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Archive for the ‘Military History’ Category

When I read about the death of the last British World War I veteran, I wonder if  in 20 or 30 years time World War II will similarly be reduced the level of historical curiosity, where the death of the last veteran is a mere human interest story.  As it stands, World War II remains prominent in our consciousness, but in the process World War I has been forgotten.

World War II is the biggest war in human history and will, God willing, remain so.  It also is tied up in a moral narrative that sustains liberalism.  W e know more and more about one aspect of the war because the Holocaust is front and center as an indictment of the Western World; the various military and foreign policy lessons of the war are assuming less and less significance. The Pacific Theater is nearly forgotten, other than as proof of American “racism” in dropping the nuclear bomb on Japan. So long as the narrative of the evil Western World persists, the human rights violations of the Nazis will continue to be given top billing, while the gallantry of the Allies, the evils of the Soviets, and the human suffering from the war in general will be suppressed. It is unfortunate that our historical memory is so shallow that the most recent world war obliterates the memory and lessons of all of its predecessors, and even its own lessons are simplified and channelled into a single narrative designed to advance the cause of liberalism.  We all are supposed to learn that appeasement and short-sighted and selfish nationalism led to Chamberlain’s capitulation and thus allowed the Holocaust, but we never learn the evils of hair-trigger alliances and transnational loyalties that set the powder keg off in the Great War, nor the similar mass murder committed by Communists during war and peace.

Our leaders and our educated classes have fewer and fewer reference points in making decisions about complex matters.  Obama’s shallow understanding of history is the perfect complement to Bush’s “One Note Johnnie” fear of appeasement.  I should hope that neither the Great War, nor World War II, both of which are great testaments to the capacity of man for evil and the costs of war, become so forgotten or misunderstood as simple lessons about “resisting aggression,” that anyone should be inclined to repeat them.

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Most of George Bush’s foreign policy mistakes have been caused by what may be termed excessive foreign policy idealism.  Though Bush is rightly criticized for his incompetence and failure to learn from events, no amount of competence would have saved him from the pathetic, ongoing insurgency in Iraq. This outcome was a natural consequence of the situation that he put himself in due to foreign policy idealism:  our ambitious plans to change Iraq’s people and culture, the lack of an Iraqi center of power or leader to which we could appeal, and the inherent friction of a proud, ancient people in the face of foreign occupation. 

Bush misjudged where we should intervene (Iraq, Ukraine’s elections, Kosovo Independence), how long we should stay (forever), and what kind of results we could expect (flowers) because of this idealism. In the world of Bush and the neoconservatives, we should concern ourselves not merely with security or commerce, but high ideals like democracy and human rights among both our allies and our enemies.  The lack of concern for such things has undergirded our historical alliance with folks like Saudi monarchs and Indonesian dictators.  The idealists respond that these regimes fuel terrorism amongst their resentful and downtrodden people.  So, we must democratize places like this by force, including Iraq, as a matter of englightened self-interest. 

McCain believes all of this in spades.  Pat Buchanan describes what we can expect in a President McCain:

Like Condi Rice, who regularly disparages the policies of every president from FDR to Bill Clinton, McCain enjoys parading the higher morality of his devotion to democracy-uber-alles.

“For decades in the Middle East we had a strategy of relying upon autocrats to provide order and stability. We relied on the Shah, the autocratic rulers of Egypt, the generals of Pakistan, the Saudi royal family. … We can no longer delude ourselves that relying on these outdated autocrats is the safest bet.”

Speaking of self-delusion, does McCain believe the “democrats” lately elected in Pakistan will be tougher on al-Qaida and the Taliban than Pervez Musharraf, who has twice escaped assassination for having sided with us?

Does McCain think this new crowd in Islamabad will be more pro-American than the general, when the people who voted them in are among the most anti-American in the Islamic world?

From Richard Nixon to George Bush I, we expelled Moscow from Egypt, won the Cold War, brought peace between Egypt and Israel, and created a worldwide alliance, including Hafez al-Assad of Syria, that drove Saddam’s army out of Kuwait.

What has the Bush-McCain democracy crusade produced, save electoral victories for the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and Hamas? And if we dump the sultan of Oman, President Mubarak, and the king of Saudi Arabia, who does McCain think will replace them?

The “idealists” are the most war-mongering bunch around.  Their idealism has no respect for the diversity of political arrangements in the world, nor the benefits of tolerating injustice compared to initiating the horrors of war. Idealists are behind such varied campaigns as Kosovo, Iraq, and Vietnam, as well as the current call to intervene in Sudan.  Without a sustained focus on America’s abiding interest in peace and the avoidance of trouble, the idealism of a Clinton or a Bush or a McCain will always get us into wars.   The “no war for oil” folks have it all wrong.  That at least would make some crude sense.  The neoconservative ideaslists are seeking not power or lucre, but the satisfaction of standing up for a noble cause.  For them, every threat is Hitler, every decision Munich, every threat of world historical importance.  This same idealism does not give a leader the analytical tools to realize our predicaments and extricate ourselves. 

Idealists always paint vivid images of the future, a world characterized by law and right. Our present difficulties are always treated casually, necessary and bearable suffering that will be vindicated by the verdict of history.  Such “this worldly” optimism is reminiscent of the Hegelian-Marxist view of history, where any given state of society is only a step on the way to the Communist paradise. 

But sometimes it’s not December 1944. Sometimes the stakes are not existential.  And in these cases, hard-headedness is needed to go with softer-heartedness, in McCain’s case the admirable concern for others and a high sense of duty and persistence.  There is a time to throw in the towel, and that time has arrived in Iraq.

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War Nerd on the Kurds

The War Nerd is well worth reading.  He’s got a professor’s knowledge and the frankness of a sophomore.  He reminds us that life is not fair, sometimes there are no good guys, most of our recent wars are unglamorous and Fourth Generation affairs, and that we should not let our idiosyncratic western ways distract us from how things work in most times and places. I mean, really, you often hear “Our troops are not trained to be policemen, they’re soldiers.”  Well, guess what, that’s 90% of what soldiers have been doing since WWII ended; no one’s likely to get the chance to dress up as von Paulus at Stalingrad unless the Russians or Chinese decide they have a taste for a big conventional war with their soon-to-default debtor-consumer lifeline, the United States.

The Nerd says about the Kurds.

So let’s get real: small nations have no rights. Nobody has any rights. People have the guts and the guns or they’re nothing. So the central fact about Kurdistan is that it hasn’t managed to claw its way to existing, which means it doesn’t have any “right” to exist.

Now I want to be fair here, so let me say up front it’s not because the Kurds are cowards. Nobody ever said that about them. Besides, lots of cowardly tribes have managed to become “independent nations” with their little flags and seats at the UN and local big boys who get paid a million dollars to support Japan when they have one of those whaling votes. (And speaking of whales, they have about as many “rights” as an Old Prussian’s skeleton sitting in a museum, meaning none. Don’t get me started on the damn whales.)

The Kurds don’t have a country because they have no discipline and plain old bad geographical luck.

Also . . .

So when you’re an occupied tribe, habits like telling the truth and minding your own business are lethal. The advantage is always going to go to the bitchiest, most lying-tongued little slandering pig in the village, the jerk who doesn’t have a qualm about sucking up to the Turkish (or Persian or Arab) junior officer in charge of the local garrison and, after telling him how smart and handsome he is for a few hours, passing a secret warning about what a threat to the public safety you and your family are. And if the Lieutenant happens to feel grateful to the informer, maybe he wouldn’t mind giving him your cow and that nice pasture behind your house, once he’s had you and all your kin rounded up and shot.

Over time, a system like this will do a wonderful sped-up evolutionary job of cleaning out any leftover decency from the local population. Are you the kind of hardworkin’ dude who puts in a good day in the fields, comes home to the family and doesn’t bother anybody? Well, you’re dead meat for the first snitch to catch the lieutenant’s ear. You’re Kurdish toast.

By the way, you can see that this kind of pattern holds for most occupied countries, like, say, Iraq. You can bet that the Iraqis who were the first to suck up to us, the most persistent and shameless at shining our shoes and selling us info, are exactly the same kind of slime. They’re the same everywhere, and they always rise to the top after an invasion. It’s a good reason not to invade unless you’ve already got your own intelligence, so you don’t have to buy their bullshit. Which we didn’t, of course. So you can imagine how many neighborhood scores we’ve helped settle.

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The story of Rhodesia is an inherently tragic one.  Europeans, who came to Africa in search of economic progress and confident in their power to spread Christian Civilization, soon found themselves swamped by demographic trends and nationalistic political ideas.  These trends were the products of the very medicine and education that Europeans had brought to Africa.  Of course, things could not have remained forever as they were with a small white minority forever ruling a black majority.  Yet the alternative of majority rule in a continent notoriously tribal, corrupt, and inefficient has proven to be a disaster for most Africans.  Both white and black Africans have endured wars, mismanagement, corruption, and a decline in every measure of civilization since the emergence of independence in the sixties.  

Rhodesia disappeared.  It’s now Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.  And the last few years have seen the terrorist philosophy he embraced come to fruition.  In a last ditch effort to reward his supporters, white farms are being distributed to black Zimbabweans and soon ending up in a state of disrepair.  Food is now scarce.  And his political opponents, white and black, are increasingly being arrested, harassed, or murdered outright. 

Apartheid-style policies were unsustainable and unjust.  So too were the communist “class justice” policies proffered by the likes of Mugabe, Mandela, and their peers.  As conservatives we should acknowledge that steady and measured change towards greater political equality would likely have been more sustainable than the blood-soaked politics of revolution.  And, regardless, we can admire the courage, tenacity, and discipline of the Rhodesian military–a force that attracted adventurers, idealistic anti-communists, and professional soldiers from the world over to fight a an ultimately doomed war against the rising tide of African nationalism in the seventies. 

The video above shows some of the peculiarities of their fight:  black and white soldiers, side-by-side, fighting for a regime that excluded blacks from political power; modern jets and horse cavalry; and amazing sophistication and improvisation in a nation cut off from aid through UN embargoes.  These men  ultimately fought for their country and their way of life against an enemy that indiscriminately employed terrorist tactics.  But their defeat also shows another fact of modern life:  even a fight with flags waving and extraordinary courage and determination can still be lost if the political system to which it is attached is too far out of step with the tide of history.  Their extraordinary military effectiveness and amazing kill ratios (25:1 or more) should also give pause to those who believe we can easily win in Iraq if we just “take the gloves off.” 

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