Knowing our three year anniversary and our 500th post were coming up, Eric C asked me and Matty P to write posts on the topic that embody our writing here at On Violence, the most important thought we hadn’t written about yet. So I asked myself, why do I write on this blog?
The answer hit me reading two sentences from Colonel Gian Gentile’s review of Lewis Sorley’s biography of General Westmoreland in The National Interest:
“Washington lost because it failed at strategy. It failed, in short, to discern that the war was unwinnable at a cost in blood and treasure that the American people would accept.”
Very early on in this blogging adventure, I asked a question that echoes Gentile in a post called, “The Problem with America’s Force Protection Bias”:
“Specifically, would a U.S. soldier trade the entire U.S. Army staying in Iraq or Afghanistan for one week longer if he knew his whole platoon could come home safe?”
While that question seems hypothetical, soldiers make that decision every damn day when they’re deployed. During the initial invasion of Iraq, if soldiers hit IEDs, they counter-attacked with a “death blossom”, firing in a circle at everything that moved. That helped create the insurgency. When soldiers tortured inmates, killed civilians or refused to patrol constantly, they helped fuel an insurgency. When more and more soldiers deployed to “Super FOBs”, they failed to stop the insurgencies.
In my tour to Afghanistan’s Kunar Province, I faced that question head on: Where do we patrol? How often? Simply getting on a helicopter could mean entering a horrific firefight, but we did it to win, because we had to. Still, I decided we would never go to some sections of my district, like Ganjgal valley, where many marines and Afghan soldiers later lost their lives.
In Kunar, I lived a contradiction that I had dreaded since I joined the Army ROTC program. I quoted the Cadet Creed in that earlier post, and I have to repeat it here:
People First, Mission Always
People and mission, two incompatible ideals. And the American people don’t understand that.
When I first started my training at Fort Benning, I saw how training to keep soldiers (people) alive wouldn’t help beat a budding Iraqi insurgency (mission). I started scribbling in a notebook. Eventually, those thoughts became this blog. So in honor of our 500th post and third anniversary, I want double down on that contradiction. I don’t have a topic I wish I wrote about more, I have some questions I wish I could ask everyone in America.
1. If I could guarantee victory in Iraq (when we were there) or Afghanistan (now) or Iran (in the future), how many soldiers would you sacrifice--how many would you let die--for that guarantee?
I want a number, America. You owe the soldiers that much. Every politician should have to state the cost up front.
2. To the generals, would you accept victory in Afghanistan if it meant losing your entire division? To the battalion commanders, would you accept victory if it meant losing your entire battalion? Half a battalion? How many men would you sacrifice for victory? What is more important, victory or survival?
It’s an easy answer: the professional army refuses to sacrifice large numbers of men for the mission. So far the combined wars of Iraq and Afghanistan have cost 7,000 lives. In historical terms, that’s the least amount of soldiers the U.S. has ever lost. Ever. In World War II, the generals leading our Army sacrificed that many men to take single beachheads.
Here is the important point: if military leaders or the American people won’t sacrifice their own men, then they aren’t prepared to win.
We want to win wars, but we don’t want to lose any men, but these causes are as noble and as vital as ever...so long as we keep casualties to a minimum. The duality or hypocrisy or irony of all those competing ideas--don’t lose men, cannot lose, but don’t win and sacrifice any of our own men, but we have to win--just make me to want to scream. But I don’t really blame the generals or the politicians, I blame the people who can’t decide what they want.
America, if you want to truly, really win a war, how many men will you sacrifice?
If the number is too high, then don’t go to war.