The term “military activism” is not an oxymoron for people whose defining war was Vietnam. But it could be a contradiction in terms for many of us who have retired, because our defining war was World War II. We were growing up during the 1940’s, the decade when most everyone had come to agreement that World War II was a “just” war. We were united; no one protested.
The meaning of the term, for me as I first use it in this post, is “anti-war or pro-war activism within the ranks of the active military or among veterans.” From the Korean War on, some American people – including some veterans – became disenchanted with the government’s stated justifications for going to war. Vietnam was the impetus for the emergence of the first really significant antiwar veteran activism. Senator John Kerry cut his teeth in such public service soon after he returned from his stint in the jungles and waterways of southeast Asia.
What is the current level of antiwar or pro-war military activism associated with the war in Iraq today? An article in my current Democratic Strategist linked to a fascinating story in the Washington Monthly that was the basis for today’s S/SW blog post. It’s title is “How a Democrat Can Get My Vote: Advice from seven recent war veterans.” It opens with these statistics:
Three years ago, in 2004, 60 percent of military voters polled by the Military Times identified themselves as Republican. Today, that number is down to 46 percent, or less than half. The reason for this change is obvious: Iraq has gone from bad to worse. Afghanistan, too, is in trouble.
The article ends with links to 7 short and very interesting essays (see *list below) “from a group of military veterans of various ranks and political persuasions, each of whom wrote a short essay in response,” as well as a link to, quoting further from the Monthly,
“The Bitter End, a reported piece by Washington Monthly national security correspondent Spencer Ackerman, who argues, based on what he has seen in Iraq and at home, that Democrats are right on the merits of withdrawal from Iraq but misguided on what message that will send to our troops there.
Exploring the term “military activism” further, I was surprised when it became apparent that the government can also be the activists. I found a fascinating article from 2002 entitled, “The ‘New Warfare’ and the New American Calculus of War,” the Project on Defense Alternatives Briefing Memo #26, written by Carl Conetta, 30 September 2002. Table of contents:
2. The new calculus of war
3. The new warfare
4. The poverty of analysis: a splendid little war?
5. Precision attack, chaotic outcomes
6. The new warfare: disappearing “the civilian”?
“Rosy scenario-with cautions?” – Quoting the author’s introduction reveals what might have been the “prevailing wisdom” in military thinking at the beginning of the war in Iraq:
One legacy of the 20th century’s great conflicts was the emergence of a general societal presumption against war: the simple idea that war should be an instrument of last and infrequent resort. Although this lesson came at a very high price, it has proved difficult to retain. Especially since the end of the cold war, the idea has been in retreat. A new cost-benefit calculus is at work in American policy discourse and practice — one accepting a lowered threshold for the use of force as an instrument of US policy.
Important in shaping this development was the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of global superpower conflict. This geostrategic revolution elevated America’s relative power position to one of distinct military primacy and it mitigated concerns about the possibility that regional intervention might escalate to the level of an all-consuming nuclear conflagration.
Also important in altering America’s war calculus has been the putative “revolution in military affairs” (or “RMA”) which is associated with developments in the field of information technology. RMA capabilities are supposed to give the United States the capacity to fight regional wars surgically and to conclude them rapidly with minimal casualties and collateral damage. Much as the geostrategic revolution served to relax concerns about war escalation, emergent RMA capabilities have served to mitigate the fear that regional intervention might lead to “quagmires” reminiscent of the Vietnam War.
. . . the cautions – The author’s closing two paragraphs are eerily prophetic:
The increasing role of special operations troops and covert operatives, and the increased dependence on indigenous ethnic militias, may also have the effect of blurring the military-civilian boundary. In addition, the use of ethnic militias or other local irregular troops as proxies raises issue of control and accountability. In the aftermath of the Afghan war, some elements of the Northern Alliance may have committed grave and systematic breeches of the Geneva Conventions, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross and several human rights organizations. At minimum, this could reflect badly on the United States and tarnish the moral authority of the war against terrorism.
The demise of the Soviet Union elevated America to a position of unparalleled global military superiority. Today the United States accounts for more than forty percent of world defense spending. In the shadow of the 11 September attacks, US military power may seem more relevant than ever. But America’s preponderance of military power does not settle the question of how to employ this instrument or when. Nor does it tell us how best to balance this instrument with others in order to meet today’s unique challenges. Although these questions are urgent ones, we cannot hope to answer them wisely without a better accounting of both the “new warfare” and the dynamics associated with military activism in the new era.
“Not so fast,” says Russia. In the face our current president’s (OCP) weird missile defense proposal for/against(?) Russia, Vladimir Putin has been exercising a bit of military activism himself. The ContraCosta Times’ headlines the dilemma into which OCP has again gotten us, “Bush assuages, assails Putin on defense.” To quote,
President Bush gave Russian President Vladimir Putin a double-edged message Tuesday, reassuring him that he has nothing to fear from a missile-defense system that he abhors, then slapping him verbally for backsliding on democratic reforms.
Bush’s words threatened to inflame his already-tense relationship with Putin and to overshadow the Group of Eight Summit that opens today in Germany.
Bush said he intends to tell Putin when the two leaders meet Thursday at the G-8 summit that the U.S. plan to build a Europe-based missile-defense system poses no threat to Russia.
*The Seven Veterans’ Essays:
- One Soldier’s Story:An Introduction – by Phillip Carter
- Withdraw Decisively – by Ross Cohen
- Stay and Fight – by Garth Stewart
- Understand the WarWe’re In – by Andrew Exum
- Elect More Jim Webbs – by Clint Douglas
- Bash the Generals – by Melissa Tryon
- Ask Americans to Serve – by Nathaniel Fick