Friday, July 27, 2007

"The Lust of the Eyes"

Chris Hedges has written an article that's like a punch in the gut. It reminds me of a great book written in the early 1970's by Robert Nisbet, Twilight of Authority. Also a more recent article by Will Grigg, "Disposable Children," which I can no longer find on "TheNewAmerican" website (which, in disgust, I'm not even linking to). (Here it is at "The Free Library.") I have posted the substance of Grigg's article (and this blog post) here.

Initially I didn't think I agreed with Hedges' exegesis of 1 John 2:16, and I doubt he intends it as serious Biblical study, but after reading Ezekiel 23:16 (read the whole chapter), I'm more inclined to accept it.

Perhaps this post should have been entitled "Two Kinds of Armies."

In my post on George Washington, we find help in understanding the character of the Continental Army. On May 2, 1778, when the Continental Army was beginning to emerge from its infamous winter at Valley Forge, Commander-in-Chief George Washington commended his troops for their courage and patriotism and then reminded them:

While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.

This was typical of General Washington. The first order he issued after he took command, July 4, 1775, read:

The General most earnestly requires and expects a due observance of those articles of war established for the government of the army, which forbid profane cursing, swearing, and drunkenness. And in like manner he requires a expects of all officers and soldiers, not engaged in actual duty, a punctual attendance on Divine Service, to implore the blessing of Heaven upon the means used for our safety and defense.

The next year, his General Orders read:

The honorable Continental Congress having been pleased to allow a chaplain to each regiment, ... the colonels or commanding officers of each regiment are directed to procure chaplains accordingly, persons of good characters and exemplary lives, [and] to see that all inferior officers and soldiers pay them a suitable respect and attend carefully upon religious exercises. The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary, but especially so in times of public distress and danger. The General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man, will endeavour so to live, and act, as becomes a Christian Soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country.

People who oppose my pacifism are usually living in this past. They think I'm against these virtues, and that I advocate the kind of lawlessness seen among anti-war protesters in the 1960's. I champion Washington's understanding that religion and Christian morality is the foundation of American government. But the past is not the present. The War for Independence bears little resemblance to the War in Iraq.

In November of 2005, 24 men women and children in the Iraqi city of Haditha were killed. Marines initially reported that the civilians were killed when a roadside bomb was detonated, killing one U.S. Marine. That report is now known to have been a lie and a cover-up.

The June 12, 2006 issue of Newsweek Magazine described the Marines who massacred civilians in Haditha:

The Marines know how to get psyched up for a big fight. In November 2004, before the Battle of Fallujah, the Third Battalion, First Marines, better known as the “3/1” or “Thundering Third,” held a chariot race. Horses had been confiscated from suspected insurgents, and charioteers were urged to go all-out. The men of Kilo Company—honored to be first into the city on the day of the battle—wore togas and … helmets, and hoisted a shield emblazoned with a large K. As speakers blasted a heavy-metal song, “Cum On Feel the Noize,” the warriors of Kilo Company carried a homemade mace, and a ball-and-chain studded with M-16 bullets. A company captain intoned a line from a scene in the movie “Gladiator,” in which the Romans prepare to slaughter the barbarians: “What you do here echoes in eternity.”

Fallujah was a vicious battle. But the Marines were prepared. The men of the Thundering Third had been given liberal rules of engagement to make sure people who looked like civilians didn’t trigger hidden roadside bombs. “If you see someone with a cell phone,” said one of the commanders, half-jokingly, “put a bullet in their f---ing head.” During the battle, a TV camera crew photographed a Marine shooting a wounded, unarmed man. The Marine was later exonerated.

In the fall of 2005, this Kilo Company arrived in Haditha.

William Norman Grigg describes the U.S. invasion from an Iraqi (and perhaps George Washington's) perspective:

When people find themselves on the receiving end of an unwarranted foreign attack, they will get angry and fight back against the invaders in any way they can – and they are entitled to. Were our nation invaded by a foreign power possessing an overwhelming military advantage, Americans would set roadside bombs, seek refuge in civilian dwellings, and kill the enemy without remorse. It wouldn’t matter to us one bit if the invaders justified the invasion in humanitarian terms, or invoked their “superior” political and cultural insights. We would fight as hard as we could, for as long as it takes, to expel the foreign invaders from our home soil.

Imagine a roadside bomb goes off in Haditha. Out of a sense of frustration, the Iraqis in the vicinity –– who may have had absolutely nothing to do with manufacturing or detonating the device ––cheer the explosion and taunt the invading Marines. Out of a greater sense of frustration, the Marines respond to the jeering by breaking into the homes and executing 24 men, women, and children.
This may have been what happened in the massacre in Haditha. On December 21, 2006, eight Marines from 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines were charged in connection with the incident.

Will Grigg helps us compare today’s secular army with that of General Washington’s when America was still a Christian nation. The following is from his article “Disposable Children,” The New American, May 2, 2005.

Writing a little more than a decade ago in Parameters, the journal of the U.S. Army War College, Major Ralph Peters warned of the emergence of a global “warrior class” of “erratic primitives of shifting allegiances, habituated to violence, with no stake in civil order.”

Peters distinguished between “warriors” and “soldiers.” The former are savage, self-serving hedonists; the latter are disciplined, self-sacrificing individuals motivated by a love of a particular community. The American ideal is embodied by those who stand “between their loved homes and the war’s desolation,” eagerly returning to civilian life when the crisis has passed. For the “warrior class,” by way of contrast, “the end of fighting means the end of good times.”

“The primary function of any civilization is to restrain human excess,” observed Peters. However, “as society’s preparatory structures such as schools, formal worship systems, communities, and families are disrupted, young males who might otherwise have led productive lives are drawn into the warrior milieu.” Decades of totalitarian rule left critical social structures in ruins throughout the Balkans, Africa, and the former Soviet Union, thereby producing millions of adolescent males eager to join the warrior class.

In future military conflicts, Peters predicted, the warrior class “will not be impressed by tepid shows of force with restricted rules of engagement. Are we able to engage in and sustain the level of sheer violence it can take to eradicate this kind of threat?” Citing the 1993 debacle in Somalia––our first collision with the “warrior class” –– Peters said the answer, at the time, was “No.” Ten years after Peters published those words, war correspondent Evan Wright published Generation Kill, recording what the author observed during the invasion of Iraq while embedded with the second platoon of Bravo Company of the Marine Corps’ First Reconnaissance Battalion. Wright offers finely etched portraits of individual Marines, for whom he displays abundant respect and genuine affection. He also offers telling, and probably unintentional, insights regarding the progress made by America’s welfare/warfare state toward cultivating our own “warrior class.”

“They are kids raised on hip-hop, Marilyn Manson and Jerry Springer,” notes Wright of the fighting men he came to know. Many of them consider an unprintable 12-letter word describing Oedipal intimacy to be “a term of endearment.” For some, murdered rap star Tupac Shakur “is an American patriot whose writings are better known than the speeches of Abraham Lincoln.”

“These young men represent what is more or less America’s first generation of disposable children,” he continues. “More than half of the guys in the platoon come from broken homes and were raised by absentee, single, working parents. Many are on more intimate terms with video games, reality TV shows and Internet porn than they are with their own parents.” They went to war “predisposed toward the idea that the Big Lie is as central to American governance as taxation…. Even though their Commander in Chief tells them they are fighting today in Iraq to protect American freedom, few would be shaken to discover they might actually be leading a grab for oil. In a way, they almost expect to be lied to.” “We’re like America’s little pit bull,” one Marine wryly told Wright. “They beat it, starve it, mistreat it, and once in a while they let it out to attack somebody.”

It might be said that these fighting men represent a significant military innovation. “In World War II, when Marines hit the beaches, a surprisingly high percentage of them didn’t fire their weapons, even when faced with direct enemy contact,” one lieutenant told Wright. “Not these guys. Did you see what they did to that town? They f---ing destroyed it. These guys have no problem with killing.”

The question is: what are they killing for? Deprived of permanent attachments and fully aware of the cynical dishonesty behind the decision to invade Iraq, many of these young men are not acting out of idealistic motives, apart from the commendable desire to protect each other (a trait shared with soldiers from every country in every war). While not yet representative of the current military, they may herald the emergence of an American “warrior class” of the type Ralph Peters described.

It’s significant that current military recruitment shortfalls reflect growing opposition from parents of potential enlistees. As USA Today reported on April 5, 2005, the Pentagon has devised a multi-million dollar PR campaign intended to overcome parental resistance. Pending a return to conscription –– a possibility being openly discussed in both the press and policy-making circles –– recruiters will continue to depend heavily on young people from broken homes.

Sociologist Alan Carlson observes that wars “swell the size and power of the state; and as the state grows, the family declines.” Since 1917, he notes, U.S. involvement in foreign wars has been “used to re-engineer our society to serve a total state, which in turn engages in a perpetual social and moral revolution.” What modern warfare requires –– a reliable supply of “disposable children” –– the degenerate welfare state provides.

[end Grigg excerpt]

Hedges' article suggests that the best we can hope for is that Iraq veterans come back psychologically devastated. The worse alternative is that they return to our society looking for "some more action." This was Nisbet's concern.