Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Subject: Viet Nam is part of their DNA

----- Original Message -----

From: C Quil
To: velvel@mslaw.edu
Sent: Wednesday, June 28, 2006 11:23 AM
Subject: Viet Nam is part of their DNA

Dear Dean Velvel,

The phrase from Byron King's letter "VN is part of their DNA" was echoed by some of the young men who spoke about post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq in a podcast I recently listened to. One who was not even twenty yet watched his friend die after the explosion of a roadside bomb. Another, in his early twenties, said that of the four friends who started out together, two are dead and one has been returned to the U.S. severely injured.

To seek help after a harrowing experience is still not very well accepted in most branches of the military. It is not considered "macho" to have a severe emotional response to a terrible situation, although one could wonder what kind of person would not have such a response. Some are treated, some are given anti-depressants and sent back into battle, and some never have any kind of help at all.

One coping mechanism these two young men mentioned was the technique of taking the bad memory and "putting it in the closet" to be dealt with later, whenever that may be. With over 2,500 dead (which is not "just a number", no matter what the White House Secretary might say), and tens of thousands so severly injured that they will never work or lead a normal life again, I wonder what effect it will have when hundreds of thousands of returning vets with horrible experiences open the closet door to deal with these memories when they return home.

Fighting continual wars with an all-volunteer army serves only to separate the military from the civilian population, as if they were on different sides and were being pitted against each other rather than a common enemy. Reorganizing military bases into self-contained super bases takes the soldiers out of the civilian community of which they were formerly a part and futher isolates them. Splitting the citizens of a country into groups with less and less in common cannot be a good thing.

Many long-time military personnel are worried at the recruiting techniques and types of recruits being accepted into the forces now, with many of the new recruits coming out of a group that would never have been considered before. It has been shown that these recruits are not only a danger to themselves, but to anyone else with whom they work.

I think that supporting the troops in any country consists of training and equipping them properly and deploying them only when necessary, for what better support could you give a soldier than to value his/her life as much as your own and never to ask them to risk it unless there was no other option.

Sincerely,

Carmelita McQuillan
Sydenham, Ontario Canada



----- Original Message -----


From: Byron King
To: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel
Sent: Tuesday, June 27, 2006 2:45 PM
Subject: Re: E-Mail Correspondence With Byron King

From: Byron

Just a quick note on this one...

The problem with a government (any government) creating agencies that possess immense levels of military or other combat power is that the politicians & policy makers begin to confuse the ability merely to "exercise power" with the even more important need to "create policy." That is, the politicians mix two distinctly different things in their collective mind. Power is not policy. But power is a rather Faustian temptation to the policy-makers. Along the lines of some of what you and I have discussed, you can reach a process of what I call "strategy by targeting."

Examples are what occurred in the Kosovo-Serbia War (1990s), in which the US/NATO bombed Serbia for three months. Why? Because we could, I suppose. After all, we wanted to influence events, so what better way than to drop bombs on peoples' heads, right? I guess that the political leadership must have concluded that there was "no other way." Of course, it was not their collective heads under the bombs.

Moving forward on the time line, from an operational standpoint the Iraq war was planned by the targeting cells (i.e., fire and steel on targets), which is probably what you want if you are truly planning to wage a war on another party. Planning for fire and steel is part & parcel of what is called Phases I, II and III of war planning under US doctrine. But there was precious little attention given to what they call "Phase IV," meaning the termination of hostilities and transition to civil authority and post-combat rebuilding. This was, from what I have been told, not the choice of the senior military leadership who railed against this lapse in standard war planning doctrine.

And you see "strategy by targeting" now in things like the Iranian nuclear situation or the North Korean missile situation. You have otherwise sober people (e.g., former SecDef William Perry in the WashPost) saying things like, "well, gee... we can bomb them and take out the problem." No, not really. You can bomb the North Koreans and amplify the problem by several orders of magnitude with an overt act of war. Whose interest was Mr. Perry serving when he said that?

In some respects, I can understand how the policy-power confusion occurs. The military side is geared and equipped, both intellectually and with some very expensive materiel and training, to get things done. There is a built-in process by which smart and dedicated people focus on a desired end-state (a Clausewitzian term, and such end-state as is "desired" by the political authorities). Then the military operators go off. They plan and conduct operations, and shape events towards that "desired" purpose. This capability is a temptation that politicians find hard to resist. What did Madeleine Albright say to General Powell? "What's the use of having this wonderful military if we cannot use it?"

The logistics side, especially, is the envy of the politicians. Airlift, sealift, ground transport... you can move things from here to there, and have people available to do a lot of heavy lifting when they arrive. This is a useful capability whether it is going someplace to fight a war, or going someplace else to provide disaster relief. Really, the whole Hurricane Katrina-New Orleans thing would have been an utter shambles (far more than it was anyhow) had the military side not showed up within a few days, with the trucks and helos and ship-borne command & control (not to mention the showers and hot food on the USS Iwo Jima, which the civilian authorities utilized by the tens of thousands). The civilian side of the federal govt was simply overwhelmed by the twin hurricanes of last year, not a good omen in an era of global warming. But in New Orleans and elsewhere, for many of the military people it was just doing what they were trained to do except nobody was shooting at them. "Meals on wheels," some call it. Still, is every natural disaster now another opportunity to call in the Army & Navy? You can, I am sure, see a problem with this trend.

As far as resigning, people do exactly that but you just tend not to hear about it. A lot of "retired" senior leadership are quite vocal (e.g., General Anthony Zinni, USMC, ret.--you should hear what he says publicly, let alone in the private realm of speaking for impact to the ones who are still in positions of power. Zinni rakes the leadership over hot coals, and he has the credibility to do it.) Another vocal retiree is General Bernard Trainor, USMC, ret., who co-wrote "Cobra II" which was a rather blunt dissection of the lead-up and execution of the whole Iraq operation.

Also, on a personal level there is that hard decision... resign and drift off into the realm of history and memory; or stick around and, as the expression goes... "try and make a difference." To some people, it looks like careerism on the part of the senior leadership, and perhaps in many cases that may not be an incorrect assessment. (But just to be clear... it is not for me to make broad, sweeping judgments on the motivations of multitudes of total strangers.) But I happen to know personally a lot of people whose motivation is along the lines of... someday somebody might ask, "grandaddy, where were you during the war." And you can say, "I was involved, right in the thick of it, trying to make good decisions and not get people killed." Thus, looking at it with an element of hope in one's heart, everyone has a role to play.

In an earlier email I quoted Leo Tolstoy. "All happy families are the same," wrote the great author, "but unhappy families are each different in their own way." Still pertains, whether in Anna Karenina or during these modern times which are, I am sure you will agree, the only times we have.

I said that this would be a quick note. So I will end it here.

Best wishes,

BWK


Dean Lawrence R. Velvel wrote:


June 27, 2006

Dear Captain King:

Thank you for the email, which I strongly agree with. Let me say that the failure to know history, and the belief in American omnipotence (“Desert Storm redux”), are disasters for this country, in my judgment.

I would add, though, that if Viet Nam is a spectre haunting much of the senior officer corps, they have a duty to speak out in legitimate ways, precisely because the politicians are “both dysfunctional and intellectually bankrupt” not to mention that some are persons who, in the recent words of a columnist, and fitting one definition of coward, ran and hid from the last war, while now blithely sending members of other people’s families off to this one). To disobey orders and violate the principle of civilian control would be disastrous. Speaking out publicly, on the other hand, in service of the old military tradition of honesty, even if one is forced to resign, would be of unquestionable value to the public and Congress. So few have spoken out, however. The habit of keeping it all “within channels” and not letting Congress and the public know the truth has not served the country well during Nam or Gulf II.

There is one point you made which is factually incorrect, although, beyond merely stating this fact, I choose not to elaborate why the statement is incorrect. I do “have to worry about the future of the country or the world due to what transpires on the uniformed side of the stage.”

I shall post your excellent email.

Sincerely yours,

Lawrence Velvel


----- Original Message -----


From: Byron King
To: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel
Cc: Lew Rockwell
Sent: Thursday, June 22, 2006 2:34 PM
Subject: Re: E-Mail Correspondence With Byron King

From: Byron

Viet Nam....FYI.......

VN is the haunting spectre within the mind of almost every senior officer I know or have ever met. There are still a few old salts in uniform who were "there." VN is part of their DNA. The people who entered the military post-VN (1970s & 80s) grew up in a rather stilted culture of VN-remembrance. "All happy families are the same," said Leo Tolstoy. Unhappy families are unhappy in their own ways. Very unhappy families include people who live with a legacy of VN.The Junior Officers today appear not to know much about VN from their schooling (much of what they do know is wrong), and seem to think that waging war is supposed to be Desert Storm redux. In the senior leadership roles, we try to disabuse the juniors of those fantasies.

Still, it is hard to undo the processes of America's modern, broken school system. VN gets a thorough going-over at the various service War Colleges, but again it is hard to recreate the emotion of what transpired. The young officers coming back from Iraq certainly have their own new set of demons with which to wrestle.I am still not quite sure where you are coming from, Dean... I cannot speak a universal truth, applicable to every soul, but my belief is that you do not have to worry about the future of the country or the world due to what transpires on the uniformed side of the stage. The people who really need the VN lessons (we can start to call them Iraq lessons, now) drilled into their collective heads are the political masters, of both dysfunctional and intellectually bankrupt political parties. They just don't know... they just don't understand... they just don't get it. I asked a lot of fundamental, strategic oriented questions towards the end of my email to you. No offense intended, no disrespect in any way. Just you & me exchanging some thoughts. We should not have to be asking such questions at this stage of a war. Had those questions really been asked & answered some time back, we would probably not be having this conversation.

Best wishes to you,

BWK

Dean Lawrence R. Velvel wrote:

Dear Captain King:

Thanks much for the lengthy email. It will be posted on my blogsite.

I will confine my response to two words: Viet Nam. Those two words summarize the fact that I’ve heard it all before.

Sincerely yours,

Lawrence Velvel


----- Original Message -----

From: Byron King
To: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel
Cc: lew@lewrockwell.com
Sent: Wednesday, June 21, 2006 6:37 PM
Subject: E-Mail Correspondence With Byron King

From: Byron King
To: Dean Velvel

Thank you for your comments. I did not anticipate that our email exchange would get picked up by LewRockwell.com on June 21, but I suppose that there is no bad publicity as long as they spell your name correctly. Lew publishes my good friend Bill Bonner almost all the time. So here are a few more comments from this end. You raised a lot of points. We seem to be having a solid discussion. So I will take the time to try to address some of what you said...

Etc....


----- Original Message -----

From: Thomas Wilkinson
To: velvel@mslaw.edu
Sent: Tuesday, June 27, 2006 4:36 PM
Subject: Re: Captain King's reply

Dear Dean Velvel,

I spent considerable time over the past years examining what I called "military culture". By that I mean the marriage of positivism and military institutions to create a "science" and "religion" of political power. In Latin America the Brazilian revolution led by Benjamin Constant and the republican-oriented officers against the monarchy was exemplary.

The US, presumably due to its Protestant hegemony, did not need a secular redemptive state ideology like the predominantly Catholic countries to its south. Some have insinuated that the privileged location of General Washington's Masonic lodge presages this movement in Central and South America. In any event by the time Mahan published Sea Power, the confluence of science and geopolitics was already shaping the officer class in the rest of the hemisphere. This "modernising" force was used by the US as the interface to penetrate the civilian cadres too. Institutions like the National Defence University emerged in the 1950s to shape the "modernising elite".

What I am getting at is that although the military in the US has always been a distinct career track from the civil service and the "elected" political leadership, the Cold War created an incestuous network of civilian-military bureaucrats who make up the "dilettante soldiers" like Rumsfeld and "dilettante politicians" like Powell. These people live in a world devoid of the historical military virtues AND absent from any democratic culture. They are equivalent to the CFOs or controllers in the corporate sector who lack both entrepreneurial/industrial imagination and actual industrial knowledge/craft skills.

This however is the caste of "bureaucrats" in the Stalinist tradition, who run the US. The fact that many neo-lib/cons consider themselves ex-Trotskyists notwithstanding, the US is run by and supported by the Stalinists.

Captain King's regrets are certainly to be commiserated but, I fear there is no residue in the political or military class worth mentioning which would even understand the courage to "violate a bureaucratic order" and resign to accept the consequences. Robert McNamara set the standard by which the War Office was to be run and paved the way for the current lamentable situation. To this day he is an unreconstructed example of US leadership since the end of WWII. (As can be so poignantly seen in his own performance in Fog of War). I fear what the US and Britain need is not the resignation of honourable whistleblowers but the actual refusal of the General Staff to carry out a war in violation of the Constitution. Since most US Americans have an extremely naive view of the military and its relationship to state power in the US, the idea of a refusal by the officer class to obey the President would cause a constitutional crisis like a golpe de estado (of the type the US government has been trying to instigate in Venezuela and has incited elsewhere in the past: e.g. Brazil) might seem the paramount implication of such a refusal.

To assume this however is to ignore the traditional duty even anchored in the UCMJ with respect to refusing to obey unlawful orders. It also ignores the duty to uphold the Constitution imposed on every recipient of the President's Commission, esp. those whose commission must be confirmed by the Senate. (Of course the new theorists of a sovereign presidency would like to see the analogy to the King's commission by which officers serve at his majesty's pleasure.)

In short, it is incumbent on the commanding officers, whether they be general, fleet, or field grade, to uphold the Constitution and not the will of a sovereign president (in council). What prevents this from happening is not the VN ghost or some constitutional humility but the domination of the political-military apparatus by a civilian-military bureaucracy which is accountable to no one with standing as a constitutional person (judiciary, legislature, executive, citizenry).

This bureaucracy itself is a violation of the Constitution-- which did not envision a standing army. The legal fiction that biennial war appropriations bills mean that the Armed Forces are not standing is the basis upon which this bureaucracy has infested the entire constitutional waters in which the USA floats. Eisenhower's warnings notwithstanding, the USA has truly been "reduced to the world's largest carrier task force" where command has been surrendered to vacationing accountants on a passing cruise ship under escort of a pirate corsair.

It will take more than a bit of honesty and hand-wringing to repel those who have boarded and taken the helm. But it would be a great service if the officers would come back from the head, mess or after steering and display some semblance of the leadership expected of their grade and rank.

Most respectfully yours,

Dr. Wilkinson


June 27, 2006

Dear Captain King:

Thank you for the email, which I strongly agree with. Let me say that the failure to know history, and the belief in American omnipotence (“Desert Storm redux”), are disasters for this country, in my judgment.

I would add, though, that if Viet Nam is a spectre haunting much of the senior officer corps, they have a duty to speak out in legitimate ways, precisely because the politicians are “both dysfunctional and intellectually bankrupt” not to mention that some are persons who, in the recent words of a columnist, and fitting one definition of coward, ran and hid from the last war, while now blithely sending members of other people’s families off to this one). To disobey orders and violate the principle of civilian control would be disastrous. Speaking out publicly, on the other hand, in service of the old military tradition of honesty, even if one is forced to resign, would be of unquestionable value to the public and Congress. So few have spoken out, however. The habit of keeping it all “within channels” and not letting Congress and the public know the truth has not served the country well during Nam or Gulf II.

I shall post your excellent email.

Sincerely yours,

Lawrence Velvel


----- Original Message -----


From: Byron King
To: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel
Cc: Lew Rockwell
Sent: Thursday, June 22, 2006 2:34 PM
Subject: Re: E-Mail Correspondence With Byron King

From: Byron

Viet Nam....

FYI.......

VN is the haunting spectre within the mind of almost every senior officer I know or have ever met. There are still a few old salts in uniform who were "there." VN is part of their DNA. The people who entered the military post-VN (1970s & 80s) grew up in a rather stilted culture of VN-remembrance. "All happy families are the same," said Leo Tolstoy. Unhappy families are unhappy in their own ways. Very unhappy families include people who live with a legacy of VN.

The Junior Officers today appear not to know much about VN from their schooling (much of what they do know is wrong), and seem to think that waging war is supposed to be Desert Storm redux. In the senior leadership roles, we try to disabuse the juniors of those fantasies. Still, it is hard to undo the processes of America's modern, broken school system. VN gets a thorough going-over at the various service War Colleges, but again it is hard to recreate the emotion of what transpired. The young officers coming back from Iraq certainly have their own new set of demons with which to wrestle.

I am still not quite sure where you are coming from, Dean... I cannot speak a universal truth, applicable to every soul, but my belief is that you do not have to worry about the future of the country or the world due to what transpires on the uniformed side of the stage. The people who really need the VN lessons (we can start to call them Iraq lessons, now) drilled into their collective heads are the political masters, of both dysfunctional and intellectually bankrupt political parties. They just don't know... they just don't understand... they just don't get it.

I asked a lot of fundamental, strategic oriented questions towards the end of my email to you. No offense intended, no disrespect in any way. Just you & me exchanging some thoughts. We should not have to be asking such questions at this stage of a war. Had those questions really been asked & answered some time back, we would probably not be having this conversation.

Best wishes to you,

BWK

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