War Ain't Beanbag

Perhaps George W Bush's most significant failure as president was not convincing enough Americans that the war on terror was a real war. From the vantage point of most Americans it had -- and still does have -- the look and feel of a police action, something far less. A bit like the "phony war" for Brits in 1939-1940, right up until the Battle of Britain and for Americans until Pearl Harbor.

Without most Americans convinced that it is a real war, the ruthless tactics necessary to wage a real war will never be fully accepted either morally or even pragmatically. Andrew Roberts in his "History of the English Speaking Peoples Since 1900" describes what it took to be a wartime leader. In May of 1940 it was obvious Neville Chamberlain wasn't it, as the House of Commons drafted Winston Churchill instead.

Roberts' money paragraphs on what it takes to lead and win war is here, starting with a remark by Horace Walpole:

"Horace Walpole had once lamented that, ‘no great country was ever saved by good men because good men will not go to the length that may be necessary.' By May 1940 Britain was less interested in whether her saviours were good than whether they were tough and single-minded. Plenty of people had criticized Lloyd George's moral character before he got to Number 10 in the crisis of 1916 but cheerfully accepted him once he was there, only getting around to attacking him once the victory was safely won. Similarly Churchill's ruthlessness, once thought to be an incubus by ‘good men' of the Respectable Tendency in British politics, was now considered a benefit...


"It might be doubtful whether good men such as Baldwin and Chamberlain would have been ready to consider going to such lengths as laying down gas across Britain's south coast in the event of a German invasion, or invading southern Ireland, or even dropping a nuclear bomb on Japanese civilians, but Churchill was willing at least to contemplate that, and much more."

Wars are not won solely on the battlefield. Churchill knew this better than most. Wars are won in minds of the leaders first, who are willing to deploy brutality and destruction, deceit and psychological intimidation even indiscriminately, despite the occasional moral ambiguities. Intelligence gathered about the intent of the enemy is a precursor to battlefield victories. Sometimes timely and prescient intelligence can avoid battles altogether or at least assure victory sooner minimizing the death and collateral dismemberment.

Churchill would scoff at today's liberal Democrat claims that the harsh interrogation techniques, even waterboarding, are considered torture. But it would be no laughing matter for him to think that America would foreclose such techniques while facing an enemy capable and willing to wantonly destroy a 72 story office building in downtown Los Angeles.

Imagine if Khalid Sheik Mohammed hadn't finally disgorged those plans. Or imagine an administration, relying on gestures of sweet tea and unrequited idealism, prohibited the CIA in pursuing the trail any further. How many buildings and thousands of innocent lives would have been sacrificed before the Chamberlain wing of the democrat party would endorse any harsh interrogation? The Sears Tower, the Empire State Building, Disneyworld? How many self righteous pacifists could remain with so much blood on their hands?  And when some of the would-be Mahatma Ghandis  would finally come to their senses, does anyone think such tardy converts would be as restrained as president Bush? 

Here are the questions:  Are we as a nation prepared to defend democracy as JFK exhorted  in his inaugural "pay any price, bear any burden?" Are we prepared to defend private property, freedom of speech, and a government established by the consent of the governed? Or are the political enemies of George W Bush so deranged they would sacrifice our nationhood and its sovereignty for the temporary gratification in seeing the former president on trial? Who among them would be the first to pee on the ashes?

Recall the storyline about Epaminondas, Thebes general and statesman who crushed Sparta and liberated the Messessian helots, called by Cicero the "first man of Greece". Upon his return home Epaminondas was persecuted by his political enemies. And as soon as WWII was successfully concluded, Britain once more had little use for Winston Churchill. Yet Epaminondas was immediately acquitted and Churchill's place in history as the savior of western democracy is still unshaken.

It's little wonder that President Barack Obama, as soon as he stepped into the White House on inauguration day, promptly returned the bust of Winston Churchill to Number 10 Downing Street. Otherwise Churchill's bust would remind Obama every day that his solemn pledge under oath to "defend and protect the Constitution of the United States" is as hollow as his conviction to deploy the means to do so.
Perhaps George W Bush's most significant failure as president was not convincing enough Americans that the war on terror was a real war. From the vantage point of most Americans it had -- and still does have -- the look and feel of a police action, something far less. A bit like the "phony war" for Brits in 1939-1940, right up until the Battle of Britain and for Americans until Pearl Harbor.

Without most Americans convinced that it is a real war, the ruthless tactics necessary to wage a real war will never be fully accepted either morally or even pragmatically. Andrew Roberts in his "History of the English Speaking Peoples Since 1900" describes what it took to be a wartime leader. In May of 1940 it was obvious Neville Chamberlain wasn't it, as the House of Commons drafted Winston Churchill instead.

Roberts' money paragraphs on what it takes to lead and win war is here, starting with a remark by Horace Walpole:

"Horace Walpole had once lamented that, ‘no great country was ever saved by good men because good men will not go to the length that may be necessary.' By May 1940 Britain was less interested in whether her saviours were good than whether they were tough and single-minded. Plenty of people had criticized Lloyd George's moral character before he got to Number 10 in the crisis of 1916 but cheerfully accepted him once he was there, only getting around to attacking him once the victory was safely won. Similarly Churchill's ruthlessness, once thought to be an incubus by ‘good men' of the Respectable Tendency in British politics, was now considered a benefit...


"It might be doubtful whether good men such as Baldwin and Chamberlain would have been ready to consider going to such lengths as laying down gas across Britain's south coast in the event of a German invasion, or invading southern Ireland, or even dropping a nuclear bomb on Japanese civilians, but Churchill was willing at least to contemplate that, and much more."

Wars are not won solely on the battlefield. Churchill knew this better than most. Wars are won in minds of the leaders first, who are willing to deploy brutality and destruction, deceit and psychological intimidation even indiscriminately, despite the occasional moral ambiguities. Intelligence gathered about the intent of the enemy is a precursor to battlefield victories. Sometimes timely and prescient intelligence can avoid battles altogether or at least assure victory sooner minimizing the death and collateral dismemberment.

Churchill would scoff at today's liberal Democrat claims that the harsh interrogation techniques, even waterboarding, are considered torture. But it would be no laughing matter for him to think that America would foreclose such techniques while facing an enemy capable and willing to wantonly destroy a 72 story office building in downtown Los Angeles.

Imagine if Khalid Sheik Mohammed hadn't finally disgorged those plans. Or imagine an administration, relying on gestures of sweet tea and unrequited idealism, prohibited the CIA in pursuing the trail any further. How many buildings and thousands of innocent lives would have been sacrificed before the Chamberlain wing of the democrat party would endorse any harsh interrogation? The Sears Tower, the Empire State Building, Disneyworld? How many self righteous pacifists could remain with so much blood on their hands?  And when some of the would-be Mahatma Ghandis  would finally come to their senses, does anyone think such tardy converts would be as restrained as president Bush? 

Here are the questions:  Are we as a nation prepared to defend democracy as JFK exhorted  in his inaugural "pay any price, bear any burden?" Are we prepared to defend private property, freedom of speech, and a government established by the consent of the governed? Or are the political enemies of George W Bush so deranged they would sacrifice our nationhood and its sovereignty for the temporary gratification in seeing the former president on trial? Who among them would be the first to pee on the ashes?

Recall the storyline about Epaminondas, Thebes general and statesman who crushed Sparta and liberated the Messessian helots, called by Cicero the "first man of Greece". Upon his return home Epaminondas was persecuted by his political enemies. And as soon as WWII was successfully concluded, Britain once more had little use for Winston Churchill. Yet Epaminondas was immediately acquitted and Churchill's place in history as the savior of western democracy is still unshaken.

It's little wonder that President Barack Obama, as soon as he stepped into the White House on inauguration day, promptly returned the bust of Winston Churchill to Number 10 Downing Street. Otherwise Churchill's bust would remind Obama every day that his solemn pledge under oath to "defend and protect the Constitution of the United States" is as hollow as his conviction to deploy the means to do so.