Sunday, March 27, 2005
Saturday, March 26, 2005
Incidentally, Owen deserves a book length treatment of his own along the lines of this one. That might go some way to setting the wagon trundling in the right direction.
Meanwhile, if it's "truth" you're after, I'd maintain that you'll find as much truth in "Tommy", "Gunga Din", "Danny Deever" and "The Young British Soldier" as you'll find anywhere else.
The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword?
Assess the merits of Wilfred Owen as a teacher about the nature of war.
“If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.”
- Wilfred Owen
“Oh! What a whingeing war!”
- Correlli Barnett
Anyone trying to assess the merits of Wilfred Owen as a teacher of the nature of war is immediately faced with a conceptual quandary. Classic works that explicitly attempt to deal with the nature of war itself can be counted on the fingers of one hand. When thinking about the nature of war, the names that spring to mind tend to be Clausewitz and Sunzi, not Wilfred Owen. While a semantic debate regarding whether or not Owen’s poetry begins to address anything regarding the “nature” of war in a meaningful way is beyond the scope of this work, it is worth noting that the enduring value of texts such as the Art of War and On War rests largely on their philosophical nature and arguments formed from the consideration of war at its highest level, in clear contrast to Owen’s largely tactical focus.
Before addressing in more detail the value and limitations of the Owen canon, it is important to recognise some generally applicable points regarding the limitations of Owen’s chosen medium, poetry. Unlike a journal or diary, poetry does not represent a continuous record of life at war. It lends itself to selectivity and the poet rarely focuses upon the humdrum, even though anything other than the humdrum may be unrepresentative. It is a widely accepted truth that the experience of war as a frontline soldier is ninety per cent boredom and ten per cent sheer terror. War poetry tends to represent the opposite of a heavily censored horror film – the tedious filler ends up on the cutting room floor and the reader is instead presented with concentrated essence of sheer terror. This tends to be in the nature of the beast and Owen is certainly guilty of it. In reality, most of the Great War infantryman’s time was spent out of the line and by no means all of his time at the front would be spent in anything approaching immediate mortal danger. The popularity of poetry as a medium for expression among the best known of the Great War authors may well account for the widely held perception that the Great War saw significantly more intensive action for the infantryman than the Second World War, when in fact – at least in Burma and North West Europe – the reverse is true.
Poetry also almost invariably focuses on life at the level of the poor bloody infantry. The poetry connoisseur would search in van (if inclined to search at all) for poems dealing with logistics supply, staff officers mulling over maps and troops dispositions (except as pertaining to grotesque cock-ups leading to wholesale slaughter at the sharp end) and politicians trying to formulate a viable grand strategy. This results in the existing danger of an unrepresentative portrayal of frontline life being compounded by the fact that anyone relying on the work of the war poets for enlightenment will be operating with source material entirely lacking in meaningful context. While many of the accusations levelled at the war poets as a group by Correlli Barnett may be excessively harsh, his criticism of their limited ability to place the frontline experience in any broader strategic context is undoubtedly justified. Echoing Brian Bond, the last word on the overall flaws of the war poetry heritage perhaps deserves to be given to the distinguished military historian Cyril Falls:
Every sector becomes a bad one; every working party is shot to pieces; if a man is killed or wounded, his brains or his entrails always protrude from his body; no one ever seems to have a rest. Attacks succeed one another with lightning rapidity. The soldier is presented as a depressed and mournful spectre helplessly wandering about until death brought his miseries to an end.
Taking all this into account, it is important to place Owen’s work within a specific context. In spite of his enormous popularity today, Owen’s work languished in obscurity until the early 1930s. During this period, other works sold relatively well. Rupert Brooke, whose works are now widely viewed as anachronistic and quaint, was a household name. There is little evidence that Great War veterans turned to Owen as the authentic voice of their war experience. Large numbers of personal testimonies from veterans in the form of prose and poetry appeared In the interwar years and a majority of the works that appeared were either broadly positive or at least prepared to acknowledge that a tough war had been fought for worthwhile ends. The fact that most of these works have since lapsed into obscurity arguably says more about the prejudices of the modern readership than it does about the views of those who served. Of those works that have endured, a number that are commonly interpreted by modern audiences as pacifistic were, in fact, intended as nothing of the sort. Both R.C. Sheriff and Robert Graves took great exception to what they saw as the hijacking of their work for political purposes – often by those of later generations who had actually seen nothing of the Great War, or any other war for that matter. In fact, Owen’s popularity has come in two distinct waves, the first taking place during the 1930s, the second beginning in the 1960s and lasting until the present day. It is at least arguable that the first wave, and beyond doubt in the second, that those most eager to devour Wilfred Owen’s poetry were people who had not themselves served in uniform. While Barnett’s tendency to blame appeasement on the war poets takes things too far, it is hardly a coincidence that the periods during which Wilfred Owen has been most popular and iconic have been periods in which pacifism has been a strong force on the political scene.
Whether Owen would approve of this is impossible to say. Therein lies much of the problem. In many ways, the character of Wilfred Owen could not have been better constructed to appeal to the Western liberal political conscience if he had been the product of a Hollywood screenwriter’s fevered imagination: Young, young and dead, gay and by turns troubled, ferociously brave, neurotic, conscientious and emotional. He possessed a highly developed social conscience prior to the war and was prone to nervous conditions to the extent that he was, arguably, damaged goods before he even reached the front lines. He had the opportunity to sit out the war for good and did not take it, returning to lead his men in his capacity as a junior officer (his motivation is unclear – suggested reasons range from a sense of shame and survivors’ guilt to the far from implausible claim that he was in love with his batman – though his actions have numerous parallels throughout history). He is an enormously sympathetic and admirable figure (as Barnett willingly concedes), but hardly representative of his generation. Unfortunately, in a world in which the casual student of history is increasingly disinclined to take the trouble not to impose modern mindsets, mores and values on historical events, Owen represents an open goal for those who insist upon viewing the Great War through the prism of contemporary prejudices and preconceptions. In its most benign manifestation this merely leads to rather bad history. At worst, the apocalyptic social consequences postulated by Correlli Barnett lurk on the horizon.
It is important to qualify what appears to be an overwhelmingly condemnatory and negative analysis. Even those least inclined to make relativist judgements must acknowledge that Owen’s experiences and interpretations are as valid in and of themselves as any of those who served. The problem arises when his work is not placed in any broader context and when alternative viewpoints are ignored or not accepted as legitimate. Certainly, within the British educational system there is a tendency to see Owen (and Siegfried Sassoon, his friend and contemporary) as the “authentic” voice of the Great War. Of course, in reality there is no good reason for Owen to be seen as more valid and legitimate than, for example, Ernst Junger, a German stormtrooper who, in spite of losing large numbers of comrades and serving in a unit that by its very nature (contrary to popular belief) took horrendous casualties in action as a matter of course, considered war to be one of the most splendid and ennobling activities available to mankind. But here we come back to Owen as a focus for our contemporary values. Acknowledging Junger – with his social Darwinism, militarism and general lip-smacking relish for violence – as a legitimate voice on a par with Wilfred Owen is a deeply uncomfortable prospect that raises disturbing questions about human nature. But a rigorous examination of the experience of the infantryman in general and the Great War soldier in the frontline in particular requires that we engage with the Jungers as well as the Owens. In fact, as it happens Junger was in his way no more representative than Wilfred Owen – most of those who served in the Great War fell into a broad spectrum that runs between the two, both in terms of experience and in terms of attitude. The key point is that engaging only with those whose views rest easy on the stomach will result in understanding nothing.
The pervasive influence of Owen and his contemporaries on the teaching of the Great War was thrown into sharp relief in a lecture given by Dr Barrie Paskins on Thursday September 11th 2004, in which, in response to questions regarding the teaching of the work of Wilfred Owen in schools, the audience – which represented a generally well-informed grouping – responded in an overwhelmingly positive manner, with a number of contributors asserting that Owen’s poetry was of exceptional importance as it demonstrated the reality of war in the trenches. There was only one dissenting voice. In reality, the work of Wilfred Owen reveals no fundamental truth. Wilfred Owen was no Universal Soldier – in no small part because there are no Universal Soldiers. His memory does not deserve denigration but unless the limitations of his work as source materials are clearly acknowledged and unless every care is taken to place the work and the man in an accurate historical context it is likely that Owen’s legacy will continue to generate more heat than light.
 Sheffield (2001), pp.124-125
 Barnett (2002), p.434
 Falls, Cyril, War Books, preface, pp. xi. Quoted in Bond (2002), p.33
 Bond (2002), pp.28-29
 Bond (2002), pp.34-35
 Barnett (2002), pp.429-434
 Barnett (2002), p.429 footnote
Bond, Brian (2002), The Unquiet Western Front: Britain's Role in Literature and History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
Barnett, Correlli (2002), The Collapse of British Power (London: Pan Macmillan)
Beckett, Ian F.W. (2001), The Great War 1914-1918 (Harlow: Pearson)
Sheffield, Gary (2001), Forgotten Victory: The First World War, Myths and Realities (London: Headline Publishing)
Black, Jeremy (2004), Rethinking Military History ( London: Routledge)
Fussell, Paul (1975), The Great War and Modern Memory (Oxford: OUP)
Cecil, Hugh and Liddle, Peter, eds. (1996), Facing Armageddon: The First World War Experienced (London: Pen and Sword)
Hynes, Samuel (1990), A War Imagined: The First World War and English Culture (London: Bodley Head)
Don't Worry 'Bout The Army, In The Cold, Cold Ground...
This is noteworthy for two reasons. First, the sheer horror of it all. Second, of all the fact that Harry is good enough to provide a recent example from Mr Pinter's extensive poetry catalogue.
First, "American Football":
We blew the shit out of them.
We blew the shit right back up their own ass
And out their fucking ears.
We blew the shit out of them.
They suffocated in their own shit!
Praise the Lord for all good things.
We blew them into fucking shit.
They are eating it.
Praise the Lord for all good things.
We blew their balls into shards of dust,
Into shards of fucking dust.
We did it.
Now I want you to come over here and kiss me on the mouth.
Second, and more recently, "Democracy".
There's no escape.
The big pricks are out.
They'll fuck everything in sight.
Watch your back.
In a spirit of shameless self-promotion, I would venture to point the reader to my recent attempt to approximate Mr Pinter's writing style:
I concluded this piece of whimsy by noting that, "I paraphrase". I now feel that I was being excessively coy and am startled by the searing white hot accuracy of it all, so I withdraw the qualifier.
Shit, arse, Zionist Nazis,
Bullets, Death, Battenberg Cake,
Look, I can do Philip Larkin too:
They fuck you up your Mum and Dad,
They don't mean to, but they do,
I hope when I die they don't publish,
In a bumper anthology edition,
All that work of mine I specifically didn't want to be published,
And find all that porn in the cupboard,
And under the sink.
You see, I'm brilliant. But does Kirsty Wark want to interview me? Is Antonia Fraser lining up to polish my policeman's helmet? Oh, no...
Anyway, there's a serious point to be made here beyond the self-evident fact that this award cheapens the memory of Wilfred Owen and fails entirely to recognise the context in which his work must be placed in order to have any value beyond the artistic.
So in about half an hour or so I'll be posting up something I wrote last year on what we can and cannot learn from Wilfred Owen's work. It's not an A-grade piece, but I think it has some good things in it. So there.
Saturday, March 19, 2005
For your consideration...
Friday, March 18, 2005
This is the bit where I fall to my knees and brandish my fists at the sky and scream, "Nooooooo!"
101. Good innings. Still though, at the risk of making him sound like something you could wrap up in tissue and pop in your pocket, we've lost a little piece of living history today.
Oh I'm so bloody sentimental. But it's true.
Now, where was I? Ah yes, ahem, excuse me a moment...
Thursday, March 17, 2005
Owen Harries, retired diplomat and the former editor-in-chief of the National Interest, has an interesting essay entitled “Power and Morals” in the April 2005 issue of Prospect. If IR, or political, theory are your bag, I recommend it. Here is a taste:
The characteristic fault of realism is that it believes the application of a morality to foreign policy to be negligible, if not entirely irrelevant. The characteristic fault of liberalism is that it considers the application of morality to foreign policy to be easy. In fact it is both necessary and difficult. And as the balance shifts between a world vertically divided into sovereign states and a world horizontally connected by interdependence, it is likely to become even more necessary and more difficult.
Friday, March 11, 2005
Is that boy touched or something?
The reason I mention this is that it all brought to mind a favourite passage of mine from John Keegan. I am not, as several people on my course would be able to tell you, an uncritical admirer of Keegan (setting aside The Face of Battle). However, this passage from his not-very-well-known-curate's-egg Warpaths sparked my enthusiasm the first time I read it and I have found myself coming back to it a number of times:
George Custer was not a nice man. Brave certainly, bold, dashing, quick in decision, physically attractive, both to men and women, sexually alluring, all that; but nice, no. Niceness is not, of course, a prerequisite quality in a successful soldier. Grant, greatest of American generals, was not nice. The 1st Duke of Wellington, epitome of the English gentleman, was not nice. Washington, mastermind of revolutionary victory, was not nice. Sherman, hatchet man of the Civil War and Custer's commander on the plans, was not nice. There was about all those four, however, a redeeming moral quality that makes their lack of niceness beside the point. Wellington fought Napoleon with the relentlessness he did because he thought the Emperor of the French a political charlatan. Washington and Grant fought for the United States because they believed in the principles on which the republic was founded. Sherman fought in order to bring to an end a form of political intercourse, war between the states, for which he had come to feel distaste. For all four, war was no more than a means serving a higher object. The object engaged their moral sense, the means aroused in them an ultimate repugnance.
Custer, by every account, enjoyed war for its own sake. "Oh, could you have but seen some of the charges that were made," he exclaimed to a friend, recalling his experiences in the Civil War. "While thinking of them I cannot but exclaim, 'Glorious War.'" Young, headstrong, successful and unwounded soldiers have often felt the glory of war. It is the emotion that runs through the Iliad; but Homer's heroes, like Alexander's Companions and Bohemund's Crusaders, were the offsprinf of warrior societies, in which skill at arms rode roughshod over higher values. Warriordom survives into our own times: the Gulf War would not have been won did West Point and Quantico and Sandhurst and St.-Cyr not continue to turn out young leaders who snort like warhorses at the scent of blood. There ought to be, however, a difference between the emotions of the young warrior and th old in civilised societies. A young warrior enlists to fight. His senior serves to tame theimpetuousness of gallants and braves - the Sioux thought as much - to more sober purposes. Indeed, the role even of the young officer is as much to restrain as to lead; without his exertion of a measure of control over the actions of his followers, combatdescends rapidly into mayhem on the one hand and disaster on the other. In that context, the failure of an officer to grow up is calamitous. Custer, the "Boy General," appears never to have grown up.
Jeremy Black - The British Seaborne Empire
John Hughes-Wilson - The Puppet Masters
Janet Morgan - The Secrets of Rue St Roche
N.A.M Roger - Command of the Ocean
David Stevenson - 1914-1918: The History of the First World War
David Reynolds - In Command of History
The medal is a pretty strong seal of quality, having been awarded in the past to, among others, Hew Strachan's The Politics of the British Army, Marrack Goulding's Peacemonger and Norman Friedman's The Fifty-Year War. So if you want to read any of the shortlisted books, chances are you're going to have a good time.
I am eligible to make a nomination for the prize (the shortlist will ultimately be judged by a panel led this year by Dame Pauline Neville-Jones) and had planned to give the nod to either James Gow's Defending the West or Jeremy Black's Rethinking Military History. In the event I... er... forgot. So I hope the absence of my vote has not denied either book a place in the running.
I confess, to my mild chagrin, that I have read none of the shortlisted books this year. However, there may be a silver lining to this cloud, as my favourite contender never wins. At least this year I shall not be in danger of jinxing anyone.
I find the inclusion of David Stevenson's book interesting. One question I often get asked - and dread - is whether I can recommend a good single volume history of the Great War. I can't, at least not unreservedly. Everything on offer is flawed in some way. The best may well be Ian Beckett's The Great War 1914-1918, but arranged thematically as it is, it is not entirely suitable for the neophyte reader seeking a chronological, narrative approach. I generally end up ushering people towards John Terraine's single volume treatment, muttering disclaimers and expressions of qualification all the while. I will be intrigued to see if Stevenson's work will fill the gap.
Of course, The Daddy is set to be Hew Strachan's epic new trilogy. But given that only the first volume is available at the time of writing and given that that alone could provide enough papier mache to construct a lifesize Stegosaurus it's not the sort of thing that a newcomer to the subject is likely to welcome being confronted with.
So who will win? Well as I say, my record on this is not promising, but seeing as I have no emotional stake in the outcome I'll stick my neck out and say the clever money is on Command of the Ocean.
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Behold as I use my wand of power to summon up a mighty airstrike!!!!
I've never played or had the urge to play the game. However, for 80s Nostalgia/Socially-Retared Manchild reasons I do have the entire cartoon series on DVD.
What would James Jesus Angleton do?
What do they do on a rainy night in Rio? A-rinky-dinky-dink...
Je n'est convinced pas.
However, his treatment of the UN is spot on:
....a UN bureaucracy that is both deeply anti-American while being
deeply reactionary - reactionary, paradoxically, in its attachment to a vision
of the UN that is inconsistent with its moral and political reality.What is that
vision? It is the vision of a sapling growing ultimately to be a towering tree
of global governance; for the sake of the tree to come, we have to forgive any
difficulties with the sapling. But this vision is morally dead, for a simple
reason. The moral limits of the UN are the moral limits of an institution that
deliberately withholds moral judgment on its members - the good are treated
equally with the wicked, the democracies with the dictatorships, it's all the
same thing. There are reasons why the world needs a forum that adopts this moral
equivalence - but those reasons are entirely matters of prudence and
pragmatism, a talking shop for the sake of a certain level of world
order. But that means that the UN can never rise above a certain moral
status - and, as expected, it has not. Much better if the US pushes a vision of
the UN as institutionally good and efficient at certain narrowly defined tasks,
and a place to discuss issues between sovereigns, but nothing more expansive
Exactly! My Contemporary Security Issues seminar group (and indeed any regular readers from the early days of this site) has heard me bang on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on about this for months. The UN is a forum through which states pursue their national interests. In terms of heart-warming, crotch-tightening sexification, it's never going to rise much above that.
Repeat after me:
The UN is not a moral actor.
The UN is not a moral actor.
The UN is not a moral actor.
The UN is not...
John Lynn versus VDH
Damn your eyes! I'll take no lessons from you, sir!
In many ways I should agree with him. But the flagrant hypocrisy surrounding the fact that Hobsbawm's comments are spilling from the mouth of a man who is an unrepentant admirer of Stalin and who has argued and continues to argue that the gulag and the deaths of the many millions of people who popped off therein would have been perfectly justifiable in pursuit of an ever-peaceful, egalitarian socialist wonderland turns my stomach.
And yet this man is broadly viewed as a national treasure, his ramblings endorsed by the editorial staff of a national broadsheet newspaper. I imagine it is only a matter of time before he is subjected to a vomit-inducingly sycophantic and uncritical interview by Kirsty Wark on BBC4.
I'm not a financial expert, but I'd strongly suggest readers hurry to buy shares in whichever company has cornered the market in crazy pills.
Are you not entertained?????
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
Chechen leader claimed killed
I have mixed views on the Chechnya situation, which I shall not delve into at this juncture. However, juxtapose these two parts of the report:
The spokesman said Chechnya's war of independence would not be affected
by the death of Mr Maskhadov - the most moderate of Chechen rebel
Moscow has blamed Mr Maskhadov for a string of deadly attacks in
Russia, including a rebel attack on a school in the south Russian town
of Beslan last September in which more than 330 hostages - half of them children
Well. It's all relative isn't it?
Has everybody been taking crazy pills?
- Shortly after the murder, the McCartney family (who come from a staunch Catholic Republican area) took the extremely brave move of coming forward and saying that a) the IRA was behind the murder and b) the IRA was also actively intimidating witnesses from going to the police.
- Sinn Fein spokesmen denied the IRA had anything to do with it.
- It then became glaringly apparent that the IRA was up to its neck in it, at which point Sinn Fein's stance segued into the position that, yes, the IRA might have had something to do with it, but that it was not officially sanctioned.
- In spite of repeated attempts to get the words to pass their lips, Sinn Fein spokesmen danced around the head of a pin for a number of days avoiding stating that witnesses should go to the police.
- As pressure mounted on Sinn Fein-IRA, the IRA finally released a statement announcing that it had expelled those involved in the murder. This was widely seen from all quarters as a massively belated and inadequate sop in response to escalating public outrage (Sinn Fein's annual conference was picketed by protesters and the press has been as negative as I've ever known it - even the BBC seems to have lumbered off the fence). The IRA still refused to hand those responsible over to the authorities and Sinn Fein spokesmen continued to engage in rhetorical gymnastics whenever the question of whether witnesses should go to the authorities was raised.
- Now, in another wacky twist, it seems that senior members of the IRA have met the McCartney family and offered to murder those of its membership that were involved in the killing.
To their credit, the McCartney's appear to have told them where to stick it. Quite how much longer this sorry charade can go on for I'm not sure.
All credit to the President on this one. The Bush administration has, since pre-9/11, been rather less susceptible to the Congressional Irish lobby over the issue of the IRA than previous US administrations (to put things into perspective, while all the active "loyalist" terror groups are registered as terrorist organisations [quite rightly] with the US authorities, the Provisional IRA is not and was until recently able to fundraise and operate logistics from the USA with impunity. Worse, the Real IRA, who rejected the Good Friday Agreement and has never given up terrorism or even pretended to do so, remained a perfectly legal organisation in the USA throughout President Clinton's tenure and was able to raise money and whatnot. To say that a certain "asymmetry" existed would be an understatement) and it seems to me that this is a good move - more should be done to look to the views of ordinary people from both sides of the religious divide who want to put the violence behind them and get their communities back on track.
Meanwhile, the BBC has learned that Mr McCartney's family are to be
invited to President George W Bush's St Patrick's Day reception.
The US government is not inviting local politicians to the White House
party, but is focusing attention on figures it believes are acting as
Oh I don't know, one about a squirrel I suppose...
Who would I send? Well if he isn't too old (and he's only a couple of years older than Rumsfeld, though that's probably too old, frankly) I'll stick to my old fallback in these situations and go with James Schlesinger. Or maybe John Lehman, who had a pretty good record for cutting through bureaucratic nonsense. Or if you want a professional diplomat (and one who may or may not have "drunk deeply of the neo-con Kool-Aid") why not Mark Palmer?
U.S. counterintelligence officials are increasingly concerned that Al Qaeda sympathizers or operatives may have tried to get jobs at the CIA and other U.S. agencies in an effort to spy on American counterterrorist efforts.
So far, about 40 Americans who sought positions at U.S. intelligence agencies have been red-flagged and turned away for possible ties to terrorist groups, the officials said. Several such applicants have been detected at the CIA.
"We think terrorist organizations have tried to insinuate people into our hiring pools," said Barry Royden, a 39-year CIA veteran who is a counterintelligence instructor at the agency.
Monday, March 07, 2005
John Bolton for the UN
I can understand the Bush administration harbouring a desire to employ Bolton in one capacity or another, but it seems to me that this is a peculiar appointment. Bolton was reknowned for being one of the least clubbable members of President Bush's first term administration and... well do we need any more reasons why this is an odd appointment?
When General de Gaulle and his Free French were based in London, the general would frequently get into stormy, glass-shattering rows with British officials, not least of all Winston Churchill himself. There were numerous reasons for this, including divergent aims between Britain and France and, more importantly, the differing means by which each wished to pursue such shared aims as existed. De Gaulle's frustration was unattractive and often unreasonable but in many ways understandable. The rifts between the British and the French were made unnecessarily rancid, however, by the general's personality - which was so blunt and combative as to cross the line between assertiveness and needless, rude antagonism. The situation became so rancorous that even de Gaulle's aides, many of whom were as frustrated as de Gaulle but could also understand the British position, became embarassed and annoyed at their chief's antics. After one particularly stormy meeting at 10 Downing Street, one of de Gaulle's leading advisers took him aside and rather pointedly noted that, "If the interests of France require us to disagree with the British, then we must assuredly disagree. But we may find things easier if every so often we did so with a smile".
It was good advice and paid dividends (though de Gaulle was hardly consistent in following it). It seems to me that it is advice that John Bolton's record seems to indicate he is almost pathologically incapable of following.
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Draft Bitter (Aha. Ahaha. Urrrgh.)
My initial reaction to the fact that Phil was apparently promoting the Draft was not positive. The main reason for this is that we are fighting a campaign in which the most notable military activity is going to be counterinsurgency and troops below the level of career regulars tend not to have a good record in this field. States that have tried to conscript large armies to fight wars of national liberation have tended to find that either a) draftees have limited utility because their deployability abroad is curtailed by legislation or b) once they get "in country" the draftees are not well trained enough - through no fault of their own - to demonstrate the skills necessary for successful COIN work: cultural sensitivity, extreme patience and the nerve to ask questions first and shoot later. That said - can this argument be applied to the reserves and National Guard? Are we already staring this situation in the face anyway?
On reading the article, however, I have to say that Phil has managed - at least in theory - to square the circle pretty well.
Unlike an old-fashioned draft, this 21st-century service requirement
would provide a vital element of personal choice. Students could choose to
fulfill their obligations in any of three ways: in national service programs
like AmeriCorps (tutoring disadvantaged children), in homeland security
assignments (guarding ports), or in the military. Those who chose the latter
could serve as military police officers, truck drivers, or other non-combat
specialists requiring only modest levels of training. (It should be noted that
the Army currently offers two-year enlistments for all of these jobs, as well as
for the infantry.) ... Most would no doubt pick the less dangerous options. But
some would certainly select the military—out of patriotism, a sense of
adventure, or to test their mettle. Even if only 10 percent of the one-million
young people who annually start at four-year colleges and universities were to
choose the military option, the armed forces would receive 100,000 fresh
recruits every year. These would be motivated recruits, having chosen the
military over other, less demanding forms of service. And because they would all
be college-grade and college-bound, they would have—to a greater extent than
your average volunteer recruit—the savvy and inclination to pick up foreign
languages and other skills that are often the key to effective peacekeeping
Would Phil's plan be acceptable to the American public? I honestly don't know. Perhaps it would have been immediately post-9/11, but now with the public at large split pretty much down the middle I'm not sure it's got legs.
I'd also like to return to the historical record. The success of regular armies in COIN is not merely down to the quality of the troops involved (though that's key) but also to the fact that the thing about small regular armies is that they can be sent off to do the business and pretty much forgotten about. Could the British Empire have been sustained if its maintainence had proved a serious personal drain on the British public at large? Probably not.
Perhaps I'm setting up a straw man here, I don't know. And perhaps in the era of the 24 hour news channel this rule no longer holds true, as we are seeing. But it's something to consider.
I know Phil is enthusiastic about peacekeeping and peace support operations and whatnot - I know he'd like to see the West do more about the Sudan for a start - but I'm not sure whether his draft idea will actually end up lessening the inclination of the USA to intervene in crises without a direct national security implication. The American public is a lot heartier on these matters than many - including the Clinton administration - gave and give them credit for. But a draft for peacekeeping? I'm not so sure about that.
Even those who don't support the Bush policy of using unilateral force
to democratize the Middle East (and we don't), and who prefer to work through
military alliances whenever possible (and we do), should understand the need to
increase American troop strength. The international community failed to act in
Rwanda largely because the United States chose not to send troops; our NATO
allies sent soldiers into Bosnia and Kosovo only because we put substantial
numbers of ours in, too. The same will hold true for just about any other major
war or humanitarian intervention in the future.
Would the US really have been more likely to intervene in Rwanda if it had a draftee force? Really? I'm not convinced on this count I'm afraid. Phil clearly sees the notion of the draft as a potentially enabling force but pretty much every other draft advocate (at least on the left) has viewed the draft as a social means of setting the bar higher for any proposed military action. It seems to me that Phil's got two aims which might be mutually exclusive - he wants to encourage responsibility in the Bush administration in terms of committing to military action (a common and understandable view from a former military man in the face of gleeful hawks with no service under their belts) but he still wants all the fluffy stuff to go ahead - and then some. There's nothing inherently wrong with these two positions, but is this a viable means to that end? As I say, Phil may have been able to square that circle, but it's something to think about.
In fact a case is probably easier to make for a "just in time" draft to provide for contingencies like the outbreak of a hot war in Asia - either to fight in it or to fill in for the Regulars while they are rushed to the scene. But that rather invalidates Phil's - extremely attractive - notion that those draftees who chose to undertake military service would be just the sort of people able to acclimatise easily to counterinsurgency and other MOOTW.
I'm worried that maybe I'm setting up straw men here. It's a seriously good article and there is a lot to recommend in the policy prescriptions being put forward - and as the authors acknowledge, we're talking about least worst options here.
Incidentally, as a side note, I take the view that getting the National Guard units that have been called up back onto homeland duties should be a matter of priority. Not only does the National Guard represent the best method of bolstering Homeland Security efforts with manpower and expertise, but a significant proportion of "first responders" on whose shoulders any relief effort at home should the worst happen will rest are in the Guard. Not all Guardsmen are first responders, but a hell of a lot of first responders are guardsmen. If you're serious about homeland security, they're needed at home (a similar situation exists in the UK, where the British Army is heavily dependent upon medical staff provided through the Territorials).
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
"The Case for the Draft"
Phil provides some further commentary here.
Unethical Book Plug
Things mostly balance out in the end...
Britain and Europe,
Writes Karma Nablusi in the Guardian today,
Are funding Israel's occupation and expansion.
Yeah, and we're funding Palestinian Authority overseas slush funds, a Palestinian education system that is - hopefully not for much longer if Mr Abbas is as good as his word - a veritable conveyor-belt of antisemitic incitement (in defiance of repeated agreements with the EU in exchange for money - agreements the EU seems consistently disinclined to enforce) and a Palestinian security apparatus that routinely employs torture against suspects (which I think we're meant to be against), lynches alleged "collaborators" (which I KNOW we're meant to be against) and mysteriously cannot find the resources to tackle Palestinian terrorists, but CAN find the resources to fund and support a vital flying squad dedicated to seeking out and beating mushy any deviant homosexualists (they might get a bit uppity if not put in their place, I suppose - they'll be demanding the right to visit each other in hospital soon, you mark my words...) who might be braindead enough to still live in Palestinian-controlled territory.
I figure, call it even.