While on vacation recently in New York City, Diana and I attended a nice get-together with some local Objectivists. That evening, we had the pleasure of chatting with another Objectivist visiting NYC who was also an active-duty officer in the US Army.
Because I don’t want him to get into trouble with his superiors, I’ll refer to him by the pseudonym of “Xavier” or “X”.
“Xavier” is a captain in the US Army. He commands an armor (i.e., tank) company, in charge of over 90 soldiers. He participated in the initial invasion of Iraq that overthrew Saddam Hussein, and he has served 3 tours in Iraq. He is currently stationed in the US, but will likely be deployed next to Afghanistan.
Based on his experience, he confirmed several of the points that writers such as Elan Journo and John Lewis have repeatedly made. According to Captain X:
1) If the US military were left free to do its job, they could eliminate the threat of Islamic Totalitarianism in very short order. The US military has the technological and physical capabilities to easily win the war.
2) As one example what our military is capable of, the invasion of Iraq and the breathtakingly swift overthrow of Saddam Hussein illustrates one brief episode when our soldiers were left relatively free to operate as they should.
3) The biggest obstacle to winning the war is our civilian leadership. The failure of our political leaders to correctly identify the enemy and take appropriate action to defeat them places our soldiers in an untenable position where they are not allowed to win.
4) One egregious example of our civilian leaders handcuffing our soldiers is their imposition of contradictory rules of engagement. Our soldiers are told that they are allowed to defend themselves from attack. But if they fire at an enemy fighter who isn’t clearly holding a weapon, then they could be punished for using excessive force. Soldiers are thus always forced to second-guess themselves while in combat, for fear of legal repercussions afterwards.
Despite all this, Captain X plans on making a career in the military. He loves this country, he loves his job, and he regards military service as a noble profession. He and most American soldiers want to defend our country, and they want to do what it takes to defeat our enemies.
To the extent that our civilian leaders prevent them from doing that and instead waste their capacities in various altruistic and/or “humanitarian” missions, they are merely placing these brave soldiers’ lives at risk in a form of useless sacrifice.
As Alex Epstein wrote in his recent Memorial Day piece, “What We Owe Our Soldiers“:
Every Memorial Day, we pay tribute to the American men and women who have died in combat. With speeches and solemn ceremonies, we recognize their courage and valor. But one fact goes unacknowledged in our Memorial Day tributes: all too many of our soldiers have died unnecessarily — because they were sent to fight for a purpose other than America’s freedom.
Our soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen deserve better than this.
Because of their position as active-duty soldiers, men like Captain X can’t freely speak out and criticize the policies of their civilian political superiors.
But we can.
If we wish to truly honor the men and women who are selfishly risking their lives to protect their (and our) freedoms, those of us who are able to speak out should.
We should demand that our government pursue a rational foreign policy based on defending American self-interest. We should demand that our leaders explicitly identify Islamic Totalitarianism as the enemy and that they explicitly pursue the goal of overwhelming victory over that enemy. And we should demand that our military be allowed to achieve that victory by all necessary means.
In short, we must exercise the precious freedoms (such as freedom of speech) that prior generations of soldiers have fought and died for, and use those freedoms to defend the ability of the current generation of soldiers who are now fighting (and dying) to preserve them. That’s in our self-interest as Americans — and a matter of simple justice towards those serving in our military.
Our battle won’t be with bullets and artillery shells, but rather with ideas.
If you need “intellectual ammunition” for this fight, the following articles and books make a good starting point, both to read and to recommend to friends, family, and elected officials:
“Just War Theory” vs. American Self-Defense
Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein
The Objective Standard, Spring 2006
“No Substitute for Victory”: The Defeat of Islamic Totalitarianism
The Objective Standard, Winter 2006-2007
America’s Self-Crippled Foreign Policy
An Interview with Yaron Brook, Elan Journo, and Alex Epstein
The Objective Standard, Fall 2009
Winning the Unwinnable War
Edited by Elan Journo
Nothing Less than Victory
Although I regard President Ronald Reagan as a very mixed politician, I agree with this quote:
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.
Are we willing to fight for that freedom? The choice is ours.
(Also cross-posted to CapMag.)