Haditha and the Uses of Brutality
People think of Hannibal as a bloodthirsty conqueror, sort of an early version of Atilla, the famous "Scourge of God". Hannibal was the product of an admittedly bloodthirsty religion that worshipped the monstrous Baal of the Furnace. What people don’t realize, however, is that Hannibal failed to conquer Rome only because he was insufficiently ruthless.
The people of the Italian Peninsula hated Rome, but were terrified of her. They well knew that Rome would avenge any betrayal by decimation, killing every tenth man, or more likely by total destruction. Hannibal, on the other hand, merely asked for their help and tried to win their support for his cause by reason and bargaining. In the end his approach did not work, and the consequence of his forbearance was that his people were ultimately destroyed, obliterated, removed from History. The very soil of his homeland was plowed with salt.
The US has in the past well understood Hannibal’s failing. In the Civil War Lincoln made a mistake with General George McClellan who was famous for preparation and forbearance. After realizing his error, Lincoln then hired and fired until he found some generals that "would fight", Grant and Sherman. You may have heard of them. In World War I, the US allowed Europe to call the shots and negotiate its own peace terms. That was a mistake. Those terms, both too punitive and insufficiently stern, led to World War II. Both wars can easily be viewed as an interrupted whole because nothing had really changed. The US learned the lesson that the Europeans could not learn and, being sufficiently ruthless, accepted nothing short of unconditional surrender in both theaters of WWII.
We still beat our breasts about it, but Harry Truman did the exact right thing by dropping the A-bombs on Japan. He saved many months of war and hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides. He was, by disposition, a nice guy, but he was not one to pull a punch. But the most important thing he did was to prosecute the postwar occupations of Germany and Japan with the intent of effecting change. He had no nostalgia for days gone by and no high-minded love of cultural preservation that would have stayed his hand. He had sufficient ruthlessness to irreversibly disrupt the antiquated and disfunctional social mechanisms that were the real enemies of world peace. He created (with the help of McArthur in Japan) two miracles of modernity. From the ashes of the phoenix there arose choirs of angels. Boy was he a bastard!
Now we have recently discovered something else he did which was not too nice. An event took place early in the Korean War where a large number of desperate civilians were mowed down by American guns. The meaning of that event was suppressed for 50 years. Well, the story as partially uncovered became that American soldiers had fired on these civilians in a fit of panic. Untested soldiers in retreat did not know what to do. Uh huh. Now, a new story is unfolding that puts a different spin on it. The action was deliberate, ordered in fact by the officers. Shades of Haditha or Mai Lai perhaps? Another reason for Americans to hang their heads in shame?
I would argue that this is not so. The political nature of the World hung in the balance. We were fighting what would become the most brutal, totalitarian government on the planet. Indirectly, we were also fighting Chairman Mao, the Obliterator, the Merciless, the greatest political exterminator of all time, and in fact we were engaged in an orderly but hopeless retreat. The full story, as it has come out (if it has come out),
is that we had warned the civilians repeatedly and firmly that they must not approach American lines or they would be killed. Assuming the worst is true, these civilians ignored the orders and were deliberately killed to prevent agents of the North from infiltrating American lines.
Who am I to judge such a thing? It was a horrible choice, but was it for the best? For myself, I think the present state of South Korea is a blessing worth the many prices that were paid. I believe the South constitutes its own section in the aforementioned choir.
Now, what was the biggest act of ruthlessness on the part of America? It was called MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction. It could have destroyed Civilization. It could have ended the Age of Mammals. We may not be home free even today. It was, however, the only conceivable defense against the Soviet Union, holder of the title as second most ruthless annihilatorof innocents. MAD sustained us for decades until the Soviet Union collapsed from the weight of its own wickedness, and a particularly inefficient economic model. MAD ended up killing exactly zero innocents. Many intellectual Americans thought that MAD was the primary wickedness, including my personal hero, Carl Sagan. I do not agree. I believe that the primary responsibility of the US was and is to preserve the flicker of hope represented by the shared values of Western Civilization.
Let’s compare a couple of events. Looking at the mistakes of Versailles and Munich, and the accomplishments of Harry Truman, where would we place the following events? The Hostage Crisis of 1979. The bombing of the US Marine Barracks in Lebanon. The Somalia Campaign. The Overthrow of the Taliban. The Overthrow of Saddam. The Occupation of Iraq. Should I mention the Abandonment of South Vietnam? I think you can guess my answers to all of these items. It’s nice to be nice, but there is no substitute for victory. Unless, of course, you are fighting someone more civilized than yourself.
OK, so let’s talk about Haditha. Here’s my take. If you want a reasonable balance of warfighting and police work, you send in the Army. If you are prepared to be ruthless, as ruthless as the enemy is, send in the Marines. Please note that I am praising the Marines here. Maybe they shouldn’t have been sent to Haditha, but there are times when you need them, because there are times when you must be ruthless in the face of a ruthless enemy. And when people are shooting at you from behind a bulwark of innocents, you need to effect measures that will stop that from happening. God, how we try to soften the blow.
6/5/2006 10:01 PM