I was reading an article from the spring issue of The Journal of International Security Affairs the other day and found myself troubled by the author’s analysis of our current war situation. The title of the article is, “Wishful Thinking and Indecisive Wars,” by Ralph Peters. Mr. Peters is a retired U.S. Army officer who currently serves as a military strategist, as well as being an author of 24 books, and a journalist reporting from various war zones. In other words, he has the bona fides to tell us what is happening on the war front and how the U.S. is handling the challenges.
What was particularly troubling to me was his assessment of our enemies’ determination in fighting this War on Terrorism and our own resolve in seeing this war through to the end. “The greatest advantage our opponents enjoy is an uncompromising strength of will,” Mr. Peters writes, “their readiness to ‘pay any price and bear any burden’ to hurt and humble us. As our enemies’ view of what is permissible in war expands apocalyptically, our self-limiting definitions of allowable targets and acceptable casualties – hostile, civilian and our own – continue to narrow fatefully. Our enemies cannot defeat us in direct confrontations, but we appear determined to defeat ourselves.”
I have often been invited to speak to various groups, many of which are military organizations. Everyone wants to know how the current war is progressing! Retired almost a year now, I’m feeling more and more detached from a functional understanding of what is happening in our prosecution of the war. But I like to remind my listeners at such gatherings that those of us who fought in Vietnam never lost a battle over a ten year time period. Our military responded to the call, defeating an entrenched and determined enemy. The politics of war, however, prevented our military from closing the deal and defeating the North Vietnamese. Coming home from a war that we were not allowed to win, and then having to face our fathers who were the heroes of World War Two, with the moniker of “The Greatest Generation,” was a bitter pill to swallow. Where did we lose the Vietnam War? Right here at home. This is why I find Mr. Peters’ article so troubling. There is a certain déjà vu in what he presents. Do we as Americans have the courage and stamina to see this War on Terrorism through to its successful conclusion? Or will we once again fail to stay the course, asking our military to tuck their tails and scurry home where we’ll all be safe?
I’m only too aware that our current administration is rewriting the definitions for terrorists and the War on Terror, and that we shouldn’t identify the religion of Islam with the radicals who are perpetrating these offenses against otherwise peaceful peoples around the world. All the more reason I find Mr. Peters’ remarks to be cogent. “While our most resolute current enemy – Islamist extremists – may violate our conceptions of morality and ethics,” he says, “they also are willing to sacrifice more, suffer more and kill more (even among their own kind) than we are. We become mired in the details of minor missteps, while fanatical holy warriors consecrate their lives to their ultimate vision. They live their cause, but we do not live ours. We have forgotten what warfare means and what it takes to win.”
Mr. Peters makes several interesting insights as to why we find ourselves in this predicament. First, “we, the people, have lived in unprecedented safety for so long (despite the now-faded shock of September 11, 2001) that we simply do not feel endangered.” Second, “collective memory has effectively erased the European-sponsored horrors of the last century.” Third, “ending the (military) draft resulted in a superb military, but an unknowing, detached population.” Fourth, “an unholy alliance between the defense industry and academic theorists seduced decision makers with a false messiah catechism of bloodless war.” Fifth, “we have become largely a white-collar, suburban society in which a child’s bloody nose is no longer a routine part of growing up, but grounds for a lawsuit; the privileged among us have lost the sense of grit in daily life.” And “last, but not least, history is no longer taught as a serious subject in America’s schools. As a result, politicians lack perspective; journalists lack meaningful touchstones; and the average person’s sense of warfare has been redefined by media entertainments in which misery, if introduced, is brief.”
If we choose to pull our horns in and hope for the best, what will we say to succeeding generations when they find themselves faced with a dauntless enemy of Islamo-fascists who want our children and grandchildren dead? This is not a vision of the future that I find very appealing.
I am troubled that we might miss the opportunity to stand and say, Enough!