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View Full Version : Victor Davis Hanson attempts to dispel utopian misapprehensions about our current war


patteeu
12-19-2007, 07:04 AM
In his recent essay (http://claremont.org/publications/crb/id.1500/article_detail.asp) published on The Claremont Institute's website, Victor Davis Hanson reminds us that intelligence snafus, tactical mistakes, strategic blunders and failed leadership during war are nothing new and that winning a war is more often accomplished by dealing with those missteps than by avoiding them. What is new according to Hanson, for Americans at least, is the utopian belief that perfect war is possible and the self-fulfilling attitude that defeat is acceptable.

This essay is pretty long, but if you have any desire to view the Iraq war and the broader GWoT in perspective, it's well worth the read. Here are the closing paragraphs where Hanson provides some suggestions for the future:

...

What can be done about our impatience, historical amnesia, and utopian demands for perfection? American statesmen need to provide constant explanations to a public not well versed in history—not mere assertions—of what misfortunes to expect when they take the nation to war. The more a president evokes history's tragic lessons, the better, reminding the public that our forefathers usually endured and overcame far worse. Americans should be told at the start of every conflict that the generals who begin the fighting may not finish it; that what is reported in the first 24 hours may not be true after a week's retrospection, and that the alternative to the bad choice is rarely the good one, but usually only the far worse. They should be apprised that our morale is as important as our material advantages—and that our will power is predicated on inevitable mistakes being learned from and rectified far more competently and quickly than the enemy will learn from his.

Only that way can we reestablish our national wartime objective as victory, a goal that brings with it the acceptance of tragic errors as well as appreciation of heroic and brilliant conduct. The Iraq war and the larger struggle against the anti-American jihadists can still be won—and won with a resulting positive assessment of our overall efforts by future historians who will be far less harsh on us than we are now on ourselves. Yet if as a nation we instead believe that we cannot abide error, or that we cannot win due to necessary military, moral, humanitarian, financial, or geopolitical constraints, then we should not ask our young soldiers to continue to try. As in Vietnam where we wallowed in rather than learned from our shortcomings, we should simply accept defeat and with it the ensuing humiliating consequences. But it would be far preferable for Americans undertaking a war to remember these words from Churchill, in his 1930 memoir: "Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter."

Amnorix
12-19-2007, 07:05 AM
In his recent essay (http://claremont.org/publications/crb/id.1500/article_detail.asp) published on The Claremont Institute's website, Victor Davis Hanson reminds us that intelligence snafus, tactical mistakes, strategic blunders and failed leadership during war are nothing new and that winning a war is more often accomplished by dealing with those missteps than by avoiding them. What is new according to Hanson, for Americans at least, is the utopian belief that perfect war is possible and the self-fulfilling attitude that defeat is acceptable.


I haven't yet read it, but this is a 100% true statement. This notion of santized warfare is extremely overblown.

Cochise
12-19-2007, 07:22 AM
What is new according to Hanson, for Americans at least, is the utopian belief that perfect war is possible and the self-fulfilling attitude that defeat is acceptable.

Where has that idea originated from?

patteeu
12-19-2007, 07:37 AM
Where has that idea originated from?

I don't know if it's the whole story, but VDH identifies the easy successes our military had in Grenada and the Balkans as a part of the origin. I'd add the rapid and overwhelming success of GW 1 (as far as it went, at least).

A perfect military in a flawless war never existed—though after Grenada and the air war over the Balkans we apparently thought otherwise.

I think the other half, about learning to accept defeat, comes from the fact that even though we lost Vietnam, not only did we still win the Cold War, but half of our politically active population felt like they achieved a domestic victory by forcing the end of a war, taking down a President, and implementing some major political reforms of the variety that they favored. That's my own view though. Here's what VDH says about it:

But more likely the American public, not the timeless nature of war, has changed. We no longer easily accept human imperfections. We care less about correcting problems than assessing blame—in postmodern America it is defeat that has a thousand fathers, while the notion of victory is an orphan. We fail to assume that the enemy makes as many mistakes but addresses them less skillfully. We do not acknowledge the role of fate and chance in war, which sometimes upsets our best endeavors. Most importantly we are not fixed on victory as the only acceptable outcome.

What are the causes of this radically different attitude toward military culpability? An affluent, leisured society has adopted a therapeutic and managerial rather than tragic view of human experience—as if war should be controllable through proper counseling or a sound business plan. We take for granted our ability to talk on cell phones to someone in Cameroon or select from 500 cable channels; so too we expect Saddam instantly gone, Jeffersonian democracy up and running reliably, and the Iraqi economy growing like Dubai's in a few seasons. If not, then someone must be blamed for ignorance, malfeasance, or inhumanity. It is as though we expect contemporary war to be waged in accordance with warranties, law suits, and product recalls, and adjudicated by judges and lawyers in stale courtrooms rather than won or lost by often emotional youth in the filth, confusion, and barbarity of the battlefield

Vietnam's legacy was to insist that if American aims and conduct were less than perfect, then they could not be good at all, as if a Stalinist police state in the North were comparable—or superior—to a flawed democracy in the South with the potential to evolve in the manner of a South Korea. The Vietnam War was not only the first modern American defeat, but also the last, and so its evocation turns hysterical precisely because its outcome was so unusual. Later victories in Grenada, Panama, Gulf War I, and the Balkans persuaded Americans that war could be redefined, at the end of history, as something in which the use of force ends quickly, is welcomed by locals, costs little, and easily thwarts tyranny. When all that proved less than true in Iraq, the public was ill-equipped to accept both that recent walk-over victories were military history's exceptions rather than its rule, and that temporary setbacks in Iraq hardly equated to Vietnam-like quagmires.

We also live in an age of instant communications increasingly contingent upon genre and ideology. The New York Times, CBS News, National Public Radio, and Reuters—the so-called mainstream media skeptical of America's morality and its ability to enact change abroad—instill national despair by conveying graphic scenes of destruction in Iraq without, however, providing much context or explaining how such information is gathered and selected for release. In turn, Fox News, the bloggers, and talk radio hear from their own sources that we are not doing nearly so badly, and try to offer real-time correctives to conventional newspapers and studios. The result is that the war is fought and refought in 24-hour news cycles among diverse audiences, in which sensationalism brings in ad revenues or enhances individual careers. Rarely is there any sober, reasoned analysis that examines American conduct over periods of six months or a year—not when the "shocking" stories of Jessica Lynch or Abu Ghraib or Scott Beauchamp make and sell better copy. Sensationalism was always the stuff of war reporting, but today it is with us in real time, 24/7, offered up by often anonymous sources, and filtered in a matter of hours or minutes by nameless editors and producers. Those relentless news alerts—tucked in between apparently more important exposés about Paris Hilton and Anna Nicole Smith—ultimately impart a sense of confusion and bewilderment about what war is. The result is a strange schizophrenia in which the American public is too insecure to believe that we can rectify our mistakes, but too arrogant to admit that our generation might make any in the first place.

BucEyedPea
12-19-2007, 08:47 AM
I wouldn't put any stock in what the Claremont Institute has to say. We never belonged in Iraq. AQ is not a country.KISS!

patteeu
12-19-2007, 09:10 AM
I wouldn't put any stock in what the Claremont Institute has to say. We never belonged in Iraq. AQ is not a country.KISS!

Of course not. If it doesn't come from antiwar.com it can't be worth reading. :rolleyes:

BucEyedPea
12-19-2007, 10:03 AM
Of course not. If it doesn't come from antiwar.com it can't be worth reading. :rolleyes:
:lame:

Has nothing to do with this war or current events. I'd say even if there was no wot. But at least antiwar.com is clearing house for all articles, left, right, center and libertarian on any war issues including the Balkan's which you opposed. It links to different sources on the political spectrum on the subject of war. It is not partisan, like you, based on who starts the war: Democrat or Republican. Not to mention everything it predicted has come to pass. Incredibly accurate.

patteeu
12-19-2007, 10:23 AM
:lame:

Has nothing to do with this war or current events. I'd say even if there was no wot. But at least antiwar.com is clearing house for all articles, left, right, center and libertarian on any war issues including the Balkan's which you opposed. It links to different sources on the political spectrum on the subject of war. It is not partisan, like you, based on who starts the war: Democrat or Republican. Not to mention everything it predicted has come to pass. Incredibly accurate.

Did antiwar.com predict the success of General Petraeus' strategy? Just curious.

I take it that you're going to limit your participation in this thread to criticizing the Claremont Institute in the most vague way possible (almost as if you don't really know anything about them), rather than by providing any kind of specific criticism of what Victor Davis Hanson says in his essay?

Taco John
12-19-2007, 10:28 AM
You could have saved a lot of typing by posting, "Victor Davis makes an incredibly compelling case for non-intervention."

Less words, and the same end point.

Cochise
12-19-2007, 10:29 AM
An affluent, leisured society has adopted a therapeutic and managerial rather than tragic view of human experience—as if war should be controllable through proper counseling or a sound business plan. We take for granted our ability to talk on cell phones to someone in Cameroon or select from 500 cable channels; so too we expect Saddam instantly gone, Jeffersonian democracy up and running reliably, and the Iraqi economy growing like Dubai's in a few seasons. If not, then someone must be blamed for ignorance, malfeasance, or inhumanity. It is as though we expect contemporary war to be waged in accordance with warranties, law suits, and product recalls, and adjudicated by judges and lawyers in stale courtrooms rather than won or lost by often emotional youth in the filth, confusion, and barbarity of the battlefield

Vietnam's legacy was to insist that if American aims and conduct were less than perfect, then they could not be good at all, as if a Stalinist police state in the North were comparable—or superior—to a flawed democracy in the South with the potential to evolve in the manner of a South Korea. The Vietnam War was not only the first modern American defeat, but also the last, and so its evocation turns hysterical precisely because its outcome was so unusual. Later victories in Grenada, Panama, Gulf War I, and the Balkans persuaded Americans that war could be redefined, at the end of history, as something in which the use of force ends quickly, is welcomed by locals, costs little, and easily thwarts tyranny. When all that proved less than true in Iraq, the public was ill-equipped to accept both that recent walk-over victories were military history's exceptions rather than its rule, and that temporary setbacks in Iraq hardly equated to Vietnam-like quagmires.


QFT

Radar Chief
12-19-2007, 10:30 AM
Did antiwar.com predict the success of General Petraeus' strategy? Just curious.

I take it that you're going to limit your participation in this thread to criticizing the Claremont Institute in the most vague way possible (almost as if you don't really know anything about them), rather than by providing any kind of specific criticism of what Victor Davis Hanson says in his essay?

The irony of her calling anyone blindly partisan is killing me. ROFL

patteeu
12-19-2007, 10:39 AM
You could have saved a lot of typing by posting, "Victor Davis makes an incredibly compelling case for non-intervention."

Less words, and the same end point.

You must be reading a different "Victor Davis".

To be honest, I can't remember the last time I read an "incredibly compelling case for non-intervention".

Taco John
12-19-2007, 10:41 AM
I can... It just happened like 10 minutes ago.

Victor Davis is my new favorite. :)

patteeu
12-19-2007, 10:42 AM
Nice picture, Radar. I wonder if that guy could get a column printed on Lew Rockwell's website. LMAO

patteeu
12-19-2007, 10:43 AM
I can... It just happened like 10 minutes ago.

Victor Davis is my new favorite. :)

Can you connect the dots for me?

Taco John
12-19-2007, 10:45 AM
He also provides an EXCELLENT case for the congressional role of DECLARING the war, rather than going to war on the whims of the executive. The sad thing is that he seems to be making these points accidentally.

No matter. The case is still there.

patteeu
12-19-2007, 10:50 AM
He also provides an EXCELLENT case for the congressional role of DECLARING the war, rather than going to war on the whims of the executive. The sad thing is that he seems to be making these points accidentally.

No matter. The case is still there.

Hmmm. I'm not seeing it. Could you be more specific?

Radar Chief
12-19-2007, 10:54 AM
Nice picture, Radar. I wonder if that guy could get a column printed on Lew Rockwell's website. LMAO

Thought you might like that. ;)

Cochise
12-20-2007, 09:20 AM
Great column about mistakes and keeping them in perspective.

I think he's right that recent military actions spoiled the public into thinking that all it takes is the wave of an American hand and our will becomes reality. Certainly in every conflict many serious blunders are made on both sides. In the civil war, good lord, it's a war of mistakes. And they pointed out some from WW2 also.

When you say something like "I don't know if our people today would have the will to win WW2", everyone boos, but I don't think we would.

Can you imagine? Bush let Pearl Harbor happen on purpose... he just did it to help out his rich buddies. Pearl Harbor was an inside job. Bush refuses to protect merchant ships on the high seas. The pacific islands will be a quagmire.

Maybe it would be different, because the Germans were much more threatening to the world than Iraq or Al Queda would be today. But you can almost hear people saying that we need to fight a defensive war against Japan, and not get involved in Europe at all because Germany was no threat to us. We shouldn't get involved in regional politics, the UK is capable of defending itself against Germany, etc etc.