Category Archives: War on Terrorism

What Do We Mean By Victory?

This weekend marks the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington and of Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s most famous speech.


Since fifty and one hundred and similar numbers get people excited, the media are buzzing about with article after article on the commemorations. I’m left wondering what constitutes victory in civil rights. One young man interviewed about his plans to attend this weekend’s remembrance said that he’s inspired to continue the struggle. Indeed. The struggle for what and against what?

Yes, I know, the latest thing is the debate over voter ID laws. Generally speaking, I see no need for these laws, since vote fraud is a rare occurrence, but the requirement to have ID is a common aspect of our lives today. All of us have the burden of getting the right documents to open a bank account, fly on an airplane, buy a gun, drive a car, check out a library book, and so forth. That burden is heavier on the poor and elderly, but those are not racial groups.

Another subject of protest is Stand Your Ground laws. But even there, the laws only say that if I have the right to be in a particular place, I’m not obliged to attempt to run away before defending myself against a lethal threat.

I do understand that some see these two types of laws as disproportionately affecting minorities. I don’t doubt that voter ID laws are in part aimed at electing more Republicans than Democrats. But coloring these laws as racist is precisely the kind of reflexive response that one can expect from Al Sharpton and others like him.

But let’s imagine that everything is indeed about race. Let’s imagine that we have made no progress over the last fifty years. That takes a strain to do, but try. Very well, what would victory in the struggle be?

What I see here is something like our present War on Terror. In both cases, we are offered perpetual conflict aimed at fighting ill-defined enemies with the hopes of reaching vague goals. In both, we are discouraged from feeling that the job is done. We must fight on because only in a state of constant fighting can we be made to fall in line with the official version of events. The same is seen in Orwell’s 1984.

By contrast, as an eleutherian, I want to see clearly defined goals that are worth seeking and can be achieved. In the case of civil rights, victory is when the government treats every person the same under the law, when business services are available to everyone who can afford them, and so forth. We are just about there, but for the mopping up operations.

Yes, you read that correctly. Do we still have problems? Yes. But those problems are economic and are being masked by continued fighting about race. In the book, Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society, John A Andrew shows at length how the War on Poverty (yet another vague war, alas) was derailed by turning into a program perceived as benefiting only minorities. That continues now. The social problems that we face today are ones of poverty, not racism, and shouting about race only serves to divide the poor from the poor, keeping the powerful on top. Poverty is easily defined. Helping people out of poverty is hard, but the process is clearly defined: education, assistance to small businesses, etc. It is a fact of life that money buys a person a whole lot of respect.

We can stay stuck in the past, or we can move forward. We can act like an alcoholic who looks for solace at the bottom of a bottle of whiskey, or we can take steps to make our society better. Clinging to resentment and demanding that everyone pet your resentments doesn’t solve anything. Whether we’ve won or lost, let’s count the struggle as over and get on with the process of building what comes afterward.

Civilize ‘Em with a Krag?

America is now involved in its third foreign entanglement of the twenty-first century. Our experience in Afghanistan and Iraq has been mixed, showing that we’re remarkably capable in some tasks and dismally inept in others. Federal debt and deficit may decide how much foreign policy we can sustain, but if we are able to resolve the budget concerns, we do have to consider what conflicts are likely.

The war that we were ready to fight from the late 40s through the 90s was a total war. It would have involved tanks and fighter jets for a few hours, but we all knew that it would get settled with nuclear weapons. That kind of war is still possible, as the nuclear-armed powers haven’t gone away, but barring accident, it’s unlikely. The strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.) means that two nations with a lot of nukes will grumble at each other, but generally remain polite.

Some will suggest nuclear disarmament. While that’s a laudable goal, it’s unrealistic. The technology for making nuclear weapons is widely known. Anyone with the uranium and no concern for longevity can build one in the basement. With a little more skill, such bombs can be churned out with minimal difficulty. There’s no going back from that, and as long as one nation has nuclear weapons, several others will have to have them as well.

But a nuclear world war is much less likely than the kind of war that we’ve seen in the last several decades. These days, the typical conflict is with bothersome little countries that seek to annoy the rest of us. Iraq is a good example of this. Saddam kept interfering with his neighbors and threatening more distant nations. Removing his regime proved to be astonishingly easy. What we saw is that America has a military that can defeat most countries around the world within a month of fighting. That’s our skill.

What happened afterward was a disaster. We don’t know how to occupy a country. We thought we did, but our experience in Germany and Japan at the end of the Second World War doesn’t really apply. In those two situations, we had spent years beating them into abject submission. We were then able to build them back up in our image. That kind of war can never happen again because it was a war against an equal, and our military equals today are in the previous category.

With all of this in mind, what kind of military force do we need in the future? I suggest a three-part force. The first two parts we already have. We need a nuclear force–including bombers, submarines, and missiles–to defend against total war. We need an expeditionary force that can sweep away any minor nation’s government and military, when such action is indicated.

The third force is an occupation force. It will have the training and equipment to act as a police department, civil services sector, better business bureau, and other such offices. The problems of occupation are insurrection, corruption, and tribal interests. The force that I’m picturing must be able to deal with all of those.

Americans, as a rule, don’t like the idea of occupying other countries. We objected to the British, and Southerners objected to Reconstruction. I don’t mean here that we ought to go around taking over small nations just for the enjoyment of it. The trouble is that a few of those will insist on being disagreeable. If we leave them alone, they fester and make more noise (something like children).

This essay is an exercise in realism. That being the case, I have to acknowledge that we’re likely heading into a period in which we can only afford to take care of ourselves, if that. But somebody has to take this role. The United Nations, being run by festering little nations, can’t. The Chinese don’t want the job. The Russians and the British are tired after years of managing empires.

Sacrebleu, I guess that leaves us with the French, if not us. Come on, Americans, get our act together.


The title of this piece comes from a song of the Spanish-American War:

Underneath our starry flag, civilize ’em with a Krag,
And return us to our own beloved homes.

The Krag is the Krag-Jorgensen rifle, America’s first smokeless powder longarm adopted by the Army.

Good Riddance

Today (2 May 2011), I awoke to the news that a U. S. Navy Seal team finally killed Osama bin Laden. Huzzah for the Seals. His death does raise a few points:

1. A great deal has been made over the report that he was buried at sea according to Muslim custom. Why was he given that? It’s time that we call bin Laden what he was: an infidel. The killing of innocents is in no way acceptable in Islam. The Qur’an commands far better treatment of women than Osama’s message tolerated. For example, when his compound was attacked, he pulled a woman in front of him as a shield. So much for the great warrior. He was not a great leader, either in the military or spiritual sense. He was a thug and a coward, and may the fish enjoy eating him.

2. The one good thing about his living this long is that he got to see what has been called the Arab Spring. He saw Arab people rising up against their dictators, while at the same time not embracing his ideology. We don’t yet know where that movement is going, but at present, it rejects the barbarism that bin Laden advocated. Osama died at the hand of his enemies, and he died having the evidence of his failure before him.

3. The fact that Osama was living within an hour’s drive from Islamabad and within sight of a military academy suggests that at least elements of the Pakistani government were aware that he lived in their midst. Pakistan has a lot of explaining to do and a big decision to make. Will they join the democratic world or sink farther into a grotesque thug state? We’ll be watching.

More news will come out as time goes by, but for the moment, we have cause to be hopeful.