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September 22, 2010
Past in review...By Greyhawk
"Dynamite in the hands of a child is not more dangerous than a strong policy weakly carried out."
That's a quote from Winston Churchill - a man more quotable than most. You may have an image in mind of Britain's prime minister during the Second World War, a man whose long life in the political arena well-prepared him for his role. And yes, the quote is from that Winston Churchill - but then again, it isn't... that was 23-year-old Winston Churchill, opining specifically on his nation's policy on Afghanistan in 1897, but doing so with a truth on broad terms.
Maybe that's an obvious truth to twenty-somethings of any generation; then again maybe it's something some people go through life without fully grasping. Here's another example of something blindingly obvious being put into words.
"...we've got to get the job done [in Afghanistan], and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous pressure over there."
That one's from 46-year-old Senator Barack Obama, opining on his country's Afghanistan policy in 2007. I concur with that - I'm fairly certain most people would. I've no doubt General Stan McChrystal did, and others I could name. Hey, while blindingly obvious, it implies a strong policy.
As for carrying it out - here's a more recent example from the same guy:
Privately, he told Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to push his alternative strategy opposing a big troop buildup in meetings, and while Mr. Obama ultimately rejected it, he set a withdrawal timetable because, "I can't lose the whole Democratic Party."
And even there you have to consider the definition of "rejected" - as it also appears here:
Obama rejected the military's request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end...
But obviously Barack Obama has learned from history - his immediate predecessor lost all but the most steadfast of his own party on Iraq. (And Obama himself had handily defeated a guy who'd often said "I'd rather lose an election than a war".)
More knowledge of history on display:
I'm old enough to remember Vietnam as TV news myself - but it may come as a surprise to some that history was ongoing even before we were born...
"When the true history of the Expedition, especially the diplomatic side of it, is written, it will not be a very inspiring chapter for school children, or even grownups to contemplate. Having dashed into Mexico with the intention of eating the Mexicans raw, we turn back at the very first repulse and are now sneaking home under cover like a whipped cur with his tail between his legs."
That's General Pershing's private correspondence to his father in law, regarding the Punitive Expedition to Mexico in 1916, (Winston Churchill was busy with World War One at the time...) a retaliatory effort launched after Pancho Villa crossed into the US and attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico.
Regardless of his level of personal disgust with the "diplomatic side of it", in his official report Pershing concluded:
"The splendid services that the regular troops comprising this expedition have performed under most adverse conditions again proves that for natural ability, physical endurance, unflinching persistence, general efficiency, and unquestioned loyalty and devotion to duty the well trained officers and men of the regular army are unexcelled by the troops of any other nation."
Left unsaid is that responsibility for any perceived failure lies elsewhere. General Pershing, being no twenty-something, felt no need to state the obvious.
Obama rejected the military's request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. "I'm not doing 10 years," he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. "I'm not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars."
That's a longer version of a previous quote - as is this:
...we've got to get the job done [in Afghanistan], and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous pressure over there. It means that we have enough civilian support, agricultural specialists, people who are engineers, people who are building schools and so forth...
But enough of that. Politics is no place for a milblogger, some might say. And I'm no economist either, so I'll keep to the boring old history here.
It was only natural that the Viceroy, himself, should view with abhorrence the prospect of military operations on a large scale, which must inevitably lead to closer and more involved relations with the tribes of the Afghan border. He belonged to that party in the State which has clung passionately, vainly, and often unwisely to a policy of peace and retrenchment. He was supported in his reluctance to embark on warlike enterprises by the whole force of the economic situation. No moment could have been less fitting: no man more disinclined...
Posted by Greyhawk / September 22, 2010 3:33 PM | Permalink
If you've been following our ongoing Malakand series here, you'll be glad to know others have been examining that obscure old text, too. General Petraeus' reading list for Afghanistan:So what would be Petraeus's reading list? The answer came back: Tho... Read More
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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