BBC BLOGS - Justin Webb's America
« Previous | Main | Next »

America's generals

Justin Webb | 23:49 UK time, Monday, 10 December 2007

What is Fort Leavenworth for? Here in frozen Kansas, it stands on what was once the United States's western border, now the centre of the nation, far removed from the outside world, far from any possible conflict, far from the centres of political power (sorry Kansas City) and far from the kind of influence it once had, you might think.

Major General William Caldwell in Baghdad, April 2007You would be wrong though - just as important as the efforts of General Petraeus on the front line are the efforts of another general with Iraq experience, William Caldwell.

He wants the US military to succeed in the 21st Century not just by fighting, but by thinking. Leavenworth hums with brainy soldiers - and (oddly for Kansas?) an interest in evidence-based knowledge. Fox News is still on the TVs but nobody is watching: they are too busy thinking about cultural issues in modern soldiering, thinking about soft power, thinking about things from the Iranian perspective.

Say what? Look at the summer issue of Military Review with a piece entitled Surrounded: Seeing the World from Iran's Point Of View. Two thoughts: first the US military is already streets ahead of the politicians, Republican and Democrat, when it comes to learning the lessons of Iraq.

Second, if David Petraeus, and a few brother officers, ever thought about standing for president, the outside world might see it as evidence of American militarism - but the reverse would be the case. America's senior soldiers are oddly unmilitaristic in outlook.

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 12:39 AM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • John Kecsmar wrote:

This is not an unsurprising finding. I used to do martial arts, i did so for some 15 years. When one starts, the feeling is of being omnipotent and able to face any foe and win, and always eager to try ones new skills. But the more you practice the more you learn and the more Sparring (fighting) you do, the less you actually covet it, for seeing its effects and also that it does become easier to win, especially against a lesser opponent. And one quickly realises the best way is always peaceful, not using the arsenal or "force" that is within ones ability.
Maybe there is some sign of future peace or humility by the US if such generals are in charge!

  • 2.
  • At 12:54 AM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Jade wrote:

Great piece..

  • 3.
  • At 01:18 AM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Justin wrote:

I am glad Justin Webb has said this and I agree with him 100%.

I remember following the 2004 elections when Genereal Wesley Clark stood as a candidate for the presidency.

Knowing Clark from his control of the conflict in Yougoslavia and as an ignorant Briton, I was suprised to see Clark standing for nomination as a DEMOCRAT. I always thought the American military were devout Republicans. After all, isn't that partly how Bush rigged the 2000 election? - using dodgy ballots from American servicemen posted abroad - knwoing that they would vote Republican.

Alas no. Reading up more on Clark I discovered that his views were profoundly liberal. It seems he had learned a great deal from his time in the field and was even more left-wing than many of the other Democrat candidates.

And despite the fact that he was a Republican, that great American General and President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, had profoundly left-leaning views with regards to the military. He often warned of the consequences of mixing the military with big business. And, of course, he was proven right.
His presidency was very peaceful with America participating in no war.

And let's not forget that other great American hero - General Andrew Jackson - who was one of the first US Presidents and also a Democrat.

In Britain, we also have many members of the military who are left-leaning in their thinking. I think in particular of former Royal Marine and leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, Paddy Ashdown. He recently told a journalist that in his view liberalism is the only logical way forward.

As a socialist, I do not necessarily subscribe to all liberal views but it does appear that the idea that people in the military are die-hard right-wing conservatives is very wrong.

There are many people in the military who, having experienced first hand the dangers of dangerous idealogies such as neo-conservatism, have a very liberal outlook.

  • 4.
  • At 01:25 AM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Bernard I. Turnoy wrote:

The American Soldier became a thinking man {or woman} decades ago. When conscription ended in the United States {1973} and the initial period of socio-economics driving enlistments diminished, the American Military Services evolved into an elite corp of many well educated and technically capable people [both 'regular' and reserve]. These evolutions were brought about in no small part by technological changes in how war is waged and where it's waged. In the post 9 / 11 world American soldiers on the ground in hostile lands need to know their enemy, all combatants {and civilians} and now more than ever. Indeed, we've seen our politicans and intelligence services {oxymorons that they've proven to be and - at best, unreliable} and that those with boots on the ground are both key intelligence gatherers and diplomats.
Those who kiss babies for a living, or those who purport to gather intelleigence have shown they can't be relied upon when it comes to managing a military campaign. From the National War College, our Acadamies and from within our ranks we can rely. Those on Capital Hill - of either party, and in the Executive Branch, have demonstrated their fundamental incompetence and/or inability to comprehend the issues at hand. GW Bush, Rumsfled, Rove, Wolfowitz and those of such ilk should never have had the power to make such monumental decisions - without much debate and with little media and/or Congressinal oversight. Now that the entire malaise of Iraq has been proven a false premise, it's time to let the generals get on with their jobs - as we prepare for withdrawal.

  • 5.
  • At 01:33 AM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Jame wrote:

To be perfectly honest, I really hope they are smarter than the politicians. Politicians are elected because at least 1 day(2if you count primaries), people like them.
Military commanders get to higher up positions because they are good at their "jobs" . If you ever hear any of the even ex military leaders like Wesley Clark talk you realize that they are smarter than everyone else when it comes to military issues. If they weren't they wouldn't have gotten to such elevated positions.
It really makes sense that they would have an the most intelligent view on Iraq. They are the ones fighting the war.
Apologizes if incoherent, I am starting my fall exams in less than 48 hours.

I've been to Leavenworth. Not a pretty picture. And yes, Kansas is not the best place to be in the winter -- seven winters there was more than enough!

I'm still hoping that Lawrence, Kansas (my law school alma mater) is a liberal bastion in a sea of red that will bring a few Democratic votes.

  • 7.
  • At 03:55 AM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • pete goswell wrote:

The U.S. Constitution, written by intelligent winners of the 13 States Revolution against Great Britain in 1776. Was written to curtail the power of the Military, and it served us well.
Since the end of World War 2, however, thanks to the power of Lobbyists, the gutting of the Anti Trust Legislation,the
immense power of Hollywood, Television and Tabloid Newspapers. Scandal, Greed & Televangelism have "Dumbed down the Voting Public and produced a race of Politicians, with few exceptions, totally without Moral Fiber. Is it at all surprising then that we now have Generals, better educated and Far Smarter than the Politicians!

  • 8.
  • At 07:29 AM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Jackie Rawlings wrote:

Each appointed General does as the White House tells him to do or he's fired. None of the Generals are looking out for the soldiers. Our current Military is made up of all chiefs no Indians and it's a mess. We have learned that the plan to illegally invade Iraq was done long before 9/11 and as you've seen each Commander picked by the White House lies and when they do tell the truth their fired. A Military is as good as it's leader and you see the USA has an idiot as Liar-in-Chief so this is the result complete chaos. Cheney is and has been working for the Oil Companies and not the American people. Gates is a joke even to the Russian President. Connie Rice is just taking messages from Cheney to foreign leaders because she is clue less as to what a Secretary of State does. The US Government is run for criminals who call themselves Christians but follow Satan.

Now even Republican candidates are saying they have talked to God or God has called them. Tell me these people aren't wacko.

  • 9.
  • At 10:18 AM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • James Sinclair wrote:

I am not surprised to hear that the military is streets ahead in terms of lessons learned from Iraq. After all, these are men and women for whom mistakes cost the lives of close friends and colleagues. The military also has an ethos of coruscating honesty in communication and critical analysis, something rarely seen from those on the Hill.

As you may know Justin, the US military doctrine which used to be divied solely into Offensive and Defensive ops has now been joined by a third limb, that of Stability and Reconstruction ops. This is a major shift in policy and suggests that the US is digging in for the long term in its overseas ops. Indeed one sees evidence of that in the PRT 's in Afghanistan and the renewed interest in Africa (albeit as a response to Chinese money and influence). The clear direction now involves smart warfare, working with local civpop and militia to create the circumstances that allow peace and democracy to flourish.

It's just a shame it has taken the lives of so many in Iraq for the DOD, DOS and USAID to work this out and finally (perhaps) begin working together.

  • 10.
  • At 11:13 AM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Chris Emery wrote:

What General does not realize the futility of war!

  • 11.
  • At 11:16 AM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Andrew Young wrote:

Having been in the military, it is my observation that Generals and Sergeant Majors are generally extremely intelligent and the most pragmatic people you are likely to meet.

Their political masters on the other hand tend to be, and this is another big generalization, self-serving, arrogant, manipulative and conceited. They too are usually not stupid, but, forgive the bad pun, tend to march to a very different drum.

It is also important to remember that a professional soldier accepts orders and carries them out to the best of their abilities, no matter how badly conceived they may be. History has shown that most bad military decisions are forced upon the military by non-military people.

Lastly anyone who has seen any combat will know that it should only be used as a last resort and after all other means have been exhausted. The old saying that war is about who is left and not who is right always comes to mind - war seldom ever has a positive net sum gain. Experienced Generals and NCO's know that. Politicians on the other hand will continue to sell the romanticized notions of "right", "glory" and the "moral high-ground" as long as it serves their interests and as long as we continue to allow them to do so.

  • 12.
  • At 11:30 AM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Allen T. wrote:

Justin said: "And let's not forget that other great American hero - General Andrew Jackson - who was one of the first US Presidents and also a Democrat."

The Democratic party and its ideas of today did not exist back then.

Quotes from Andrew Jackson:

"The Bible is the rock on which this Republic rests."

"You must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessing"

""In a free government the demand for moral qualities should be made superior to that of talents"

Sounds more like a Republican. Fact is, back in those times, and before, many qualities of the republicans were much more the norm than the socialism you desire and admire. Try again.

  • 13.
  • At 11:43 AM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Anonymous Californian wrote:

Mr. Webb:

Hoo boy. THIS is what you've been reduced to--taking small shots at Creationists and those who watch FoxNews (as credible a news sources as the BBC, just on the other side of the political spectrum) and supported by a small cadre of extreme leftists?

Kansas City (the big one) is in Missouri, not Kansas. Odd that no commentator has yet brought this up, unless--as suspect--they are primarily Europeans and not Americans, the Americans having been, by-and-large, offended in one way or another by your articles which demonstrate your lack of understanding of even some basics of American culture and the American people, although you've stated that you've lived here for about a decade. Get out of D.C. and spend more time in other parts of the country. Even in San Francisco, ten years worth of living there would have imparted to you some degree of knowledge about Americans.

John Kecsmar:

Martial arts sure didn't help out China in the two Opium Wars or the Boxer Rebellion, did they? You do have a point that because the United States' military is so powerful, they tend to believe that they can afford to take less strict measures. In other words, they tie their hands behind their backs, and thus you get situations such as Vietnam and, at least until recently, Iraq.


Members of the American Armed Forces do tend to be Republicans. Andrew Jackson was a Democrat--the Republicans hadn't come into existence at the time and the Democrats were a much more warlike group than they are today (they were 'hawks'). As for Clark, you have one there, but he's more of an anomaly than the norm. And the 2000 election was not 'stolen' by soldiers (who have the right to vote just as much as the ordinary citizen) or otherwise. Go look at your American history again. It (a candidate winning the electoral votes, but not the popular vote) has happened before. There's also a counterpoint to your statement: in the 1996 election, Bill Clinton sent members of the navy on patrol off the east coast with little advance notice shortly before election day. Because of this, the soldiers were not able to apply for absentee ballots and missed their chance to vote. This was because they would tend to vote Republican. THAT's rigging an election.

Bernard Turnoy:

The United States has not had conscription. On occasion, young men have been drafted, and young men still register for the draft today.

Now, onto the topic directly. American 'senior soldiers' are not "unmilitaristic in outlook." They have common sense. To defeat an enemy, you would be smart to be an expert on them. Not only their capabilities and numbers, but also their motivations and their culture (and religion). The American military, or people, is not warmongering. You could argue that Americans are a bit cowardly. American soldiers fight on foreign soil so that foreign soldiers won't fight on American soil. If other countries had that option, suspect many of them would take it, too.

Anyhoo, if this actually is posted (granted, only a little bit actually is a comment on main substance of the article), there's a little bit more information for you.

  • 14.
  • At 11:49 AM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • David Endsworth wrote:

Interesting, but not wholely surprising.

I've been involved in "war games," with diplomatic and military types working together - usually, the politicos are the ones favouring military action & those with a military background pushing for the diplomatic options.

I guess that if you have seen first-hand the consequences of military action, you are more likely to emphasise the importance of the diplomatic options available.

  • 15.
  • At 11:57 AM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Jeff wrote:

James Sinclair

'As you may know Justin, the US military doctrine which used to be divied solely into Offensive and Defensive ops has now been joined by a third limb, that of Stability and Reconstruction ops'

Your third limb doesn't seem to be that novel either as a concept or an actuality.

The US military has been involved in stability and reconstruction ops since at least the end of WWII.

Or do you think they had no role in the evolution of a democratic Germany and Japan? :)

'America's Generals' at the time included General George C. Marshall and General Douglas MacArthur.

Justin may wish to arrange some further visits to the US military.

There are quite a huge number of thinking professionals to be found at the services academies snd on out from those.

Thinking - nothing new.:)

  • 16.
  • At 12:16 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • B W Lilly wrote:

As an engineering professor at one of the huge public US universities, I've had many young students who went on to careers in the military, and they've all been very bright and motivated young people. So I'm not at all surprised that when Bush finally realized he was losing Iraq, he
turned to the likes of Petraus and away from boot lickers like Tommy Franks, who was never anything but a craven yes man.

Nevertheless, I am profoundly disappointed in how the general officers in the Army conducted themselves during this war. I honestly thought that more of them would have the courage to sacrifice their own careers to save the Army. Instead, aside from General Shinseki, they all waited until they were safely retired to speak truth to power.

Imagine if four or five two and three star generals had resigned en masse in 2003, and gone to the press with their outrage at Rumsfeld. Not only would the Army not be in the shape it's in, but tens of thousands of Iraqis would still be alive, as well. As much as I respect the Army, I do feel that the generals have a lot to answer for.

  • 17.
  • At 12:32 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Les Hamilton wrote:

There are many stereotypes of generals. History has shown them as cagey self-serving egoists, drunken cowards, incompetent boobs, well-loved frontline leaders or icy tacticians sacrificing men for dirt. The military used to see history as the study of the last campaign as a lesson for the one after. However, it’s also been said that what was learned was only to be able to re-fight the last battles in a different way not to fight the new battles coming their way.
Citizen officers have no place in combat anymore. The soldiers themselves are better educated and have access to military history and tactics that would surpass the knowledge of many officers of the past. As well, the expectation of soldiers today is that they are not going to be sacrificed except for significant outcomes. Remember the incidents of fragging in Vietnam.
I knew a lieutenant at the time who had soldiers under his command who had more experience than he did and were very dispirited. He felt the only way he survived his tour was to attend to their safety and ignore the push from higher echelons.
So, yes I would expect to see the new breed of generals and officers looking into new fields of academia in order to learn all about their enemy. It could be that the first line of the next military engagements will be lawyers, diplomats, hackers and accountants.

  • 18.
  • At 12:36 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Brent wrote:

When generals are much more competent than elected leaders they have sometimes felt compelled to act to save their country. How many Americans would welcome a strong government that could mandate change? Is Mr. Webb describing the future of the United States?

  • 19.
  • At 01:06 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Stephen Robbins wrote:

It has happened before - George Washington was a good soldier (in the British Army initially!) and so was Dwight D. Eisenhower. Time for another one!

  • 20.
  • At 01:14 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

We expect our most advanced military thinkers to be making plans for wars well into the future fought on different kinds of battle fields with different kinds of weapons. The war in Iraq has been a very cheaply fought war by any reasonable standards, the media exaggeration is a pack of lies. In nearly 5 years, the US has lost about 3500 to 4000 killed, about as many as die in motor vehicle accidents in a typical month, it has suffered around 25,000 wounded, about as many as are injured in motor vehicle accidents during the average 4 day span, and cost about 1 trillion dollars, barely over 1% of GDP. That's why on the home front, it's been business as usual. Even so, Americans don't like to see or hear about their soldiers coming home in body bags. Therefore, the use of technology to get American fighters off the battlefield and out of harms way looks like the ultimate goal, future wars being fought with robot soldiers. The first glimmerings can be seen in drone planes which can monitor the battlefield for days and kill targets when they are found, their operators half a world away in air conditioned video game rooms. There are always far more advanced weapons in planning and development stages than is evident to the public.

The reason there are no mass protests in American streets over the war is that there is no military draft, all of the soldiers are volunteers. The Vietnam war protests in the US were not about ideology but about unwillingness to be forced to risk dying in a war. The military does not want conscripts ever again. There are and will be enough Americans who are enamored with the notion of battle to where they will not care if they risk becoming a casualty. Many even pay to play at war games as civilians as a kind of hobby.

Justin #3, Ike ran as a Republican because he felt the Democrats had dominated politics for so long (20 years), it was time for a change and that the two party system was in jeopardy. The Democrats tried to recruit Ike also. The Democrats are the party of war. They brought us WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam. Iraq I was a relatively minor war, Iraq II has been a unique exception. Both Iraq wars, especially II was very popular at the time with most of the entire population and both parties in Congress. How quickly people forget.

It is well to remember that Rumsfeld was a civilian. His contribution to the US military will be the beginning of a transition period to where fewer and fewer combat soldiers will be necessary to win battles because their efforts will be multiplied many times by technology and new strategies. The actual campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussein was brilliant taking only three weeks and a complete surprise to him, he expected a replay of the first war with extended bombing, not a ground invasion. It would have been even more effective had Turkey's parliament not voted by a majority of 2 votes to deny the US access into Iraq through their territory, a betrayal (especially as a NATO ally) we don't particularly hold against them. The shortcoming of the war was the aftermath which was not well thought out or executed at all but the war itself was very well executed. This must have disheartened military planners in would be adversaries like Russia and other envious nations like France terribly. They simply have no comparable capabilities.

Pete Gowsell #7
The Constitution was not written to curtail the power of the military, it was to curtail the power of the government. It's only mention of the military was to outlaw quartering of soldiers in civilian homes as the British had imposed during their barbaric colonial rule. Still, I think Union soldiers took up residence in large private homes in the South during the Civil war as the Confederacy was losing.

Jackie Rawlings #8
Any study of the Cuban Missile crisis will show that President Kennedy was very concerned that unless he took decisive action, the generals would take it for him. Ultimately, when the imminent threat to US national security is immediate and real, we don't actually know what could or will happen. The US military is without doubt the most effective fighting force in its own history or anyone else's. Most times its missions fail, it's because civilian politicians interfere and micromange what they are trying to do.

James Sinclair #9
The military also remembers that on 9-11, the Pentagon was attacked and many people were killed and injured as a result. It learns from its mistakes. The doctrine of pre-emptive war is now firmly established in US policy, the UN Charter be damned because its ostensible goal of collective security is now a clearly proven failure. If the UN cannot protect the military headquarters of its largest most powerful member from major attack, what can it protect?

  • 21.
  • At 01:17 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Brendan Moroso wrote:

It seems that the issue here is a matter of expectation. I personally expect the US Military with its, rather large budget, massive amount of personnel and access to classified information to be streets ahead of more then just the politicians. I expect it to be ahead of the academics as well. However, I think its safe to say that those very important and skilled soldier scholars at Leavenworth are still, despite their first hand experiences and large taxpayer provided budget, only on par with the academics at places like Kings College London’s Department of War Studies. I know it is asking a lot but I expect better from the US Military.

  • 22.
  • At 01:34 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • DANG TRONG KHOA wrote:

This new crop of U.S generals along with Ms Rice's State Department could save this Bush's presidency and burnish America's image all over the world.As an admirer of the USA (there're still some left)I was saddened by bad news from Iraq. For some time now the picture looks less bleak due to new perspectives in the way of conducting warfare. And this may lead to an honourable disengagement. A weakened and less respected U.S Army would be no good for the world. Of the 2 or 3 hegemons nowadays, the U.S is the most benevolent.

  • 23.
  • At 01:42 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Bill wrote:

The emphasis on critical thought has been part of the military since the end of the draft. A decade ago it was the Powell Doctrine that you don't go to war as a half measure and you fight to win if you do. One result is that most realize that confronting a US/Western force in open combat is a recipe for disaster. Now "asysmetric" warfare requires more than firepower, and more understanding of the people you wish to aid. It is going to be a gradual process but one that is ongoing.

For Poster #3 Justin, your facts on the "dodgy" ballots are way off base. Absentee ballots are often times the only way service members can vote. The Democratic Party launched a statewide assault on all absentee ballots because they believed that most would come from servicemembers and expected they would help President Bush. They were no more "dodgy" than the "hanging chads" the Democratic party wanted counted. Remember there were 2 recounts of ALL the votes in Florida so in point of fact President Bush won all three times.

  • 24.
  • At 01:55 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Bob wrote:

Are you saying that soldiers appear to be out-thinking politicians? Politicians cover their assets, for use restriction of a better word, and what they think is rarely what they say. Keeping corporate enablers & special interest groups happy is their goal. Some may indeed be smarter than soldiers but to find out we'd have to be as flies on the wall eavesdropping on phone calls and meetings -- like the current administration's domestic surveillance policy. As for Gen. Petraeus, he lost me when he allowed the White House to edit his battlefield reports before presenting them to congress.

  • 25.
  • At 02:02 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Stephen Cass wrote:

The great Stewart Brand, of Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test fame, and a major figure in the 1960s counter-culture movement (he organized the first "Be-Ins" in San Francisco), wrote a similar piece many years ago, called "Army Green." He made the argument that at a time when a lot of American society was divided along racial lines, he learned his first lessons in racial tolerance from his black drill sergeant while a young private...and that the soldiers were generally ahead of the politicians on most issues.

Only those who have seen war can know how bad it is. It is a shame that most of those making the loudest noise over here in the UK-- both about war and about the US-- have no experience of either.

Some time ago I began to suspect that military men, who's lives are on the line, may actually protect us from the militaristic bluster of politicians who live off the efforts of others.

So one can't help wondering how this might relate to the places like the Philippines -where BBC reporting recently turned a public (political) protest by army officers (already arrested for rebellion) into an "attempted military coup". Perhaps Justin Webb should come and talk to the military here.

On the other hand, the situation is obviously very complex -because the (thinking) US military are here helping the (presumably thinking) Philipine army to fight against the (thinking/unthinking?) rebels whom, presumably oppose the (thinking/unthinking?) government that is supposed to control the (thinking) military.

In many places, we have clearly seen that (even when supported by US politicians) where there is military control over civilians (in Pakistan or Burma, etc.) it is usually a disaster.... How come it is apparently better when unthinking (polemical) politicians control a thinking army?

So is it always better to have a silly tail wagging a clever dog rather than vice versa?

Maybe it is easier for a wise man to correct the errors of fools than it is for a fool to carry out the wishes of a wise man..... Perhaps some clever officer can help solve this conundrum....

  • 27.
  • At 02:15 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Brion Lutz wrote:

American generals looking for "evidence based knowldedge" and "Fox news on the TV" is a contradiction since evidence shows that those who watch Fox News are wrong on the facts about Iraq 80% of the time.

An interesting finding by the University of Maryland Media Center considering US military was wrong about Iraq on 80% of strategy and tactics from starting a war with no "evidence based knowledge", to ignoring the Army's own Chief of Staff who noted that "evidence based knowledge" said 200,000 to 300,000 troops would be needed, to not securing Iraqi military depots, to ignoring the insurgency, to hiring mercenary support armies which have created havoc and ill will. The list is endless.

But here they are in Kansas watching Fox News and planning what? Making the same mistakes about Iran? Making more Fox News "evidence based" mistakes in Iraq?

Turn off Fox News. Put on Al Jazeera in Arabic. When they can do that, then they can be called brainy and using evidence based knowledge.

  • 28.
  • At 03:38 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • paburgos wrote:

Ft Levanworth’s War College is a mandatory stop in career progression for all Army Officers. A senior Captain within the US Army, once selected for Major is strongly encouraged either to attend the War College or a civilian institution in order to attain his Masters Degree. Ft. Levanworth is also home to the Center for Army Lessons Learned, a repository of past military activity that is studied, analyzed and then disseminated to the rest of the Army. Many of the Lessons Learned, along with the Thesis written by students of the War College are freely available to the public at: If you want to know what the future Generals and current commanders of the Army are thinking and writing this is the place to go.

Most of the reporters that I have met in combat operations are naive about everything military and they always have this belief that they have some type of higher intellect that guides their actions and view point. A reporter’s view of war and the Army is 100% political, while a military mind looks at war and the Army in the context of combat units, intelligence, equipment, and people. It was always strange to watch reporters attempt to glean some type of political sense out of the military decision process that was driven by the tactical conditions on the ground and not some political silliness.

I still recall a European reporter asking me how President Bush could authorize one of our tanks to fire on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad and kill one of his friends, a camera man. I couldn’t tell him the truth because we were worlds apart and he wouldn’t understand that the decision to fire at the balcony of the hotel room and kill his friend was not driven by politics. It was simply that his friend was sticking a camera out of the balcony while the tank and the armored column were taking fire from multiple directions. From a distance and looking through the periscope of the tank the young gunner of that tank probably only saw the lens of an optical device tracking his tank from a high position. A military mind would immediately recognize the lens as a possible anti-tank weapon with advanced optics tracking his tank, a grave threat, and the decision to fire would come from the young sergeant commanding the tank. The politics of firing on a Hotel that contained mostly foreign reports was not part of their decision cycle.

In the military, we prided our ability to separate ourselves from politics, but the truth is that whether we liked it or not, the military is an instrument of the political bodies that control us and it is dangerous for us to ignore the politics that we abhor.

  • 29.
  • At 03:39 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Neil McGowan wrote:

The BBC has done nothing except call Putin a KGB stooge for his entire Presidency.

But now they are cheering on yankee generals responsible for 0.5M murders in Iraq, and calling for them to stand for President?

The BBC loves standards so much, it has two of them for every issue.

  • 30.
  • At 03:54 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Robert wrote:

I forget the exact number but something like 90% of American Generals and Admirals are PhDs from top schools; most in engineering and sciences, but also business, history, etc.

Unfortunately Hollywood and the media enjoy depicting senior officers as war mongers and buffoons.

  • 31.
  • At 04:20 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Kim Campbell wrote:

Good basis for an interesting news story. I thought it was the intro for the piece only to discover that it was the whole article. You have only scratched the surface of this story. I hope you are digging deeper and planning to do a full fledge article. Heck, you could get a book out it.

  • 32.
  • At 04:43 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Matt wrote:

They watch Al-Jazeera at the Defense Language Institute-Foreign Language Center at the Presidio in Monterey. While a lot of the officers assigned to the Combined Arms Center at Leavenworth have probably learned Arabic, it probably wouldn't be too useful. I wouldn't accept that Al-Jazeera is any more accurate than Fox news either; they are subject to the same market pressures. At any rate, the CAC staff have access to information generated by both US intelligence agencies and foreign ones, they don't make military decisions based on mass-market cable newscasts. While public media may have become postmodern, our general staff, thankfully, has not.
As to what they are planning: they plan everything. TRADOC has rough plans drawn up for possibilities ranging from likely to nearly impossible. This isn't new, the Prussians started it back in the 19th century, and look where it got them! Having advanced postgraduate education and a central strategic planning operation are proven methods of ensuring that your army is the one better prepared when a war begins.
And on the topic of generals being smarter than their leaders: It's always been that way, since the Athenians repeatedly sacked and re-hired Alcibiades during the Peloponnesian war. It's just part of the nature of democracies that leaders are vain, ambitious and stupid and that people are often easily swayed by them. Normally it falls to Civil and Military advisers to pull everything out of the fire. It's a ridiculous system that works very well all the same.

  • 33.
  • At 06:01 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • sandy wrote:

i just wonder why the question of this whether army thinks better or not??? strange....hello all is the USA at war again.........?

  • 34.
  • At 09:45 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Tony James wrote:

War is too important to be left to politicians - professional soldiers have a far better grasp of what is and isn't possible, and are less willing to put their people in harm's way if it can possibly be avoided. My work brings me into contact with senior military personnel from almost every branch and every country, and they are unanimous in their thinking: the "war on terror" and the current situation in Iraq has been mishandled by the politicians. As one Australian brigadier put it to me the other day, "It's a bloody stupid way to prosecute a war."
Unfortunately the military takes orders from the government, and when a president won't listen to people who know what they're talking about (Colin Powell, for example), then things fail.
I'm glad to hear that the brighter people at the top are getting their due - I've yet to meet one that I haven't liked enormously, with whom I've not been able to debate and discuss issues of the conflict without resorting to the kind of "If it wasn't for us you lot would be speaking German" nonsense.

  • 35.
  • At 10:46 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Steve Boyd wrote:

Neat US military propaganda designed for high school students that have not fully formed central nervous systems. Just right to get them smoking, drinking, and breathing US military industrial complex/"educational" research/new world order/Builderburg/Trilateral commission/Federal Reserve Bank/International Monetary Fund/NAFTA GATT/World Trade Organization/World Bank/World Export Bank/EU/North American Union/North American Supreme Court/Amero/Bush crime family disinformation/poppycock.

  • 36.
  • At 11:21 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Katheryn wrote:

I spent 11 years in the US Army in Military Intelligence, and was stationed in Germany, Panama, at the Pentagon and in several other places. By far the most militant people I encountered were outside of the military. Civilians who knew nothing of the reality of war. Stationed in Frankfurt during the Cold War, I supported Aviation and Artillery units of the 3rd Armored Division. We knew what we would be if the Soviets ever attacked across the Fulda Gap. Cannon fodder. We knew our duty, and would have performed it, but not one soldier I knew wished to go to war.

  • 37.
  • At 11:52 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
  • Colonel Tim Reese wrote:

I had the pleasure of meeting Justin yesterday. Don't know if I'm among the "brainy Soldiers" he met, or among the "lowlife slimeballs, Satanists, neo-con invaders, murderers and terrorists" mentioned by other posters to this blog whom I have not had the pleasure of meeting. You're welcome to visit us out on the Great Plains anytime - wear wool in winter.

As a military historian, the most difficult wartime challenge a nation faces is turning military victory into strategic success. Or to pose it as a question, "How does one turn the defeat of one's enemy (assuming that this can be achieved) into some political outcome that accomplishes the purpose for fighting in the first place?" It is the question that Clausewitz said is the very first and most important that statesmen and military leaders must ask themselves when planning to go to war. Since the Great War and up through today, that question has not been successfully answered in a majority of cases.

Victory in World War II led rather directly to the achievement Allied strategic goals. Though terribly costly in lives and treasure, the near anhilation of Germany and Japan made reconstruction along lines required by the US and the UK relatively easy. It is far more difficult to develop the answer when engaged in an irregular war "among the people" as a distinguished British general has termed it.

To date in the "War on Terror" US policy makers in and out of uniform have been unable to develop and to implement a suitable answer. I have not seen any other nation "post their solution" either. There are positive indications in Iraq of late, and indicators in Afghanistan are mixed. Strategic success is a long war off in both cases.

Answering Clausewitz's question is a very big part of what we try to do out here in icy Kansas.

  • 38.
  • At 03:08 AM on 12 Dec 2007,
  • William Lawson wrote:

The views of Andy Brown(#23) are indicative of the slide we are taking into outright irrationalism, as reason takes a back seat and the shrill infantilism of the left runs amok. To claim equivalence between America, a country which has perhaps done more for civilization than any other country, and Nazi Germany, which enslaved its populace into socialism and attempted genocide, is not characteristic of an objective, rationally minded person.

No Andy, there is no comparison between America and Nazi Germany on any level whatsoever. I also like the way leftists frequently cite Nazi Germany as the worst possible example of oppression they can think of, while at the same time Stalin victims outnumbered Hitler's many times over. Mustn't sully the name of communism, of course!

The US liberated huge portions of the world from Spain at the start of the century, protected Europe from being taken over by Wilhelmine Germany in the Great War, called a unilateral moratorium on War Debts under the Dawes Plan, aided the Allies before Pearl Harbor, chose to destroy Hitlerism before Japan, mobilised more men in World War II and spent more money for victory than any other power, liberated North Africa, France, Germany, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Italy and Austria from the Nazis, and the Far East from the Japanese, launched the $14 Billion Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, saved Berlin from being forced into the Soviet zone of Germany in 1948, protected South Korea and Chile, attempted to her uttermost to protect South Vietnam from the murderous scourges of Communism, it reached the Moon, won more Nobel prizes per capita than any other country, discovered the cures for numerous diseases such as polio, spends more in private philanthropy than any other nation by a significant factor, financed a large part of NATO for over 60 years, masterminded ultimate victory in the Cold War under Ronald Reagan bringing democracy to Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltics, and crushed Milosevic's murderous regime in Kosovo.

How exactly does this compare to Nazi Germany, Andy? Or am I addressing a brick wall when it comes to the truth?

  • 39.
  • At 12:37 PM on 12 Dec 2007,
  • Martin wrote:

Talk about shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted!!!

So how does soooo much thinking account for the huge school boy errors of NO WMD and NO NUKES in Iran.

Great to think so long as you do it before you act!

  • 40.
  • At 12:43 PM on 12 Dec 2007,
  • Dan Marino wrote:

Shame the generals didnt have the balls to speak out until their pensions were secured. They sold their troops down the river when everyone could see Iraq was going to be a huge disaster. There was no plan! Ever! Yet the generals went ahead anyway. A little bit more spine would have been nice, then maybe a few more servicemen would be alive and a heck of a lot of Iraqui civilians would be.

  • 41.
  • At 02:00 PM on 12 Dec 2007,
  • John Kecsmar wrote:

Colonel T.Reese states: " I have not seen any other nation "post their solution" either ".
This is a very valid point. However, there have been many attempts to suggest or give advice to the Iraq problems. But the US Govt refuses to accept any opinion and solution other than its own.
Given the failures over the past 3~4years, why does the US Govt refuse to listen to others and their opnions.
I use the term US Govt. and not US Army, since the Govt dictates to the Army its objective. The US Govts objects are clearly invarinace with the objectives of the US Army.

  • 42.
  • At 02:15 PM on 12 Dec 2007,
  • Edd wrote:

I found Mr Webb's article very interesting and agree with the point made previously that it would have been nice if it was longer and more in-depth (although perhaps not a whole book).

Moreover I would like to thank Colonel Reese for his comments especially given some of the uninformed posturing that have been posted here. He, through Clausewitz's dictum, raises the saddest fact of the US/'Coalition of the Willing' and NATO activities in Iraq and Afghanistan; namely that there was seemingly no plan beyond that of defeating the enemy.

Clausewitz also said 'The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish . . . the kind of war on which they are embarking.'

'On War' was published in 1832 yet sadly it's lessons are seemingly still to be learned by those who lead us.

- * 38.
* At 11:52 PM on 11 Dec 2007,
* Colonel Tim Reese wrote:

"As a military historian, the most difficult wartime challenge a nation faces is turning military victory into strategic success."

Yes -I can imagine this. However, from the reletively little history (and present day evidence) that I know -it would seem that the British have been reletively good at this -whichever side of the victory they have been on. Perhaps US/UK relations -what ever one may think of them, are an example of this. Preserving good relations as victor or looser must surely be part of any politician's (or aristocrat's) statecraft.

In this context, it is intersting to read the complaints that so many of us "do not know America". Perhaps this is true, in the sense that we do not live there and share its belief system -however, it is difficult for anybody living anywhere in the world currently not to "know America" through the way its actions impinge upon their personal daily lives. So in that sense, we all "know America"! (perhaps too well).

Indeed, the world we live in (whether we, or they, like it or not) is primarily the result of American design (one way or another). "Though terribly costly in lives and treasure, the near anhilation of Germany and Japan made reconstruction along lines required by the US and the UK relatively easy." So we may strongly suspect that the problems caused by the war "among the people" are evidence of the failure (as Colonel Tim Reese admits) of American strategic global policies. Indeed, they won the war but are now loosing the peace. Even the collapse of the Soviet Union appears to have encouraged the US to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

It was once (more or less) said that British wars were won and lost on the playing fields of Eton. The relationship between sport (martial arts) and war has been made earlier in a posting here -but it must also be clear that many sports grew out of military training. Perhaps an important aspect of both sport and war is that one must concentrate on the game and not on "winning" or "loosing".

Maybe the commercialisation of everything -including sport -is exactly that which is causing war "among the people" -and undermining American abilities to win the peace.

With the army commercialised, defeat is probably inevitable -but perhaps it takes a soldier politician like Ike to understand that.

  • 44.
  • At 03:53 PM on 12 Dec 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Katheryn #37, Colonel Tim Reese #38;

Thank you for the sacrifice you have made to safeguard our freedom. It was a voluntary act of kindness and courage which makes you both American heroes.

I think most Americans agree that right now we are in a war, a very serious war being fought in a way we have never experienced before. Iraq and Afghanistan are merely components of that war, from a broader viewpoint there is much more to it. It is premature to talk about turning military victory into strategic success, it is not clear that we are going to win, at least that's how it seems to me. We face a new kind of enemy who has invented his own rules and trying to win by fighting only with what we have learned from previous wars may be entirely insufficient. We not only have to learn his rules, we have to devise strategies which will defeat them on their own terms. This may mean that treaties, laws, even our own Constitution as we have historically viewed it could have to be suspended for the duration because its provisions we insist on during peacetime may thwart any such strategy which has any hope of success. It's a very difficult choice the American people and government will have to make together but it is not unprecedented.

Right now the public perception I think is that the US is a nation under siege, not just in the traditional sense but in a very real way. Its enemies can be anywhere, everywhere, and nowhere making effective countermeasures extremely difficult. The battlefield is the entire world including cyberspace, this is a World War. New ingenious methods will be necessary, creative thinking to anticipate and deflect attacks vital to winning.

The greatest impediment to winning I think is the political will to fight as effectively as we can. Those whom Katheryn calls "the most militant" are those most alarmed and naturally they have the American penchant for wanting effective action now. It is not out of the desire for conquest or hatred of any nation or people but fear which drives their attitudes. Others whom some might call "liberals" seem to want to placate the enemy by making concessions, trying to understand his motivation and satisfy his demands through non military means. But the more we learn about this enemy, the more impossible that seems, his goal being our utter annihilation as a society and its replacement with a regressive theocracy that would deny all of us any rights except those he is willing to confer. Basically, his terms appear to be our unconditional surrender. As we are at least in part paralyzed by this dilemma, he grows increasingly stronger, the possibility of our own victory diminishes, the ultimate cost of the battle to our civilization greater. It isn't clear how much we can apply from the history of traditional warfare to win this new kind of war.

BTW Katheryn, as you surely know, while it is true that you were on what would be the front line geographically in the opening battles had World War III escalated into a hot shooting war and been among the first casualties, in all likelihood the war would have escalated quickly and in international thermonuclear war, every place is the front line, every person on both sides a likely casualty. It would not have been long before we here in the US would have joined the ranks of the dead. It was only the sustained political will and the strength of America which enabled us to walk the tightrope for so long between unthinkable domination by brutal Communist dictatorship no less determined to impose its will on us than al Qaeda or Iran and the reality of mass extinction of our race to prevent it. America never wins when it is weak, only when it is strong and is prepared to use its strength to protect its freedoms, no matter what the cost. And that is exactly what President Kennedy said in his inaugural address, "fight any foe, bear any burden."

  • 45.
  • At 12:35 AM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • John Kecsmar wrote:

Mark # 44 says “..I think most Americans agree that right now we are in a war, a very serious war being fought in a way we have never experienced before.”
Well, a “WAR” is a situation in which 2 or more countries or groups fight against each other over a period of time, or to get ride of or stop something unpleasant. So which ever side you’re on, each can claim the same ideals and goals!

It is safe to say “… a way in which ‘we’ have never experienced before…”. Because the US has never had to fight an act of aggression on its own soil before, unlike pretty much the rest of the world has. But just because the US has never fought a “war” on its own soil before, does that make it any different to other “wars”, of course not. It is, using his term, lack of “experience” of such type of wars.(I’m sure I’ll hear bleating of civil wars etc….unless your country has been invaded by a mass army attempting to subjugate all its citizens, that is war!)

He goes on to say “…We face a new kind of enemy who has invented his own rules and trying to win by fighting only with what we have learned from previous wars may be entirely insufficient….” So I guess dropping the A-Bomb on Japan was just normal theatre of warfare?... to name just one of many US examples.

“..Right now the public perception I think is that the US is a nation under siege, not just in the traditional sense but in a very real way…” Oh get real. Talk to the citizens of Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan…. ad nauseam, they can tell you what a country under siege is all about. What utterly ridiculous whining; as he sits in his room free to do and say as he pleases a Govt. that protects him and his beliefs and walk down the road without fear of being shot, oh unless you call all those “no one understands me/I want to be famous” teenagers who can’t cope with growing up and being “left out”, and decided to shoot everyone who says “good morning” to them. The siege, if you can call it that, is more from the disillusioned teenagers than anyone else. Wake up and smell the coffee…

Also….”… But the more we learn about this enemy, the more impossible that seems, his goal being our utter annihilation as a society and its replacement with a regressive theocracy that would deny all of us any rights except those he is willing to confer. Basically, his terms appear to be our unconditional surrender..” Ok, now he has described Bush and his supporters goals. (I’m sure he wishes to mention others perhaps?)
Since for his regressive theocracy, Christian Fundamentalists of which there are many in the US and wield political power, share more traits in common with the extreme members of the Islamic faith than they perhaps realize. Like them: some Muslim nations treat homosexuality as a crime; abortion is illegal in virtually every circumstance throughout much of the Middle East; separation of church and state does not exist in theocratic nations like Iran; implementation of the death penalty is common in the Middle East. So those that see Iran, for example as regressive theocracy, this is the model which many in the US, such as John Hagee of Christians United For Israel (which he created in his support for Israel), how can they reconcile their cognitive dissonance in advocating a war against Iran, which is a model of the regressive theocracy that he is striving to implement in the United States?

I may be doing Mark an injustice, but it sounds like he has never lived in another country, and/or never had to respect and live by someone else rules and laws, which may be completely anathema to your own, lived in a country where clean fresh water and food to feed yourself and your family becomes near impossible (not just once but all day, every day), lived in a country which prevents you protesting or speaking out aloud or even thinking ideals which are diametrically opposite to your Govt., or having bombs blowing up repeatedly everyday, living in fear of Govt., agents taking you away and never being seen of again. If he has, fair play to him. If not, you need to address your definition of under siege and what a war and an enemy really is.

  • 46.
  • At 03:22 AM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • Rama wrote:

Politicians create divisions and start wars...soldiers fight makes perfect sense that soldiers would rather find an alternative to war. After all, it is the brave/noble soldier that ultimately makes the greatest sacrifice.

* 38.
* At 03:08 AM on 12 Dec 2007,
* William Lawson wrote:

"The views of Andy Brown(#23) are indicative of the slide we are taking into outright irrationalism, as reason takes a back seat and the shrill infantilism of the left runs amok. To claim equivalence between America, a country which has perhaps done more for civilization than any other country, and Nazi Germany, which enslaved its populace into socialism and attempted genocide, is not characteristic of an objective, rationally minded person."

Actually, America has a far more successful genocide behind it. As far as I know there is not a 60 year history of an artificially created nation of native Americans causing trouble in a whole region such as we see in the middle east. I do not recall anybody supporting native Americans in such cynical and hypocritical ways as the Annapolis "peace talks", which as Uri Avnery says, do seem to be a simply cover for the invasion of Gaza by Israel. America's blind support for Israel is probably the major cause of much international destabilisation -as well as being a source of much profit for a select group of businessmen. Perhaps comparable to German support for the "Suddettenland Germans".

With people like Mark -who apparently see it as their patriotic duty to kill all those who might oppose American policies anywhere in the world -and the American government's clear intention to police the world (rebuilding it in its own image as as as Colonel Tim Reese points out) -one could hardly accuse America of being any less expansionist than Nazi Germany (which seems to mainly have limited itself to Europe and Russia). Presumably, every victor claims it is a "liberator" -and usually tries to shape the newly liberated areas to its own will and form. One man's "liberation" is a nother man's "enslavement". This works for America (as Colonel Tim Reese knows) as much as for other imperiums.

Read "They thought they were free" and see how oppressed the Germans thought they were -and compare this with how oppressed you feel regarding consumer capitalism. I'm sure you would both agree on how wonderful things were/are. Milton Mayer specifically shows how much better (in material ways) most people were under the Nazis -and how indifferent these people were to the suffering of others caused by the system. Exactly like most of those who profit from consumerism today.

Incidentally, the effects of America re-colonizing the Philippines in the Spanish-American war -causing the philippines to loose their newly won independence are still being felt today. American troops are still here fighting "terrorists" and the recent so called "coup attempt" is an example of how complex and destructive the double post-colonial inheritance (involving both Spain and America) really is. From what I see daily around me, America is not the bringer of culture and civilisation -but the destroyer of both -through its mindless but agressive consumerism.

So, if indeed we are taking an outright slide into irrationalism -then who, or what is responsible -after 60 years of post American victory in WWII plus 20 years with America as undisputed super-state (thanks to American supremicists like Mark).

However, I can agree with you regarding Stalin. It seems that there is "soft" (dishonest?) repression, where the victim is willing or unaware -and "hard" (honest?) oppression where the victims are both aware and unwilling. Although even in Stalinist Russia perhaps many -assuming clerical error, could not believe the nature of their own society even while in a prison camp. However, in general, I guess one could say that (if Mayor is correct) the Americans do run their empire in a "soft" way -more like Hitler than Stalin.

For the rest, I would say the brick wall in in your own head.

William Lawson's statement, "The US liberated huge portions of the world from Spain at the start of the century" is a falsification of history.

In 1898, the Philippine Constitution was ratified, creating an executive branch, a representative assembly, and judiciary. Then came the election of a president and the dispatching of diplomatic representatives around the world. But the creation of the first republic in Southeast Asia was cut short by the United States when it imposed its imperialist demands on the new republic. The Philippine Revolution was thus forced to continue its pursuit for national independence in the Philippine-American War. The Philippine-American War was also to become America's baptism as an imperialist colonial power in the Pacific, and this expansionist agenda was met with fierce resistance by Filipino Revolutionaries.

See and see how 19th century US media supports US imperialism of that period. At least then, the debates were strong unlike now.

  • 49.
  • At 05:08 PM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • Colonel Tim Reese wrote:

I would like to follow up on two items raised by recent bloggers.

Over the last three decades I have served with many brilliant Briish officers in Germany, the Balkans, the Middle East, Afghanistan - and that exotic locale - the United States. Without fail I have found them to be exceptional military professionals and insightful thinkers.

The US Army assiduously studies British military history in its schools and training centers. On a long list of many cases of "irregular" or colonial warfare are: the Boer War, the Malaysian Emergency, wars with the Ottoman Empire including the creation of the modern Middle East after WWI, Kenya, Sierra Leone, India and many others going back centuries. Successes and failures mark that record. One earnestly hopes that in years to come the recent British efforts in southern Iraq and parts of Afghanistan will be numbered among the successes.

Tallying up the historical record as one would score a sporting event is an interesting parlor game, but not often very fulfilling. I cheerfully, and respecfully note in the English language, the unfavorable outcome (for the Crown) of a somewhat well known British counterinsurgency campaign between 1776 and 1783!

Dan M. wrote: "Shame the generals didnt have the balls to speak out until their pensions were secured. They sold their troops down the river when everyone could see Iraq was going to be a huge disaster. There was no plan! Ever!"

I'm not familar with the background on which this sohpisticated posting is based. Senior US civilian and military leaders did quite a bit of military planning (flawed in retrospect) for post-Saddam Iraq. Coalition military leaders and units then struggled to plan and conduct operations after April 2003 that would lead to a favroable political outcome. While not excusing the outcome thus far, the rapidly changing Iraqi, US and international political objectives made that challenge extremely difficult.

We do not yet know the outcome of the war(s) in Iraq. Failure is possible; so is success. There was precious little reason for the US or the UK to be optimistic in 1942 or 1943. History has a funny way of proving most prognosticators wrong.

I encourage everyone to read the second volume of the initial history of the war in Iraq written by the Combat Studies Institute which I currently lead. It will be published in April 2008 and sold by the US Government Printing Office on their website. In it one will be able to examine the planning for and conduct of the post-invasion period of the war from May 2003 to the Iraqi elections of January 2005. The title is ON POINT II: Transition to a New Campaign. Subsequent volumes on the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan will be published in the years to come.

  • 50.
  • At 06:45 PM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • Richard Konopada wrote:

Should an American general run for President? Perhaps if the individual had gotten mud on his boots, seen the horror that war can inflict on the innocent, felt the pain and sorrow of losing friends and comrades in battle he would bring into the Office knowledge that would serve him well. Perhaps by having firsthand knowledge he would be more willing to explore other options and less willing to use military force as a solution as I doubt that any individual who has been in combat has the same prospective on the use of military force as an individual who has never served his country and has had a life of wealth and privilege.

  • 51.
  • At 08:35 PM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • JHMcCann, Massachusetts USA wrote:

I once worked at the US Army Laboratories in Natick, Massachusetts as an independent contractor when I was in college, putting in their first personal computers, and found, slightly to my surprise (since I'd formed pretty negative opinions of the US Armed Services during Viet Nam) thay the place was filled with enormously talented, intelligent, open-minded personnel from every part of the country , dedicated to improving the equipment of ordinary soldiers (not weaponry) like food, uniforms, and all sorts of other stuff with near-obsessive enthusiasm: next to my basement hole-in-the-wall office I recall for instance that there was a little climate-controlled chamber testing out the shelf-life of a pair of boots. With a spiralling chart recording conditions as time went by, the boots literally sat on a shelf, all by themselves, doing nothing but... sitting on a shelf. After a few years they took them out and tried them on!

  • 52.
  • At 09:04 PM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • Andrew wrote:

A point on intelligence. The intelligence community's raison d'etre is not to set policy, or even to recommend policy... it is to provide facts (when possible) and dispassionate, unbiased assessment of likelihoods (when not) about specific areas, events, individuals, groups, etc. who could present risks to the nation. Policymakers have the provided intelligence available in order to make the best-informed decisions that they can. Intelligence is supposed to be used to assess what is actually going on, not support one's hypothesis of what one thinks is going on. This is a point of contention with many who are reputed to have perverted the intelligence process to support pre-determined actions by insisting that such data not be provided.

It's important to keep in mind that most or all upper-level policymakers are either elected officials or appointed by elected officials. Their shelf-life is limited... as are their agendas. Military leaders and the vast majority of intelligence and other government workers are career people there for the long haul, and who serve through many administrations, both liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican. They're focussed both on the immediate task at hand, and on the long-term good of the nation, not on short- or mid-term political goals or conveniences.

I also disagree with the characterization of some generals as spineless "yes men". When you serve in the US military, you have signed a contract saying that you will obey and support the decisions of your chain of command, whether you personally agree with them or not. You may or may not get a chance to air your reservations with your leadership behind closed doors... it depends on the leadership and the situation. Had Tommy Franks, Wesley Clark or any other general publicly questioned the orders of the President while on active duty, it could have (and would have) resulted in their dismissal. This is not a "Bush" policy, but has been in place for decades.

I dislike the current president and many of his policies, and now that I am a civilian, I can freely say whatever I want. Active duty servicemembers (even Generals) can not.

  • 53.
  • At 09:30 PM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • Andrew wrote:

One more point...
To become a General, one must be a commissioned officer (meaning that you have at least a Bachelor's degree) and usually have served at least 20 years in the military. Typically, it's hard to make General rank without having a Master's Degree, as well. Many people who serve such lengthy careers will spend a significant amount of their time stationed overseas. This affords them the opportunity to really see and appreciate other cultures firsthand and understand other perspectives on many political and social issues. Also, most Generals have been in long enough to have witnessed and participated in combat firsthand. I have always supported the idea of presidents having served in the military... not because I favor a militaristic style of leadership, but because one who has been to war will more deeply appreciate the impact is has on so many fronts. Colin Powell served an incredibly distinguished military career, but he was driven away because he was the least hawkish of Bush's first-term cabinet.
One fault of many liberals is the presumption that close association with the military means a close-minded or neo-fascist point of view. Yes, a majority of military and ex-military people tend to vote Republican... because Republicans are typically more supportive of the military in budget and deed. But it's because most military folks know how important a strong, vibrant and prepared military is to keeping our country safe and allowing their fellow citizens to enjoy all the freedoms, privileges and security that the USA has historically provided.
Bush/Cheney may have done and said many things that have raised hackles, caused some damage, etc. but they are just one chapter in a long and unfinished book.

  • 54.
  • At 12:25 AM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Gwyn Williams wrote:

We recently had a few US Military personnel staying at the hotel: a Marine Corps major and a couple of Lt. Colonels. After reading or browsing through some New Statesman magazines we had left in the foyer - including articles by John Pilger on Iraq, etc. - one commented on how refreshing it was to hear another point of view, as opposed to the stereotyped right wing tirades of Fox and CNN that they are usually exposed to. The NS is social democrat rather than socialist, but, even so, in spite of Bush and Cheney and the right wing Christian nutters, all may not yet be lost

  • 55.
  • At 04:22 AM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Jack Kilcullen wrote:

Let us keep some perspective. The fact that military leaders have some cultural sensitivity when our political leaders show so little should not be taken for more than the tactical purpose that sensitivity serves. A better appreciation of Iraq's needs will not ultimately come from the military, Patraeus included, who were always part of an invasion serving US interests, but from an international drive to truly serve the interests of Iraq.

  • 56.
  • At 04:44 AM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Joseph O'Connor wrote:

Just to clarify institutions, an earlier commenter said that the US Army War College was at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Not true. The US Army Combined Arms Center and the US Army Command and General Staff College, training captains and majors, is at Fort Leavenworth. (See The US Army War College, training lieutenant colonels and colonels, is at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. (See

Regarding the American Generals comments
~ it was always interesting to me that
in his two-term Presidency [1952-1960]
General Dwight David Eisenhower was the
first to warn the US of the Military -
Industrial Complex . . . the need to
keep control in the hands of citizens,
not the Military (and large Industrial
corporations)! Llew Walker, Milwaukee

  • 58.
  • At 02:20 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

John Kecsmar #45

"...whichever side you're own you can claim the same ideals and goals."

The biggest lie you can tell. This was the way Communists tried to establish a moral equivalence between free democratic countries and their own tyrannical slave empire. There is no equivalence in any conceivable way between Islamofascism and the civilized world.

"just because the US has never had to fight a "war" on its own soil before.."

Ever hear of a place called Pearl Harbor? The US understood that if it lost WWII, it would be invaded by Japanese and German troops. They clearly had plans for attacks and invasions. WWII demonstrated that the vast Atlantic and Pacific oceans could no longer protect the US from foreign attack. The cold war made that even more clear and in this war, it is clear that the US can be attacked with devastating effect by enemy agents from within. This is why the US must have the strongest military in the world by far and must reassess and rebalance its internal freedoms. Some of those freedoms may have to give way for a time or even permanently to make the nation secure. It wouldn't be the first time that happened, the internment of Japanese and Japanese Americans for example. At the time it was viewed as necessary even though we condemn it now because we forgot how the threat appeared at the time. If the current strategy doesn't work and the US is attacked, far more Draconian measures will result. The US will not carry on business as usual in the aftermath of a major event such as a nuclear weapon being detonated in an America city. Nobody on earth will be safe in the aftermath no matter where they are or what they might have or have not done. America bashers like you should consider that.

"So I guess dropping the A bomb on Japan was normal theater of warfare."

Yes, in the atomic age it has become so. The US and USSR each had over 20,000 hydrogen bombs far more powerful than the two dropped on Japan and were ready to launch them at each other on a moments notice. This is what is meant by the balance of terror. Should a government which is far more committed to dominance of its religious/political ideology than survival of its own nation like Iran or a non government based group like al Qaeda acquire one or more, then there is no longer a balance of terror, no longer any restraint on one side. Therefore, it is incumbent on the other side, the civilized world in general and the US as the symbol and pinnacle of civilization to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent that no matter what historic treaties, so called international laws, or doctrine say. This could include anything up to and including pre-emptive multiple nuclear first strikes.

For your information, I lived in France for nearly two years and had to abide by their laws. I've visited over 40 countries and was aware in each one of them that breaking their laws, even unintentionally or unknowingly was a crime that could result in my severe punishment. Look at the drunken British soccer hooligans all over Europe. Do you think they know or care about that when they are on a rampage?

Mr. Kecsmar, those who hate and bash America as you do have no concept how much your life depends on its continued welfare and beneficence, a beneficence I for one would wish my government to selectively withhold from those who are unappreciative of it including from those we ridiculously call "allies" but who in reality have been our beneficiaries. They would bite the hand that feeds them.

  • 59.
  • At 04:09 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Justin wrote:

I find it insulting that my comment has been twisted into an accusation that American soldiers were responsible for "stealing" the 2000 election.

I never said that at all. I merely pointed out that that the Republican Party were accused of using inavlid ballots to meet their own ends. And even then, I made it clear that that may not be accurate. I never once said that American soldiers stole the election and find that an offensive accusation to make. Please use your heads when reading other peoples comments.

As for the Democrat Party, it is well to remember that political idealogies evolve over time. What was regarded as "liberal" or "conservative" 200 years ago may be very different today. Even so, I accept on this point I may indeed have to check "my American history book".

But please don't twist my comments. This is not The O'Reilly Factor.

  • 60.
  • At 05:42 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Justin #3;
Here are your exact words;

"I always thought the American military were devout Republicans. After all, isn't that partly how Bush rigged the 2000 election? - using dodgy ballots from American servicemen posted abroad - knwoing that they would vote Republican."

Confused, way off the mark, and just plain wrong. So frequently the British perception when it comes to American politics, government, culture, history, and society.

Members of the US armed forces come from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all political views, each having his or her own reason for volunteering. For the time being, I think polls show more members of the armed forces tend to be Republican but Americans do not always vote according to their party, personal assessment of the individuals running for office and particular issues play a big role too.

President Bush did not use the ballots from the Armed Forces or other overseas ballots to steal the 2000 election, in fact he didn't steal it at all, it was stolen for him. That was by a confluence of events including badly designed ballots in Florida (designed by a Democrat coincidently) causing many who wanted to vote for Gore to vote for Buchannan by mistake, reported denial of blacks who were likely to vote for Gore to have access to the voting sites by the State Highway Patrol, and a conspiracy of the US Supreme Court, both houses of Congress, and all three branches of the Florida State government. Ultimately, the final decision could be laid at the feet of Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman Supreme Court Justice who was a Republican and was nominated by President Reagan. And blame for it can also be laid at the feet of Al Gore himself who made one blunder after another including what turned out to be a crucial event in Florida, the handing over of Elian Gonzalez to Cuba without so much as a single day in an American family court, Gore's distancing himself from the still very popular President Clinton, and his refusal to fight for himself having been robbed of his victory. As disappointed as I am in President Bush's performance, in retrospect I think Gore would have been even worse and I voted for Gore.

  • 61.
  • At 08:20 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Justin wrote:


I am well aware of what my exact words were and as you should be able to read from that, it is quite clear that this was an accusation I aimed at the Republican Party and not the American military.

I had previously thought that the Republican Party had used ballots from the military that were invalid. Which, if this had happened, would not have been the fault of the military but a few power-crazed people in the Republican Party.

If you read past the part of my comment you quoted, you would have noticed that the sentence that immediatley followed was "alas no." - A reference to the fact that maybe my information on this may have been incorrect.

As for the Republican Party, I am well aware that President Bush is merely their puppet, so perhaps it is a little unjust to hold him personally responsible for any corruption that may have happened.

  • 62.
  • At 09:16 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Dan wrote:

Mark at 58-

I am going to use some of your points to try and make my case. I want this to be a reasoned discussion, not a personal attack. I am an American-loving middle-American, but perhaps I have some different views than you do.

"The effect of enemy agents from within is the reason the US must have the strongest military in the world." I must not have noticed when someone else had the strongest military in the world in 2001. Tanks and aircraft carriers will not protect the nation against determined individual actors, a less-domineering but still benevolent foreign policy would be more successful.

America "must reassess and rebalance its internal freedoms. Some of those freedoms may have to give way for a time or even permanently to make the nation secure."
To quote Ben Franklin, "Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither." Those who believe that the politicians who brought us the war in Iraq (and the subsequent marginilization of Afghanistan) can be trusted with the restriction or re-drafting of our civil liberties, the bedrock of our society for more than 200 years, are sorely misguided.

The internment of Japanese-Americans was an absolute travesty and a black mark on our racial past. We did not inter German-Americans or Italian-Americans, only Japanese-Americans. You argue that this is a good example of a restriction of rights in furtherance of our freedom, but I feel it is neither. It would be proportional to interning Arab-Americans and Muslims now. How could this possibly be a step in any kind of right direction?

"If the current strategy doesn't work and the US is attacked, far more Draconian measures will result." Like the Patriot Act, domestic intelligence gathering, Guantanamo, waterboarding and the attempts to bypass the FISA court with warrantless wiretaps? Theses are the sorts of steps the nation should not be exposed to. Congress (both parties) and the Administration should be ashamed for letting this happen.

'Those who hate and bash America have no concept how much (their) life depends on its continued welfare and beneficence, a beneficence I for one would wish my government to selectively withhold from those who are unappreciative of it including from those we ridiculously call "allies" but who in reality have been our beneficiaries. They would bite the hand that feeds them.'

On the contrary, America should graciously continue to give away money and aid to help all citizens of the world. Not because I, as an American, want to be loved by the world at large, but because it will fight the "common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself."

America needs to return to being the nation of 'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself' not George Bush's policy of scaring Americans with terror and 9/11.

America needs to get back to the attitude of 'whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you.'

Sorry for the length, I'll hop off my soapbox now.

  • 63.
  • At 11:24 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Justin #61

"If you read past the part of my comment you quoted, you would have noticed that the sentence that immediatley followed was "alas no." - A reference to the fact that maybe my information on this may have been incorrect."

So far as I can tell, your information is always incorrect. President Bush is no one's puppet. He was chosen in 2000 and again in 2004 to represent the Republican party by its members through a democratic process very different from the process used to select leaders in Britain. Watch the current process for the upcoming Presidential election and learn. The Republican party is an organization anyone can join and you don't have to even be a registered Republican to vote in their primaries in many states. Calling him a puppet is not only a complete fallacy, it is one more ad hominem attack by someone who hates something he doesn't even begin to comprehend. Don't feel lonely, when it comes to America, you have lots of company in your own nation and around the world.

  • 64.
  • At 04:31 PM on 15 Dec 2007,
  • Bill wrote:

This is for the comment for 01:18 AM 11 Dec 2007. Pres. Eisenhower did give military aid to the French in Viet Nam. What did that lead us to? The U.S Viet Nam War.

  • 65.
  • At 12:37 PM on 17 Dec 2007,
  • Justin wrote:


The keyword here is "may". Of course, the chances are I was correct. The British rarely get anything wrong. Luckily, we British have a trait called "modesty". A part of modesty is admitting when you might be wrong. But as I say, if Michael Moore is to be believed I was correct anyway.

President Bush may be a nice guy and all the rest of it but he is clearly a puppet for the Republican Party.

But what always amazes me is how so many Americans voted for him - not once but twice! It's almost surreal.

I think this front page from British tabloid the Daily Mirror sums up how the world felt after Kerry was defeated in 2004:

God Bless America! (well, lets hope he does in 2008 anayway.)

  • 66.
  • At 06:23 AM on 18 Dec 2007,
  • Jay Armstrong wrote:

Andrew Jackson an American Hero? Well, yes to many. Objective historians and the Cherokee; however, could provide another perspective. Perhaps he was a hero for the many. But he was also a manipulative, blood guilty thief.

Doubtless, there are many capable, intelligent officers. My father volunteered for the front lines of two wars and was wounded in close quarter combat. He was not a timid individual or one to suffer injustice or bullies. Once, in Gitmo (U.S. Naval Station), he knocked the arrogance out of three military men harassing a woman. I saw him take down another military bully at the age of 65. He worked with the U.S. Army (MACV-Saigon) in Vietnam. Based on what he observed, he lost respect for the Army heirachy. Some of their actions towards the native people were despicable. On one occasion, two high ranking Army officers even left him lying wounded on the battlefield. Being intelligent men, they beat a strategic withdrawal and probably won a medal for the achievement. Outnumbered, outgunned, wounded, and abandoned by these “heroes”, he engaged four enemy combatants, took one prisoner, and covered the withdrawal of wounded soldiers until relived by South Vietnamese forces. In 1966 he declined a MACV promotion offer and came home from the war, thoroughly disillusioned by the U.S. Army’s conduct.

I’m sure there are many dedicated courageous military men. I grew up with several; however, who I never knew to stand up to a single bully. Others, including myself, fought their battles for them. One of them, an Army Major, is probably one of the most cowardly and lazy individuals I’ve ever known, though cunning. It’s amusing to think of him facing anyone man-to-man. Yet, with an army behind him, backed by the most expensive weaponry ever devised, and a ton of explosives for every man, woman, and child, he is probably a real tiger.

It just goes to show that there is good and bad everywhere, even in the U.S. military. I don’t think you can rationalize that military officers are noble. Those I’ve known personally are not.

  • 67.
  • At 08:44 PM on 18 Dec 2007,
  • Brett wrote:

Rubbish! If Petraeus and co. are so "unmilitaristic" why don't they resign and take a moral stance against American aggression in the Middle East or elsewhere. Why don't they refuse to serve in a criminal, immoral occupation. What is so-called "soft power" after all, just another means to the same ends. America power world dominance. I've never heard the military question the ends anymore than the pol's: the means maybe but not the ends. I've never heard of any Pentagon staff going to capitol hill to plead with congress and the president for smaller budgets. What America needs for home 'defense' is a small fraction of what it actually appropriates for offensive force projection around the world. More than all the rest of the countries of the world put together! When the generals start questioning that and resigning in protest, then maybe I'll believe you.

  • 68.
  • At 02:43 PM on 20 Dec 2007,
  • Ian Crookes wrote:

Just a quick comment, anyone who considered Wesley Clark a good option for US President should read the autobiography of the British soldier General Sir Mike Jackson called simply 'Soldier'. Sir Mike worked under W. Clark in Kosovo etc and doesn't paint a very complimentary picture especially since Sir Mike has no political axe to grind. Sir Mike famously told W. Clark 'that he wasn't starting world war 3 for anyone' when W. Clark wanted to start a shooting match with the Russian paras who had occupied the airport ahead of the Nato advance.
Although as an ex soldier myself I believe that some military experience doesn't hurt for leaders who will have to commit men to battle I am wary of the fact that in a democracy military and civil powers should be firmly seperated.
The military is there to support the civil government and should not be in the driving seat.

  • 69.
  • At 12:48 AM on 27 Dec 2007,
  • Sam wrote:

Regarding a comment made by "Justin"..the Korean War continued during Eisenhowers term and Andrew Jackson ruthlessly dealt with the Indians (Native Americans)and forced them from the ancesteral lands. Ever heard of the Trail of Tears? He wasn't exactly a peace loving guy.

Having served in the military, and been around it for all my life, a majority tends to lean to the conservative side. However, in the end, it didn't matter if we were conservative or liberal, we were US soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines and thats all that counts!

  • 70.
  • At 01:24 PM on 27 Dec 2007,
  • Alan wrote:

Justin is good on the present US military. Military Review is a fascinating read, and the success of the Surge is being under-reported.

But why, if the military is now so good, didnt they plan better in 2003? They then seemed pretty ignorant of insurgent warfare, and to have learnt entirely the wrong lessons from Vietnam. If it was a case of being over-ridden by the civilian leadership, why were there no resignations?

It's one thing to learn lessons, but it's more important to know which ones to apply in the future.

It seems to me that democracies forget war-fighting methods after a period of peace.

  • 71.
  • At 11:39 PM on 27 Dec 2007,
  • Nik Frengle wrote:

Bernard I. Turnoy wrote in his comment, "The American Soldier became a thinking man {or woman} decades ago. When conscription ended in the United States {1973} and the initial period of socio-economics driving enlistments diminished, the American Military Services evolved into an elite corp of many well educated and technically capable people [both 'regular' and reserve]."
I disagree with the wholesale characterisation of American military men and women as great thinkers or technicians. I have worked very closely with the Marines, and can say that some of the officers are very well educated and capable people, and many of the privates and lower ranks fairly technically capable, but if you compare the skills of either with what I would expect to see in private industry, they are generally sub-par. Their unique skills are not technical or intellectual but their ability to do a dangerous job, and their discipline. I won't insult them by calling the lower ranks cannon fodder, but thinking too much is definitely frowned upon in the military that I have seen.

  • 72.
  • At 04:39 PM on 02 Jan 2008,
  • Bill wrote:

I have 9 years, 8 months and 26 days of modern US military service, about half of it overseas. More that a few years of that time was devoted to combat and/or near combat duty in Southeast Asia and Latin America. About about half my time was spent with US troops, and the other half, with troops of foreign armies.

In my experience, the active duty military represents a fair cross-section of the population of the country it serves, except for a notable lacking of "the upper classes." I found that officers (and those who became senior NCOs) came from solid middle- or working lower-class backgrounds. I think that the high society folks just did not participate; these, and the intellectuals, apparently feel they are "too good." They certainly did not need the jobs. I also did not find many from the extreme lower end of society either, suspecting that they found welfare and petty crime more attractive options.

Most were well-educated, with high school degrees being virtually universal amongst the enlisted men, some college very common amongst NCOs, and at least a Bachelor's virtually universal amongst officers. As others have pointed out, advanced degrees of various types were common amongst the senior officers. And, a fact that many seem to be unaware of, is that most soldiers of all ranks spend about half their time in formal education, mostly service schools of one sort or another.

Point number one being, most US soldiers (and the foreign ones I was in contact with, too) are, if not outright smart, at least are not dumb; are well-educated, and are well-trained in their craft. For the higher ranks, this includes, of course, senior staff work, statecraft, strategy, dipomatic arts, etc.

They also have a pretty good practical feel for what works and what does not work at the "feet on the street" level... (based, of course, on their level of command)... and pretty skilled at detecting the BS factor in reporters, politicians, and the various intellectuals they encounter every day who seem to think themselves qualified to comment on the skills of the combat arms without having studied or experienced or participated in same themselves.

I also found that senior officers and commanders (i.e., those that aspired to "be generals") were amazingly human in that their ranks included the brave and bold along with the cowardly; the good and the bad; the smart and the dumb; and the craven politicians (e.g., Wesley Clark, who is the only name I will mention here) along with the consummate professionals. Politics and good fortune work the same in the military as in civilian life.

Point number 2: Don't think for a minute that there is not a huge amount of politics going on in the military, too, especially at the high levels. "Politics," of course, is involved in all human activity, whether related to internal service advancement, or on the national/international stage. Regardless of level of education, training, or experience, you are going to find it: it is the grease that lubricates the functioning of your organization. Either deal with the politics of your organization, or get out,but you cannot avoid it.

Coming out of this experience, I found the military organizations I was associated with to be amazingly professional and well-motivated to support their various country's goals and aspirations. In the US, the all-volunteer army works, and works very well.

I want to close by stressing a conclusion from my experience that the predominantly middle class root of the military is, in fact, a negative.

What citizens of any democraticly-run country need most is "skin in the game."

For example, if one feels that a nation's military is/should be an instrument of national policy, then I believe that that force should be drawn from the entire nation, not just the sons and daughters of its farmers and mechanics. Recognizing however that not everyone is qualified for suited for military service, I believe that universal national service should be implemented. There are a host of projects that would benefit along with the military, from national health care initiatives, to conservation, to environment, to whatever one could imagine.

My male relatives grew up working for the WPA and CCC during the depression years. I personally knew many kids who, as draftees in the military, became solid and informed citizens in their two years. And I have the utmost admiration for those draftees who served nobly and honorably in Viet Nam.

I have no doubt that our country would benefit just as much from their acquired wisdom and maturity as from the actual sweat of their labors.

Universal national service would give all of our young people, not just the middle class, the education, training, sense of participation in nationally important affairs, and
the courage and confidence they need to become vocal and effective citizens over the long run.

This post is closed to new comments.


Sign in

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.