Thursday, July 4, 2013

Total War and Terror
A Previous War
A Federal army trying to take Richmond could never be entirely secure until the Confederates were deprived of all use of the (fertile and productive) Shenandoah Valley, and it was up to Sheridan to deprive them of it. Grant's instructions were grimly specific. He wanted the rich farmlands so thoroughly despoiled that the place could no longer support a Confederate army; he told Sheridan to devastate the whole area so thoroughly that a crow flying across the Valley would have to carry its own rations. This Sheridan set out to do … and Total War began to be waged in full earnest … Few campaigns in the war aroused more bitterness than this one.
Bruce Catton, "Total Warfare" in 'The PenguinBook of The American Civil War' 1960, 1966

My Dad's War
Granddaughter: “Grandpa, when you were in the war, how could you bomb those people in Berlin?”
Grandpa: “(Pause) Things were different in those times.” He remembers the terrible beauty of his buddies rising up from England, flying through the gathering darkness to their various fates.

Keep an eye on those airplanes, I’ll get back to them.

To me the problem with this new fangled War on Terror is that it’s not straightforward—It’s really hard for folks to put the War on Terror into enough perspective to know what to do next. Abraham Lincoln used to say, “If I had only eight hours to cut down a tree, I would spend six hours sharpening my ax.” For this war, the most practical thing is to take whatever hours we need to develop a good theory. Today I will ignore war theory in general, to zoom in on the concept of “total war” in particular. I will begin with a foundation of rural “citizenship” and end with a digression to the more-important-than-war transcendent issues of today’s citizens.

But first, let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room: Perhaps the government doesn’t want us to know any theories… After all, it’s been documented by journalists that the current administration—specifically President Obama—never utters the phrase “war on terror.” No wonder there is so little dialogue across the land. For example, I think few people are familiar with economist Alan B Krueger’s scientific evidence on What Makes a Terrorist subtitledEconomics and the Roots of Terrorism.” (2007)

I think the payoff for Washington, for having the public so innocent, is this way Washington, just last month, could sell weapons and make big loans to Egypt without demanding the Egyptians take any actions whatsoever to advance Egyptian human rights. Yes it’s nice to see elite Americans making money, and maybe some of it will trickle down, but (see Krueger) according to science terrorism emerges in lands without civil liberties and human rights. I guess that’s because the people grow up in a binary land of only violence or despair. Surely once Arabs have human rights and broad choices they will soon agree with having progress and change, including peaceful regime change; they will agree with using peaceful ballots, not bullets. For me, trying to understand why Obama missed such a precious golden opportunity in Egypt to advance the war on terror, and to advance the Arab spring, is almost enough to drive me to drinking—or to believing in conspiracy theories.

As it happens, my rural roots help me to understand war, perhaps better than a city person would. I’m not surprised at the cliché that more rural people than city people will enlist. Among the reasons why, perhaps the least important is that we country boys better understand service and the flag. I say this “statistically,” of course, since city people can serve too: In the city I once chatted with a reserve police constable who was driving a bus.

In small towns, in peacetime, my brothers have served as a volunteer fireman, an army reservist, an ambulance driver and a juror. Responsibility is good. If we no longer get ourselves deputized for a posse then it’s only because our society can afford enough constables and police academies—but make no mistake, if there was as apocalyptic meltdown in the economy then we would once again accept the need to ride out.

Such thinking is alien, of course, to any non-democracy without “citizens.” There the “peasants” even if they are allowed to vote and hold passports, are never deputized: Their civil masters don’t want to share control or responsibility. For peasants, authority comes from the top, from distant people as inaccessible as the clouds; for citizens, authority is delegated from the bottom, from people as humble as the grass. We are brought up to vote and take responsibility: We can delegate decisions and actions to our civil servants, to our police and generals, but we cannot delegate final responsibility. Hence the hard-learned phrase, spoken after the needless horror of Flanders Fields, “War is too important to leave to the generals.”

An example of responsibility, in the rural areas: If we can’t afford enough water-pumper trucks, well, we take our chances, but we don’t blame the firefighters for lacking equipment. No, they are as innocent as our armed representatives: our soldiers, aircrews and sailors. Last year we lost an entire historical ranch because all the volunteers and trucks were engaged in fighting a fire at a landfill. The only person blamed afterwards was a silly bureaucrat who tried to send a bill to the hapless rancher. That scandal was front-page news—but no one blamed the firefighters

As I see it, if we the people fail to oversee any corruption in our police force, or city hall, if we fail to check any improper use of force, then the fault and blame may be with the police, but still, the Responsibility is ours. “We have to see this thing to the end, see it fixed.” Of course the R-word is too scary to talk about in the morning in our urban coffee shops, but there it is. Come to think of it, one of the things I like about small towns is how the people role model for each other being responsible and self-reliant. I always associate the term “second generation welfare” with the big city.

Remember those airplanes flying to meet their fate? It may be hard to look at them dry eyed. Since war can be distressing, even for my tough brothers and I, it might be easier to answer the granddaughter’s question, and examine the theory of total war, if we look at the safely remote past…

War in Old Europe
A thousand years ago if a king and his knights went to war against another king then the peasants would go along to fill out the army, without even knowing what was going on. The two kings might graciously agree their war was a glorious game, agreeing that if one king were defeated in battle then the other king would surrender his peasants and lands. In theory, they might even to resort to a game between just two people, David against Goliath, or (see footnote) Prince Paris of Troy against Menelaus. We see still this sort of pre-citizen reasoning in the game of chess: if the king is checkmated, the game is over, no matter how many pawns remain.

But if you look back further, past the dark ages, past the decadent Roman empire, back to the classical Republic of Rome, then we see it was all of the Romans, the citizens and senate together, all informed and participating, who would get hot blooded and agree to mobilize for war. And if their armed representatives were defeated, or worse, if their entire army was utterly destroyed… then the Romans still didn’t agree to surrender: They would arm old men and young boys and some slaves with a promise of freedom, and try again to defend themselves. You may pity the victorious “fascists,” happily thinking that if they beat the Romans in battle then they would be the conquerors. They must have said, “What the—?”

And if the second Roman army was totally wiped out, then the free Roman citizens, instead of graciously surrendering, would simply close the city gates and defend their city-state with whoever remained. The housewives would lash kitchen knives onto curtain rods. The poor fascists, bandaged and dusty, must have said, “What the—That’s not fair!” It’s as if, for citizens at war, the total population is involved. Not just the king, his horses and his men, but the total committed population of free citizens. Call it total war: The metaphor is not chess, but checkers.

And this classically modern ethic leads, as my father witnessed, to the modern bombing of the Roman city gates and rail yards and industrial areas. As my old regiment advanced up Italy they might possibly drop leaflets to warn the civil populace to take shelter, but under the model of total war that was the most they could do for the enemy civilians: They would not refrain from calling on the air force and the huge guns of ships at sea. And so, suffering casualties, my regiment advanced against the forces of Hitler and Mussolini, mile by bloody mile.

Uncle Jack's War
Now let’s return to the bombers remembered by the veteran, flying through the gathering darkness towards the fire. A terrible sight. The purpose of the fighter planes—although every small boy wants to be a fighter pilot—was not to engage in glorious duels, but to guard fleets of loud lumbering bombers past the front lines, past the rear troops, past the little supply dumps and finally roaring on to blast the rail yards, factories and so forth. At sea the same principle applies. When my uncle Jack was in the Pacific Ocean the fascists were idiots: Japanese submarines would gloriously target the allied warships. Meanwhile the humble submarines of the democracies would bypass Japanese warships to go after the enemy merchant marine: freighters, tankers and supply ships. The Japanese state was starved of war materials; the Japanese people “starved.”

That’s not a figure of speech: Not willing to quit, some Japanese were at Death’s door before the atom bomb dropped. In this, they were more Roman than feudal. Of course, part of the reason they feared to lose was they knew, as in their “rape of Nanking,” (Nanjing) how inhumanely they had treated other Asians: They feared being treated the same way. They didn’t fight so desperately from any shining ideal of fun and glory. Don’t get me wrong—Of course glory is beautiful in peacetime. Like flowers in summer, the more brass bands the better—but wartime is winter, serious and democratic: Death spares no one.

As best I can recall from my historical reading, none of the allies ever said, “Bombing is OK because it only kills adult males,” adding “besides, the fascists don’t believe in having women work in the factories, nor in having any children in day cares at the plants.” No. Even if the Nazis had believed in “Rosie the riveter” the bombing was still practical. It may have helped our conscience to know the Nazis had legally and democratically come to power, but even if, hypothetically, the Nazis had forced the Germans to put them into power… the bombs would still have dropped, in order to obstruct the German war machine.

The rationale for using our air force is: “What else could we do? ... How else could we stop them?” (Many a Jewish survivor bitterly wishes we could have stopped them just a little sooner) And the gravest judgment of all is “...Every country gets the government it deserves...” Meaning: The enemy civilians are each responsible to become fit for democracy, like us, so they don’t declare war in the first place. Yes, there’s that R-word again.

You may ask: During the war (forgetting the Jews) did anyone do the “devil’s arithmetic” of saying it’s OK to increase our own casualties by a certain ratio, in order to be less aggressive towards the enemy, or spare some enemy civilians? No. No, in the madness of war, in order to fight at all, you have to say that every one of our boys is super-precious, while the others are all devils, fascist party members, the “enemy.”

It was a German war veteran in the 1950’s, in the French Foreign Legion, fighting in French Indochina, in what was later called Vietnam, who said in effect, without using the term “force protection”: “In a war you make out a death warrant for each of the enemy, with only the date left to be filled in.” In other words, like someone doing CPR on a patient without a pulse, he had calmed his regrets in advance. (The patient is already “dead”)

But of course, in fairness, that German’s loyalty was not to the fatherland of France, and certainly not to France’s need to “win the hearts and minds” of the people of South East Asia. Instead, his brothers in arms said, “The Legion is our Fatherland.” The legionnaires wouldn’t hold back on protecting themselves, even unto using the Viet Cong’s women and children as human shields, regardless of how many times their actions caused angry Vietnamese to hate France and convert to communism…Reminds me of US armed contractors in Iraq—obviously those fellow Americans don’t care, not about kindly nurturing democracy, or winning hearts and minds, despite the grand official purpose for the occupation. Well, we should all have known from the start: The work of “contractors,” by definition, always needs to be monitored.

My buddy Blair once got upset when I suggested not having “force protection.” He told me heatedly how Russian troops on the streets of Berlin would shoot any civilian they saw. The Russian boys hadn’t advanced all the way across the steppes and Eastern Europe only be shot by a fanatical Nazi in the last weeks of the war. Blair was quite irate with me. I answered, “Yes, protect—for conventional war! But if you want to “win the hearts and minds” in peacetime then you can’t be fanatical about protecting your buddies.”

Grandpa said, “Those were different times.”

The problem with fighting a war in peacetime is the situation and ethics of peacetime are different. If the tragedy of choosing to wage war is irreconcilable differences, the tragedy of the conduct of war is a collision of ethics.

Human Ethics
For example, nearly everyone has seen Casablanca. In the movie the police and army are loyal to the Republic of France, a state that has surrendered. How loyal? When the allies landed in Morocco they suffered hundreds of casualties from the loyal French forces. (General Patton had been given two sets of conditions to lay down to the French colonizers, depending on whether the French forces had resisted) Meanwhile, back in Europe, half the members of the French resistance were communists. Those men hoping to convert France to a “People’s Republic” were probably reasoning, in part, that the “establishment,” the “one percent,” the “aristocracy” with their old castles and pretty villas were all “trying to pull a fast one” on the common people. The kings were agreeing with other kings. The French government, which had moved from Paris to Vichy, was not a “people’s government.” The resistance despised Vichy.

When the resistance, under the cover of darkness, tore up the peace treaty and blew up a bridge then the Germans must have felt betrayed. Of course, in the civilian world, if you break your side of the contract then all bets are off. It seems to me, if the Germans didn’t say, “ah, screw it!” and resume their war against France, then it is not because they reasoned the communists were not embedded in the people... or thought the people who failed to control the communists were innocent... or thought those who failed to inform on the communists were innocent. No, it’s because they calculated war and reprisals were not practical... Just as we did not punish Saudi Arabia after 9/11.

In nature’s world there are no concepts. In the human world, needless to say, ideals and morals and ethics are the emergent building materials for the cart, created while the practical horse is leading the way. The Luftwaffe (German air force) was practical, reprisals not so much. Ah, the sorrow and the pity of poor la belle France!

In our own time the US troops sent to occupy Iraq had been trained for total war, complete with force protection. Speaking no Arabic, they would terrify the people by kicking in their doors at night for search-raids. Perhaps the crude enlisted privates, just like cops in the inner cities, felt better protected if they terrorized, believing the non-democratic foreigners “deserved it.” Perhaps the “officers and gentlemen,” regardless of what their commander-in-chief thought, didn’t want to win the war badly enough to “give a care” about any Iraqis being goaded into becoming anti-democracy and pro-insurgency.

Back home, some journalists vainly questioned whether the raids were practical for “winning the hearts and minds” to convert Iraqis to democracy: Iraq was to be the first Arab democracy in the Middle East. To my knowledge, the military wasn’t about to expand the language school; John Q. Public wasn’t about to “do the citizen thing” of learning Arabic; and no citizens were volunteering to go to Iraq to be translators… I’d have loved to see freedom-loving old and young female Arab-Americans going on those night raids.

Quite early in the US involvement over there people noticed: It was as if the prominent US civilian armed contractors, Blackwater, in the 21st century, were operating under the theory of total war and blank death warrants. Hence their unrestrained force protection. Unlike peacetime policemen back home, if they were threatened they fired wildly and profusely. And they had extremely selfish dangerous driving. Needless to say, this alienated the people, destroying any goodwill a few humble Americans might have engendered. I discovered this in a book, Fiasco, quite early in the occupation. (Incidentaly, while the Iraqis all knew it was an occupation, the US wasn't ready to admit it, so for any job interview, according to Fiasco, the Iraqis had to avoid the O-word)

I knew from university that books have a long time lag until publication, compared to magazine articles, and so theoretically by the time I read Fiasco the US had long ago noticed and issued orders to Blackwater, “Pull up your socks and quite creating new recruits for Al-Quaida!” Well. Actually it was years later that finally the scandalous actions of Blackwater started to make the newspaper front pages. I rustled the newspaper and gritted my teeth.

Obviously the managers and developers and army generals in the business of getting the Iraqis “fit for democracy” had fallen asleep at the switch. And so had the American people at home, forgetting that “war is too important to leave to the generals.” They must have fallen asleep on their TV couches, like so many citizen-kings abdicating their throne, their crowns tumbling off to roll up against the garbage can. I know this because on their watch no one in the White House was ever reprimanded or fired.

From Blackwater alone I would know the American people were unfit to teach democracy in Iraq. Too bad no one with authority had the guts to say, “We aren’t competent enough to be here; this is a fiasco.” It was from this grotesque mismanagement in Iraq, without any citizen involvement, this scandalous occupation by foolish republican Boy Scouts, (—no one blew the whistle when republicans were hired over people with many years of experience in Asia or Yugoslavia—) even before the Wall Street melt down, that I had come to know the answer to a question the American people fear to ask, a question they do not yet have enough objectivity to answer for themselves: Is the US in decline? Let's just say not many citizens have troubled themselves to serve in this war, not even to the extent of trying to understand Iraq and war and terror.

... After the inspiring famous virtuous Roman republic, after their middle class had collapsed, came the infamous decadent Roman Empire. Then came darkness.

Sean Crawford
July 2013

~Experienced people were passed over (see my previous essays and reference to Inside the Emerald City.

~Regarding US imperialism in Egypt, I only recently read about the weapons sale; the infamous funding visit by John Kerry I already knew about. (Abdul in the street may be only semi-literate, but still he knows that imperialists are not his friends)

~ The accelerating decline of the US middle class is noted by a financial expert in the book, A Time to Start Thinking, (20012) by Edward Luce subtitled America in the Age of Descent, reviewed in my essay America Descending, archived October 2013

~The duel between Paris and Menelaus, according to the Iliad, was held only after each side had laboriously repeated for each other the consequences for each outcome, and only after the sacred rituals of sacrificing sheep and honoring the gods. This duel did not occur early in the war, but only after the Greeks had their black ships settled in tidy rows on the beach, with the war having dragged on for seven years, and with both sides tired, fed up, and willing to end it, once and for all.

This suggests to me that deciding a war by a duel was very rare, and probably never happened at all.

~The German officer, his name disguised, was in the nonfiction book Devil’s Guard. It is the only book I’ve ever seen with a “publishers warning” on the title page, not to warn of sex or violence, but to distance the publishers from a former SS officer feeling pride in how, and in how well, his fellows had fought the Viet Cong.

~I was once at the local college, struggling to complete my income tax, as some Mongolian youth were hanging around a counter where a pretty girl was working. When I heard one boy whistling a Scottish tune I knew they were Japanese. I didn’t go over to tell them I once read a certain tragic Japanese novel, translated into English. I found the novel moving: At the end of the tragedy a young girl who is starving and hiding in a cave from the allies, hears such Scottish whistling and thinks it is a Japanese. She staggers out, spending the very last of her strength, only to find it was an American soldier. Fade to black.

~To explain the organization of an army into “officers and gentlemen” and "enlisted men," it may help to think of a hotel, or factory: the enlisted men, the vast majority, would be guys hired off the street to operate hallway cleaning machines or factory machines; the "commissioned" officers are like the managers, with a white collar and a neck tie, guys who would first get a college degree in hotel management or business before being hired.

The officer’s commission is often framed like a diploma. The officers, being "gentlemen" and educated leaders, have the responsibility to know the company vision, mission statement and goals such as “winning the hearts and minds.” The enlisted men, who aren’t “into” higher education, are spared such abstract thinking, preferring to just live for the day: It is up to the officers to keep stressing and upholding the ideals. In Iraq, obviously, they failed.

~To compare and contrast citizenship during the Cold War with the War on Terror, see my essay quoting George Packer’s The Assassins’ Gate, (2006, with a reading group guide) archived as Citizenship After 9/11 in September 2012

~From the lessons of Iraq it logically follows that we would not be competent and worthy to teach democracy in Afghanistan, either. What to do next there, based on the above essay, is: a) get the armed forces out b) continue to encourage civil liberties in the Muslim world by various means within our power c) lead by example and continue to seek democracy and rights at home (instead of the recent scandals in the justice, revenue and security departments)  d) given that the backbone of democracy is the middle class, check over any new legislation in Washington to see that it encourages or is at least neutral to the middle class, rather than shrinking the middle class

~Reproductions of wartime posters of Rosie the River were popular in my day, helping to empower the feminist housewives to seek equal rights.

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