J-Pod on fighting modern day wars

John Podhoretz, opining in today’s NY Post, wonders if we’re “too nice” to win wars anymore. He writes:

July 25, 2006 — WHAT if liberal democracies have now evolved to a point where they can no longer wage war effectively because they have achieved a level of humanitarian concern for others that dwarfs any really cold-eyed pursuit of their own national interests?
What if the universalist idea of liberal democracy – the idea that all people are created equal – has sunk in so deeply that we no longer assign special value to the lives and interests of our own people as opposed to those in other countries?

What if this triumph of universalism is demonstrated by the Left’s insistence that American and Israeli military actions marked by an extraordinary concern for preventing civilian casualties are in fact unacceptably brutal? And is also apparent in the Right’s claim that a war against a country has nothing to do with the people but only with that country’s leaders?

Can any war be won when this is the nature of the discussion in the countries fighting the war? Can any war be won when one of the combatants voluntarily limits itself in this manner?

Could World War II have been won by Britain and the United States if the two countries did not have it in them to firebomb Dresden and nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Didn’t the willingness of their leaders to inflict mass casualties on civilians indicate a cold-eyed singleness of purpose that helped break the will and the back of their enemies? Didn’t that singleness of purpose extend down to the populations in those countries in those days, who would have and did support almost any action at any time that would lead to the deaths of Germans and Japanese?

What if the tactical mistake we made in Iraq was that we didn’t kill enough Sunnis in the early going to intimidate them and make them so afraid of us they would go along with anything? Wasn’t the survival of Sunni men between the ages of 15 and 35 the reason there was an insurgency and the basic cause of the sectarian violence now?

His piece follows a one with a similar theme from Thomas Sowell, who wrote last week about how ‘peace movements’ and how they hurt the efforts of the good guys while helping to protect the bad guys:

There was a time when it would have been suicidal to threaten, much less attack, a nation with much stronger military power because one of the dangers to the attacker would be the prospect of being annihilated.

“World opinion,” the U.N. and “peace movements” have eliminated that deterrent. An aggressor today knows that if his aggression fails, he will still be protected from the full retaliatory power and fury of those he attacked because there will be hand-wringers demanding a cease fire, negotiations and concessions.

This is something I’ve been thinking about intently for the last few weeks: 1) with all the handwringing by overly-cautious nitwits on the left, 2) media frenzies and leftist political posturing over attrocities that are alleged to have been committed by US troops, and 3) world condemnation over the use of overwhelming force, it makes you wonder whether or not we can win modern day wars. Those three things I just mentioned are united by a common bond: media coverage.

We fight battles on two fronts now: on the actual battlefield itself, and the battle over public opinion both home and abroad. FDR and war presidents prior to him, while indeed facing criticism from the media over certain aspects of their respective wars, didn’t have to deal with 24 hour news networks where war stories saturate the airwaves, and insta-analysis both on the news nets, in print, and online in the way that today’s Western leaders do.

This saturation (not to mention one-sided nature, as well as the leaking of sensitive information) of news and opinion stories fuels the fires of the various ‘peace movements’, which – as noted earlier – only serve to help the enemy. North Vietnamese colonel Bui Tin, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in 1995, said this of the anti-Vietnam war movement:

Q: Was the American antiwar movement important to Hanoi’s victory?

A: It was essential to our strategy. Support of the war from our rear was completely secure while the American rear was vulnerable. Every day our leadership would listen to world news over the radio at 9 a.m. to follow the growth of the American antiwar movement. Visits to Hanoi by people like Jane Fonda, and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and ministers gave us confidence that we should hold on in the face of battlefield reverses. We were elated when Jane Fonda, wearing a red Vietnamese dress, said at a press conference that she was ashamed of American actions in the war and that she would struggle along with us.

Q: Did the Politburo pay attention to these visits?

A: Keenly.

Q: Why?

A: Those people represented the conscience of America. The conscience of America was part of its war-making capability, and we were turning that power in our favor. America lost because of its democracy; through dissent and protest it lost the ability to mobilize a will to win.

Think about how the media coverage – which was a lot more confined back in the Vietnam war era than it is today – and how the slanted, one-sided coverage affected our ability to effectively wage a war. Magnify that 100-fold, and you see what leaders in Western countries (specifically the US) have to take into consideration today when deciding whether or not to wage war.

Some would say “to hell with public opinion – let’s do the job, and worry about the repercussions later.” While I understand the sentiment behind that, I don’t think it’s questionable that Western leaders today have to find that balance between how to effectively wage war and keep the public supportive of the war efforts. Because when the public becomes unhappy and lets their leaders know it, the result is a Vietnam-style pull out – which, I don’t have to remind anyone, only emboldens our enemies.

Hat tip: Uncle Jimbo at Blackfive


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