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Belmont Club

And I Feel Fine

August 23rd, 2013 - 12:12 pm

Ari Shavit’s evocative lede in today’s Haaretz is a reaction to the horror in Syria, He writes, “The End of the World is starting in Damascus … if civilians can be gassed to death in 2013, we face the end of the world that purports to be moral and enlightened”. Well perhaps the world was never really that enlightened to begin with: not even during the peace after the Second World War. People had simply had a bellyful of war and were momentarily intimidated into pacifism by the power of the hegemon, the United States.

WH Auden argued against imagining that we were ever innocent instead of being “simply children afraid of the night who have never been happy or good.” And now that America has gotten out of the hegemon business and the memories of those mid-20th horrors are fading — we can help stamp them out by beating the surviving World War 2 veterans to death out of boredom — it seems we’re ready to go again. Rupert Brooke described the kind of boredom that besets us. He felt it in the air as his generation embarked for the fronts of the Great War a hundred years ago:

To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping,
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary,
Leave the sick hearts that honour could not move,
And half-men, and their dirty songs and dreary,
And all the little emptiness of love!

We don’t want what we have, that little emptiness of love. Foreign Policy reports that Congressional doves are now contemplating doing some leaping of their own, authorizing US intervention in Syria after reports of the use of chemical weapons by Assad. This despite Congress being told by General Dempsey that there were no moderate rebel groups ready to fill any power vacuum there.

But even if there ain’t no swimming hole, still we want the feeling of cleanness and the leaping into that dried up crater. Decrying the lack of US action in Syria, one commenter at the Daily Mail said: “Where is America and the UK? No oil I suppose!!”

Humanity is funny in that way. The only acceptable justifications for war are intangible. You can kill people for a cause. To do it for food or oil, now that were immoral indeed.

Bill Gertz says Dempsey’s message is clear. “U.S. military intervention in Syria on behalf of Syria rebels fighting the Bashar al-Assad regime risks embroiling the United States and states in the region in a wider conflict, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a letter to Congress.”

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey provided a mainly negative assessment of U.S. military intervention and warned that joining the war in Syria could assist Islamist extremists, help them gain access to chemical weapons, and further erode U.S. military readiness, already suffering from sharp defense budget cuts.

Using force is “no less than an act of war,” Dempsey stated in the July 19 letter, adding that any use of force should be based on confidence that it will achieve the U.S. policy of ousting the Assad regime.

Strategy is optional today. Outrage is mandatory. The argument that the international use of force is both “war” and ought to require a concrete aim — perhaps even a plan for something called ‘victory’ — is a quaint, almost obsolete notion.

People do things for the most abstract reasons today. It shows our advancement. For example, The Guardian describes the pressing plight of the person formerly known as Bradley Manning, now known as ‘Chelsea’. Manning has expressed a burning desire to become a woman and be provided with hormone therapy to that end. “But Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas, where Manning is due to serve out her sentence, said on Thursday that it would not provide trans treatment beyond psychiatric support, in a move criticised as unconstitutional by activists and LGBT groups.”

The meanies. But the need for food seems less pressing than psychological fulfillment. By contrast to the front page treatment of Manning’s request,  only evil Fox News pushed the Army to reverse its closure of dining facilities serving multiple amputees recovering at Walter Reed.

The U.S. military has reversed a string of decisions that would have restricted access for severely wounded troops to a popular dining hall at Walter Reed hospital, after Fox News began reporting on complaints from veterans and their families.

The military earlier this month decided to invalidate meal tickets and reduce hours for the Warrior Cafe, the sole dining facility in building 62 — home to all multiple amputees and long-term, recovering patients at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

Forgotten already? Well they should get used to it. One of the most sobering things about reading history is realizing the ease with which the deaths of a millions can be forgotten in only a few decades. I am currently reading Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze, by Peter Harmsen.  I recommend it heartily. Even if you thought you knew all there was to know about the Second World War, if you haven’t read up on the Sino-Japanese conflict, you’ve missed one of its principal roots.

The comparison to Stalingrad is by no means far-fetched. Nine hundred thousand troops on both sides fought a three month battle for the city. Almost 93,000 Japanese troops perished. A third of million of Chiang Kai-Shek’s best troops died opposing them.  That’s without counting the civilians who did in Nanjing, which fell as part of the battle.

You might be interested to learn that the Battle of Shanghai was arguably the start of World War 2 in the Pacific and the decisive battle of the as-yet-unfought Chinese Civil War. For one thing, it shifted the Japanese war effort south away from the Soviets. For another the battle doomed the Kuomintang because Chiang expended and destroyed his carefully built army in that tremendous furnace. Unable to find respite in the war years that followed, the KMT never recovered to fight Mao’s Red Army, which stayed away from major conflict with the Japanese and so was tanned, rested and ready by the end of it.

Perhaps even more astonishingly, the Japanese were in real danger of losing the Battle of Shanghai, in part because the Chinese Army was advised by German officers, some of whom were Jewish and fleeing from Hitler.

Interestingly, the Battle of Shanghai was precipitated by an incident involving the still unsolved murder of a Japanese officer which drew both sides into the vortex. Wikipedia writes of that murder, still mysterious after all these years:

Mao Tse-Tung biographers Chang and Halliday assert that Chinese Army General Zhang Zhizhong was a Communist Party sympathizer, and staged the Ōyama Incident, including bringing a Chinese soldier condemned for an unrelated crime and killing him with Lt. Ōyama’s gun, to heighten credibility. Chang and Halliday point out that Gen. Zhizhong defied orders in publicizing the incident widely with the news media after it happened. They also quote Mao as saying that all-out war between Japan and China would weaken Chiang Kai-Shek’s government, giving Mao’s less-numerous Communists an advantage. If true this sequence of events would mean that Mao instigated the Pacific War, against the wishes of the major combatants, at the cost of millions of lives.

Yet great as it was, the Battle of Shanghai is remembered only in little read books and in British Movietone reels. The same might be said of the Maginot Line. This terrific site brings it back to life, the casemates, cupolas, ouvrages, troop shelters, fields of fire, interior reconstructions. At the time of its construction the Maginot Line was the missile defense shield of the French Nation.

It was completely bypassed. And it too lies forgotten.

In the last few weeks it has seemed as if the pillars were coming down. Not the columns of marble or girders of steel that uphold the buildings of our great cities; but the things that once supported our mental universe. Rationality, honesty or even simple gratitude to those to who’ve lost their limbs in our defense seemingly count for nothing; replaced by a kind of manic obsession with psychological fulfillment, the need to be amused at casting off all the old taboos.

In our innermost sanctums are raised up altars to things that were once abhorred and dark flames are kindled before half-remembered gods, so that even if our temples look the same, all within has changed as if by some monstrous possession. We are told that this transformation is good because it is modern; which if true that would be a most astonishing thing. How did the novel return return as ‘good’ after good itself was banished, simply by being amusing?

Perhaps because what has returned today is neither new nor good at all. Both hatred and love, war and peace and salvation and damnation are old as mankind. Shavit is wrong. The world never ends. But it does get the periodic makeover.


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Top Rated Comments   
David The Last
The Corps called it Civic Action Program. Usually half a dozen guys with line experience. That meant they'd probably been wounded at least once, maybe twice, and one more meant they went home, what was left of them, one way or another.
They helped the villagers fix the place up, got stuff from US stores one way or another, and patrolled at night, stiffening the spines of the local defenders.
Did work, without necessarily turning the locals into New England town meeting democrats a la Jefferson.
Ran across a grave at Jefferson Barracks. Six jarheads, rank spread indicated a CAP team, all killed the same day and the Next of Kin thought they should sleep together as they had fought together.
God bless them and God damn those who threw it away just because treachery was more comfortable than was honor.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Rationality, honesty or even simple gratitude to those to who’ve lost their limbs in our defense seemingly count for nothing; replaced by a kind of manic obsession with psychological fulfillment, the need to be amused at casting off all the old taboos." wretchard

Gibbon said that the following five attributes marked Rome at its end:
First, a mounting love of show and luxury (that is, the worship of affluence);
Second, a widening gap between the very rich and the very poor (this could be between countries in the family of nations, as well as in a single nation);
Third, an obsession with sex;
Fourth, freakishness in the arts, masquerading as originality, & mere enthusiasms presented as creativity;
Fifth, an increased desire to live off the state.

There appear to be some parallels...
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
"I am currently reading Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze, by Peter Harmsen."

Wretchard -- How do you do it? Somehow, you find the time to earn a living, keep a wife happy, write a novel, produce almost daily musings in this wonderful blog -- and yet you also find the time to read (not just read; read and analyse) serious books.

Those of us who are mere mortals stand in awe!
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (108)
All Comments   (108)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
is it moral that we go and help these bastards?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Wk-TAIcc4Q

3 truck drivers shot by al Nusra (fer nuthin)
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
MC...

These particular drivers were driving the wrong type of ultra-heavy duty truck: used pretty much exclusively by Assad's military -- or industrial customers owned by the regime.

In a pinch, these trucks can transport equipment as heavy as a T-62 tank. And the trucks were low mileage, new machines purchased since the revolution began.

One must conclude that the impromptu check point was entirely unanticipated. It's obviously astride the main drag; their equivalent to an American interstate highway.

Just a hunch, but this is likely dated footage from the Euphrates campaign.

It is amazing to see the drivers even slowing down to stop. The median barriers obviously made it impossible to turn around. They are such an ODD feature -- as they seem to be installed as an anti-safety device. One might posit that the Syrian military had this choke point constructed long ago for just this purpose -- never dreaming that it would be turned against the regime.

34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
dunno, but the vid was launched from the late days by a German, the Germans hadsuch videos for the libyan campain too, telling that we were helping AQ, Germany is opposing a military intervention for Syria too... Anyways, I have read that goods used to cross Syria for being delivered in the whole ME before, some try to cross Israel when definitely it's not safe for them to cross Syria... dunno, if it's propaganda again, anyways the drivers didn't deserve such a quick death penalty
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
David theLast--

Yes, I know about the Civic Action Program but to me that wasn't like the present COIN, tho it was ''hearts and minds'', since it didn't attempt to remake a society, esp not the rural peasants, only protect them and help them protect themselves. Bing West, of course, wrote a great book about it. I think that idea should have been continued but, since we're going to leave a place eventually, not sure that it lasts once the USMC has left.

Bravo your last sentence in your post below this one.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oops! RichardAubrey--your last sentence.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Damn!! The whole thing ... really showin' it today.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
David The Last
The Corps called it Civic Action Program. Usually half a dozen guys with line experience. That meant they'd probably been wounded at least once, maybe twice, and one more meant they went home, what was left of them, one way or another.
They helped the villagers fix the place up, got stuff from US stores one way or another, and patrolled at night, stiffening the spines of the local defenders.
Did work, without necessarily turning the locals into New England town meeting democrats a la Jefferson.
Ran across a grave at Jefferson Barracks. Six jarheads, rank spread indicated a CAP team, all killed the same day and the Next of Kin thought they should sleep together as they had fought together.
God bless them and God damn those who threw it away just because treachery was more comfortable than was honor.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
From an AP article that came out today:

"Rosa Brooks, a former Defense Department official who left the administration in 2011, said that while the shrinking U.S. leverage overseas predates the current president, "Obama has sometimes equated 'we have no leverage' with 'there's no point to really doing anything'."

Obama, faced most urgently with escalating crises in Egypt and Syria, has defended his measured approach, saying America's ability to solve the world's problems on its own has been "overstated." "

With Obama at the helm, just about every ability is "overstated."
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
As has been said, Assad is in an existentialist battle, along with his admin. Blowing up a three or four arms magazines and a truck park would be irrelevant.
To punish him, we'd have to kill him. Since we don't know where he's going to be at any given moment, that means hitting the, say, dozen most likely sites. Plus whatever they calll the Parliament when they're in session, presuming they are, but at least we can destroy their building, and the military's high HQ. And mine a harbor.
IOW, a cruise missile strike doing about as much damage as a rebel campaign which got lucky isn't going to solve anything.
We'd have to destroy a government, a sovereign government, as sovereigne and legitimate as a good many in this world.
Then, of course, the other bad guys take over.
Funny thing about dictators in MENA. They're easier on Christians and Jews than the will of the people would require. So, unless we decide that the fate of the remaining Christians and Jews is none of our business, we run up another cruise missile strike.
No good answers other than getting the Christians and Jews out of there and letting the place cook.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
OT:

I recommend all BCers read Wrong Turn by Gentile; the author is a combat officer and historian in the Army. For my money he demolishes the idea of ''COIN'', that ''winning hearts and minds'', building bridges, etc will persuade people to give up there ancient way of life and embrace good government, democracy, and education for girls (this happened to be my opinion before I bought the book--fair warning).

I think anyone would agree he makes an impressive case with facts going way back to Malaya and I predict he'll never make brigadier (he's an O-6) by so effectively countering the current PC thinking.

As I recall the USMC has never really bought into it, ''COIN''.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's kinda hard to win the hearts and minds of people who work real hard to cut your head off and eat your heart.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
The USMC had a program during the Viet Nam War that preceeded the official policy of "winning hearts and minds" by adopting villages and have squads/platoons live in the villages and engage in a form of COIN. It was not by written doctrine, but it seemed to be effective for reducing the spread of the VC. Just something that I recalled.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
May I suggest (if you can find it) "The Betrayal" by LtCol William R. Corson.

See http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/wrcorson.htm

34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
BotP

A hegemon could show the flag with one destroyer. Sending four is an indication of how much Obama has under cut our reputation. But those four ships make the USN the dominant naval force in the Med. Nobody else comes close.

Given that 90% of all trade travels by sea, we control 90% of the trade in the Eastern Med. And we can stay over the horizon from the shore. Power through strength. Now is the time to make some reasonable demands, such as free passage to investigate the chemical weapons attack sites.

Become the calm presence at the center of the storm.

Daddy's home!
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sounds logical. Barack Obama 8-Ball says "highly unlikely".
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
" .... little read books.... " Excellent !
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wretchard often refers to the power vacuum left in the Middle East and North Africa by the withdrawal of America.

Well, I was once caught in a lightening storm at high altitude while climbimg on a sharp exposed mountain ridge. The lightening played up and down our ridge but we could do nothing but keep moving steadily until we found some shelter. As we neared a bergschrund that offered a cave-like shelter below the surface a mighty lightening strike hit very close by and battered all our senses. We were near enough to the vacuum caused by the lightening that the air rushing into the vacuum hit us hard and we fell down onto the snow.

Now Obama is wandering haplessly along an exposed ridge in a lightening storm. He's either gonna get burned or hit over the head by the warring powers that have rushed to fill the vacuum.

The outrageous thing is, there are innocent people roped to Obama on his exposed ridge who will also get burned or hit over the head simply because they are trying to do their duty.



34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
You know, Wretchard, the one thing worse than Obama drawing a red line and not enforcing it would be to try to enforce it and fail. That would further damage US credibility which is low enough as it is. Unfortunately, if the most recent newspaper articles are to be believed, it would seem that Obama is preparing to do just that.
One reads of a grand total of 4 cruise-missile capable warships being sent within striking distance of Syria - and thats all. No carriers, no movement of land based planes, no movement of Marines, nothing else. Except for comment by "administration officials" that the US has already ruled out the use of ground troops.

In other words, the worst Assad has to fear is a handful of cruise missiles. For a regieme engaged in a death struggle civil war, I seriously doubt this will be much of a deterrent - or punishment.

34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
I agree that's not much of a show. It is also possible for B-2s or other strategic air assets to show up without warning, but I have no idea what kind of action any of these could engage in that would be meaningful.

For that matter given two full US fleets just offshore and all the assets we have based freely in Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, I'm not sure what the point would be.

Better we should rent a Carnival Cruise liner, load it up with Code Pink and Michael Moore, and send it over there to help out.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
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