"For those who have fought in war, decisions about war and peace and how you send men and women to war become personal in a hurry. Wars -- even when we agree they are necessary -- are not the result of our successes; they are the result of our failures." -Senator Bob Kerrey
I'm bumping this May post back up to the top because it's become even more urgent.
Full text of the message below, but first, a word from your Blogger.
The words above, for all their power, are not an original thought, nor are they derived from some sort of fuzzy-minded Liberalism. They are a distillation of the words of many men who went to war, both victoriously and not. They are the words of Von Clauzwitz, Sun Tsu, Erwin Rommel, Patton, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Generals Grant and Lee. They are the words of those who's job it is was to reduce the cost political failure to a body count in the pursuit of "diplomacy by other means."
It is not cowardice to point these truths out. No war fighter can be ignorant of these facts of life and death, though one hopes that contemplating the truths makes them less fearful than those who hide behind self-delusion and rhetoric based on wishful thinking.
Both Kerry and Kerrey have gone and "seen the elephant," have learned first hand the brutal principle stated by Von Clauswitz. "War is fought by human beings."
He stated that as a path to victory; an explanation of why a small, well motivated force could often defeat a much larger force. The force that wants the victory the most, the one who has the least to lose, the one with the best leadership and the best morale has a tremendous advantage over any force composed of those who are unsure of the worth of their task or unable to see the correspondence between what their leaders say and what the enemy actually looks like and does.
You don't need to be much of a student of history to find examples as to how this works, a fact that may explain why Vietnam is yet to be included in general US high school history texts.
Nor do you need much insight into the Iraq war to understand why we have so little to show for what we have spent. Wars are not fought for nebulous ideals; they are fought by human beings for things that matter to them. Pep rallies, incoherent speechification and airy dismissals of the importance of the reality on the ground makes warriors cynical and risk-averse.
A war is won when you achieve something as the result of it that you could not have achieved in any other way. National survival, freedom from oppression, access to resources, strategic control, or a tangible, just and visible outcome; whatever it may be, and whatever the justice of the cause, that is what must be weighed in the balance against the price paid by those who fought - and those who tried and failed to avoid the fighting.
This is why we lost the Vietnam War. This is why we have lost the Iraq war and will lose the Iranian conflict, should there be one.
Not because we have lost battles - we lost very few indeed. If warfare were scored on points, well, there would have been no contest, and indeed, against almost any conceivable enemy, there can be no contest.
But in the end, General Giap got what he set out to get - a unified Vietnam, free of foreign domination. They achieved national self-determination for the first time in centuries.
We can say that we went to Afghanistan to liberate it from the Taliban and make it's people free - but the Taliban has returned in force.
We could say that we went to Iraq to free it from Saddam - and we did. We may count that as a victory, and one that was certainly cheap enough had we been satisfied with that outcome. Clearly, our leaders have reasons for not being satisfied with that - and are yet unable to comprehend that geopolitical positioning for a New World Order dominated by American military power is not a goal shared by most members of our actual military.
Not, at least, under our current leadership.
I have never once heard a coherent and credible enumeration of what we were fighting for that could be put in terms of a tangible achievement, or that was reflected in (rather than refuted by) actual policy. This makes me doubt the sincerity of our leadership, and I have far less access to pragmatic policy than the sons and daughters of our nation who face death every day for reasons that must seem unclear at best.
Now, one may say that we should not focus entirely on the short term. We do have a fairly stable Southeast Asia, dedicated to the principle that a rising economic tide lifts all boats. And that is an achievement that is the result, in no small part, of Vietnam veterans who have been there - on both sides - and know that the way to avoid war is to wage peace with equal dedication. Perhaps that could not have achieved without the contrast given by those years of warfare and privation, and the unified purpose given the Vietnamese people by the experience. Nonetheless, I note that we did not try very hard, when trying would have been both cheap and the course of action most in accord with our national principles.
Likewise, we and the rest of the world have much to gain from a stable middle east, and I think it is a goal that is achievable in the region - once it is made possible for the results to benefit the people that actually live there and are directly affected by our policies and statements to that end.
In order to do that, though, we must again act in accordance with our own principles while respecting and understanding the principles, needs and drives of those we need to co-operate with us.
Diplomacy is an unspectacular way to achieve great things. There are many popular biographies of victorious war leaders, but few wish to read an accurate account of the struggles of Senators and diplomats.
But they are the people on the front line of Civilization and without them armies are rather pointless institutions. For the carrot is more attractive than the stick when, and only when the stick is at least as big as the carrot - and kept mostly out of sight.
When we were in the Senate together, John Kerry and I shared a lot more than a last name. We both came to public service after having served our country in Vietnam. And that experience caused us to make a fifteen year effort to bring peace to Cambodia, resolve the POW-MIA issue, write a road map to normalization with our former enemy, and follow that road map until a former prisoner of war returned as our ambassador in 1998.
That diplomatic voyage was long and very contentious. It began with President George Herbert Walker Bush and ended with President Clinton. It was not possible without the courageous leadership of Senator John McCain and many other Vietnam veterans who served in Congress. It was angrily opposed by many and reignited many of the bitter, personal debates surrounding the war itself.
It's among my proudest accomplishments. We were able -- Republicans and Democrats together -- to achieve a great foreign policy success at the site of our worst foreign policy mistake. We stood shoulder to shoulder for peace and reconciliation. Millions of Cambodians and Vietnamese are better off today because of it. For me this was an effort worthy of our sacrifices and reflects my strongest desire for America's destiny as a peace maker.
For those who have fought in war, decisions about war and peace and how you send men and women to war become personal in a hurry. Wars -- even when we agree they are necessary -- are not the result of our successes; they are the result of our failures.
Something more, though, was seared into both John and me by our Vietnam experiences. Half of the names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall are the names of Americans who died after the policy makers knew our nation was on the wrong course, after both political parties called for expeditious withdrawal. And yet the war dragged on for five more years.
"How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"
Thirty-five years ago, John Kerry asked that question as a recently returned Vietnam veteran testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He acted because he believed it was right to dissent from a war he believed was wrong -- and he was willing to endure the attacks of the Nixon Administration which hated John for saying what he believed.
This testimony provoked more than partisan attacks. Even many of his fellow veterans were angry and some never forgave him. I remember this well because I nearly lost my first race for Governor because people thought I was John.
Say what you want about the content of that testimony, it was an act of profound courage. And say what you want about that testimony, there is little doubt that Vietnam and the United States would have been spared tens of thousands of its youth had John's advice been taken.
Ten days ago, in a powerful speech on Iraq and dissent at Boston's Faneuil Hall, John made it clear that those who disagree with President Bush's course in Iraq have a right and an obligation to challenge a President who they believe is wrong, a policy they believe is wrong, and a war in Iraq they believe weakens our nation.
John stood up and defended the dissenters -- whether retired generals or our fellow Vietnam veteran Congressman Jack Murtha.
In an age where those who speak out are too often vilified or worse, John spoke out about and acted on the real meaning of patriotism: having the courage to speak your mind, heart, and gut even when it's unpopular.
I urge you to watch this vitally important speech and to forward it to as many people as possible.
We're at a big moment here - one where each and every one of us must reject attempts to silence criticism of the rudderless course Washington has charted, one in which each of us must absolutely refuse to let soldiers and civilians die to save face for politicians unwilling to admit their mistakes or change course.
I urge you to watch this speech and to join with John Kerry in speaking out and doing everything possible to make 2006 the year that we did what's right for our soldiers in Iraq, our nation's foreign policy values, and our national security.
Senator Bob Kerrey
tag: kerrey kerry, free speech, torture, iran, iraq, lies, miserable failure, george w. bush, vote, voting, dissent, protest, democracy, patriotism, commander in chief