Why our military is so good

Victor Davis Hanson tells why our military today is so outstanding:

We are protected by the most competent, judicious—and lethal—military in the history of civilization. The great tragedy of Iraq is that no one really credits our soldiers for doing the near impossible: they went into the heart of the ancient caliphate, took out a genocidal monster, stayed on to foster consensual government, endured often poisonous attacks from critics at home (Cf. Harry Reid’s the war is “lost”, the slurs from Durbin, Kennedy, Kerry, and Murtha that our boys were terrorists or analogous to Baathists, Pol Pot, Stalin, etc.), and triumphed at a cost less than during a major campaign in World War II (e.g., far less than say Iwo Jima, the Bulge, Okinawa, etc).

Today Obama was boasting that he could redirect soldiers to Afghanistan now that Iraq was quiet—as if in his mere 70 days he had anything to do with the bravery and skill that brought Iraq to its improving state, as if we’ve forgotten that he wanted all troops gone by March 2008, declared the surge a failure, and voted to cut off funding for the war. Iraq was won despite the politicians, contrary to the conventional wisdom, and largely due to the ingenuity of our soldiers.

What is the key to the success of our military, other than the traditional civic militarism as outlined in the Constitution and honed over two centuries of fighting? I can think of five reasons why the 21st -century American military is so successful.

1) There is an officer corps whose members are, to be frank, relics of an American past. They are ossified in amber as it were, and really do believe in passé things like honor, duty, country, God, sacrifice, and the continuation of the American experiment. Meet a Marine colonel, an Army major, an Air Force one-star, or a Navy captain and it is often as if you are talking to a younger version of your grandfather, as if we packed thousands of our best in ice around 1945, and then thawed them out in the 21st century. These odd men and women of the old breed will do almost anything as outlined in the Constitution to ensure that their country—you and I—is safe and continues on in perpetuity.

2) Our enlisted men have a rambunctious, upbeat attitude, if you will. This generation of youth seems unafraid, reckless even, and—despite the demonization in popular culture of the military, the male, physicality, etc—seems to pride in being on the cutting edge of danger. They are superb fighters. Few would wish to test the US Marines; the Marines or Rangers I had met in two visits to Iraq seemed to me far scarier than a masked al-Qaeda terrorist rambling on videos waving his scimitar. Indeed, they were scarier. Talking to a 20-year old Marine in Ramadi with bulging biceps, loaded down with 70 pounds of gear and weaponry, smiling as he lets on that he’s been up for 30 straight hours is a surreal experience.

3) The military has married intellectual life with command. Some of the brightest PhDs I have encountered are Army officers at the LTC and colonel level. The service’s recent efforts to send its best and brightest to graduate history and political science programs are paying real dividends. During the Anbar awakening, I watched a number of presentations by Army colonels on the Iraqi tribal system; they were often more sophisticated and astute talks than what I had usually heard as an academic at scholarly symposia. In short, we have some brilliantly educated and inquisitive—and outspoken—officers who do not see “book” learning at odds at all with Pattonesque audacity. (Now let us hope we can promote this new generation of colonels to generals.)

4) Technology. Something is changing with military technology. New applications and tools seem to be evolving at warp speed. The easily caricatured, clumsy massive industrial complex seems to be outmatched by near instantly created decentralized efforts involving new innovative new drones, body armor, and munitions. The soldier adapts to battlefield electronics as he does video games and the Internet. For all the slander directed at Donald Rumsfeld, few realize very early on he tried to articulate how new high-tech weaponry had added enormous lethality to military units, without a commensurate increase in manpower. When 90% rather than 10% of bombs and artillery shells hit the intended target it really does mean that in some situations (tragically not always in boots-on-the-ground counterinsurgency), technology can substitute for mere numbers. Technology has not redefined war—itself a human enterprise that stays constant as long as human nature remains the same—but it has surely accelerated its processes, and so far Americans have mastered it like none other.

5) The sinews of war. Someone at Wal-Mart must have taken over the logistics of the US military. Our troops are drowning in “stuff”. Mountain-high pallets of bottled water in the desert. Cat scanners in a tent city. On-line “cafes” amid the IEDs. 3,000-calorie dinners in the middle of nowhere. Bar-codes on everything from ammo boxes to boxes of plastic forks. We joke about this surfeit of things, and how it makes our military slow and plodding. In truth, they can go almost anywhere in the world, and in hours clone almost any landscape in America, from the sewage and power systems to the communications and food. There has never been any logistics remotely comparable to that of the present-day American military.

The real story of the last eight years is not really the political blunders in Iraq, but the ability of the military to adapt, change, and find victory when all said it was lost. In the dark days ahead, I suspect President Obama, once his soft-power initiatives to find peace with Iran, Venezuela, Russia, radical Islam, and Syria, begin to falter (I hope they do not, but suspect they will), will thank god he is commander-in-chief of the military we have. In his accustomed Novus ordo seclorum fashion, he talks always of the “mess” he inherited, never of the rare military he also inherited.

One on His right hand and one on His left

Our sermon yesterday was based on the text about James and John asking to sit at Christ’s right hand and His left when He comes into His glory (Mark 10:36-38). This angered the other disciples, but, interestingly, Jesus did not rebuke them. He wants us to ask boldly. James and John didn’t know what they were asking for, really, since they did not then understand the way of the Cross. But they were given distinct blessings: James was the first of the Disciples to be martyred, and John was the last of the Disciples to die. But the two who actually were at Christ’s right hand and His left when He came into His glory were the two thieves who were crucified with him, “one on his right and one on his left” (Mark 15:27).

Then, exploring the end of the text, in which Christ says greatness and authority lies in servanthood, Pastor Douthwaite brought it all around to vocation:

And where does this all lead? To heaven . . . yes, in the end. But not yet. For now, we live in the vomit of sin. No longer our own sin – for Jesus lifts us up and cleanses us and restores us with His life and forgiveness! Now, it is our neighbor’s. That we go to Him as Christ has come to us. That we serve Him as Christ has served us. That we forgive Him as Christ has forgiven us. That we love Him as Christ has loved us. And you are never more glorious than when you do. For when you do, Christ is living in you, and through you.

The European mentality

More from Charles Murray, who cites “journalistic and scholarly accounts of a spreading European mentality that goes something like this”:

Human beings are a collection of chemicals that activate and, after a period of time, deactivate. The purpose of life is to while away the intervening time as pleasantly as possible.

If that’s the purpose of life, then work is not a vocation, but something that interferes with the higher good of leisure. If that’s the purpose of life, why have a child, when children are so much trouble? If that’s the purpose of life, why spend it worrying about neighbors? If that’s the purpose of life, what could possibly be the attraction of a religion that says otherwise?

I stand in awe of Europe’s past. Which makes Europe’s present all the more dispiriting. And should make it something that concentrates our minds wonderfully, for every element of the Europe Syndrome is infiltrating American life as well. The European model provides the intellectual framework for the social policies of the Democratic Party, and it faces no credible opposition from Republican politicians.

Murray goes on to discuss new scientific research that undercuts the assumptions of Social Democracy, such as the notion that human beings are malleable and can be shaped by governmental policies. I’m struck by how Murray is drawing on, in effect, the Reformation doctrine of the Three Estates and the doctrine of vocation.

What we all owe to each other

The last of “The Table of Duties” from Luther’s SMALL CATECHISM:

You younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time. 1 Peter 5:5-6.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself….I exhort…that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men. Romans 13:9; 1 Timothy 2:1.

Being young is a vocation, though like others it doesn’t last. Here the relationship dyad is within the Bible verse: the young and the old. But already the Apostle Peter generalizes his point to fit all of the vocational relationships that have gone before: “All of you be submissive to one another.” And avoid pride, the bane of all relationships and of all vocations.

The final instruction is also for all Christians, summing up the point of them all and the purpose of all vocations: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

And so endeth our series on the Catechism.


Masters and Servants

In Luther’s SMALL CATECHISM, the next “holy orders” in “The Table of Duties” are those of employees and employers.

Servants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. Ephesians 6:5-8.
Masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him. Ephesians 6:9.

One of my complaints about most modern translations of the Bible is that they render what the KJV gives as “servants” as “slaves.” These are generally the very translations that insist on translating ancient concepts into contemporary equivalents. In this case, that would make sense. A “slave” in the Greco-Roman world was not the same thing as race-based slavery, which is what the word connotes in modern English. Yes, Greco-Roman douloi–who did much of the physical labor in that pre-cash economy–were not the kind of paid servants on the order of Jeeves. They were owned by their masters, but they sometimes served for only a time. At any rate, if all Scripture is profitable for our use, as it is, it must speak to our own day and our own economy. If you work for someone, your boss is a kind of “master” and you are a kind of “slave,” or, better, “bondservant,” or just “servant.”

Notice that even in the employee-employer relationship–or, if you like, slave and master–God is hidden in vocation. The servant is to work as a servant of Christ. The employee–or slave–is to pretend that he is serving the Lord, not men. The master is to treat the worker in the awareness that the master too has a Master–the Lord–to whom he will answer, Someone who shows no partiality to social or economic status. Again, the master and servant are to love and serve each other in their particular duties. in light of God’s presence.

The vocation of children and having children

The next dual relationship that constitutes a “holy order” according to the Table of Duties in Luther’s SMALL CATECHISM is that of parents and children:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” Ephesians 6:1-3.

Being a parent is a good example of both authority and service in vocation. Of course parents have authority over their children, but notice how so much of parenting consists of self-sacrifice on their behalf (all that work that children demand; taking care of them; cleaning them up; driving them around; spending money for what they need; etc.). And yet, because we love our children, we don’t really mind!

So in what sense is being a child a vocation? What are the proper duties of children? How can they love and serve their neighbors in that particular calling?