Transcendental Bloviation

Politics, Space, Japan

Friday, July 23, 2004

Time Out for Honor

Running a contest like Win $200 for Proof that Wilson Lied is, of course, setting yourself up for a certain amount of abuse. One of the few pleasant surprises in my recent e-mail was an invitation to join the blogging group homespunbloggers. I was incredulous. Karma in Internet time, was my first thought; send spam, get spam. But no: the inviter was sincere, having read some of my blog. I may yet be disqualified - no profanity is one of their rules, one that I've already broken in an entry about Cheney's Three Words. Still, it's nice to have people with whom you can amiably agree to disagree. Renewed faith in humanity and all that.

I'd briefly perused homespunbloggers, had looked at its blogroll, had clicked on Liberal Utopia, blanched, and written it off the whole group. Today I decided to give them another chance. I clicked on Marine Corps Moms - that seemed a pretty safe choice. I scrolled around and was rewarded with an essay by former Marine captain Nathaniel Fick, taking a reasonable position in favor of sticking with an all-volunteer, professional, career military.

Whoa! I thought. This was eloquent, elegant, thoughtful. It evinced the sort of pride that wouldn't seem a prelude to any but the most unjust kind of fall. It seemed very publishable. What was it doing in a Homespun Blog? I clicked on the "read more" link and found the whole essay at the New York Times site. Everyone should read it.

I was ambivalent about the invasion of Afghanistan. I was against the invasion of Iraq. I'm suspicious of the motives of some in the Bush administration. And I don't think there is glory in war. But there is honor in being a soldier, in enduring grueling hardships under threat of personal extinction. Machiavelli wrote convincingly, in his Art of War, about the evils of defense by mercenary armies, and felt that invasion was a sign of internal weakness. What he has to say on these points is hardly irrelevant today. But even in that neglected classic, he does not offer blanket moral condemnation of mercenaries. Far from it. They are still soldiers, after all.

Machiavelli's Art of War may be obsolete from any modern tactical point of view, but much of the text is taken up by a fictionalized discussion of the merits and demerits of employing mercenaries. Machiavelli favored conscription as the way to raise and maintain a citizen army, believing that even militia conscripts were, by virtue of their citizenship, better defenders than any foreign professionals. For his belief, he lost his own son in combat, and may well have lost a war.

There is a cynical way to read Nathaniel Fick's essay: "Don't draft anybody - just send money." I don't read it that way. I think Fick truly believes in his "build it and they will come" argument for an expanded force, and in the value of expansion.

But would any such expansion be merely a substitute for more rational commitments? Machiavelli warned against the temptations of a large standing army. So did some framers of the U.S. Constitution (many of whom must have read Machiavelli - Jefferson could read Italian). Yes, the U.S. is stretched thin right now. But it stretched with a war of choice - the invasion and occupation of Iraq - not a war of necessity, which the Afghanistan campaign may well have been. Machiavelli warned against wars of choice as well. The seeds of Afghan democracy - now at risk because of a shortfall in voter security - may fall on stony ground because of a failure to perceive the Clausewitzian essentials: it's still all about politics, whether people are shooting or not.

Well, it's still all about the politics except for one thing: you can't read the letters at Marine Corps Moms without getting a lump in your throat.


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