Sunday, November 28, 2004

Limited War

Here is Thomas Friedman in the New York times, which I will cite as the NYT goes behind a paywall after a week, and I'm slow in posting:
But most of all, I want to have the gall to sully American democracy at a time when young American soldiers are fighting in Iraq so we can enjoy a law-based society here and, maybe, extend it to others. Yes, I want to be Tom DeLay. I want to wear a little American flag on my lapel in solidarity with the troops, while I besmirch every value they are dying for.
Yes, I want to be a Republican House member. At a time when 180 of the 211 members of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Iraq who have been wounded in combat have insisted on returning to duty, I want to look my constituents and my kids in the eye and tell them that I voted to empty the House ethics rules because I was afraid of Tom DeLay.
This is about values and war. As well as the issue of the hippies being right, there have been a number of significant changes in the way we think since World War II. Here is the first one.

The Second World War was the last genuine struggle for survival by the industrialised countries and, as described by William Manchester in his biographies of MacArthur and Churchill, was characterised by a distinction between what might be called grand vision by the war leaders and a vision of deals and compromises carried out by the civilians.

Manchester suggests in American Caesar that military leaders will act ruthlessly and crushingly in war, and then will behave with unusual magnanimity in victory. To civilians this military behaviour may appear as monstrous egotism, but Manchester implies that it is a constructive part of strategy and psychology.

Of psychology, because the general has a need to keep faith with the soldiers who have died, to deliver a peace that they could have been proud of. Of strategy, because fighting should not be about seizing some trench or some hill, but of destroying the enemy's forces, of grand movements with geopolitical reach. Such thinking must inherently include the post-war settlement and, since it is conducted on the same scale as in wartime is magananimous in comparison to the bean-counters' version.

To civilians, before the event, an operation such as the Inchon landings may just seem like a bunch of boats on a beach, but to MacArthur and to his enemy, the implications for supply routes and the vulnerability of the forward lines are immediate and obvious. The civilian approach is to count, and to minimise, how many vessels are required and to proceed only after full deliberation and preparation. Manchester argues that these considerations turned the landings at Gallipoli into an unnecessary and far from inevitable disaster. The military leaders' approach is to get the vessels there as fast as possible, under cover of surprise, and to use as many as possible.

MacArthur wanted to go further. Having successfully put pressure on the Korean military, he wanted to make further amphibious landings along the Korean coast, and into China. And he wanted to support these landings with atomic attacks. He was only interested in total war.

This is shocking to us, and it was shocking to Truman. But to MacArthur the opposite was shocking. He believed that it was immoral to ask soldiers to die for a limited war, and that eventually soldiers would not do it. Manchester's implication of course is that MacArthur accurately predicted the cause of the failure in Vietnam in this way. Nevertheless, limited war is now what we have, and with all the immorality that MacArthur predicted for it.

MacArthur's differences with Truman foreshadowed not just Vietnam but also Powell's differences with Rumsfeld over the size of the engagement in Iraq. The issue is still the nature of limited war, only by now people ought to know better.


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