15 Jun 2007

The American Way of War

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Robert D. Kaplan delivers a thoughtful and illuminating essay making a number of valuable observations,

It is obvious that a military can only fight well on behalf of a society in which it believes, and that a society which believes little is worth fighting for cannot, in the end, field an effective military. Obvious as this is, we seem to have forgotten it.

Remembering will help us in several ways. First, it will show us that the greatest asymmetry in our struggle with radical Islam is not one of arms or organization or even of ideology in any simple sense, but one of morale in the deepest sense. Second, it will provide an insight into the state of civil-military relations in our own country, which is a growing problem many of us refuse to acknowledge. And third, it will show us why some kinds of wars—“in-between” wars, I call them—have become inherently difficult for the United States to fight and win.

He compares certain contemporary Americans to one of Joseph Conrad’s characters.

the Martin Decouds of this world, the brilliant sneerers who analyze everything into oblivion. Martin Decoud is a character in Nostromo, Conrad’s 1904 novel about an imaginary Latin American country, Costaguana, in the throes of upheaval. Decoud has studied law in Paris, dabbles in literature, writes political commentary and all-in-all, as Conrad explains, is an “idle boulevardier.” Decoud speaks much, but acts only when he is faced with a political crisis that impinges on his own welfare. Yet when he finds himself alone on an island off Costaguana, he gives in to despair, even though he has been assured of rescue. The “brilliant” journalist Decoud, the “spoiled darling” of his family, “was not fit to grapple with himself single-handed.” Despite Decoud’s virtuoso conversation and commentary, in a crisis, Conrad tells us, he “believed in nothing.” Decoud doesn’t represent any particular philosophical position or point of view; he is there to remind us that cleverness should not be confused with character.

Good essay. Read the whole thing.


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