By David G. Hanger
January 07, 2011
Ah, but the dead do not number that many, a few thousand so far, is all. For the maimed we have my namesake in his modern form. James Edward Hanger was perhaps the first man to lose a leg to amputation in the Civil War; was certainly one to perceive a major business opportunity in the making, starting what today may still be the largest artificial limb company in the world. For the maimed we give you the best that modern technology provides. And we call you heroes. That much is true, but what have we gained for the price you paid?
It seems to me all a farce. Or is fleecing perhaps a more precise terminology, for from the standpoint of the ordinary American citizen, and perhaps for ordinary citizens in many other places as well, this mess has manifested itself in serious financial and economic loss, frequently in itself leading to social displacement, and a concern for the future that polarizes both classes and parties. What of government money Wall Street has not consumed for its enrichment has gone to defense contractors, et. al, for their enrichment, and it is not just the taxpayers of this generation who are paying for it.
We have one political party, the Republicans, who believe that every dollar spent on defense is sacrosanct, despite massive corruption, and the Democrats almost share that attitude. What have we gained for the price we have paid?
Whether citizen or soldier, we are the simple men and women who in fact are paying the price, in terms of both blood and treasure, and rather than victory, or any sense of victory, we are being tooled and toyed, not because some Islamic terrorist is such a frightening thing, but because a small handful of people can get filthy rich and extremely powerful as consequence of the overwrought fear their propaganda generates.
We are now in the tenth year of the war these people do not want ever to see end. The report card is actually very simple: We are losing badly. Pause for a moment and take that in. Feel the relief that comes from ending self-delusion, and then say it in affirmation to yourself. We are losing badly.
What is perhaps most startling about this is that as recently as 1989 the United States and its allies were the victors in the classic example of economic warfare, the Cold War, a design that took 42 years to conclude itself in a legitimate victory against an identifiable economic power. There is no identifiable economic power when we are talking about Al Qaeda; they have access to some funding, but are not capable of any kind of economic production. Against such an amorphous opponent, economic warfare has no rational foundation. For the cost of nineteen terrorists, or two squads, and $500,000 in cash Al Qaeda has created the following displacements:
Not the stuff of which victory is made, or from where victory has any prospect of coming. In essence we bit on Al Qaeda’s bait, and in a new classic of economic warfare we got our asses thoroughly kicked. Every day we persist we continue to get our asses kicked. Arguably, this is one of the greatest grand strategic victories in history, and we need to understand and appreciate it for what it is, because we cannot begin to beat it until we understand the reality of it. For half-a-million bucks and a handful of guys these crazies have caused us to wreck the economy of the whole western world, while in the process exhausting our military and turning public opinion against us.
Defeat in modern parlance does not have to be piles of our dead stacked like cordwood on the battlefield, far from it. One must respect, if not admire, the subtlety of it all. Even that may be accidental, I acknowledge, but that is irrelevant. To date 9-11 and our response to it has resulted in the greatest defeat in the history of the United States, among the greatest defeats of the western world; and clearly ranks as a world historical achievement in that it represents the greatest setback to the western world imposed by Islam in 500 years.
It is time to put an end to this absurdity.
Militarily, we are not doing any better. Our all-volunteer Army is an absolute joke, as has been clearly exposed by these multiple and extended deployments, and by the incredible number of mental defectives the military is discharging back into the states. S.L.A. Marshall was probably at least half fraud, but the subject matter he opened up, the effects of combat on individual soldiers, has been intensely studied since that time, and the conclusion of those studies is that individuals can endure no more than 180 days in a combat zone before they are effectively used up as soldiers for a lifetime. Plenty of zombies have fought longer than that, but zombies in all instances they were.
A democracy, it is said, cannot sustain a long war because of the lack of will of the voting populace. The concept of the all-volunteer Army starts with the theory that a “professional” volunteer makes a better soldier than a draftee. Until Desert Storm the only professional army we have deployed in an actual war was Winfield Scott’s compact little army of 10,000 or so that we landed at Vera Cruz in 1847, so our experience of all-professional armies is actually quite limited. That small army was quite efficient, capturing Mexico City in a short campaign despite being outnumbered five or six to one, if not more. But it was the will of the Mexican people, and of the Mexican soldier, that actually determined the outcome of that war. Had their political and military leadership greater standing with its own population, the strength of numbers could easily have led to a protracted campaign that would have bled white that small, compact all-professional army.
In the hands of U.S. generals and military theoreticians the essential desire or objective of the all-volunteer, all-professional Army is detachment and insularity. Instead of managing the result of the observations of a free press in the combat zone, the military manages what the press is allowed to observe, the only possible effect being propaganda, distortion, and lies, all brought to you courtesy of your all-volunteer, all-professional Army, none of whom ever have anything to hide.
But the key desired detachment is from the voting population, the interests of which the Army is supposedly established to serve. What military men seem never to understand is their attitude of being either beyond or above politics is their greatest fraud; the very nature of that attitude is political to the core. The military must be of the people that it serves, because when the military feels the pain of combat losses, those losses cannot ever be in any sense detached from the body politic at large, who must share and feel first hand that pain, because only thereby will it ever stop.
Pain and death are the stock in trade of the officer corps of any army. Military officers, particularly of field grade and higher, are invariably lifetime careerists, and from pain and death they gain promotion and advancement. The longer, the more protracted the campaign, the greater the opportunity for promotion and advancement. We are crediting a number of individuals as geniuses who are in fact nothing more than careerist fools.
Considered by some partisan writers as among the most proficient and imaginative military campaigns of the past half-century, General Tommy Franks’ Operation Iraqi Freedom had a lucky conclusion to its first phase, but only because of the lack of any real consequential opposition. It was in fact a brittle, poorly conceived plan that at best devolved back to WWII standards. Senior commanders were apparently actually preparing for a sustained urban battle in Baghdad, when more junior officers at the front sensed the weakness in front of them, and took the initiative to close out the first stage of the campaign.
Planning and preparation for the occupation was virtually non-existent, and the consequence of that are the untold tens of thousands of Iraqi and American dead. “We don’t do nation building,” was the Army’s mantra back then, you may recall. Gas at $1.42 a gallon, we were assured, was only going to go down in price. The most incompetent, the most corrupt, and the costliest occupation undertaken by the United States in its history continues, as does the death toll of young Americans.
In Afghanistan General David Petraeus, purportedly the world’s number one genius in “asymmetric warfare,” is trying to impose a Vietnam-era “hearts and minds” nation-building campaign as the capstone of the United States effort in Afghanistan. Our purpose in Afghanistan now is to do what no one ever has managed to accomplish, to create a legitimate centralized government to control an extremely diverse tribal region. That is not genius; that’s nuts. No matter how much blood and treasure over however many years we pour into this mission, Afghanistan will remain an extremely diverse tribal region over which no one has any centralized control.
It is probable the United States Army and the United States Marine Corps will win virtually every tactical engagement in which they are involved, and the tragic fact is all that represents is a waste of ammunition and of lives. All such endeavor is pointless when the strategic mission assigned cannot be achieved.
What do any of you expect Iraq and Afghanistan to look like when we leave? What do you expect to happen in Iraq and Afghanistan when finally we realize we cannot afford perpetual war and actually bring our soldiers home? In both countries there will be power plays, which might lead to blood baths, and then some new set of locals will try to impose their version of law and order. We probably will not like whoever takes over.
The only way the security of this country is affected by the deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan is negative, and a very extreme negative at that. Trillions of dollars of resources and thousands of American lives are being misallocated on overseas ventures, the existence of which is a far greater threat to the security of the United States than any possible outcome resulting from the deployments.
The Soviet Union, albeit somewhat rustic, was a bona fide master of heavy industry, and so long as the production of heavy industry, armored fighting vehicles and aircraft, projectile weapons and “dumb” bombs, was the stuff of which successful armies were made, they were a major power, feared and respected worldwide. But following the false lead of the U.S. military, the Soviets invested deeply both conceptually and financially in “vertical envelopment,” i.e. massive movement of troops via helicopter insertions. Not frequently noted at the time, and rarely mentioned since, using almost exclusively simple projectile weapons (weapons that need to be pointed and aimed at a target), the Viet Cong and the NVA shot down thousands of U.S. helicopters. A single Afghani tribesman in the 1980s, with a Stinger missile on his shoulder, could shoot down a Soviet helicopter troopship with one shot.
The Soviet Union exhausted itself economically by virtue of a protracted war in Afghanistan in combination with the emerging cybernetic revolution of the mid-1980s; the Soviet masters of heavy industry lost because they were incapable of getting “small” fast enough. Chance very much had a role in the timing and the magnitude of the Soviet collapse, but the economic pressure of four-and-a-half decades of Cold War “keeping up with the Joneses,” was the setup for the knockout punch.
To thus have a supposedly unsophisticated handful of terrorists use economic warfare so adroitly against us, so soon after we ourselves won a classic of economic warfare, is to be blindsided inexcusably. No campaign is won by being so basely stupid.
They are here, they are there, they are everywhere, they are nowhere, and trying to guess where the next hole in the dike will appear is ridiculous. Every step of the way you play their game. Think small, think in reverse; do that which scares the hell out of them, and keep doing it. Long-term, heavy overseas deployments are not financially sustainable, and are of benefit only to military careerists, and to them but marginally. History has no admiration for fools.
David G. Hanger
Received January 06, 2010 - Published January 07, 2011
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