by Andrew Bacevich
December 21, 2021
photo above: taurusarmed.net
WN: Of course war is a mockery of everything decent, no matter how dressed-up! One should read Killing from the Inside Out, by , about the horrors of war for America’s returned soldiers; about the abject failure of just war theory. Of it, one reads:
Armies know all about killing. It is what they do, and ours does it more effectively than most. We are painfully coming to realize, however, that we are also especially good at killing our own “from the inside out,” silently, invisibly. In every major war since Korea, more of our veterans have taken their lives than have lost them in combat.
The latest research, rooted in veteran testimony, reveals that the most severe and intractable PTSD–fraught with shame, despair, and suicide–stems from “moral injury.”
But how can there be rampant moral injury in what our military, our government, our churches, and most everyone else call just wars? At the root of our incomprehension lies just war theory–developed, expanded, and updated across the centuries to accommodate the evolution of warfare, its weaponry, its scale, and its victims.
Any serious critique of war, as well any true attempt to understand the profound, invisible wounds it inflicts, will be undermined from the outset by the unthinking and all-but-universal acceptance of just war doctrine. Killing from the Inside Out radically questions that theory, examines its legacy, and challenges us to look beyond it, beyond just war.
“When will they ever learn?“–Pete Seeger. See: Where Have All The Flowers Gone?
Introduction to the highlighted article.
[Tom Bacevich’s] piece raises many crucial questions: Could the world’s private equity firms support that many out-of-work generals? Could that much brass fit through Washington’s famed revolving door? Would any of them have lunch with me given that I (along with so many other citizens) bankrolled the wars they lost and the generous pensions they reap? In the meantime, let Bacevich explain why there’s no accountability for what Petraeus has called “the best military in the world today” and what Joe Biden could (but won’t) do about it. Still think there’s no such thing as a free lunch? Don’t you believe it. Nick
Of course, war is not a game. The stakes on the battlefield are infinitely higher than on the playing field. When wars go wrong, “We’ll show ’em next year — just you wait!” is seldom a satisfactory response.
At least, it shouldn’t be. Yet somehow, the American people, our political establishment, and our military have all fallen into the habit of shrugging off or simply ignoring disappointing outcomes. A few years ago, a serving army officer of unusual courage published an essay — in Armed Forces Journal no less — in which he charged that “a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”
The charge stung because it was irrefutably true then and it remains so today….
On one point, however, an unshakable consensus prevails: the U.S. military is tops. No less august a figure than General David Petraeus described our armed forces as “the best military in the world today, by far.” Nor, in his judgment, was “this situation likely to change anytime soon.” His one-word characterization for the military establishment: “awesome.”
The claim was anything but controversial. Indeed, Petraeus was merely echoing the views of politicians, pundits, and countless other senior officers. Praising the awesomeness of that military has become twenty-first-century America’s can’t miss applause line.
As it happens, though, a yawning gap looms between that military’s agreed upon reputation here and its actual performance. That the troops are dutiful, seasoned, and hardworking is indisputably so. Once upon a time, “soldiering” was a slang term for shirking or laziness. No longer. Today, America’s troops more than earn their pay.
And whether individually or collectively, they also lead the world in expenditures. Even a decade ago, it cost more than $2 million a year to keep a G.I. in a war zone like Afghanistan. And, of course, no other military on the planet — in fact, not even the militaries of the next 11 countries combined — can match Pentagon spending from one year to the next.
Is it impolite, then, to ask if the nation is getting an adequate return on its investment in military power? Simply put, are we getting our money’s worth? And what standard should we use in answering that question?
Let me suggest using the military’s own standard.
Do the results achieved, whether in the principal theaters of Afghanistan and Iraq or in lesser ones like Libya, Somalia, Syria, and West Africa qualify as “awesome”? And if not, why not?
A proposed Afghanistan War Commission now approved by Congress and awaiting President Biden’s signature could subject our military’s self-proclaimed reputation for awesomeness to critical scrutiny. That assumes, however that such a commission would forego the temptation to whitewash a conflict that even General Mark Milley, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged ended in a “strategic failure.” As a bonus, examining the conduct of America’s longest war might well serve as a proxy for assessing the military’s overall performance since 9/11.
These are not questions that the senior ranks of the officer corps are eager to pursue. As with those who reach the top in any hierarchical institution, generals and admirals are disinclined to see anything fundamentally amiss with a system that has elevated them to positions of authority. From their perspective, that system works just fine and should be perpetuated — no outside tampering required. Much like tenured faculty at a college or university, senior officers are intent on preserving the prerogatives they already enjoy. As a consequence, they will unite in resisting any demands for reform that may jeopardize those very prerogatives.
patently obvious eagerness to move on — to put this country’s disastrous “forever wars” in the Pentagon’s rearview mirror — no doubt coincides with the preferences of the active-duty senior officers he presides over at the Pentagon. He clearly shares their eagerness to forget.
As if to affirm that the Pentagon is done with Afghanistan once and for all, Austin soon after decided to hold no U.S. military personnel accountable for a disastrous August 29th drone strike in Kabul that killed 10 noncombatants, including seven children. In fact, since 9/11, the United States had killed thousands of civilians in several theaters of operations, with the media either in the dark or, until very recently, largely indifferent. This incident, however, provoked a rare storm of attention and seemingly cried out for disciplinary action of some sort.
But Austin was having none of it. As John Kirby, his press spokesperson, put it, “What we saw here was a breakdown in process, and execution in procedural events, not the result of negligence, not the result of misconduct, not the result of poor leadership.” Blame the process and the procedures but give the responsible commanders a pass.
That decision describes Lloyd Austin’s approach to leading the Defense Department. Whether the problem is a lack of daring or a lack of gumption, he won’t be rocking any boats.
Andrew Bacevich, a TomDispatch regular, is president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. His new book, After the Apocalypse: America’s Role in a World Transformed, has just been published.
Please click on: How Awesome Is “Awesome”?