August 26, 2010

Theirs not to reason why?

From Ackerman, in Danger Room:

What [soldiers] wanted to hear was a sure path — any path — to winning it. Or even just a clear definition of success. If the goal is stabilizing Afghanistan, what does that have to do with defeating al-Qaeda? If this is a war against al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda is in the untouchable areas of tribal Pakistan, where the troops can’t go, why not just draw down to a few bases in the east in order to drop bombs and launch missiles? Even if we can’t just do that, what will Afghans consider “stable,” anyway? Is all of this vagueness just a cover so we can decide at a certain point that we can withdraw in a face-saving way, declaring victory as it suits us to cover up a no-win situation? If so, why not just do that now?

Soldiers are, all and all, reasonable people, and in such a complicated situation, are as prone to looking to their leaders for evidence of rational behaviour as much as anyone else. Further thoughts on what the rational person's reaction to being in a losing fight was in another era, below the fold.

Possibly related: I've been thinking about the Roman Republic a lot lately. Expert Adrian Goldsworthy, in In the Name of Rome:

The Romans accepted that they would sometimes suffer defeats, but refused to concede that these could ever be final. All citizens, and especially the high-born, were expected to fight bravely, but, as long as they had done so, there was no shame in having been defeated. A leader faced with defeat and disaster was not expected to die fighting, unless there was no way out, nor to commit suicide. Instead he was to begin to rebuild his army's strength, salvaging as many men as possible from the chaos of a lost battle, and preparing for the next encounter with the enemy. For there would always be a next time, and eventually Rome would win.

Or, as Commander Riker put it once more simply in one of the better TNG episodes: "Some days you get the bear and some days the bear gets you."

I'm not exactly what you'd call a Stoic, and I'm no Scipio, either, but that's always been my idea of the sanest personal outlook on these things. Participating on a tour roto that made no discernible headway against determined insurgent opposition only confirmed it, as I'm sure it will for a lot of other tour vets, as well, including the ones Ackerman spoke with. Long wars require longer perspectives.

Posted by BruceR at 10:33 AM