies. They are pretty good at killing after 1,400 years of fighting. Is there a person over eight in these Muslim countries that can’t fire an AK-47, build an IED or assemble a suicide vest? Remember that Iraqi Army we spent billions training for five years? It was routed in a few days by ISIS and its untrained recruits. Author William Greider writes: “We are vulnerable because our presumption of unconquerable superiority leads us deeper and deeper into unwinnable conflicts.” How true.

Symbols: A Rebel Army Colonel And A “Pentagon Perfumed Prince” Of An Army General

I’m going to use two famous U.S. Army leaders to try to make some points about our politicians and our military leadership. David Hackworth was born on Armistice Day, 1930, was orphaned at five months and was raised by a grandmother in Santa Monica, Calif. When 10 years old he shined shoes at a military base, was adopted as a mascot and his soldier-customers had a tailor make him a complete Army uniform. At age 14 he convinced a stranger to pretend he was his father and to take him to a recruiting station. Only the Merchant Marine would take him. At 15 he lied again about his age and joined the Army. He served in Europe at the end of WWII, and then in Korea and in Vietnam. In the Korean War he won a battlefield commission at age 20 and became the youngest captain ever to serve in the Army. In Vietnam he became the youngest full-bird colonel to ever serve. During his seven years of combat in various war theaters he was awarded 91 combat medals, including two distinguished Service Crosses, 10 Silver Stars, 8 Bronze Stars and 8 Purple Hearts for his wounds. He was recommended three times for the highest combat award, the Congressional Medal of Honor. After his service he was awarded the United Nation’s Medal for Peace for his work against nuclear proliferation.

But in 1971, four years before the end of the Vietnam War, Hackworth, after three year-long tours in Vietnam, went on ABC’s “Issues and Answers” and told the country the following: “Vietnam is a bad war … it can’t be won. We need to get out. Saigon will fall to the communist forces within four years.” He really pissed off President Nixon, Henry Kissinger and the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time; but because of his incredible military service, character, military medals and unquestioned heroism, they knew they couldn’t take him on. Hackworth retired from the Army, moved to Australia and threw all of his medals away. His summary of the Vietnam War and Pentagon leadership: “I discovered too late that the enemy was motivated not by ideology but by freedom and independence. It was only then that I realized we had no business being there. Until then, I’d believed that soldiers served our country for duty, honor and country. But in Vietnam I discovered that most of the senior leadership was concerned mainly with themselves and neither understood the nature of the war, nor had a clue about the impossible mission with which they’d tasked their soldiers. Most were there merely to get combat assignments and the glory medals that would punch their tickets and speed up their promotions.” He referred to most generals of the time as “Perfumed Princes of the Pentagon.” Think of General William Westmoreland who often held “The Five O’clock Follies” in Saigon to “brief” and lie to the press about how we were winning it. He had the looks of a real general.

And In Marched General David Petraeus With His Fifty Ribbons And Badges

Two years after Hackworth earned a battlefield commission to become the youngest Army captain in history, David Petraeus was born. Petraeus’s father was a Dutch sea captain who had immigrated to the U.S. David Petraeus was a top student in almost every category at West Point. After graduating in 1974, Petraeus went to Ranger School, winning top honors. The Army seemed to be preparing him for top leadership. They sent him to the Command and General Staff College at Leavenworth for a year where he earned the General George C. Marshall Award for top graduate. He then spent two years at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, earning a doctorate in international affairs. In 1991 he was appointed commanding officer of the 101st Airborne Division and became a colonel. He was wounded by a soldier in training who tripped and fired his M-16 by mistake. He recovered in a few days.

Petraeus was noticed by President George W. Bush and was promoted to full general in 2007. He had developed the counterinsurgency plans used in Iraq and Afghanistan, and later replaced General Stanley McChrystal as Afghanistan commander when McChrystal was fired by Obama. In 2011 Obama appointed Petraeus CIA director. Because I’m a news junkie, I often watched Petraeus testify before Congressional committees about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He would stroll in full uniform down to the witness chair accompanied by numerous aides. His chest would be covered by rows and rows of colorful military badges and ribbons. I thought this guy has really seen combat and campaigns in many corners of the world. As a Marine Corps officer in the mid-1950s I had many enlisted and officers in my units with rows and rows of ribbons and awards from both the European and Pacific combat theaters. Petraeus had served as a general in Iraq and Afghanistan, but generals are only killed or wounded when they are stupid and get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Petraeus covered his chest with 19 decorations given him by foreign countries for international posts. He even had three parachute qualification badges from foreign governments for jumping out of airplanes.

Petraeus lost all credibility later when he got caught with his Bismarck Babe, who was writing his “incredible” biography. No wonder some of his troops called him General “Betrayus.” And his work in modifying an Army counterinsurgency manual? Name me one war won by an invading nation battling guerillas and partisans hiding behind trees, rocks, mountains and urban buildings. How about The Little Bighorn? Ask Custer. My last division commander in the Marine Corps was Lt. Gen. “Chesty” Puller, who started military service as a private. He fought through numerous “insurgent” encounters in the Caribbean, World War II and the Korean War, and earned many combat decorations. He rose to the rank of lieutenant general. He lectured us often on war. His favorite lesson: “War is Hell. When a politician asks you to go to war for him and country, tell him, yes, I’ll go. But when we go to war we will kill everybody in sight — and you’ll have to come and sort it out.” In other words, he was saying never go to war in a country where when you see a man with a rifle, you wonder whether you should kill him or ask him to tea. That’s what Chesty thought about counterinsurgency wars such as Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. We have not yet reached the dawning of the Age of Aquarius (where “Jupiter aligns with Mars / and peace will guide the planets / and love will steer the stars”) when it comes to politics and wars. No one is letting the sunshine in yet.

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