15 April 2009

Well, since I’m not one to fork out $20 just for one blog entry…

There are a number of ways you can craft an argument. Some writers like to craft articles that appeal to the mind. Others like to appeal to the heart.

Then you have Ralph Peters, who writes articles which apparently are meant to challenge your nutsack.

At least, that's the way he words most of his articles, and his latest counter-point to General/Doctor David Petraus' article regarding the benefits of the scholar-warrior is no different. We can start with the title, "Learning to Lose". Wow, that's aimed straight at the bat-wing of every alpha male who, of course, likes to win. It's great at getting the emotions high, but it really doesn't offer much in the form of intellectual challenge. Let's go on.

There's an age-old debate over whether or not it's better to be a man of thought or a man of action. Ralph Peters begins by setting up the argument against the man of thought by setting up the straw man argument, invoking the name of the most famous man who overwhelmingly preferred thought to action--Hamlet. Yes, a fictional character. I can see that this article was well-researched. He might have even pulled out the Cliff notes for this one.

Peters goes on to decry the attributes of the intellectual, labeling the intellectual traits as effeminate, with the implication that it has no place in warfare. Unfortunately, the so-called feminine traits actually have had their place in conflict throughout the ages. And as we'll also discover, so did education.

Unfortunately, I can't get far into the article without having to pay $20 just to register on the web site. Seems that that site will publish General Petraeus' article in full (after all, it's a good article that makes good advertising), but New York Post writer Ralph Peters falls into that bin of regular articles that one has to subscribe and pay $20 for just to read. But I've read enough Ralph Peters articles—and wasted money on his book--to have a pretty good idea about what he's talking about.

It's at this point that I have to note that I'm no girly-man. I love being a dude. I run marathons. I have done a shot of Jaegermeister with the one and only Tucker Max. I own several copies of The Alphabet of Manliness. I routinely engage in acts of drinking and debauchery that would make Caligula (and his horse) look like the Virgin Mary. Sometimes, I use an empty water bottle instead of walking to the bathroom at night, not because I'm lazy, but just because I'm celebrating the fact that I have a penis.

But even I need to admit that that in some areas, women have the advantage over men.

In ancient times, Greek and Roman generals often prayed to the gods before going into battle. Robert Greene, author of The 33 Strategies of War, notes that generals often didn't pray to the god of war, Ares (or Mars). Ares was the god of the clash of swords and shields, but not the god of strategy—the true victor. Instead, they often sent their prayers to the goddess Athena, a woman. Perhaps it's a statement on human psychology that Homer wrote that, after 10 years of war in Troy, the city was finally sacked by Athena's protégé, Odysseus. (Hey, if Ralph Peters can get away with quoting fiction and passing it off as fact, I can too.)

The lesson of the wisdom of Athena versus the mindless clash of shields which symbolized Mars was not lost on one particular fan of Homer's Odyssey--a young Oxford-educated intellectual and part-time archaeologist serving in the British Army in Cairo named Thomas Edward Lawrence. Lawrence, by many accounts was small, soft-spoken, and effeminate; in fact, according to some biographers, Lawrence may have actually been gay.

Regardless, Lawrence saw the mindless charges of massed waves of troops which characterized during the First World War as utterly useless, no matter how glorious and heroic the Leeroy Jenkins-style charge of men might have seemed. Instead, drawing upon his extensive study of the classics, Lawrence devised a cunning guerilla warfare operation. Lawrence and Bedouin Arab tribesmen launched the ultimate economy of force operation. Often striking with the smallest force at the farthest point from Turkish forces, Lawrence and his Arabs ran circles around the Ottoman Turks from late 1916 until the end of The Great War, rarely, if ever, engaging the Turks in decisive battle. Lawrence only chose decisive battle when he was certain that he could win with the fewest casualties possible. While this may sound weak and cowardly to Peters, it must also be noted that Lawrence was able to capture the heavily defended port of Aqaba with only two casualties, a feat considered unfathomable by most British officers.

Lawrence was heavily studied and idolized by yet another scholar and war hero--John F. Kennedy, who noted that one of his favorite books was Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Despite many of the images of Kennedy which often paint a picture of a vibrant, healthy and masculine president, he was actually anything but that. Kennedy was a small child growing up, and was constantly plagued with health problems. Of the Kennedy children, the only males close to his age were his older brother Joe Jr., who constantly picked on young Jack. As a result, Jack spent most of his childhood around his sisters and other women. Indeed, a number of biographies (not the least of which was The Kennedy Obsession) have stressed the fact that the fact that he had a bit of a feminine streak in him helped him with his appeal, not the least of which was among women.

The young Jack Kennedy was also a very sick child, and was constantly bed-ridden. Like Lawrence, he was not a stellar student in school, but was, nevertheless, a voracious reader, particularly during his long periods of illness. His appetite for reading would serve him well when he served as President of the United States during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

During those thirteen days in October of 1962, Kennedy reflected on a book he had read by Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August, which provided him with fascinating parallels in the art of diplomacy in the era of nuclear war (Robert Kennedy credited the book for aiding JFK during that particular crisis). Although JFK planned a for invasion and airstrikes against Cuba as a last resort, he rejected the advice of many of his generals such as Curtis LeMay, who, like Ralph Peters' rhetoric, advocated tough and decisive action—airstrikes and an invasion against Cuba. Instead, Kennedy relied on a combination of diplomatic action and defensive military action (aerial recon and a blockade in particular) in order to leverage the Soviets into removing the nuclear missiles from Cuba.

Kennedy was particularly frustrated at the failure of many of the generals to fully appreciate and understand the far-reaching political problems that an invasion or airstrike against Cuba might have presented. Action against Cuba may have very well provoked Soviet action against West Berlin, which in turn, could set off NATO and Warsaw Pact war plans in Europe, ultimately ending in nuclear war. This fact was lost on the generals, who had spent their entire careers focused on the winning of battle campaigns, but not used to the subtleties of grand strategy and international politics, something that could have been changed with either higher education or greater partnership with elected leaders.

Kennedy's rejection of the belligerent advice of his generals, and his emphasis on the use of diplomatic negotiating power and restraint in using the military may very well have averted a nuclear holocaust. This is not to say that diplomatic power is the best solution to all of the world's problems. Certainly, Kennedy was haunted by the specter of his father, Ambassador to Great Britain Joseph Kennedy Sr.'s actions in appeasing Hitler at Munich, a point of contention that certainly came to the mind of many generals during the crisis.

Not only were Kennedy and Lawrence scholars who benefitted from their voracious reading, but so were many other scholar-warriors. General George S. Patton kept an extensive library, and General Maxwell Taylor would often delve into aspects of the ancient history of the Greeks or Romans when discussing a military endeavor. The crop of officers which greatly improved Iraqi security during 2006 and 2007 included General Petraeus (PhD from Princeton), then-Colonel H.R. McMaster (PhD from UNC-Chapel Hill), and Lt. Col. John Nagl (Oxford), in conjunction with consultation from academics from outside the US military, including former Australian Lt. Col. (and Dr.) David Kilcullen, and Emma Sky.

Education isn't a silver bullet, to be certain. Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamera and his "whiz kids" proved utterly inept at countering the insurgency in Vietnam, applying mathematical models of conventional war to a 3rd-world insurgency. Nevertheless, the partnerships American officers can build with the civilian community—many of whom will grow up to be policy-makers themselves, and the lessons American officers can learn about all realms of national power will serve them well in higher levels of responsibility.

Not to mention, there's a far more pragmatic side to allowing our officers to attend advanced civil schooling. Retention of US Army officers is at an all-time low. (This should come as no surprise to Ralph Peters, of course, since he's no longer in the military) Nearly 60% of the officers who graduated from West Point in 2002 left after their first five years of commitment, with similar statistics being put forth for ROTC graduates. And that's not counting those who might have been stop-lossed or aviators, who have longer service commitments who are due to get out soon. The $35,000 captains' bonus was generally laughed at, since in some cases, it's less than the bonuses available to initial-entry privates, who haven't even proven themselves yet. Two years in pursuit of a masters' degree, or even better, partnership with a non-governmental organization (such as the US State Department) is an excellent retention tool. It gives officers time away from the endless cycle of deployment/reset/train-up/deploy, and it gives them a valuable skill for use later in the military.

That isn't to say that our society doesn't need people like Ralph Peters. Anthropologists note that the successful heads of clans—the alpha males--were often not the most aggressive, but the most diplomatic. However, the number two man in any society was usually the aggressive belligerent. While the belligerent was necessary to the survival of the tribe or clan, it was almost universally noted that a reliance on constant warfare was often destructive to society at large. Think this is only applicable to primitive societies? Why do we have a military firmly under the control of civil government?

1 comment:

El Goyito said...

One of the best examples of the warrior-scholar is our own 26th President - Theodore Roosevelt. This Harvard grad, among his many storied accomplishments, penned the definitive history on the naval actions of the War of 1812 and was the commander of the Rough Riders. We need venture no further than Teddy Roosevelt to find a man of incisive thought and of decisive action.

Put THAT in your pipe and smoke it, Ralph Peters.