Monday, May 30, 2011
Some random musings on the American soldier on Memorial Day
Usually, when the USA is commemorating Memorial Day, I try to write something about the many hundred of millions of people which were murdered by US military forces during this country's short history. Sometimes I like to post a list of US wars/interventions. If you are interested in this topic, click here, here, here or here. Today, I wanted to do something a little different. I wanted to share with all of you, but mainly with those outside the US, my own experience of US military personnel, the people whose deaths are being commemorated today.
It so happens that I have had the opportunity to meet and work with rather wide spectrum of US soldiers including armored cavalry officers, F-18 Navy pilots, Air Force Colonels working on the YF-23 program, a former Deputy Commander of the so-called "Delta Force", NCOs of the 82nd and 101st Airborne, and even a retired Chairman of the JCS. Though these were very different people, with different skill-sets and personalities, studying and working with them did make me come to some overall conclusion about the US military. These are highly subjective, of course, and I share then with you only as personal impression and not as any type of systematic or representative observation.
Regular readers of this blog, who know my views on US imperial policies, will probably be surprised to hear that the first word which comes to my mind when I think of the US soldiers which I met is "decency". Yes, all the folks which I meant were decent, honorable people. Some of them did have misgivings about the wars they fought, others did not. But none of them were the kind of flag-waving racist morons which so many outside the USA associate with US soldiers. Sure, there are folks like that out there - in places like the Green Zone in Baghdad for sure - but I did not personally meet that type.
The second word which comes to my mind is "professionals". The folks I met were all competent professionals. They were not only well trained, but they were also professional in their attitude towards their mission and their possible enemies. I personally heard none of that "we are number one!!!" crap which are always associated with the military when shown on the Idiot Box. The folks I met were competent and they knew that, but they also knew that the other guy could be very good too, possibly better than them. Now, any well-trained solider should think that he is well-trained and that he can (and probably will) win. But that confidence should not turn into a jingoistic arrogance which simply assumes that by showing up on the battlefield "we" will easily win. I would say that at least the US soldiers which I met had a healthy balance between confidence and caution.
One the bad side, ALL of the US soldiers I met were "culturally parochial" (and that is putting it kindly). They had no understanding or knowledge of their areas of deployment or the kind of people they would be likely to fight. While this might not matter a great deal for a submarine commander or a fighter pilot, this is absolutely devastating for a special operations or intelligence officer. I think that this sorry state of affairs is not so much a result of arrogance or imperial hubris, as it is the inevitable consequence of a deficient educational system which does not teach foreign languages properly, combined with the pernicious effects of the US corporate media which is designed people stupid and ignorant and which solely focused on the USA. As a result, most US soldiers can be split into two equally mistaken categories: those who think that the US is superior to other countries/nations/cultures and those who believe that the other guys are "just like us". In fact, of course, neither is true. The "others" are neither "like us" nor are they in any way inferior. Just very very different. Again, that weakness is particularly devastating for the special operations and intelligence forces.
The other big weakness of the US military its pathological over-reliance on technology which sometimes borders on idol worship. I would say that all of the US soldiers I met were pretty much convinced that better technology can win wars. This is, of course, absolutely wrong for a long list of reasons which I will not list here (that would be a topic in itself). Add to this that US military gear is vastly over-rated and that a lot of US military equipment is designed primarily by engineers and not by fighting soldiers, and you will easily understand why over and over again the US military as been stunned by the realization that the "other guy's" weapons outperform the US-made ones.
Keeping all this in mind, how good a fighting force is the US military?
I would say that the answer to this question depends on the kind of war we are talking about. There is what I call an "American type of war" out there, the kind which the US loves to fight and the kind which it will always win. It combines the features of the so-called AirLand Battle and Network Centric Operations. This type of war is inevitably expensive, technology-heavy and geared towards the destruction of classical military forces. Only a major military power with advanced technology of its own (including a survivable nuclear weapons force) could hope to prevail such a war against the USA (currently that means Russia; in the not too distant future possibly China). Everybody else would be rather effortlessly defeated by the USA in such a war. That arrogant idiot Saddam learned that at his own expense when, following the invasion of Kuwait, he deployed his entire military *exactly* as US strategists would want him to. We all know what happened then: one of the fastest and most comprehensive military defeat in history for Iraq, and one of the shortest and easiest military triumphs for the USA.
The way to defeat the US military is to impose upon it a type of war which it loathes to fight. One in which technology does not play a crucial war, one which negates the US advantage in advanced technologies, one in which targets are difficult to identify or acquire. Mountains, jungles, forests, swamps and urban areas are all ideally suited for this kind of operations. Another important aspect of anti-US operations is to feed the US intelligence network with false information to the point of saturating it. US "human intelligence" has always been very weak and desperate thus for sources. It is therefore rather easy to bait it and to feed it exactly what it wants to hear. Present the US intelligence community with putative "hardliners" and "moderates" in need of support, add in a couple of "corrupt" agents willing to betray their side for money or a visa to the USA, throw in a couple of carefully staged telephone calls (designed to be intercepted) and you get the perfect brew which will give the US intelligence community a massive headache.
The good news for those who resist the US Empire is that anti-US operations are cheap. They require more brains than hardware, and they can be organized in a local, decentralized, manner. The bad news is, of course, that such efforts cannot shoot down bombers or sink aircraft carriers. So the key goal must not be to destroy US hard power, only to make it irrelevant.
There is one more aspect of the "US kind of war" which needs to be addressed here. But I want to stress that this aspect is not a product of the US soldier's culture itself but the product of the US political class which gives its orders to the US military: what the US does when it fails to achieve a rapid military victory.
The US military has a very ugly and consistent record of going after civilian targets if it fails to achieve its military objectives. From the bombing of Germany, to Vietnam, to the invasion of Kosovo to today's war against Libya, the US always turns to a massive campaign of atrocities against civilians when it fails to achieve its objectives in a "clean" "TV-compatible" "precision" campaign. Any force attempting to oppose the USA needs to accept that as an integral part of the US warfighting doctrine and prepare for such a development. The US will always begin its campaigns by targeted attacks against military objectives, which it will rapidly "expand" the target list to "regime" targets. But if that fails, the US military will always attack the entire infrastructure of the society which hosts the force the US cannot defeat. To better mask the murderous nature of such a campaign deliberately targeted at the civilian population, the US propaganda machine will churn out a flow of reports about some alleged "atrocities" committed by the side resisting the US Empire. Conversely, the US will always "deplore" any case of its own atrocities if the general public becomes aware of them. It will then lay the blame on the other side "using civilians as human shields" or "hiding amongst civilians". Again, any force opposing the US Empire has to expect such an anti-civilian campaign as absolutely inevitable and carefully plan for it.
In conclusion, I want to turn back to the US solider. I always have mixed feelings on Memorial Day. I hate it's "patriotic" nature. I hate the fact that nobody seems to ask the obvious question of why a country which was never attacked since Pearl Harbor waged so many wars. I hate the way 99.9999% of Americans seem unable to question their own imperial past, nevermind their current imperial wars. On Memorial Day my thoughts are always first and foremost with those who were killed by the very people who are commemorated as heroes and patriots today. I have never seen a statistic of how many people the USA has murdered worldwide since its creation, but I am confident that the correct figure is in the hundred of millions range (just think of the Native Americans or the Blacks slaves). And yet, I always have a desire to separate these ugly facts of history from the US soldiers I have personally met in my life. Somehow, meeting them face to face did not connect them to the policies of their country, at least in my mind. I suppose that it would be possible to say that they too are victims of the US Empire.
It's not an either-or thing. I think that we can feel sorry for both the victims of US imperialism and those who were used by the US Empire to fight wars all over the planet. I know, this is hardly an original thought, but it is mine today. For all my total opposition to US imperialism, I personally harbor no hostility towards US veterans. And I think that I will always have a warm spot in my heart for these US soldiers I studied and worked with. I sincerely wish them well. But more then anything else, I wish them peace.