Tuesday, April 10, 2007

# Posted 6:21 PM by Patrick Porter  

MY OBSESSION WITH RALPH PETERS will end with this post, promise.

Normally I find his writing very stimulating.

But his recent polemic about the British hostages is sad to read.

I can't comment much about the relative calibre of British Royal Marines and American Marines under capture or interrogation.

But there are constructive ways to make his criticisms of British rules of engagement and training. Other than calling into question the Britons' national character.

And Peters might be reminded that the country he derides as cowardly and unmanly has not simply begun a withdrawal from Iraq. It is redeploying a large chunk of its forces to Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, a war far from over, British, Canadian and other forces are facing some of the hardest fighting since Korea.

There's actually an argument that with its limited forces, its more valuable for Britain to focus its military efforts in a more winnable struggle, than in an Iraqi civil war. This point might at least have been entertained, instead of accusing the British of simply turning tail and fleeing.

He also might consider that at this critical time in American foreign policy, a little magnanimity and credit might be offered to its closest ally. Instead of the unreflective spite that his article offers.

(Especially since many Americans, and those of us who admire the US, and I suspect Peters himself, rightly bristle when simplistic things are said about its national culture).

Its disappointing that a commentator normally so thought-provoking and insightful can indulge in such tabloid hackery.
(21) opinions -- Add your opinion

Another interpretation:You only recognize Peters' Tabloid Hackery in this instance because you disagree with him.
Who was that other hack who once mumbled something about having to choose between war and dishonour?
An example of Peters' thoughtful, insightful commentary.

Here is another.

The mindboggling stupidity of this piece still stands the test of time.

I have actually disagreed with Peters before (see my post Feb 23 this year) without thinking he was guilty of tabloid hackery. Just not this time.

It is great that the Brits are redeploying to Afghanistan. However, you have to weigh the value of redeployment with how they will operate.

In Southern Iraq the Brits tooks a completely different stance to the US. If they take the same approach they took in Southern Iraq they will be as militarily useless as a number of the NATO countries already in Afghanistan.

By the way, I sometimes think Peter's writing is over the top. On this topic I think he may be on to something. Ask any military person what they think of the sailors and marines and the service hierachy.

I am ex military and I squirmed every time I saw these guys on TV.
I'm not sure "tabloid hackery" is a useful description; do you mean it literally? Which tabloid? I do sometimes pick up a Weekly World News Bat Boy article to send to a brother, and I don't think that Peters would be a good fit. Really.

I've never thought of Peters as "insightful", but I do think he has a point of view I want to understand (and sometimes agree with). Start from an understanding of government, first and maybe still foremost, as a mutual defense pact. Accept the need for guys at the pointy end, military/police mainly, guys who have to be ready to die on command or the system will not work. Well, how does that work? I think you need people with a Peters-style self-image...and they have to be prepared to trust each other in life or death situations, and they do, and that trust frequently crosses borders. Peters is saying that these are people that, up to now, he would have trusted with his life, people he did trust to be part of his kind, people like POWs he has known or known of and thought highly of, people like McCain. At least, that's the way I read him in this particular venting...and he's feeling that this trust has been betrayed by those particular people, when they not only surrendered without a fight but then apologized. Isn't that his focus? There are sub-issues, of course, in that if you respect the ex-hostages then you are rejecting Peters' culture, which he thinks (quite likely correctly, I think) your survival depends upon. That's awkward.

Is this silly? I dunno; maybe it is. There's more to it, and I definitely don't understand it all, much less agree with it. But I hereby predict that his reaction will be very common among American troops, and that the British military establishment will be seen by them as having lost quite a bit of credibility. No?
You have that exactly backwards. Our culture does not depend on Peters' culture for its survival. Peters' culture depends on us -- we pay for it. We would be much better with a draft so that all of this was a shared burden and culture.

There you go getting everything bass ackwards. If we didn't have people who are prepared to die fot the country we certainly wouldn't have the country.

Burden shared by all. It is no good having a draft if you cannot find anyone idealistic enough to put their lives on the line.
Anonymous 5:40, wikipedia says Peters (like me) was born in 1952; when we turned 18, there was a draft. Peters' military culture existed then as it did in the Revolutionary War, or a few thousand years earlier. (Read Hanson's Western Way of War, written much better than his polemics.) Without mutual defense and people ready to die for it, and in particular for each other, there ain't no country, because there's always somebody ready to fight against it. That doesn't fill me with joy, and it doesn't make me one of Peters' supporters, but I do believe that we depend on that culture, and that we should try to understand it. Does that culture need us taxpayers? Yes, of course -- we agree on something. :-) Should we all be members of that culture, via draft? I don't think so, but at the moment I'd rather focus on Peters' reaction to captives who cooperate with propaganda statements by their captors. (Note that he does not criticize them for surrendering to superior force; his blow-up has to do with their behavior thereafter.)
Hi Tom,

On a minor point, Peters does actually criticise the British troops for surrendering as well as cooperating later on:

"The once-proud Brit military has collapsed to a sorry state when its Royal Marines surrender without a fight..."

On the general discussion, firstly I really welcome your reasoned and measured approach, which is in stark contrast to the shrillness of Peters' article.

There are indeed some serious issues to be raised about the incident. But taking this episode and slandering an entire nation and culture for being emasculated is just absurd. Which is what he does: Peters goes further than criticising the marines in question, he uses it to vilify a whole culture.

American combatants allegedly carried out a massacre at Haditha. Would it be reasonable to infer from this incident that the American military generally is part of a brutalised and inhumane culture?

Peters would not think so, so he should think twice before questioning the integrity of entire nations on the basis of single incidents.

I have personally met a range of pretty seasoned officers, some veterans of the Falklands, some younger, who have been at the sharp end of the spear at least as much as Peters has. Its both unnecessary and a little incautious for Peters to accuse all of them of cowardice.

thanks for the fact checking on Peters' age. You are of course correct, he would have been subject to the draft in 1970 but enlisted and served in Germany (most definitely not Viet Nam). However, to re-use Patrick's phrase, I don't think Peters was ever at the sharp end of the spear. I think he's just a tabloid hack.

I did read VDH's Western Way of War back in school, and it was better than his usual (and predictable) polemics, for example, Who Killed Homer, which I detested. My favorite critique of VDH in by Werther.

Still I think we'd be better off with a draft. I don't think we'd be in Iraq with a draft. But we'd be in Afghanistan and we'd be doing a better job.
On your minor point: eek, of course, you're right and I'm wrong. (I'd googled for other articles, and mixed up statements, in particular Lind (the 4th-generation-war guy)'s article:

"The initial surrender of the British boarding party to what appears to have been a much larger Iranian force is the only defensible British action in the whole sorry business."

sorry. And I agree with you that Peters is shrill; and I wish he wouldn't do that, and if shrillness is all you meant by the "Tabloid" adjective, then I'll agree with that too -- but in that case Brad DeLong is a tabloid economist. A lot of people enjoy being shrill, I don't know why, and I try to ignore it.

I think the comparison with Haditha may be apt, but not necessarily in the way you mean. The Haditha massacre reports have resulted in charges of murder, of violating a lawful order, dereliction of duty, obstruction of justice, etc. Whatever the underlying story may be, that's a pretty comprehensive rejection of the behavior in question. If Britain (and, in particular, British military authorities) were to reject the ex-hostages for their collaboration in Iranian propaganda, then I believe that Peters (I believe he said the enlistees might be salvageable but the officers should be court-martialed) wouldn't be generalizing in the way that you resent.

He's generalizing because, as he sees it, the Royal Marines and Navy (and government, and public?) are accepting their behavior, associating themselves with it. Consider the still-more-vituperative

"why on earth is Britain, the land of the legendary stiff upper lip, celebrating cowards who clambered over one another to shame their country?"

"Wouldn't the Brits do better to make a fuss over the many soldiers of the queen who've served bravely in Iraq and Afghanistan? Why break out the cakes and ale for officers who enthusiastically briefed Iranian propaganda for the TV cameras and who let their subordinates behave as if the Revolutionary Guards were their best pals?"

Yes, it's shrill, but it's not just shrill -- and it does acknowledge those "who've served bravely." He is not, I think, "questioning the integrity of whole nations on the basis of single incidents," but rather on the basis of their sustained reaction to a single incident. If the US government were to respond to the Haditha allegations (and film) with "aw, gee, they were under stress, give them a break -- no, give them a hero's welcome home" then I think his logic would fit your analogy. As it is, they were under stress doesn't count; if they thought they were under threat then they may be partially excused. As Blackfive put it,

"If Wuterich’s story is true he may be guilty of a horrendous decision to assault the first building, and that may be Dereliction of Duty, but it is not Murder."

That's as far as acceptance seems to go among the milbloggers I check; I think Peters is pretty consistent with them, except that he tends to be more shrill than most. (And I tend to be more long-winded than almost anybody.)
My last procrastination of the day... Anonymous, you're likely right that he was never in combat, and for all I know he may have all kinds of complexes, simplexes, and multiplexes about that, e.g. driving him to shrillness. I can easily understand people who disrespect him for his shrillness, but I still think he expresses a culture which we need, and which we would still have and still need if we went back to a draft system. :-)

(And I regretfully still support the Iraq invasion, in the belief that terrorism on the 9/11 scale is a tiny taste of what we'll experience if what Barnett calls the Gap is still generating terrorists thirty years hence, after another twenty or so Moore's Law doublings. You go to war with the (incompetent) President you have, not with the President you wish you had...and our military, like the British and the Dutch and others, have been slowly learning in spite of incompetence at the top, learning to do nation-building; SysAdmin functions. Ah, well, I suspect we'll go on disagreeing about that.)
Tom - It took Lincoln quite a while to find the right generals, too. ... I served in the U.S. Army exactly 50 years ago, (drafted), and believe me, you don't want to return to the draft. Everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong in that army, and every barracks was full of Philadelphia lawyers. The smartest soldiers were the privates and the generals, which is a recipe for disaster. We were like a steam locomotive going down the tracks: somehow we would get there, but losing 86% of the power all the way. These kids nowadays are never drunk, can read and write, have (usually) no criminal records, and put the "smart bomb" right down the chimney. That's not the army I knew,and we don't need everyone to serve. The manpower pool was low then, because the birthrate fell in the 1930s. Today there is a plethora of manpower, and a plethora of volunteers. To ask for the draft again is insane. ... We do need trained killers, however, and we always will. "For it's Tommy this, and Tommy that, and get out of here you brute, But it's Saviour of his country when the guns begin to shoot!"
We do not have a "plethora" of volunteers. The Army's struggles with recruiting are well-documented. Bonuses just hit $1 billion and are climbing. What will it take to retain our generally superb NCO and mid-level officer corps with new 15-month deployments every 2 years?

You give youself away - with the draft we probably would not be in Iraq. Your argument is political. You do not like the war.

You probably will never accept that the Congress voted in 1998 and prior to the current hostilities to remove Sadaam.

I would go so far as to say you would not have had a problem with the war if it had ended quickly all wrapped up in a bow. Life is not like that.

To cut and run as the US has done in the past does nothing for those we cut away from, neither does it do anything for us.
davod (and exguru) -- sure, Anonymous' objection is political in the sense that opposition to our Iraq policy leads him to look for weaknesses; nonetheless, if he finds weaknesses they have to be dealt with.

I assume that his support for the draft is also a consequence of a belief that it would make wars harder to get into, just like it kept us out of all the previous wars...no? Well, never mind, perhaps it would make them harder to get into; perhaps we're getting less warlike, and perhaps (remember the post that we're commenting on?) perhaps the British are leading the way. The recruitment bonuses don't bother me at all, but if (as some generals seem to be saying) the Armed Forces are at an unsustainable full stretch, then that's a problem.

Is Peters' culture failing, coming to an end or going through a period of weakness, here and in England (and in the Netherlands, previously discussed?) I think it could be true. If so, then I predict that we will withdraw from the middle east, correctly perceived as weak; there will be Shia nukes and Sunni nukes, and after a while a nuclear caliphate which, although oil-funded, will be less economically and technologically powerful than the Soviets, in relative terms. In absolute terms, however, Moore's Law applied to robotics and manufacturing will give it far more destructive power than the Soviets had. Googling for "man who saved the world", I naturally mainly find Petrov, but adding Arkhipov to the search or reading Petrov's wikipedia article, I see that it had happened before. Our survival so far has depended on luck -- and, I believe, on the culture which Peters tries to represent, and which he fears the Royal Marines may no longer be part of. In Barnett's terms: if the Gap becomes Core, if globalization really works, then it will no longer depend on luck, and perhaps we really won't need Peters' culture any more. (Ain't a-gonna study war no more -- my dad and his were non-pacifist Quakers, my First-Day School teacher's husband burned himself up on the Pentagon steps. No more war at all? I dunno. But we have been becoming less violent, and we might become a lot less violent.) For the Gap to become Core, we need some version (the right version, whatever that may be) of a SysAdmin ("pistol-packin' Peace Corps") force, and it needs to be working with a Leviathan force, of the people and culture celebrated by Peters.

But we don't need a larger Leviathan force, we have been stretching Leviathan by giving it SysAdmin duties; I believe we could recruit a SysAdmin market-democracy-building force in many nations, with inducements including idealism and decent pay and a promise of US citizenship because the recruits would be people we'd be glad to have. But I dunno.
A more judicious criticism of the boarding party's conduct comes from a Brit himself--Sir Max Hastings. You can find his column up at the Daily Mail through a google search.
Thanks, anon 11:18; actually I guessed wrong several times on googling, so here are direct links to Hasting's April 6 "Why there must be sackings over Iran":

"Plenty has already been said about the embarrassing behaviour of our captives in Iranian hands. I do not for a moment believe that they were either tortured or brainwashed, whatever that means. Most likely, they simply said what they thought would get them released. "If only they hadn't rolled over so quickly," as an army officer said to me ruefully."

and Hastings Daily Mail April 9:

"What happened to the British patrol on the Shatt-Al-Arab waterway reflected the fact that it is a long time since the Navy fought anybody."

"Senior officers were asleep on the bridge, metaphorically if not literally. They are now scrabbling to save their professional skins, and do not deserve to succeed."

Hastings is not a soldier but has been at the pointy end, as in wikipedia's:

"the troops were ordered to stop but Hastings received no order and walked on, becoming the first man with the Falklands Task Force to arrive in the capital..."

Seems pretty pointy to me. (On the other hand, the number of times I have to type the word verification to preview and then publish each comment seems pretty pointless, and I'm sure it's not that I'm getting them wrong so often.)
There is virtually no limit to the number of American military volunteers. All they have to do is step up the advertising. The perquisites can be increased, too--the signing bonuses, guaranteed college expenses, reenlistment bonuses, etc. Recruiting is directly responsive to advertising, just like selling beer or cigarettes, except the government has the advantage of unlimited spending with no need to show a profit. Why else do you suppose there is no shortage of people now, in the middle of an unpopular war with constant subversion in the media?
Right, it's a marketing problem.
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