By Steven Pressfield | Published: July 20, 2009
My dear friend Printer Bowler is a former army captain who served with psychological operations units in Viet Nam (1966-67). He was attached to the Third Marine Amphibious force, I Corps near the DMZ. He’s a perennial history student, now teaching, writing and pumping out radical troop-support propaganda from his home in Montana. It’s a pleasure to post this missive from God’s country:
The bone yard is full of our delusions
What a concept! Respect your adversary, know who’s boss, see what you have in common and make a deal. Everybody does it on a daily basis—from personal relationships to corporate takeovers. Everybody, that is, except the Pentagon and DOD. So ironic that it’s been left to Steven Pressfield, one our most respected historians and my favorite literary rock star, to remind our leadership of this perennially ignored reality.
Since WWII, military strategists and clueless politicians have been addicted to high-tech shock-and-awe strategies, the delusion that remote-control warfare does the job. Of course, initially it can tenderize battlefields . . . but then what? “Mission accomplished!” someone announced from an aircraft carrier. Not even close. That was the beginning of the Iraqi/Afghan quagmire, not the end, which is still searching for itself in a distant fog.
Success or failure, the buck stops at management
Troops, while you’re out there getting sniped at, roadside bombed and ambushed, our leaders have been glued to their video war games and computerized spread sheets. They still think they can blast their way into foreign neighborhoods and suddenly be top dog. Only recently have they looked up and noticed that drones and smart bombs alone often create far more “enemies” than they neutralize. Like it or not, almost every bomb dropped in Iraq and Afghanistan spawned a hundred new al-Qaeda and Taliban recruits, killed and alienated dozens/hundreds of formerly neutral civilians. Stupid plan, stupid results.
Until we wise up and join forces with their key (tribal) leaders, as Alexander and others discovered, we’ll keep losing lives, confidence, respect and Treasury bills. Experience, our poor ignored teacher, is getting very frustrated with us Americans!
Déjà-vu minus 40 years: Didn’t hear you, say again?
I’m a Viet Nam vet and I still cringe at the disaster our British Redcoat toy soldier mentality made of that poor little country. Our strategy there was shock-and-awe by whatever name: B-52 carpet bombing, relentless tactical air strikes on suspected VC/Viet Minh positions (often hamlets full of innocent people). Plus, massive aerial applications of Agent Orange in a preposterous attempt to destroy every non-rice plant in the country so there’d be no place to hide. Seriously! This was Defense Sec’y McNamara’s number-cruncher game plan taken to an extreme level of absurdity. Meanwhile, our infantry units were grinding through one booby-trapped jungle nightmare after another, getting hammered and going nowhere.
The result? With our brain-fart assistance, Ho Chi Minh and the black pajama people—with their little bags of rice, SAMS and AK-47s—brought the mightiest military power in the world to its knees. Just like the Afghans did to the Russians less than two decades later. (It’s crazy, but think about this: What if we had made a deal with Ho Chi Minh’s tribe instead of those incorrigible French colonial losers and their South Vietnamese collaborators?)
Time to wheel and deal our way out
Think also about this: what if we made a deal with the Taliban, like Reagan did in the ’80s? And how about a new deal with the Iranians, like we could have done countless times instead of overthrowing their democratically elected leader (Mossadegh, 1952) and mounting our oil-lackey Shah in his place. All the radical Imams we’re fighting now came to life as rebels against the Shah and us, his sponsors. They finally overthrew his regime and have been the big roosters ever since. Hating us ever since. Face it—we, and our British predecessors, essentially gave birth to present-day radical Islam in Iran. We have done nothing to earn their trust or respect, and done much to terrorize and isolate them. Don’t want to believe it? Lose Fox News and read your history. It always has been and still is about oil. In Iran. In Iraq. In Afghanistan. In America.
In the Islamic mind, the past lives in the present. Muslims remember the events of their entire history, good and bad, as if it all happened last week. It’s a tribal thing. We Americans seem to forget everything that happened before last week. We should know by now that even our super hi-tech military arsenal can’t save us from such an oblivious approach. We have to wake up and start making smart, mutually profitable deals with the main players—especially those we call “enemies.” Come back, Sun Tzu, we need you bad!
Very important people are MFA (missing from action)
Where are the children of Congresspeople and Pentagon/DOD people? Fort Lauderdale? They need to be in uniform, camped out with our troops, getting up every day and facing the shrapnel and snipers right in the thick of it. Until the talking heads running this war have a personal stake in it, it will remain a CYA paper game in far away Washington. Until the microcosmic “Tale of Two Captains” becomes national policy, and not just isolated acts of resourcefulness and goodwill, our troops have to carry the DOD’s job on top of their own. Hey, who said world peace was going to be easy?
God bless all you troops, and keep a heads-up out there. •