How will the Long War affect America? Will it make us stronger or weaker? Crazy? Unleash our dark side?

This is the first in a series discussing (speculating)  how our Long War will affect America.  On 9-11-2009 we will have been at war for 8 years.  With increasing intensity:   spending more money, more men and women fighting, expanding the size of our armies, expanding the area of combat.  How has that affected us?

2. Why we fight. Causes of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
3. Killing prisoners, our new tactic in the War on Terror?
4. Bloodlust – a natural by-product of a long war?

It seems an important question, although it’s received almost no attention.  I have only a vague idea where to go with this.  Please post any relevant references or thoughts in the comments!


  1. Warnings from Sun Tzu
  2. Warning from Alexis De Tocqueville

(1)  Warnings from Sun Tzu

The Art of War has a few useful insights about waging war.  First, a warning.

“There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.”

Second, here are two lines that mirror our situation.

“Poverty of the State treasury causes an army to be maintained by contributions from a distance.”

Much as our wars are financed by loans from China and OPEC.

“Contributing to maintain an army at a distance causes the people to be impoverished.”

Yep. The pro-war folks almost never compare these wars’ benefits to their costs. Reading their reports suggests that they believe money grows on trees.

But Sun Tzu lived in a monarchy.  Its dynamics were unlike those of a Republic.  What is the effect on our culture of a long war?  Will it make us stronger — or weaker?  Increase our social cohesion, or fracture it?  Strengthen our will, or unleash passions from our dark side?

(2)  A warning from Alexis De Tocqueville

Update — from comment #7by Grimgrin.

An excerpt from Democracy in America, Chapter 22Why Democratic Nations Naturally Desire Peace, and Democratic Armies War:

No protracted war can fail to endanger the freedom of a democratic country. Not indeed that after every victory it is to be apprehended that the victorious generals will possess themselves by force of the supreme power, after the manner of Sulla and Caesar; the danger is of another kind.

War does not always give over democratic communities to military government, but it must invariably and immeasurably increase the powers of civil government; it must almost compulsorily concentrate the direction of all men and the management of all things in the hands of the administration. If it does not lead to despotism by sudden violence, it prepares men for it more gently by their habits. All those who seek to destroy the liberties of a democratic nation ought to know that war is the surest and the shortest means to accomplish it. This is the first axiom of the science

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp relevance are:

42 thoughts on “How will the Long War affect America? Will it make us stronger or weaker? Crazy? Unleash our dark side?”

  1. Macarthur was a dangerous egomaniac but he was canned because he was opposed to committing an army without victory as a goal. We have made warfighting an extension of our foreign policy consistently since Korea and we are profoundly weakened. Now we face the prospect of an endless war vs. an undefined enemy == Radical Islam is not a definition or a target for conventional military or 3d and 4th gen warfare. We have made a habit of not winning — which is losing. We need a total overhaul of national security doctrine, the mix of forces we maintain, how we manage and acquire weapons. We are not defending our borders or our territorial waters properly and will pay a big price. Mexico is destabilizing with a good deal of help from neighbors to the south and Iran. It is not the trivial but preventable smuggling of weapons from Arizona that is the cause of this. Expect rise in urban violence here, already has started, related to this. We are asleep at the wheel and have been for decades. Pathetic.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Do you have any evidence for this bizarre-seeming statement?

    “Macarthur … was canned because he was opposed to committing an army without victory as a goal.”

    He lost his bearings after the Chinese invasion, and advocated use of nukes. Truman rightly replaced him.

  2. Just think there is a new class of seniors entering their final year of High School this year who have grown up with the United States at war almost their entire lives. By the time we end our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq we will likely have an entire generation of children entering adulthood in a country that has been at war their entire lives!

    Being at war is becoming a routine, something that is normal and part of the everyday functioning of the government just like building roads and collecting taxes. Reports about combat deaths have become like weather reports on the news.

    I don’t know what the effects of this have been or will be. That question seems like a job for an anthropologist or sociologist to answer. Maybe their is some university already funding a study?
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thanks for the note of perspective. A chilling note, indeed. I suspect that there are no studies underway about this. It’s too important, too close to home.

  3. Suggest you read William Manchester, American Caesar and his extraordinary memoir, Goodbye, Darkness. MacArthur and Marshall despised one another, both wanted to be president I presume. Mac was opposed to fighting in Korea, thought it irrelevant. When ordered in he pulled his brilliant Inchon move, then shocked by the scale of Chinese attack he wanted to create a radioactive belt in Manchuria that would prevent the Chinese from reinforcing. Agree, he had to be replaced, but does not change his original position: no need to fight in Asia and IF you fight, fight to win. Korea was and remains a disaster. We got some nice looking women, kimchee and Samsung and possibly ww3 from our inability to distinguish Asia from the Pacific.
    Mongo’s comments very important. The end of the draft has been a disaster from many perspectives as the banning of ROTC. The military always disliked the draft because it brought too many nosyparkers and independent minded types. They preferred farm boys and criminals.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I don’t see how this supports your earlier assertion that MacArthur was “because he was opposed to committing an army without victory” — or contradicts my statement that Macarthur was fired because he panicked and advocated using nukes.

  4. Earlier posted {by me in comments} at Sic Semper Tyrannis (“Ruminations on the Afghan ‘money pit,’ etc.“, 2 August 2009), but works here as well.

    One intriguing explanation of “the fall of the Roman Empire” (for lack of a more accurate description) focuses on the degradation of farm lands and the growing economic inefficiency of the Army. The argument is that the Empire grew by stealing gold and labor from folks it conquered, first Italy, then later further afield. To sustain the system, they built roads, maintained local rulers, etc.

    As long as there was “easy gold” to seize or mine, the system worked. But as the metropolis grew, more and more resources were drawn from the hinterland — eventually including grain ships from Mediterranean “clients.”

    As the legions moved farther afield, they encountered less compliant folk (the “Pathans” of Germania, as it were), campaigns required greater logistic support (even with no KBR in that day), and the resource pay out (ROI) was less and less.

    The old argument about “bread and circuses” goes part of the way, but the weight of an increasingly expensive military, one increasingly unable to bring home the bacon and increasingly beyond the control of a diminished Senate and Emperor, is what really put paid to the Empire.

  5. The Roman Republic became a military dictatorship after almost a century of civil war, the Senate unable to control the competing factions, each of which had its own authorized legions and granted authority to raise revenues to pay the troops and settle the retired veterans on farms, after Marius’ signigicant reforms created the NewRomanArmy. The Army under Augustus was part of his HOUSEHOLD. After the murder of Caligula, the Praetorian Guard “made” Claudius and continued to be a significant player in Imperial succession for the next several centuries. The army budget always remained in the household budget of the Emperor who was in fact not and never a “constitutional” office. The remarkable feature of Rome is not that it fell, but that it lasted to very long with such an odd structure. More amazing is that when Constantine moved the Throne out of Rome, nobody seemed to notice, the Senate,the courts, the dole continuing as if nothing had changed for two more centuries. Why people see a parallel in America with any of this, mystifies me. But hey, its early days here.
    Fabius Maximus replies: The Roman Republic became a empire when the Roman people lose the will to govern themselves. That being so, it was just a question as to who would take on the job.

    It was not a military dictatorship until much later. The early Emperiors were not selected from or risen from the military. The military was an important — perhaps the most important — basis of their power. But that’s true of many (perhaps most) political regimes.

    The organizational details of the military — part of the Emperior’s household or not — are not determinative.

  6. Some anecdotes to back up Mongo’s point:

    I have a twelve year old cousin. He and his friends, when I’ve seen them together, play “war” more than anything else (that may not be unusual, I did that too). Their enemy of choice is always “terrorists”, never any particular nationality. The correct way to deal with terrorists is always a most imaginatively gruesome death. Quite a few of them also play first-person shooter type video games. Some parents are actively trying to keep their kids away from this, but clearly, the message is getting through.

  7. The Art of War is a document that explains the basic principles of fighting a war effectively and as such I don’t think it has any insight to offer about how prolonged warfare will affect America’s culture. That said, Sun Tzu’s statements are about economics and logistics not culture, and are equally applicable to a republic or a monarchy.

    If you want to know how prolonged war will affect America’s culture, I think DeToqueville nailed it down. WHY DEMOCRATIC NATIONS NATURALLY DESIRE PEACE, AND DEMOCRATIC ARMIES, WAR (Chapter 22) from Democracy in America.

    “War does not always give over democratic communities to military government, but it must invariably and immeasurably increase the powers of civil government; it must almost compulsorily concentrate the direction of all men and the management of all things in the hands of the administration. If it does not lead to despotism by sudden violence, it prepares men for it more gently by their habits.”

    Fabius Maximus replies: I have added this as an update to the post, and will post a longer excerpt from this chapter later this week. Thanks for brining this to the attention of everyone reading this site!

  8. China, as in so much else, is showing us the way. Want to make our enemies become more like us? Build them roads. China is building roads all over Africa. Osama Bin Laden built the only good road in Sudan. They really appreciated that. The Africans aren’t complaining too much about China’s building projects either.
    Build them Erie Canal’s, and Panama canal’s. Build them air strips. Build them California Central Valley style water projects. These are long planning cycle projects, only feasible as part of a long war. There are unique advantages to long wars in this regard, but you have to stop viewing your long war as a sequence of short military campaigns. Butter, not guns. Carrots, not sticks.
    Put in Fiber Optics, for Christ’s sake. Watch how internet access changes the game.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Agreed! This is discussed in Another big step for China on its road to becoming a great power.

  9. “Just think there is a new class of seniors entering their final year of High School this year who have grown up with the United States at war almost their entire lives. By the time we end our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq we will likely have an entire generation of children entering adulthood in a country that has been at war their entire lives! Being at war is becoming a routine, something that is normal and part of the everyday functioning of the government just like building roads and collecting taxes. Reports about combat deaths have become like weather reports on the news.”

    Well said, let me add the following: We have several generations alive whose knowledge of the Constitution is so scant, and whose understanding of governmental checks and balances so lacking, that many citizens no longer question the basic “right” of the President to declare war without Congressional approval, a formal declaration of war, or even minimal oversight of on-going conflicts. As far as many young people are concerned, it is A-OK and just business as usual for the President to make de facto declarations of war. Conflict by executive order is de riguer these days, and few people seem to mind or even notice (the host of this blog seems to be an exception). The Dems who raised a hue and cry about the extra-Constitutionality of the Bush wars, are now silent on Obama’s adventures abroad, just as their counterparts across the aisle were when GWB was in office. I’ll cover your butt if you cover mine.

    Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain….
    Fabuis Maximus replies: Agreed, this is a serious problem. My first post about this was Forecast: Death of the American Constitution, 4 July 2006. For others see section one (About the Constitution and our government) on the FM reference page America – how can we reform it?.

  10. There’s war and then there’s war. When I was a kid, we played cowboys and Indians. And when the relevant wars are incidental, as was the case with the Indian Wars, they can and do go on pretty continuously. (I’m not making a value judgment about the Indian Wars; I’m saying they did not have a major impact upon the body politic.)

    So, if the hunt for Bin Laden were like the hunt for Geronimo, then the consequences would be incidental. But we choose, instead, to treat Bin Laden as a threat a great as Stalin.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Great point! The Indian Wars (troops, cost) were tiny relative to the 19th century US population and economy. The current wars are not.

  11. FM: “The Indian Wars (troops, cost) were tiny relative to the 19th century US population and economy. The current wars are not.

    The Indian wars also made us a stronger and more prosperous nation. I often wonder what we possibly gain from our “investment” in Iraq and Afghanistan? Are we gaining markets? Oil? Geopolitical encirclement of Russia and China? What’s the point? Can anyone tell me why America is better off for going to these places?

  12. Also, strictly from a utilitarian standpoint, Americans got a lot out of it – a ton of land. Like a Palestinian acquaintance of mine once said, it’s bad enough we invaded Iraq, but we are not even stealing their oil!
    Fabius Maximus replies: This is the great oddity of the American Empire, or more accurately hegemony. Unlike past Empires, It brings America few economic benefits to offset its large costs.

  13. Burke G Sheppard

    How has the war affected us? Less than a lot of people believe. 9-11 didn’t really change all that much about this country. (A second such atrocity might, or might not.) I don’t think it has made the nation “crazy”, even though, judging by some of the commentary I see, it certainly brought out the crazies.

    Regardless of what happens, war, financial implosion, or any other event, our politics remains mired in the issues of long ago. The Left saw the war as a distraction from their agenda of transforming American society. The Right saw it as a means of facilitating theirs. Both were equally wrong, and both have learned nothing.

    Crazy we may be, but if so, that started well before 9-11.
    Fabius Maximus replies: We’re not crazy, but the question concerns the trend — our direction. Many supporters of the war seem crazy. The entire project IMO seems crazy. More of this in the future chapters, such as “killing prisoners” and “bloodlust.”

  14. Robert Petersen

    I believe something changed after 911 – especially when it came to the question of ethics. The United States had certainly before 911 committed atrocities like nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but it can be argued it happened in a time of total warfare. It also put 120.000 Japanese into concentration camps, but compared to Nazi Germany the conditions were good and after a couple of years people were released. Many Japanese men even proved their patriotism and went fighting in the US army in the last stages of WW2. IMO: Atrocities happened, but there were aberrations and some of them could be justified as act of emergencies.

    The big change happened in 1945 when the Cold War created a permanent military establishment and the national security state. The Church Committee estimated in 1976 that the NSC between 1961 and 1975 only knew about and approved 14 percent of all covert operations. Even if they wanted to Congress and the White House would be hard pressed to control all the actions of the intelligence services and the military. My impression is they prefered not to know. But as Watergate and to a lesser degree Irangate proved there were limits to the power of the president and thus also to the power of the national security state and the military.

    Since 911 something far more sinister has happened in the United States: We saw a president who argued he had total executive powers in wartime (the Addington/Yoo world view), we saw an invasion of Iraq based on total lies and we witnessed the decision to scrap 200 years of proud American history and accept torture as a legitimate way to get information. Whats more important: There has hardly been any accountability and the democrats hardly put up a fight even though the election of Barack Obama can be seen as a wish for such a change among the Americans. Perhaps the democrats figured out that once they get back to the White House they could use all their power in a way for the common good. Bombing Afghanistan or Pakistan is not bad when Obama does it.

    Something has also happened with the quality of the American leaders. Why on earth did the Americans elect a moron like president Bush to president? Why did McCain run for president with Sarah Palin as VP? Why did Americans elect Barack Obama – who has never been in charge of anything – in 2008? I actually like Obama, but I would be hard-pressed to ignore his lack of experience. The United States is a country with 300 million people. Why can’t they find better leaders? It is almost like being back in old Rome where emperor Caligula made one of his favorite horses a member of the Senate.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I esp like the last paragraph of your comment. All good guestions! Your analysis places the responsibility where it belongs, IMO — on us.

  15. Jonathan Rubinstein’s statement is correct but must be viewed in context. MacArthur provoked the Chinese to entering the Korean war by violating his orders and pushing the Koreans back above the 54th parallel, if memory serves. This created legitimate fears among the Chinese that the Americans intended to keep going and not just stop by defeating the North Koreans, but that the American intended to invade China. Recall that Mao had just established control over China after the Long March, a grueling guerilla war that lasted decades — the Chinese leadership were understably scared that America wanted to topple their regime, and thought that Macarthur’s thrust north through Korea was a pretext to do exactly that.

    Then, when the Chinese started their human wave attacks at the Chosin Reservoir and the American army bugged out, MacArthur wanted a total military victory. He advocated using nuclear weapons. MacArthur didn’t appear to understand the underlying context of the Korean War: first, it was part of Truman’s containment doctrine. The other more radical political philosophy at the time was the rollback doctrine, which called for invading communist countries. This would’ve led to nuclear war and the end of civilization, exactly as MacArthur’s nutty proposal to use nukes would have done in Korea. Truman rightly vetoed that crazy idea and canned MacArthur.

    In retrospect, the containment doctrine worked and was the right move. The rollback doctrine was not feasible and would surely have led to a massive nuclear exchange. MacArthur’s advocacy (in effect) of rollback rather than containment was of a piece with the extreme right-wing advocacy of rollback in the 1950s, summed up in the slogan “Better dead than Red.” Alas, when we’re talking about 500 to 800 million people dead from radiation and blast effects and thermal shockwaves in a nuclear exchange, that kind of extremism isn’t a realistic way to engage in conflict. War stops being the extension of politics by other means when it turns nuclear.

    MacArthur appears to have thought he could bring the Korean War to a total victory exactly in the manner in which Germany and Japan were forced into unconditional surrender. In the new post-war Cold War world where the great powers had nuclear weapons, unconditional surrender of proxies in cold war geopolitical struggles was no longer an option. MacArthur seems not to have realized this. Patton also didn’t seem to realize that after WW II. Quite a number of the best generals of WW II didn’t “get” the new Cold War geopolitcs.

  16. Excellent posts in this thread. To reiterate, MacArthur – I am not a fan but look at his casualties compared with the Naval led massacre — was opposed to invading Korea because he did not view it as a threat to Japan. He distinguished between the Pacific and Asia, a concept that eluded Dean Acheson and most others who have run our policies since. Kennedy was a fool and Johnson a total scoundrel; Nixon and Kissinger, war criminals. We remain fixated on being the replacement for the British Empire — some idea that FDR had from his cousin. A terrible idea in addition to being stupid as the world really did change fundamentally in August, 1914. I think Teddy Roosevelt might — might — have been smart enough to see this. Eisenhower had a glimmer but no vision — refused to draw the conclusion in his speech and it has never come up again. It is not too late for us to change course but it is hard for nations to do this. # 7 is key comment as you note. Agree with # 13 as well, almost always do.

  17. A. Scott Crawford

    (Fabius: Please feel free to edit for length of the quote. I didn’t want to be selective)


    From the above written treatise it also is to be considered what a difference there is between a contented army which combats for its own glory, and that which is ill disposed and which combats for the ambitions of others. For where the Roman armies were usually victorious under the Consuls, they always lost under the Decemvirs. From this example there can be recognized part of the reasons of the uselessness of mercenary soldiers, who have no other reason which keeps them firm but a small stipend which you give to them. Which reason is not, and can never be, enough to make them faithful, nor so much your friends that they be willing to die for you. For in those armies where there is not that affection toward the man for whom they combat which makes them become his partisans, there can never be so much virtu which would be enough to resist even an enemy of little virtu. And because this love cannot arise in any contest except from his own subjects, it is necessary in wanting to keep a State, or to want to maintain a Republic or a Kingdom, that he arm himself with his own subjects, as is seen to have been done by all those others who, with their armies, have made great advances. The Roman armies under the Ten had the same virtu as before: but because there was not in them the same disposition, they did not achieve their usual results. But as soon as the Magistracy of the Ten was extinguished and they begun to fight as free men, that same spirit returned in them, and consequently their enterprises had their happy endings according to their ancient custom.”


    It’s I, Cato the Censor, again. And frankly, Fabius Maximus, I, who admired you so much when you were alive and led us, should not have to remind you how lONG that war with Hannibal was. As this modern fellow Machiavelli writes, whom I understand to have been some sort of militia captain when his own city state was a Republic, it seems to me he’s on to something. For I recall that rarely when we were on campaign picking and poking at Hannibal, but never engaging him in a set battle as you ordered; during those long years it was not the love of Rome that drove me on those dreary marches and patrols but rather the fraternity and bond we in the legions had towards each other; and our faith in you, our Leader, who assured us we’d wear Hannibal and his mercenaries down. And our determination as men to see our collective goal through.

    You died without seeing the (half) conclusion of your strategy, but I swear this to you Fabius Maximus, it was not any Genius or Craft on the part of that dandy bottom powdering Scipio “Africanus” that defeated Hannibal at Zuma, but rather that the Gaul mercenaries and allies that flocked to Hannibal when there was loot in Spain and Italy, deserted him when it came to defending Carthage (which had very few veterans). Furthermore, and I give that slippery Greek Polybius credit for advising Scipio in this, we were able to buy that tribe of N. Africans as mercenaries for the same reasons Hannibal had gathered so many Gauls; and raiding Carthaginian allied towns stripped Hannibal of the allied numbers he’d have had otherwise, and caused many units to desert and return to their homes left unprotected; it likewise undermined the morale of those allies that remained, so that at Zuma Hannibals army broke apart such as you and I never saw his armies in Italy waver.

    What makes a Republic, Fabius, if not for the fraternity of it’s citizenry, and the bond those citizens have who’ve toiled and fought together. Now let me whisper this, Fabius, the women back in Rome and younger men who’d been too long at their wet nurses to desire to serve in the legions, EVEN AFTER ZUMA… for all their charms and wasteful spending, could never budge we men of the Legions when we were together on a thing, for they knew our POLITICS was OUR bond with each other accomplishing what we’d set ourselves to do as MEN. So whereas this Machiavelli speaks of Kings (which were odious to us, if not to the Greeks and Scipio’s bunch), the loyalty, partisanship, and zeal we veterans had towards each other was ALL THAT KEPT THE REPUBLIC from becoming some blithering Democracy, where every fool and coward who’s able enough to shout in an assembly fancies himself equal or better than those who’ll actually FIGHT together for some greater purpose (be it Republic, polis, or foreign adventure).

    Well, now there’s LAWYERS aplenty in every Capital, and war profiteers too. But I, Cato the Censor, say that what will hold a Republic together when demagogues and Money Lenders, and Mobile Vulgarian shirkers seem destined to rip a Republic apart, or anoint some rascal King, or drag it into an factionalized Democracy… I say what will hold the Republic steady is the veterans and men of the Legions who’ve fought some long war in common. For these men are Brothers and Partisans to each other, and share a bond all the rest combined will shrink before once the fraternity collectively sets its mind to something. For those who’ve never risked and toiled for some noble cause greater than themselves with their peers, will not fight to enforce their rights of franchise against those who have.

    Cato the Censor (A. Scott Crawford)

  18. Fabius we can go off site if you want to continue discussion of Roman constitution. But the Roman people did not have a say in much after 300 B.C. and nada after Sulla. What you refer to as “details” are the living Constitution of the Roman Empire established finally by Caesar and his nephew after 30 years of war. His dynasty lasted a generation and forward from there the military was the key element in the constitutional arrangement for the next 500 years!! Suggest you reread Ronald Syme, The Roman Revolution, after Tacitus. It is largely a “secret” history but the outlines of it are clear. People who “regret” the passing of Rome also miss the Old Plantation culture.
    More to the point, we are in a struggle for the soul of our country. This is not about Bad Patriots and Good Peace people. We were born in war and revolt. We need a powerful and vibrant National Defense but it needs to be led by people with dignity, courage and an idea of what a Republic is.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Of course the Roman people “had a say” after 300bc. They just choose not to “say” much. It’s not the same thing. If people wish to be sheep, they must expect to be preyed upon by wolves. That’s the natural order of life. All those fine sophistries cannot change these basic facts.

  19. Great comment, tho not true: “the new post-war Cold War world where the great powers had nuclear weapons, unconditional surrender of proxies in cold war geopolitical struggles was no longer an option.” {mclaren, comment #16}

    In fact, the US S. Vietnamese proxy allies DID give their unconditional surrender in 1975 to the invading N. Viet commies, after the anti-war politics of the US voters was translated into the policy of accepting defeat (1974).

    Responsibility for the tens/hundreds of thousands of US allied S. Vietnamese who were then murdered, or ran away as boat people, rests primarily with the victorious commies — and their anti-war US “allies of the third kind”. Similarly the victorious commies in Cambodia, not the US, are responsible for the 2+ million Cambodian genocide.

    In any war, the sides fighting have two choices: continue to fight, or lose. “Winning” is not a choice of the winning side, but rather the choice of the losing side to “stop fighting (and accept losing)”.

    What America needs to learn is how to do better “democratic nation-building” while fighting terrorists. All anti-war folk I know of, like this site, have little or no constructive criticism to offer for improvement — because they want to stop fighting the terrorists. I also don’t know of any pro-war folk who are focused on doing a better (cheaper? quicker? more rights oriented? more economically oriented?) job at nation building — rather than responding and denying the claims of the anti-war folk.

    So, FM — how long will America have to fight terrorists before you try to suggest how America can do a better job at fighting them and creating democratic states, as Iraq is becoming? (Despite your prior expectations that the US would fail to at creating an Iraqi democracy. And if the Kurds secede, does that mean failure? [For me, no.])

    As long as I remeber the real, factual, historical cost of losing to the anti-American commies in Indo-China, I will oppose losing to the terrorists. Tho I’m happy to support modified alternative strategies for better democratic nation-building — like computerized foreign aid acceptance and money tracking (for instance, to reduce corruption and improve effectiveness).
    Fabius Maximus replies: First, S Vietnam was no longer a “proxy” after the US cut-off aid — so this is not a valid counterexample to mclaren. Second, can your substantiate your descriptions of this site’s analysis? Most are bizarrely unlike anything in my posts (if you give a specific quote I’ll respond), as are your fantasies about “what America needs to do (which have also been extensively discussed here).

  20. One of the contexts that gets lost in our current “war” is that so few Americans have any involvement with it. This may be why there appears no push by the public in general to conclude it. I can’t remember who the monarch was but it was stated, paraphrased of course, “the people should’nt even know there is a war.” or something to that effect. Eventually future generations will not take war seriously. It will be something “others” do.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Most American’s have an involvement with the war — we’re paying for it. That has been hidden. Instead of tax increases, the government has borrowed the funds needed. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that our children and grandchildren are involved, as they’re stuck with the bill.

  21. As you, I am more interested in the soul of this, our people, which is being squandered. Remaking our national security strategy will be attacked as retreat and defeat. Indeed retreat is part of the deal. We need to close most of the 850 foreign bases we have. We should make Guam the 51st state, expand our Navy dramatically — underwater, add two divisions to the Marines, create two new Army divisions of real MPs — we may be in Mexico a lot sooner than you think. Getting any of this done will constitute a profound change. Meanwhile we have idiots such as Geither and Summers, architects of our bubble, running the show with pathetic programs such as Clunkers which will increase the cost of used cars for poor folk and make spare parts much harder to find. But this is not a site for ACTION I know. But it is one of the very best.

  22. Are we saying that the current wars are financially ruinous, but the ongoing cost of the standing military (approximately half the annual federal budget)is not? Also, remember the cost of the financial bailout, which dwarfs the costs of the wars. Who is really ruining the American economy?

    The more important question is what are these wars doing to our national culture, our individual psyches, our values? To my mind, they are the equivalent of the poor slob in a dead-end job, and an unhappy marriage, who goes to the bar, gets drunk and picks a fight, hoping to feel good about himself again.

  23. You are correct, Fabius. We are paying for it, but the people do not perceive it as such and since we are now a debtor nation everything we spend will be on our future generations.

    The number of people directly involved, soldiers and their families, as a percentage of our population, is much smaller than in previous “major wars”. I would of prefered you description from an earlier post:

    “Our first invasion was in response to 9-11, a fast and bloodless (as such things go) overthrow of al Qaeda’s allies. An object lesson to our enemies, it might even have resulted in a better regime. If we had withdrawn our army, sent them some checks and well wishes (along with threats of death from the sky should al Qaeda re-establish camps), who knows what might have happened?”

    Unfortunatly this was not the path chosen even though this would be more like how a Republic operates. Perhaps the war is a symptom of a larger problem. Maybe in this discussion we have it backwards. It reflects a problem in the body politic.

    WE the people are passing the buck but it goes into so many different things. We’ve been barrowing our butt’s off for a long time now and some how we want it all without “paying” for it. Paying by working and building for the future seems to now be an alien concept to Americans.

    We like telling others how to live but never expect that the those others might not agree! This is a sin of both the Left and the Right. How this all pans out is a good question. We have not hit our national fork in the road, yet.

  24. As Robert Petersen noted, above: “Why did Americans elect Barack Obama – who has never been in charge of anything – in 2008? I actually like Obama, but I would be hard-pressed to ignore his lack of experience.”
    Well, Lincoln had a short resume; poor old Harry Truman rose from being a machine hack to the US Senate before being tapped as VP in ’44. Each came to power during times of massive change. It might be that too much experience (“we’ve always done it this way”) constrains rather than informs needed change, even change we can believe in.

    Still & all, it’s hard to even pretend to be optimistic, given the disconnect between the general officers and the grunts and tide of events, both inside and outside the USG.
    Fabius Maximus replies: This is nonsense. Obama’s background is grossly less than that of Lincoln and Truman. Both had long and diverse experiences dwarfing Obama’s.

    Lincoln practiced as an attorney for 23 years, becoming one of the top lawyers in IL. As a young man he worked as a storekeeper, surveyor, and postmaster; and served briefly as a Captain in the militia (1832). He served in the IL legislature (1834-40) and Congress (1847-49). He had decades of experience in politics, becoming a leader of the IL Whig party and the new national Republican party.

    Truman was a county judge 1922-33, a state director for the WPA, and US senator from 1935-45. He served in the National Guard for many years (1905-11, and 1918; ending with the rank of Colonel), and fought in WWI. He owned and operated a store for several years.

  25. Your first Sun Tzu quote also appears in “Wham, Bam Bananastan“, the July 30th blog entry at Pen and Sword, written by Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired).

    Huber points out that the Afghanis resisting the US invaders now were, way back in the 20th century, given funds and supplies by the US while they resisted the Soviets. They did so successfully. It is wrong to assume that they are less skilled and motivated today.

    Huber believes that the US’s stated goal of disrupting “terrorist networks in Afghanistan and especially Pakistan to degrade any ability they have to plan and launch international terrorist attacks” is, in his words, “nothing short of hallucinatory”. He writes: “Modern terrorists don’t need sanctuary in the Bananastans or anywhere else to plan and launch their attacks. All they need is an iPhone. Heck, they can get by with a BlackBerry.”

    Another Sun Tzu quote from Huber’s posting: “If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Huber does not quote, but I’m reminded of, this passage from The Gospel of Thomas:

    “Jesus said: If those who lead you say to you: ‘See, the Kingdom is in heaven,’ then the birds of the heaven will precede you. If they say to you: ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. But the Kingdom is within you and it is without you. If you will know yourselves, then you will be known and you will know that you are the sons of the Living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you are in poverty and you are poverty.”

    May the Creative Forces of the Universe have mercy on our American souls, if any.

  26. Apart from Pearl Harbor and 9/11 , has the US experienced war at home ? I havent either , but I played on flower-covered bombsites as a kid , and explored forbidden ruins . It has struck me how urban decay and bomb damage look the same .

  27. A. Scott Crawford

    Mr. Rubinstein,

    I apologize if I was smarmy with my “Cato the Censor” bit… it’s an old ongoing rhetorical gimmick I use from time to time. This said, when you speak of Mr. Syme’s secret history, I assume you don’t mean to imply he was a Roman (or Greek) historian. Rather than deferring to a modern commentary, perhaps you’d be better served returning to Polybius, who was present in Rome as a hostage and was Scipio’s tutor. As you seem to have some details confused, Polybius’ description of the Roman Constitution might be worth a read. You might also want to look over Quintus Fabius Pictor (another Republican era historian)… obviously I also refer a lot to Plutarch because of his life of Fabius Maximus. lol.

    I’m most certainly not of the opinion that the Defense budget is acceptable, but I think it’s important to understand that our “National Defense” is an all volunteer force. The men (and women) who volunteer have done for many reasons, but the resolution of the war in Iraq, and the stabilization of Afghanistan have come to be the generational tasks that are the hurdle. Given that the War in Iraq was begun during a cold war oriented military and under the U.N., then stalled for a decade, the removal of the Baathists and nursemaiding of a new Iraqi coalition government is a noble accomplishment, given that during the first War the U.S. had made a promise that it broke, and which caused a large number of Iraqis that had faith in America to be wiped out. In this sense it’s a belated honoring of a promise.

    As to the “Nation building”, I’m in agreement with Mr. Grey in part. I’ve actually undertaken ‘reconstruction” or “development” projects in S. Asia successfully in relation to establishing audit metrics, and figuring out the pitfalls and problems of actually implementing productive self-sustaining programs that were turned over to local managers.

    The fact regarding “Reconstruction”, which I believe is a more accurate description (one shouldn’t pretend one is “nation building” a Country one carpet bombed back to the stone age in the first place), is that the DoD didn’t expect to have to shoulder that burden, and wasn’t funded to do so. The State Dept. and USAID (now conjoined) as well as other institutions, were the recipients of the “reconstruction” funding and were supposed to be the responsible entities in terms of managing the process. What the Military learned, very late, was that neither the DoS nor USAID nor those collecting billions of dollars to undertake nation building… were able to do so, or able to account for all the money they received to do so over a decade. The U.S. military, lacking the option of just providing military support and stability, was stuck having to undertake it’s duties, AND learn how to “Nation Build” without the $150 billion dollars the DoS, USAID, &etc. collected to pay for it, and using a set of “how to guidebooks” and formulas the civilian Development con artists used to NOT do the job themselves. (That’s where projects like mine came in, as we had to rewrite the instruction manual to mesh with the real world). Moreover, the Department of State boldly lied to the Department of Defense about it’s budget and available field staff for several years before the Military appreciated the mess (The Dept. of State cannot account for over $100 billion dollars over the last ten years). One cannot blame the DoD for doing nation building on a much smaller budget, until one prosecutes the aid workers and diplomats for misappropriating the money!

    (anyway, that’s not where the defense budget fat is….)

  28. Mr. Crawford: I did not think you smarmy. Ronald Syme, born in New Zealand, published The Roman Revolution in 1938, a magnificent and controversial account of Augustus’ revolution. Erich Gruen wrote the rebuttal, not as impressive but excellent. Syme was a great and close student of Tacitus and Sallust. I have of course read Polybius. This is not the place for knotting and undoing these threads. More to the point I read closely your comments about AID and the Defense Department. Not easy making an imperial bureaucracy that works — we will fail and destroy our country in the process. These policies serve only narrow and powerful interests which we will either defeat in the next decades or this country will devolve into a bilingual Empire, embracing Mexico and Canada. All of its promise to the world, pledged in the words of our founders and the very great Lincoln will have been squandered and we will decline into just another gang of robbers like the Romans and Alexander the Great. It need not be this way but this is where we are heading, spearheaded by bankers and buffoon lawyers like Obama who think Federal law will lead to the Promised Land. Oi. I do not think Obama a buffoon by the way, but a very inexperienced, not thoughtful but quite intelligent ideologue.

  29. “…..we witnessed the decision to scrap 200 years of proud American history and accept torture as a legitimate way to get information.”

    For the record, waterboarding first became popular with American interrogators during the war in the Philippines, circa 1899-1902. And I suspect it’s been employed to some extent in every war before and after.

    “Just think there is a new class of seniors entering their final year of High School this year who have grown up with the United States at war almost their entire lives.”

    Has there yet been a generation of Americans for whom it has been any different? I turned 60 this year and I can’t think of a time when we have not been at war, whether cold or hot, for any extended period of time.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Can you cite any evidence that waterboarding has been used in every war since 1900? I don’t believe that is correct (except very rarely by rogues). Also, there have been long periods without wars (wars, as opposed to raids, strikes, and brief interventions). Most notably between WWI and WWII, Korean and the Vietnam buildup (1954-1963), Vietanm and Afghanistan (1974-2001).

  30. O please. How many people did we assassinate in Vietnam under CoinTelPro? 200 years of what? Not defending any of the jerks who planned or ran any part of the war in Iraq, but the “torture” while disgusting and impractical is hardly new or unique in American life or history.
    Fabius Maximus replies: By the numbers.

    (1) I was talking about torture, not assassination. Assassination is a routine tool of war.

    (2) Torture has been used (esp since roughly 1960), but not as an open and official tool of US State policy. That is a bright line which we have crossed.

    (3) “How many people did we assassinate in Vietnam under CoinTelPro?”

    Nobody was killed in Vietnam by COINTELPRO (an acronym for Counter Intelligence Program). It was a operation conducted in the US, led by the FBI.

  31. Burke G Sheppard

    FM: “Many supporters of the war seem crazy. The entire project IMO seems crazy.

    I think there’s bad craziness to go around. Some of the conspiracy theories I’ve heard put forward by opponents of the war, especially about 9-11, amount to little more than demented ravings.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Much odd stuff is found on the margins of society, the realm of the flat-earthers and such. But these wars are among the central projects of our nation at this time.

  32. Anna Nicholas asked “Apart from Pearl Harbor and 9/11, has the US experienced war at home?”

    Yes, America has. During the War of 1812, the British invaded and captured Washington D.C. and burned the White House. In the 1910s Pancho Villa invaded the state of Arizona and Southern California, looted, and killed civilians.

    Isn’t it interesting that America did not find it necessary to conduct an endless global war against the British or the Mexicans after these incursions and invasions, whereas one group of kooks flying two jet planes into two skyscrapers suffices to make all Americans hysterical and demand that the U.S.A. conduct an essentially unlimited endless war against “Islamic extremist terrorist” everywhere in the world?
    Fabius Maximus replies: The major war on American soil was the Civil War.

  33. I was thinking of ‘living history ‘ of war in my homeland. Which dies out with my generation . When I ride the London Underground , I see wraiths of the families sleeping fitfully on the deep stations , wrapped in coats , packed and smelling like sardines , because my mother was there .

  34. By which , I didnt mean my mother smelt of sardines. How about Philip Zec’s ” Dont lose it again ” ? Here.

  35. My apologies on # 30. You are correct. I meant Operation Phoenix conducted by the CIA which led by the early 70s to the retirement of the first string recruited out of the OSS whose departure left the agency empty. There are some features about rendition and secret bases which are new and very dangerous developments, waterboarding is torture. And torture will get you political information, not truth, but it will never get real intel. You can be sure if we are entered into open=ended war we are only in a pause,if it is a pause in a downward gyre that will pick up speed.
    Fabius Maximus replies: The Phoenix Program’s assassination remain only allegations, with limited proof. Much of the official evidence appears in the transcript of the 1970 Senate hearings. They poured whitewash everywhere, but could not cover the outlines of the darker aspects of the program. And more information has surfaced to confirm this over the years since then.

    In that tradition, see the new RAND report: “The Phoenix Program and Contemporary Counterinsurgency“, William Rosenau and Austin Long of RAND, 40 pages. It lightly debunks the rumors about assassination, although presenting no contrary evidence.

    The Wikipedia entry has an excellent bibliography for anyone wanting to research this history.

  36. A. Scott Crawford

    “…Not easy making an imperial bureaucracy that works — we will fail and destroy our country in the process. These policies serve only narrow and powerful interests which we will either defeat in the next decades or this country will devolve into a bilingual Empire, embracing Mexico and Canada. All of its promise to the world, pledged in the words of our founders and the very great Lincoln will have been squandered and we will decline into just another gang of robbers like the Romans and Alexander the Great. It need not be this way but this is where we are heading, spearheaded by bankers and buffoon lawyers like Obama who think Federal law will lead to the Promised Land. Oi. I do not think Obama a buffoon by the way, but a very inexperienced, not thoughtful but quite intelligent ideologue.”

    Mr. Rubinstein,

    If by “imperial bureaucracy” we are discussing the necessary organization to effectively rebuild in Iraq and Afghanistan what we (or the Soviets) destroyed, I couldn’t agree. If, however, you are referring to the U.N. and U.S. international bureaucracies and organizations that failed to uphold their end in Iraq and Afghanistan, and which across the globe sucks the lifeblood of the Republic at every turn to meddle in other Countries affairs under the false promise of development, and which has created more terrorists and enemies of the Republic through it’s abuses, villainy, hypocrisy, and frauds… well, I surely despise that, and wish the U.S. military would wake up and see that what it experienced in Iraq re that bunch is how those same people behave almost everywhere else they’re allowed to represent the U.S. public and act with U.S. funds, and seeing how destructive and deceptive their practices are, STOP protecting the Americans involved, and exert a tighter control over how those taxdollars and individuals behave, so that the rascals aren’t allowed to create a crises is some distant corner of the world and then come running back to America to hide behind the U.S. military where they lie through their teeth about the fury of the distant locals and their own role in creating such ill will…

    If by Imperial Bureaucracy you mean to refer to Capital and most of the State of Virginias centralization of the authority, control over other States electoral processes, and redistribution and allocation of taxes. Well, I think the Virginians and Washingtonians would very much like to maintain themselves as the “New Dominion”, and continue to attempt to misgovern the Federal Republic as a plantation, if not as an empire. In that case, I’m not as pessimistic as you about the ultimate fate of the Country, as it’s been my experience that most Americans have State Governments that, were it not for the burden imposed by Virginia/Washington, are able to perform most of the necessary functions of government already better than the great majority of Nations. And this being the case, and as I don’t believe the Country would be greatly worse off if all of Virginia and Washington D.C. fell into the Atlantic tomorrow, and would perhaps be the healthier for the amputation of a single digit already dead and black with rot as is, rather than hoping for some miracle medicine to bring the digit back to life in our Republic as a healthy functioning member. How many years would be required for the Country to rebuild after the loss of Virginia and Washington D.C.? I should guess less than twenty, and that “imperial bureaucracy” you mention, the “New Dominion” wouldn’t exist.

    My own strong prejudice is in favor of a return to a default neutral relationship with the rest of the world, and listening to General Washington regarding the affairs of Europe as we dissolve NATO. The U.N. Security Council is too easily bought to allow U.S. soldiers to be co-opted into it’s service rather than their own Republic (let them volunteer for the U.N. if they desire), and the assembly, worthless. Moreover, the current International system commits the U.S. to maintaining irrational and virtual National Borders, and encourages endless subdivision of each into factions with some different quasi imperial sponsor…. most of whom, use Britain and the Commonwealth, whilst the U.S. military for some reason is ever at the ready to serve those who’d just as soon the Republic not exist at all, were it not for their own lack of anything resembling a military and ability to so effortlessly manipulate Washington into adopting the Commonwealths interests as our own.

    It’s never been very clear to me why the Republic’s military is obliged to defend the interests of so many Countries that do NOT pay for the service. I don’t object to the U.S. military undertaking other Countries security and protection per say, but observing that the U.S. military budget is now so inflated and overburdened as a result, it seems clear that the status quo cannot continue. Either the U.S. military will drastically reduce the “complimentary” functions it undertakes to secure other peoples weal, or it will have to decide amongst it’s various parts which side to take in the civil war that seems over the horizon over the majority of the Citizenry’s objection to it’s current indenture to pay the taxes used by Virginia, Washington, and the U.S. military at present. The the next civil war is anything like the last, the U.S. military’s officer corps will largely fight for Virginia and the Empire of Washington and the U.N., while the mass of non-commissioned officers and veterans will find themselves new officers from within the Republic (non-coms do most of the work anyway), who like Sherman and Grant, will not be as fine or gentlemanly as the Virginians and Imperialist officers, but more than up to the task of ridding the Republic of those gentlemen who could not find it in themselves to Obey nor Honor their Oaths of Commission, and turn Rebel to maintain some favored injustice instead.

  37. re # 24. Abraham Lincoln received a $5000 fee from the Illinois Central RR (I believe it was this line) for his work on behalf of the rr which was connecting the frontier to the nation. This was huge money of course. Lincoln did not come from nowhere. He worked hard and as we know kept his out for the main chance.

  38. I think we are pretty much on the same page. Think. As you know “States rights” was once a label for something obnoxious therefore it cannot be usefully resurrected, but we need to restore federalism to this nation, which means reducing the taxing authority of Congress, reduce our standing Army. As for our entangling alliances, they should all go. We can and should maintain close relations and cooperation with many nations who will defend themselves. Australia, India, Israel, G.B. come to mind. A. is not a country any more than is South Africa. This is not a criticism of these, it is a statement of fact. Is the Philippines a nation? Is Indonesia? Time will tell, time and the relative sizes and power and reach of the USN, China and Japan over the next several generations? Washington is strangling this nation, our “national security” doctrines are weakening our constitution and our economy. We need to reverse course. As for the phalanxes of NGO filled with the dull products of our law schools, used and promoted by intelligence agencies, greedy State hacks, bloated foundations that need to be liquidated by reforming the tax codes — parasitism of the first rank.

  39. Anna, we appear to share certain childhood memories and experiences. I, too, spent a lot of time playing in forbidden ruins. The burnt smell never went away, did it? Of course, my ruins were German ones. I remember wondering, as a small child, “what happened to this place?. My mother said it was something called “war”.
    Such memories give one a sense of proportion. A couple of thousand dead is a terrible thing; death is always terrible when it strikes close by. But America has been such a safe place for such a long time that the 9/11 attacks seem to have had a disproportionate psychological effect. The attack amplified what appears to be an American national obsession: security. The slogan now is not “peace at any price”, but “safety at any price…to be paid by the rest of the world”.
    I’m disturbed by the lack of any substantial opposition to the Forever War inside the United States, but I’m not sure that it’s really indicative of a sudden moral decline. The Korean War was idiotic and immoral (read The Bridge at No Gun Ri), but there was little domestic resistance to that war. It was merely accepted and forgotten. The Vietnam war generated resistance because it affected a group of people who were in a position to organize and demonstrate their opposition spectacularly—university students. (I have a fairly good knowledge of the 60s protest movements…having attended Berkeley from 1966 to 1970). By ending the draft, the U.S. government removed the only potential constituency of an effective anti-war movement. So now we only have people saying the war is wrong, but nobody doing anything about it. Nonviolent direct action, anyone?

  40. Never underestimate the US people. Just when you think they have gone under or ‘jumped the shark’ or you have typecasted them as red-necked clowns they will surprise you .. massively.

    Here is an example: “Border Wars: A Day in the Life of a Virtual Vigilante“, Yasha Levine, The Exiled Online, 9 August 2009. Now, for other countries this may not be an issue but the influx of illegal immigrants from Mexico is a serious issue for the US.

    How do you control this in a reasonable way given the huge borders? Some people have gone overboard and have resorted to vigilante justice which is wrong. But I like this guy. He has seen a problem (it is up to you guys there to argue how big a problem it is) but has personally responded in an ingenious and fairly legal and humane way. This is really old fashioned US ‘know how’.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Do you have any evidence that “Some people have gone overboard and have resorted to vigilante justice…”? Sounds like an urban legend, IMO.

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