31 January, 2007

Arkin, the War and Gymnastics

I'm trying to be patient and to see things from alternate points of view, but I just can't escape the feeling that the leftist/anti-war types are doing increasingly intricate mental gymnastics to justify their position. This time it's from William Arkin.

Mr. Arkin and I have a history. Last year he linked little ol' me and my under 100 visitors a day as an example of blogs he implied were "bought" by the Army, bypassing bigger blogs deeply "plugged in" to the miltary world. That led to far more trollish and DoD attention than I ever wanted [Check the links/comments above and you'll see Mr. Arkin doesn't have a track record of grasping the essential elements of things military].

Now to his latest inanity:

I've been mulling over an NBC Nightly News report from Iraq last Friday in which a number of soldiers expressed frustration with opposition to war in the United States.

I'm sure the soldiers were expressing a majority opinion common amongst the ranks - that's why it is news - and I'm also sure no one in the military leadership or the administration put the soldiers up to expressing their views, nor steered NBC reporter Richard Engel to the story.

Good. Maybe there's hope of the NBC story being taken seriously.

I'm all for everyone expressing their opinion, even those who wear the uniform of the United States Army. But I also hope that military commanders took the soldiers aside after the story and explained to them why it wasn't for them to disapprove of the American people.

There's the typical condescension. The American people who have never been to Iraq and who don't know much more about it than the daily death toll are far more informed and educated about the situation than those brutish soldiers. Not! What about all that earnest talk about how President Bush needed to listen to his generals and the soldiers? Now we're supposed to ignore them and tell them to shut up?

...These soldiers should be grateful that the American public, which by all polls overwhelmingly disapproves of the Iraq war and the President's handling of it, do still offer their support to them, and their respect.

The hair is starting to stand up on the back of my neck. He's not going where I think he is, is he? He is...

Through every Abu Ghraib and Haditha, through every rape and murder, the American public has indulged those in uniform, accepting that the incidents were the product of bad apples or even of some administration or command order.

"Indulged?" Indulged?! Yes, we must understand that those brutish beasts sometimes get out of hand. But that's okay; they can't help it. The condescension! Here Arkin also demonstrates his ignorance of the miltary with the "they were just following orders" idea. For the hundredth time: U.S. military personnel are required to defy illegal orders (i.e. torture, murder, rape, targeting of civilians, etc.).

Sure it is the junior enlisted men who go to jail, but even at anti-war protests, the focus is firmly on the White House and the policy. We just don't see very man "baby killer" epithets being thrown around these days, no one in uniform is being spit upon.

Wrong. Joshua Sparling was spit upon as he sat in his wheelchair at the protests this last weekend. And "baby killer" and such are becoming increasing popular recently; from the soldier attacked in Washington state a few months ago to the reports from young veterans attending college, it's starting to get ugly out there.

So, we pay the soldiers a decent wage, take care of their families, provide them with housing and medical care and vast social support systems and ship obscene amenities into the war zone for them, we support them in every possible way, and their attitude is that we should in addition roll over and play dead, defer to the military and the generals and let them fight their war, and give up our rights and responsibilities to speak up because they are above society?

One of the favorite talking points of the left is how those poor soldiers don't get the pay and medical care they should (something I agree with). But Arkin's point is obviously that they should be happy with the literal and rhetorical crumbs of support we give the poor misguided souls. And again, hasn't the constant complaint against Bush been that he wasn't listening to "the generals?" And there's another phrase that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck: "let them fight their war." UPDATE: Notice how the use of "in addition" implies that we have already been overly-solicitous to the soldiers in our "support." Sick.

And nobody is saying that we shouldn't speak up. They're just saying that "I support the troops but not the war" is not support at all.

I can imagine some post-9/11 moment, when the American people say enough already with the wars against terrorism and those in the national security establishment feel these same frustrations. In my little parable, those in leadership positions shake their heads that the people don't get it, that they don't understand that the threat from terrorism, while difficult to defeat, demands commitment and sacrifice and is very real because it is so shadowy, that the very survival of the United States is at stake. Those Hoover's and Nixon's will use these kids in uniform as their soldiers. If I weren't the United States, I'd say the story end with a military coup where those in the know, and those with fire in their bellies, save the nation from the people.

Translation: "These wars against terrorism" are just figments of the imagination, indulgent games we've let the military and President Bush play [Btw, that he finds the second sentence above ironic is absolutely terrifying]. Is it just me, or is there a whiff of "better keep those soldiers under control because they're only marginal members of our society and might decide some day they don't like their (proper) position at the bottom?"

But it is the United States and instead this NBC report is just an ugly reminder of the price we pay for a mercenary - oops sorry, volunteer - force that thinks it is doing the dirty work.

Now we get to the crux of the matter--Shades of Kerry and all the leftist arguments about the military being composed of dead-enders and those who couldn't get "real jobs." They just signed up for the money, you know... not patriotism (shudder) or because they thought it was a good way to do an honorable thing or challenge their horizons. No, none of those reasons ever figure into enlistment.

The notion of dirty work is that, like laundry, it is something that has to be done but no one else wants to do it. But Iraq is not dirty work: it is not some necessary endeavor; the people just don't believe that anymore.

Then what is it? Mr. Arkin doesn't come out and say it, but I think his thoughts would be illuminating...

I'll accept that the soldiers, in order to soldier on, have to believe that they are manning the parapet, and that's where their frustrations come in. I'll accept as well that they are young and naïve and are frustrated with their own lack of progress and the never changing situation in Iraq. Cut off from society and constantly told that everyone supports them, no wonder the debate back home confuses them.

They are not confused by the debate, they are confused by the idea that you can support the troops and not support the mission they believe in. They would much rather you be honest about it and say you cannot support them because of what they are doing or that you believe they are simple misguided souls who have been entrapped. At least that way they'll know what you really think.

America needs to ponder what it is we really owe those in uniform. I don't believe America needs a draft though I imagine we'd be having a different discussion if we had one.

And now we get to the real point: Mr. Arkin is among those who don't like the volunteer army because it's immune to leftist attempts to co-opt it for the anti-war effort. Yes, if there were a draft the military could then be filled with soldiers who by philosophy, constitution or character/personality were unsuited to it and the anti-war types could use the military itself for their propaganda.

There is so much in Arkin's screed here. But it's six in the morning and this new job is taking it all out of me. And I must admit that I don't have the courage of so many of my military friends; the fight against words like this seems so futile sometimes. As Lex wrote the other day, "We can spend our lives breaking ourselves on the shoals of academic silliness, and have nothing at all to show for it. Energies must be rationed." Arkin isn't an academic, but it's of the same stripe...

UPDATE: Sanger, commenting at the Castle says it well...

"This is one of the saddest pieces of tripe I've encountered in a while. Soldiers ARE American people, and they certainly have every right to criticize their peers and the people they are fighting to protect. By your standard, however, it would seem they are nothing more than mercenaries and ought to just shut up and do what they are told... "

Or as a military friend of mine put it, he "heard" Arkin's column as the soldier equivalent of "N****** keep off the grass."

Update II: The blogstorm cometh

[h/t to Ry in "H&I Fires" at the Castle]