Sunday, October 14, 2007

Soul-searching in the military

An article in today’s New York Times by Elisabeth Bumiller talks about the soul-searching over the War in Iraq going on in the army:

Discussions between a New York Times reporter and dozens of young majors in five Leavenworth classrooms over two days — all unusual for their frankness in an Army that has traditionally presented a facade of solidarity to the outside world — showed a divide in opinion. Officers were split over whether Mr. Rumsfeld, the military leaders or both deserved blame for what they said were the major errors in the war: sending in a small invasion force and failing to plan properly for the occupation.
Much of the debate at Leavenworth has centered on a scathing article, “A Failure in Generalship,” written last May for Armed Forces Journal by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, an Iraq veteran and deputy commander of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment who holds a master’s degree in political science from the University of Chicago. “If the general remains silent while the statesman commits a nation to war with insufficient means, he shares culpability for the results,” Colonel Yingling wrote.

Read the entire article.

It seems strange to me that this discussion is going on in the military while no similar discussion is occurring among journalists. Journalists had a much greater obligation and duty to question the civilian leadership of the country before and during the start of the war than did the generals.

CBS news anchor Katie Couric said recently:

“Everyone in this room would agree that people in this country were misled in terms of the rationale of this war,” said Couric, adding that it is “pretty much accepted” that the war in Iraq was a mistake.

“I’ve never understood why [invading Iraq] was so high on the administration’s agenda when terrorism was going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan and that [Iraq] had no true connection with al Qaeda.”

Where is the soul-searching there? Why is she not asking herself why she did not speak up when it could have made a difference, as some in the military are now doing?


HiFi said...

Good questions, Dan. What's been lost in our perennial wartime discussion of what it means to be a good American is what it means to be a good person. Liberal, conservative or other, we all love our country and want to be 'patriots', however we define that. But what we all should be more concerned about than our patriotism is our humanity. As in your example with Katie Couric, or in a recent article where Janessa Gans revealed she watched Blackwater mercenaries wantonly run over an Iraqi woman and her children on the streets of Baghdad, we see examples of people whose concern for being patriotic Americans led them to neglect their duties as a human being.

Soldiers have to observe war as a dehumanizing experience, and patriotic furor is its chosen substitute; as only if they are taught to regard American blood as more valuable than their opponents could the average person take part in such an action willingly. But when this patriotic furor engulfs the media and civilian presence in the war zone, any semblance of democracy is neutered.

It all serves to remind me of a wonderful and still startlingly relevant scene from the Marx Brother's movie "Duck Soup". Before Groucho Marx leads his country to war, he leads them in a lavish song and dance in a parody of a minstrel show. As moviegoers, we see this as comedy because we watch it, not through the eyes of the characters, colored by their passions, but through the lens of an impartial camera. However, if you were to remove that barrier of impartiality, as various members of the media have done with Iraq, it' would not be hard to find yourself swept away in the song and dance.

Dave Barrett said...

Thanks for your comments. I was focusing on the professional responsibilities of the journalists but you are correct that everyone in the country has a moral duty as a person and a citizen to speak out about evil being done in our names (and with our tax dollars.)
I don't think that most Americans expected the generals to speak out before the war started if they anticipated diaster as much as we expected our politicians and journalists to ask questions and raise doubts. I guess the military people are speaking out now because their comarades are being killed senselessly and needlessly and no one else seems to care.