Thursday, June 16, 2005

Long Wars

Lincoln

September 11, 2001 was not the beginning of he "long war". Most of us who read the blogs know that Islamic terrorists have been waging some form of jihad against the west for at least three decades. But, then, we are not the common people. Or, aren't we?

In any case, most of us know that the September 11 was simply the opening shot of the official war. Like the "shot heard round the world" in Concord, the British marching on Washington in 1812, the Confederates firing on Fort Sumter and the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor, we were in confrontation with these opposing forces long before the first recognized opening shots of an official war.

The British had been arresting dissidents, charging men with treason, confiscating their property, imprisoning them without due process of the law long before they marched on Concord and were met by the Militia. In 1812, they were routinely stopping our ships, confiscating goods, kidnapping and press ganging our sailors along with numerous other moves that were acknowledged and finally became too much to ignore before a declaration of war.

Prior to the Civil War, partisan groups had been shooting, lynching, burning each other across state lines in support or opposition of slavery, of secession. Declaration of Secesseion and firing on Fort Sumter were just the official opening. We were at war long before those first cannon balls flew.

Prior to WWII, the Germans had been routinely sinking our ships and interfering in supplies both too and from the British. The Japanese were making moves on China and the Flying Tigers were helping to fight them off long before Pearl Harbor.

This war is no different. We've been at war with extremists Islamist terrorists for decades now. Something that will probably only be truly recognized by history.

Other things that we have in common with many wars before is the length of the war and the doubt that the common people experience as they watch the war churn on and the casualties mount. This wasn't just the case in Viet Nam, but in every war. Every leader of the United States had to face that moment when the length, depravity and desperation of the war weighed down on their men and on the people on the home front. The strain seemed almost unbearable.

It didn't matter if the war was on US soil or in a foreign land. Convictions waver in the face of blood and sweat even for the most ardent of supporters, even the leaders themselves often questioned the value of their efforts or whether a treaty for ceasefire and compromise would better than the constant death and struggle. It was only the their conviction of righteousness and the fear of what would be if they failed that pulled them from their despair in the long reaches of dark and stormy times.

What must have been the most difficult was relaying and strengthening the convictions of the people under them, the people at home, the men on the front lines. What must it take to be such a leader?

It is almost four years now since the opening of the official war with Islamist extremists. For reasons that surely must baffle the people on the home front as it has baffled me to some degree is the way in which we are choosing to fight this war, the limits we have put on ourselves and our continuing inability or lack of desire to clearly and utterly define the enemy.

We fear "demonizing" people, even those that are clearly and utterly irredeamable, much less those that are "cogs" or merely tacit supporters through money or language. There are strategic reasons for this. Even I understand that we desire to keep true world war from happening again. Still, I look at every war we've been in and I see that, in every war, we start out this way. Supporting it, though with some opposition in the ranks and at the same time, fighting it on a strangely limited basis, until, at some point, the war must be taken to the next level, to the next place, where war with all its real desperation becomes even more intense, more bloody, more desperate and, in complete juxtapositioning of the struggle, more noble for all that is endured and the triumph that comes from it.

The polls show that the American people are feeling the "fog of war", the confusion and the depression of the long war. While the president and many others have told the people in the past that it is a going to be "a long war", a "struggle for the generations", they have been lax in continuing to keep the focus on the war, the reasons for the war and what is at stake if this war is lost. The administration has failed in this respect. It has failed to fix the points and keep them in the fore front of the people's minds. It has failed to fix the enemy and explain what the enemy wants.

In long wars, there must be a focal point and people must be able to understand the end results of winning or losing, must understand what the enemy wants. This has been the one failure of the administration in this war that I feel is important above the others. This has been continuously ignored as a real tool for the war. It is being left to others to define the enemy, fix the points, those without true power or national exposure. The battle for hearts and minds always, always begins at home.

Even I at times have felt the darkness, the despair flit through my mind, wondering if this is worth the struggle, the death and the anguish that we see. Sometimes it feels almost overwhelming how long and tough this war has been and will be. It isn't the formidability of the enemy, as, however, organized they are, they cannot match our men or resources. The only thing that they have done better and continue to do better is understanding the importance of propaganda and using it as a major tool in the war. We have failed to match this ability even with all of the tools and money at our disposal.

Here is the thing that I will question the administration on. What will it take to get them to recognize this necessity and put more effort in to it?

In the end, it is this that keeps the effort going, the fires burning. Our traditional allies in this effort, the American press and the celebrities from film and broadway, are long absent. Today's press and celebrities do not resemble, support nor believe in the nobility of ideas nor causes worth fighting and dying for. The long war of forty years ago and the cultural revolution essentially diminished these ideas to nothing and affected a large part of our populace. Or, at least a part that is vocal and capable of their own propaganda efforts for their own agenda.

Today, we are caught out, defending ideas instead of creating them and spreading them. Today, the hearts and minds of the people are faltering.

My own heart has felt the twinges as I watch the casualties mount, little as they are in comparison to the past wars, but I also see the suffering of the civilians constantly attacked. I see the depravity of the enemy, killing randomly and with single cruelty. I have wondered in the long darkness of the war if this was the right thing to do.

Then I see the bodies, the dead, the wounded and they aren't just American soldiers fighting an enemy that can be cruel to soldiers, but and enemy that sees civilians, the traditional class of people who are to be protected, being taken out in the enemy's version of total war. I see the beheaded people who did nothing more than wave, sell a soda, speak to our soldiers being killed like dogs or worse. Beheadings and torture, real torture that cannot even be imagined by those that think torture is happening in Guantanamo, real torture that maims, bleeds, dismembers, is occuring at the hands of the enemy.

These are the same enemy that flew the planes into the towers and Pentagon. They come from the same groups, they have the same ideas, they desire more than the US being removed from the ME, they support an ideology that is completely and utterly incompatible with freedom, with our security and they fired the "shot heard 'round the world".

I remember. I don't forget what has been done, nor what is at stake.

Still, I look for words from the past to remind me that I am not alone in my worries, neither in the present tense nor the past.

Lessons from Lincoln

Message to Congress at its Regular Session. December 3, 1861_

[snip]A disloyal portion of the American people have, during the whole year, been engaged in an attempt to divide and destroy the Union. A nation which endures factious domestic division is exposed to disrespect abroad; and one party, if not both, is sure, sooner or later, to invoke foreign intervention.[snip]

Those nations, however, not improbably saw from the first that it was the Union which made as well our foreign as our domestic commerce. They can scarcely have failed to perceive that the effort for disunion produces the existing difficulty; and that one strong nation promises a more durable peace and a more extensive,
valuable, and reliable commerce than can the same nation broken into hostile fragments.


Letter to Cuthbert Bullitt. July 28, 1862_

[snip]The army will be withdrawn as soon as such government can dispense with its presence, and the people of the State can then, upon the old constitutional terms, govern themselves to their own liking. This is very simple and easy.

If they will not do this, if they prefer to hazard all for the sake of destroying the government, it is for them to consider whether it is probable that I will surrender the government to save them from losing all. If they decline what I suggest, you will scarcely need to ask what I will do.

What would you do in my position? Would you drop the war where it is, or would you prosecute it in future with elder-stalk squirts charged with rose-water? Would you deal lighter blows rather than heavier ones? Would you give up the contest, leaving any available means untried?

I am in no boastful mood. I shall not do more than I can; but I shall do all I can to save the government, which is my sworn duty as well as my personal inclination. I shall do nothing in malice. What I deal with is too vast for malicious dealing.


_His Letter to Horace Greeley. August 22, 1862_

[snip]As to the policy I "seem to be pursuing," as you say, I have not meant to leave any one in doubt. I would save the Union. I would save it in the shortest way under the Constitution.

The sooner the national authority can be restored, the nearer the Union will be,--the Union as it was.

If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them.


_The Letter to James C. Conkling. August 26, 1863_

There are those who are dissatisfied with me. To such I would say: You
desire peace, and you blame me that we do not have it. But how can we attain it? There are but three conceivable ways. First, to suppress the rebellion by force of arms. This I am trying to do. Are you for it? If you are, so far we are agreed. If you are not for it, a second way is to give up the Union. I am against this. Are you for it? If you are, you should say so plainly. If you are not for force, nor yet for
dissolution, there only remains some imaginable compromise. I do not believe any compromise embracing the maintenance of the Union is now possible. All I learn leads to a directly opposite belief. The strength of the rebellion is its military, its army. That army dominates all the country and all the people within its range. Any offer of terms made by any man or men within that range, in opposition to that army, is simply nothing for the present, because such man or men have no power whatever
to enforce their side of a compromise, if one were made with them. [snip]

A compromise, to be effective, must be made either with those who control the rebel army, or with the people first liberated from the domination of that army by the success of our own army. Now, allow me to assure you that no word or intimation from
that rebel army, or from any of the men controlling it, in relation to any peace compromise, has ever come to my knowledge or belief. All charges and insinuations to the contrary are deceptive and groundless.

[snip]And then there will be some black men who can remember that with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonet, they have
helped mankind on to this great consummation, while I fear there will be some white ones unable to forget that with malignant heart and deceitful speech they strove to hinder it.


_From the Annual Message to Congress. December 8, 1863_

When Congress assembled a year ago, the war had already lasted nearly twenty months, and there had been many conflicts on both land and sea, with varying results. The rebellion had been pressed back into reduced limits; yet the tone of public feeling and opinion at home and abroad was not satisfactory. With other signs, the popular elections then just past indicated uneasiness among ourselves; while, amid much that was cold and menacing, the kindest words coming from Europe were uttered in accents of pity that we were too blind to surrender a
hopeless cause.


_From an Address at a Sanitary Fair in Baltimore. April 18, 1864_


... The world has never had a good definition of the word "liberty," and
the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word, we do not all mean the same thing. With some, the word "liberty" may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself and the product of his labour; while with others, the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men and the product of other men's labour. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name,--liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names,--liberty and tyranny.

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep's throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly, the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word "liberty;" and precisely the same difference prevails to-day, among us human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty. Hence we behold the process by which thousands are daily passing from under the yoke of bondage hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty. Recently, as it seems, the people of Maryland have been doing something to define liberty, and thanks to them that, in what they have done, the wolf's dictionary has been repudiated.


Some of my favorite words and some of Lincoln's last written letters:

Address to an Indiana Regiment. March 17, 1865

I may incidentally remark, that having in my life heard many arguments--or strings of words meant to pass for arguments--intended to show that the negro ought to be a slave,--if he shall now really fight to keep himself a slave, it will be a far better argument why he should remain a slave than I have ever before heard. He, perhaps, ought to be a slave if he desires it ardently enough to fight for it. Or, if one out of four will, for his own freedom fight to keep the other three in slavery, he ought to be a slave for his selfish meanness. I have always thought that all men should be free; but if any should be slaves, it should be first those who desire it for themselves, and secondly those who desire it for others. Whenever I hear any one arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him
personally.


Indeed.

Stay tuned for more writings of Lincoln and other war time Presidents and people on the length and necessity of war. Gutenberg Project: Lincoln

2 comments:

FbL said...

Bravo, Kat! What an intelligent, thoughtful and carefully-reasoned response to what has had me so churning with emotion. Thanks so much for your research and thought-provoking words.

Indigo Red said...

"...strings of words meant to pass for arguments..."

As ever, the opposition today uses strings of words that upon first blush semm vague, but in reality, are meaningless -- Bush lied...no blood for oil...gulag Guantanamo...American Army Nazis...Downing Street Memo...

All without thought, aforethought, or after-thought. Just throw enough words and the righteous will give up. It won't work this time because of people like you, Kat.