FIVE YEARS & CHANGE
photo by Buck Sargent
Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.
The Means Justifies the End
The media roundtable question of the day on the five-year anniversary of 9-11 was "Have we changed?" I’m not uniquely qualified to answer that one for the country at large, but I can say without hesitation that I most certainly have.
I am an entirely different person than I was a half decade ago. Stronger in nearly every way: mentally, physically, emotionally, rhetorically… I can now endure things that would have made my previous self curl up in the fetal position and cry out for divine assistance. I have now seen more of the world than I ever imagined I would or ever cared to. Dark, outlying corners that most would just as soon consign to the flea market of history.
I volunteered for the Army within weeks after the Twin Towers fell precisely because I believed to my core that Islamic radicals (or militants, or fascists, or whatever it’s politically correct to call them these days) not only needed to be fought, but decisively defeated. It was instinctively apparent to me that appeasement as foreign policy was no longer a façade we could realistically afford to maintain.
In the past five years I have willingly given up nearly everything I have to offer in service to my country: my future plans; my scholarly pursuits; time with my friends and family; my husbandly duties; a normal life; if need be, my very life itself. In just over fours years in the military, nearly half of them I have spent away at war in the Middle East.
The al-Qaeda training camps and sanctuary of Afghanistan were an obvious place to start, but I cared not where we followed the trail, or where it followed us, provided it was not again on U.S. soil. It could have been Iraq, or Iran, or Syria, or Pakistan, or even the Saudi kingdom itself. But my idealistic streak strongly identified with our new, untested President at the time: "We did not seek this fight, but we will answer it at a time and place of our choosing." Never before had any words rung truer to these ears.
Victor Davis Hanson once penned the single most elucidating statement on our current struggle that I have yet to come across:
We seek military action and democratic reform hand-in-glove to end Islamic rogue states and terrorist enclaves -- not because such audacious measures are our first option (appeasement, neglect, and complicity in the past were preferable), but because they are the last.Fighting radical Islamists anywhere in the world -- whether it be Iraq or Afghanistan or Indonesia or the Horn of Africa -- is fighting the War on Terror. Period. (Hell, exclamation point!)
Wherever they congregate, we should fight them. Wherever they follow us to, we should fight them. Wherever they hole up and make a stand, we should fight them -- and we should continue to fight them until they are all killed, captured, or until their worldwide movement capitulates. Just because we can afford to relent at this juncture, doesn’t mean we should.
You can’t defeat an idea, assert the professional pessimists. Sure you can. Anarchism was an idea that took hold in the turn of the century, rallying many converts and claiming several world leaders until it was belatedly confronted and ultimately smashed. Ditto with mid-century fascism. And communism was perhaps the most wicked idea ever conceived, responsible for the deaths of untold millions before it was banished to the hinterlands, surviving only as a bizarre relic of a rescinded era.
International terrorism had a beginning. For us it was the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 that sounded the alarm we refused to acknowledge for over two decades. It is a diffuse and elusive enemy, yet it is incontrovertibly dependent for survival on nation-state sponsorship. A major attack that took years to conceive, plan, and execute simply cannot be accomplished within the confines of internet chat rooms alone. Huge sums of money and freedom from prying eyes are required that only rogue states or Bond villains can adequately supply. And when your rogue state du jour is presided over by a quintessential Bond villain (Axis of Evil, anyone?), you have a ready-made recipe for ideological mass murder.
The Soviets were the original sponsors of modern Islamic terrorism, a patronage the Iranian mullahcracy has in recent years gladly stepped in to uphold. They currently have their dirty fingernails dug in from Lebanon to Gaza to Afghanistan, with Iraq squarely in the palm of their grip. At some point, they will have to be confronted as well -- be it diplomatically, economically, or militarily -- if we hope to avert their eventual ascendancy and domination of the entire region.
Fortunately for us, all movements with a beginning can also come to an end. When our avowed enemies no longer have the means to attack us, then -- and only then -- will we know we have reached it.
The Politics of Victory
I have a confession to make: I am indeed a product of my biases. I freely admit to harboring an agenda, though not a secret one. Unlike the misnomer of "objective journalism," I make no claim to be a disinterested party nor an impartial witness to the present conflict. I am very much a participant, and my agenda is to win -- nothing more, nothing else, and nothing less. That entails sending a clear, cohesive, and unambiguous message that we are not going to leave -- we are not going to give up, throw in the towel, or walk away -- until the conditions set for withdrawal are met.
I don't care who gets the credit, but I do know who is more likely to get the job done -- albeit imperfectly at times -- but it would be remiss of me to pretend otherwise. Call me old fashioned, but ANYONE BUT BUSH is simply not a very inspiring foreign policy alternative. The lives and future of 25 million Iraqis deserve better.
It’s true that most soldiers don't care for politics. This follows from the perfectly healthy and encouraging fact that neither do most Americans. But to then infer that politics can somehow be divorced from the dirty business of war is absurd. Clausewitz wrote, "war is the continuation politics by other means." The inverse is equally true. War is instigated by political realities, is conducted by means of political advantage, and with success or defeat ultimately measured in accumulated political capital. One cannot possibly understand the War Between the States without factoring in the election campaign of 1864 or the long Vietnam conflict without the presidential politics of 1968 and ‘72. War and politics are irrevocably intertwined.
For a soldier to perform his duty only concerned with the when and the where and the how, without any regard whatsoever to the "why," is operationally laudable, but morally irresponsible. That’s not fealty to our Oath of Service, it’s a Nuremberg defense. Admittedly, the U.S. military does an excellent job of training its armed forces in the "how," but makes a poor show of educating its troops in the "why." The Spartans did not fight to the last man at Thermopylae for job training and money for college. Is it any wonder our house is again so divided?
It’s admittedly exhausting to continue to make and remake a case that should be obvious to all, yet I will not tire in my efforts to convince Americans that this is a fight worth having. This is more of a war of ideas now than one just of bullets and bombs. The insurgents have no hope of defeating us on the battlefield -- it’s not even close. But they can wear us down and wait us out until our politicians and people get bored or fed up or simply apathetic and want it all to just go away so they can return to focusing on the domestic issues that are their bread and butter.
History shows victory belongs to those who persevere the longest and believe in their cause the strongest. And nothing emboldens a brutal enemy to hang on until the bloody end quite like national ambivalence. Just ask the North Vietnamese:
The enemy will pass slowly from the offensive to the defensive. The blitzkrieg will transform itself into a war of long duration. Thus, the enemy will be caught in a dilemma: He has to drag out the war in order to win it and does not possess, on the other hand, the psychological and political means to fight a long, drawn-out war.
Adjust Fire Left, Over
Some readers have taken issue with my previous criticisms of the battle plan for Baghdad where I posited that we seem to be inexplicably playing to tie at this point rather than win. Though if someone can name an individual more pro-victory than myself, I would not only like to meet this person, I would enthusiastically follow him on clearing ops straight into the heart of Sadr City.
As far as Donald Rumsfeld goes, I personally like his gruff, no-BS, in-your-face style. Always have and still do, despite the fact that he has at various times made my life considerably more trying than perhaps need be. But that is precisely why I am so disappointed in him of late. He is now either feeding us and our families a line of bullshi’ite, or he is being fed one himself. And either way, it’s unacceptable to me.
Barely a few months ago I penned a missive in support of the current SecDeaf when he was under attack by the League of Disgruntled Generals. At the time I believed their criticisms to be unfair and unwarranted, but his recent conduct is now making me look foolish. And just as I never suffer fools lightly, neither do I particularly enjoy being made to come across as one.
I’m a "glass-half-full" kind of person. I’ve approached this war with that same attitude from the very beginning, and I still feel that way. But when you start to feel the liquid dribbling down your chin, is it crazy to think that perhaps you’ve been handed a trick cup?
I don’t take issue with our representatives playing politics with war. They’re called politicians for a reason: playing politics is what they do. And as I‘ve said, their involvement is wartime decisions is a necessary facet of republican government. To believe otherwise is to advocate a return to monarchy or a series of rotating military juntas. But what does get under my skin is when they advocate or support ill-conceived notions of what is in the war effort’s best interests based on purely their own political self-interest.
When that becomes the case, then all bets are off.
The Battered Bastards of Baghdad
I’ve long felt that being in the Army is akin to what it must be like to have had a deadbeat father figure. He takes from you more than he gives back, he’s always breaking his promises and letting you down, he’s rarely been there for you… but when all is said and done he’s still your father and you’re stuck with him whether you like it or not. He doesn’t deserve your love, but you begrudgingly feel it toward him nonetheless.
I’ve written before (and will likely write again) that many soldiers have a similar love/hate relationship with Uncle Sam. It is a truism that no one can have as much pride in and simultaneous disgust for the United States Army as one who has actually served in it. I currently loathe the Army and all the indignity that comes with it, yet once I finally say goodbye and depart back home to Ft. Living Room, no one will be more proud of a five-year period in their life willingly given up to the needs of their country than will I.
As a veteran marathon runner, I can attest that the feelings of both endeavors are relatively similar. The idea of completing a marathon is exciting; the training phase is tough but rewarding; the beginning of the race, packed in like sardines at the starting line, is invigorating. But at about the midpoint of the race, you have completely forgotten why on earth you’ve chosen to attempt such an insane test of endurance. The pain in your feet, your knees, and all your joints is nearly unbearable, but by this point it’s too late to turn back. Either way you’re going to have to tread another 12 some-odd miles, and you can’t stomach the thought of your family and friends knowing that you ran half the race just to throw in the towel. Let it be said that shame is an extremely powerful motivator in anything you attempt in life.
So it is with military service.
It has now been five years and change, and our nation’s military has finally equaled the lives lost on that initial volley of my generation’s war. Thousands of more Americans have now been changed forever by the chain of events that were spawned from that single fateful morning. What we do from this point on will determine whether or not their sacrifices were worth the price paid; whether we need to make more room on the National Mall for those who’ve fallen in defense of freedom -- or whether we should simply tack on an additional 3,000 names to the 9/11 victims memorial.
That decision is ultimately in all of our hands. But for the record, I know which wall I’d rather be on.
In Memory of CPL Alexander Jordan (1975-2006)
Corporal Alexander Jordan’s desire to serve his country developed while he attended the New Mexico Military Institute as a high school student for two years. He enlisted in the United States Army in September of 2003 in order to fulfill this desire. Upon completion of basic training, Cpl. Jordan was assigned to the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team as a member of the 4th/23rd Infantry stationed at Fort Richardson, Alaska. He immediately distinguished himself among his peers as a natural leader within his mortar section.
Cpl. Jordan was an outstanding mortarman, a fine soldier, and a great friend. His awards include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal (w/Oak Leaf Cluster) Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Medal, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
The loss of Cpl. Jordan weighs heavily on the hearts of all who served with him. His dedication to the nation and his fellow soldiers will never be forgotten. He is survived by his wife Tiffany, mother Candace, and father Robert.Corporal Alexander Jordan was killed in action in the Shaab neighborhood of Baghdad on September 10, 2006. He was the first, and as of yet, only fatality in the 4th/23rd Infantry battalion’s thirteen months in Iraq.
He will be missed; he will not be forgotten.