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The 5 Biggest Insults to American Manhood by the Rules of Engagement in Afghanistan

4. It Doesn’t Inflict Justice on the Guilty

In The Wrong War, West uses a history of modern guerrilla warfare and counter-insurgency to point out that the United States is trying to do something that has never been done before anywhere in how it is trying to bring civilization to Afghanistan, rather than merely punishing the enemy:

Following the First World War, Winston Churchill, then secretary of state for the colonies, approved of summary executions of Irish insurgents in retaliation for the deaths of British soldiers occupying southern Ireland. The foremost scholar on counterinsurgency, David Galula, described his experience as a French officer in the Algerian War in the 1950s in these terms: “We searched the suspect’s house thoroughly and found the missing shotgun. I phoned my battalion commander and asked him if he agreed that the man should be shot on the spot. He did. The harkis executed him.” On another occasion, Galula threatened to bake a man in an oven. The man co-operated.

During the Second World War — the “good war”— the esteemed journalist Eric Sevareid stood by as U.S. soldiers shot German troops and Italian civilians. “As the weeks went by and this experience was repeated many times,” Sevareid wrote, “I ceased even to be surprised.” In his book Citizen Soldiers, the historian Stephen Ambrose devoted a chapter to prisoners of war, citing numerous instances when American soldiers shot prisoners. The press never reported one instance.

In The Village, a chronicle of my Combined Action Platoon in Vietnam, I wrote, “The Marines watched as Thanh beat his prisoners. When one woman refused to talk, he rubbed a wet cloth with lye soap and pressed it against her face. The woman struggled to breathe and sucked into her throat the stinging lye.”

Such stories had no effect at the time they were written; in 2011, they would all be sensations to the press. Today, the U.S. Congress would not tolerate deportation, sanction a $500-million bribe, approve of retaliatory executions, or ration food. Galula would be portrayed as a war criminal. Sevareid, the face of CBS, would be excoriated for not reporting the killings of prisoners, as would I for complicity in waterboarding.

Afghanistan was singularly different from any prior insurgency. Far from employing sticks of coercion of any sort, the Western coalition offered only aid and sympathy to hostile villagers. The United States possessed precision firepower, with sensors that tracked any individual out of doors. Yet in 2010, less than 5% of aircraft sorties dropped a single bomb, despite over 100 reports of troops in contact daily. This forbearance was without historical precedent. The coalition imposed upon itself the strictest rules in the history of insurgent warfare.

Forget the hoary clichés about the British and the Russians failing to rule Afghanistan. Afghanis (whatever they are) have never ruled the region named Afghanistan — basically a border drawn around the leftovers as the British Empire contracted.