18 Dec 2007

“Defeat Has a Thousand Fathers”

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Victor Davis Hanson provides a history lesson, in the Claremont Review of Books, demonstrating that the War in Iraq was not the first war in human history featuring intelligence failures, setbacks, and mistakes. It is not war which has changed, Hanson argues, it is American attitudes and expectations.

The home front once accepted that our adversaries faced the same obstacles and challenges of war. Moreover Americans assumed that the enemy, being less introspective and self-critical, was even more prone to military error than we—and less likely to innovate and correct. That confidence ensured that the public saw mistakes not just in absolute but also in relative terms. …

In past wars there was recognition of factors beyond human control—the weather; the fickleness of human nature; the role of chance, the irrational, and the inexplicable—that lent a humility to our efforts and tolerance for unintended consequences. “Wars begin when you will,” Machiavelli reminds us, “but they do not end when you please.” …

..the American public, not the timeless nature of war, has changed. We no longer easily accept human imperfections. We care less about correcting problems than assessing blame—in postmodern America it is defeat that has a thousand fathers, while the notion of victory is an orphan. We fail to assume that the enemy makes as many mistakes but addresses them less skillfully. We do not acknowledge the role of fate and chance in war, which sometimes upsets our best endeavors. Most importantly we are not fixed on victory as the only acceptable outcome.

What are the causes of this radically different attitude toward military culpability? An affluent, leisured society has adopted a therapeutic and managerial rather than tragic view of human experience—as if war should be controllable through proper counseling or a sound business plan. We take for granted our ability to talk on cell phones to someone in Cameroon or select from 500 cable channels; so too we expect Saddam instantly gone, Jeffersonian democracy up and running reliably, and the Iraqi economy growing like Dubai’s in a few seasons. If not, then someone must be blamed for ignorance, malfeasance, or inhumanity. It is as though we expect contemporary war to be waged in accordance with warranties, law suits, and product recalls, and adjudicated by judges and lawyers in stale courtrooms rather than won or lost by often emotional youth in the filth, confusion, and barbarity of the battlefield

Vietnam’s legacy was to insist that if American aims and conduct were less than perfect, then they could not be good at all.

Read the whole thing.

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One Feedback on "“Defeat Has a Thousand Fathers”"

Scott D

Hey, if we control the climate of the planet, surely we can control the outcome of a war in the Middle East.



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