Thursday, December 01, 2005

# Posted 9:17 PM by Patrick Porter  

THE FOG OF WAR: In an earlier post, I claimed that a paralysing sensitivity about one's lack of personal military experience could be a defect in a wartime President. And that a President who had never fought in a war should still be prepared to risk American casualties if he/she thought it was the responsible thing to do. To illustrate this, I pointed to Abraham Lincoln as an example of a successful wartime leader without personal military experience making tough calls about accepting high losses of life. Others have also pointed to the paradox that Lincoln and FDR had scarce experience in uniform but were two presidents regarded as the country's greatest wartime leaders, while other successful wartime presidents, such as Woodrow Wilson and James Polk (Mexican War), also had little or no combat experience.

An astute reader, however, commented that Lincoln did see service in the Black Hawk War of 1832. He joined the Illinois state militia for three months. But did he see any military action personally? From what I could find, apparently almost none. As a congressman, he himself joked in 1848 that if one general 'saw any live fighting Indians, it was more than I did; but I had a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes; and although I never fainted from loss of blood, I can truly say I was often very hungry.’ So Lincoln apparently took the reins of the North during the Civil War without a first-hand, intimate knowledge of the horrors of combat. But I'd love to hear from any Lincolnologists out there who know more.
(12) opinions -- Add your opinion

Even more interesting, if I may say so, is that Ike had no combat experience.
Not that Garry Wills is the most reliable source, but in his (very bad) biography of Reagan, he writes about the history of Illinois, where Reagan was born, and describes the militia in which Lincoln. It was supposedly a pathetic ragtag force in which Lincoln got no real military training, let alone combat experience.
Lincoln: 'I can truly say I was often very hungry.'

This reminds me of the Chocolate Cream Soldier in Shaw's 'Arms and the Man', or perhaps Napoleon's logistical observation that 'an army marches on its stomach.'

War isn't romantic, full of heroes doing great things, despite the neo-con portrayal. And I'll take Lincoln's hunger and insects over Bush's partying at Yale as relevent experience. Lincoln was also much less educated than Bush. Funny, it doesn't show.

I think that is what it comes down to. Neo-cons are romantics wanting to believe in something big and heroic and unwilling to give way in the face of reality. They are bleeding heart conservatives who are easily manipulated.
to play devil's advocate, maybe they think that some things are worth fighting for even despite poor opinion polls and bad casualty figures.
There is no correlation between service in the military and competence as a wartime President. Kennedy's military escapades were all disasters, as were Carter's and Nixon's. Reagan's and FDR's went very well. Bush Senior's were a mixed bag, as were Clinton's. George W. Bush has had one successful war (Afghanistan) and one war in progress (Iraq).

The rational conclusion intelligent people draw from this is that serving in the military doesn't mean jack diddly when it comes to being the civilian head of government in wartime. Whether you enlist and serve list Nixon and Carter, avoid service like Clinton, or take a middle path like Bush, in the end it doesn't reflect one way or the other on your competence as a leader.
Reagan's military successes??? That would be Grenada? Or would it be Nicaragua and El Salvador? Or would it be opening channels to moderate Iranians. Because it certainly wasn't the Cold War. He huff'd and he puff'd and he said, Mr. Gorbachev, tear this wall down. Myth. At best, Reagan deserves credit for continuity.

But otherwise I would generally agree. I think Bosnia has been a success and I fear that Afghanistan will be a failure.
don't forget to add lebanon to that list. although the contras were surprisingly successful in the battlefield.

the real point is that reagan oversaw the tremendous strengthening of the us military. in addition, the goldwater-nichols rforms updated the military organizationally so that it could use its combat power effectively.
Reagan deserves credit for continuity

Holy historical revisionism Batman!

Reagan broke fundamentally with the containment policy by rolling back the Soviet at the edges, by engaging in a big military buildup and, most important, by challenging the very legitimacy of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

It was this latter measure, in particular, which gave great encouragement and energy to the anti-communist voices living under that system. Natan Sharansky said that when he and his friends heard that Regan had called the Soviet Union an "evil empire", it was one of the greatest days in their lives.

And, of course, Reagan was opposed at every step of the way by liberal democrats who, as usual, believed that there isn't a problem in the world that can't be solved by simply having the US give up and walk away.

Like, once again, in Iraq.
As if.

"Reagan broke fundamentally with the containment policy ..."

with more containment. It was after all a Cold War with a few proxies thrown in for entertainment.

"by rolling back the Soviet at the edges"

Like Grenada.

"engaging in a big military buildup"

Star Wars.

"and, most important, by challenging the very legitimacy of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union."

And in what way did Reagan do this that Carter, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, Eisenhower and Truman didn't? Was Nixon actally a Commie sympathizer? I didn't know. Do tell. Continuity.

Carter pulled the American Olympic team from the Moscow Olympics in 1980 after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Very unpopular, perhaps you recall. The Russians were humiliated as this was their chance to shine on the world stage.

"And, of course, Reagan was opposed at every step of the way by liberal democrats ..."

Right Wing mythology. And please, we prefer big L and big D.

There are some things I like about Reagan. I thought his response to Libya was measured. Qaddafi was truly terrible AND STILL IS, but a war was not necessary. The results have been effective. If Bush could have learned ANYTHING from this, it should have been that containment works. Containment WAS working in Iraq, hence no WMDs were found. Metternich anyone?

But the Soviet Union thankfully fell apart of its own ineptitude, finally disintegrating in 1991. There was a bit of a CIA scandal at the time as to why so many had missed what was so obvious.

"Like, once again, in Iraq."

Iraq? Talk about a Right Wing misadventure. I'm never up to date on the raison du jour of why we are there.
You are exactly right on Lincoln's lack of combat experience. There is no dispute among historians over this point.
Dearieme, only an idiot would say that Ike had no combat experience. No other poster has seen fit to address your fatuous statement, but it craves repudiation. Ike not only lived with the troops he was ordering into battle, there were quite a few times that he was hunkered down, in a bunker near the front, as artillery rounds impacted the neighborhood.

I do not know what you think Generalship entails, but part of the duties of a General is to be in the heart of the action, as an observer, not a trigger-puller. While there may have been some Generals who stayed away from the front, Ike was never one of them.
mg: consult http://www.hyperhistory.net/apwh/bios/b4eisenhowerd.htm
and you will see that I am right and that your ill-tempered and loutish remarks are wrong.
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