January 07, 2003



Um, not to be picky again, but Steven Den Beste just doesn't get alliance warfare, as it's historically been practiced in the West. It's fair to say all NATO countries, including Britain and Canada, have refused orders from American allied commanders if they felt they contradicted their own rules of engagement. The Canadian Air Force rejected a number of NATO- (ie, U.S.-)assigned air missions in Kosovo, because they contradicted the rules on minimizing civilian casualties laid down by their own government: notably, none of the 532 precision bombs dropped by Canadian pilots in Kosovo hit the wrong target or caused unacceptable collateral damage. When the ground occupation was under way, the British ground commander, General Sir "not the real" Michael Jackson, refused American supreme commander Gen. Wesley Clark's order to forcefully challenge the Russians' control of Pristina airfield. That French pilots did likewise in Afghanistan (ostensibly because they felt the risk of civilian casualties was too high with some specific targets, again) was entirely appropriate. Unquestioning obedience to American commanders is not a reasonable expectation of American soldiers, let alone Allied ones... if one firmly believes carrying out an order will do great harm to one's own side for no countervailing good, a soldier at any level is morally bound TO disobey it. That goes double if the order is from an ally, not one's own national chain of command.

Canadians, like other British dominion troops, have a long familiarity of these sorts of situations, of course, after a few wars' worth of dealing with often overly rigid or ludicrous orders from higher British commanders. (Also see the Currie-Snow affair, 1915; the battle of Batoche, 1885, or the ANZACs at Gallipoli and Fromelles, 1915-1916). Not that disobeying orders per se, is antithetical to the American soldier... Zachary Taylor and Andrew Jackson seem more or less to have disobeyed every order they ever received, and they made them both presidents by the end of it.

What Den Beste doesn't know or doesn't mention is that in the Pristina situation, Clark had asked a joint Anglo-French force to deny the airport to the Russians. The French wanted to go, but the Brits pulled out and the plan was scrubbed (there were no unallocated American forces available). So why are the British so much more trustworthy, again?

Posted by BruceR at 05:24 PM