In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on April 20, 2012 at 12:00 am

War is very simple, direct and ruthless.  It takes a simple, direct and ruthless man to wage war.

–General George S. Patton

The Los Angeles Times published two photos on April 18 that show 82nd Airborne soldiers posing with the remains of suicide bombers in Afghanistan.

The uproar has been immediate, predictable–and laden with moralistic hypocrisy.

In my last posting, I discussed two essential truths about war that have gotten lost or been totally ignored:

First, soldiering is by its nature a brutal business–starting in boot camp.

Second, atrocities in wartime are nothing new–including for U.S. forces.

In this concluding post, I’ll offer three more important truths about armed conflict–and the soldiers who wage it.

Third, the Taliban’s record of human rights abuses leaves them–or their supporters–no moral right to complain about “atrocities.”

  • When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, they turned soccer stadiums into execution plazas for mass beheadings or shootings.

  • Taliban “fighters” have proven their “courage” by throwing acid into the faces of women who dared to attend school.
  • In 1998, the United Nations accused the Taliban of denying emergency food by the UN’s World Food Programme to 160,000 hungry and starving people “for political and military reasons.”
  • On August 8, 1989, the Taliban attacked Mazar-i-Sharif. Of 1,500 defenders only 100 survived the engagement. Talibanists began shooting people in the street, then moved on to mass rapes of women. Thousands of people were locked in containers and left to suffocate.
  • In areas they controlled, the Taliban forbade women to leave their homes unless accompanied by a male relative and wearing the burqa–a traditional dress covering the entire body. Those who disobeyed were publicly beaten.
  • In 1999, hundreds of men, women and children were executed when the town of Bamyan was overrun.. Houses were razed and some survivors were used for forced labor.

Fourth, all soldiers–including those of the United States–distinguish between legitimate enemy soldiers and “guerrillas” who violate the most basic rules of war.

  • During the American Civil War, soldiers of both Southern and Northern armies despised “guerrillas” who raped women and murdered defenseless men.  General Robert E. Lee, whose Army of Northern Virginia repeatedly threatened to capture Washington, D.C.,  was allowed to surrender with honor.

General Robert E. Lee

  • Missouri guerrilla  William “Bloody Bill” Anderson–whose outfit included future outlaws Jesse and Frank James–was detested for his litany of atrocities.  He was hunted down, shot, and exhibited to photographers by gleeful Union soldiers.  His body was paraded through the streets of Richmond, Missouri.

Guerrilla William “Bloody Bill” Anderson

  • Taliban fighters are not considered legitimate soldiers–by the American military or that of any other country. They do not abide by the Geneva Convention–and as designated terrorists, are especially feared and despised.
  • During World War II, British and German soldiers fought a relatively “clean” war in North Africa–with strictly-observed truces and exchanges of wounded and dead.  German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel–who fought with chivalry–was almost as revered by the British “Tommies” as by his own men.

Field Marshal Erwin “The Desert Fox” Rommel

  • In the South Pacific, Americans enraged by Japanese treachery (often pretending to surrender, then launching murderous ambushes) quickly decided on a “take-no-prisoners” policy.  To drive home this message, Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey ordered a huge billboard erected on a hillside.  Easily visible to passing ships, it read:

Fifth, those who provoke war do not have a right to dictate how their opponents should defend themselves.

  • In 1815, just before the Battle of New Orleans, General Andrew Jackson ordered American snipers to harass invading British forces–and especially to take out officers. The British commander angrily protested this “barbarism.” Jackson sent back a message of his own: “You have invaded our country and we will defend ourselves as we see fit.”

General Andrew Jackson

  • Israelis have learned to deter Palestinian suicide-bombers by the use of police dogs. Muslims consider dogs defiled—and defiling—creatures. Islamic terrorists fear that blowing up themselves near a dog risks mingling their blood with that of the dead or wounded animal—thus forfeiting their opportunity to enter Paradise and claim those 72 willing virgins.

  • After 9/11, American Intelligence quickly determined that Osama bin Laden–then living in Afghanistan–had masterminded the attacks. The Bush administration demanded that the Taliban surrender him. They refused–and American forces began attacking Afghanistan in October, 2001.
  • By early November, Muslims throughout the Islamic world demanded that the U.S. halt its attacks on Taliban forces out of “respect” for Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. In short: Islamic “holy warriors” could launch attacks that murdered thousands of innocent men, women and children. But “infidels” were supposed to defend themselves according to Islamic rules. The United States wisely refused to bow to this Islamic version of “political correctness.”

* * * * *

Wars aren’t waged–or won–by men armed with teacups.  When facing the tanks of a Heinz Guderian or Erwin Rommel, you need a George S. Patton or Douglas MacArthur–not a Shirley Temple.

If American political and military leaders aren’t willing to wage war as ruthlessly as their enemies, they shouldn’t wage it at all. 

And if they aren’t willing to fully support the soldiers they send into harm’s way, they should resign from office–and make room for those who will.

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