The Poetry of War

Linked above is an excerpt from the Sol Feinstone Lecture on The Meaning of Freedom delivered by Bill Moyers at the United States Military Academy on November 15, 2006.

People in power should be required to take classes in the poetry of war. As a presidential assistant during the early escalation of the war in Vietnam, I remember how the President blanched when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said it would take one million fighting men and 10 years really to win in Vietnam, but even then the talk of war was about policy, strategy, numbers and budgets, not severed limbs and eviscerated bodies.

That experience, and the experience 40 years later of watching another White House go to war, also relying on inadequate intelligence, exaggerated claims and premature judgments, keeping Congress in the dark while wooing a gullible press, cheered on by partisans, pundits, and editorial writers safely divorced from realities on the ground, ended any tolerance I might have had for those who advocate war from the loftiness of the pulpit, the safety of a laptop, the comfort of a think tank, or the glamour of a television studio.

Watching one day on C-Span as one member of Congress after another took to the floor to praise our troops in Iraq, I was reminded that I could only name three members of Congress who have a son or daughter in the military. How often we hear the most vigorous argument for war from those who count on others of valor to fight it. As General William Tecumseh Sherman said after the Civil War: “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation.”


Paul Hue said...

I'm not sure to make of this. Just and unjust wars are awful, including just wars that fail, such as Nat Turner's rebellion.

I do fault Bush for failing to appreciate the awfulness of war, as evidenced by his speeches at the 911 site and the Mission Accomplished aircraft carrier. Failing to appreciate how truly awful war is might have caused him to and his staff to more carefully ensure that the war really was necessary, and that victory really was possible.

Bush apparently has a few naive views of war, including a blindness to just how awful it is. But the lefties as evidenced here suffer from an equally bad case of nativity, wherein they see only the downside of war, and only the upside of "peace". Was Arabia really at "peace" prior to Bush II's invasion? Was the war really bad for the Kurdish Iraqi's?

Nadir said...

This lecture was not an indictment of war or of the warriors who fight it. It was an acknowledgement that war is hell, and that leaders who send troops into battle should understand that.

This is especially true when those leaders have no experience with war and have no family members who are involved in war except to order other people's children to the battlefield.

It was the Sherman who sacked Atlant who said, “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation.”

Soldiers don't want to go to war. Not if they have ever experienced its foul stench. They do it because it is their duty. It should be the duty of their leaders to keep them out of harm's way as much as possible and not to send them to war for light or illegitimate reasons.

Paul Hue said...

I think that much of Bush's rheteric on this subject has been disgraceful. My hero Abe Lincoln led the nation into by far its bloodiest war. Like Bush, he also had never served in combat, with these differences:

1. Lincoln did not avoid military service during a time of great war, and certainly did not use family connections to transform such a scam into the appearance of service, and some really cool experiences flying around in super neato jet fighters.

2. Lincoln always spoke with the heaviest concern for the war and its human cost. He also spoke with empathy for the evil idiots seeking to enslave and otherwise subjugate each other. I think it is worth lamenting the wasted lives lost to fanatical islam, and it should also be lamented the horror involved with fighting such devils. Bush gives smirking, shallow, rah-rah speeches pertaining to this war, when he should give speeches similar to those Lincoln gave.

I think that only naive people lament that "it's worse now than with Hussein" in place. Nearly every step forward leads first to a worsening of conditions. I fault Bush for not appearing to understand that any more than the devoted peaceniks who now think that "they were right." Bush also made a very false claim that sensible people backed by the US military can simply through actions cause other people to live in accordance with civilization. In other words, Bush should not have been certain that he would succeed, only that he was going to give it a shot, to ensure that if indeed enough people in Iraq want freedom, he would provide them a chance to obtain it for themselves.

Clearly the collective Arab population of Iraq does not comprise enough people who want freedom enough to obtain it for themselves, even when backed by the US military. Bush seems to either think that civilization is something that one civilization can give to another group of people if only the civilized people are really serious and committed enough in their contributions. He also seems to think that tyranny works the same way; in this case, tyrany is winning in Arabian Iraq not because the people there on balance want it, but because external people are shipping it in.