First, over at MilPub P.F. Khans had a rumination about the recent graduation of several female Ranger students. In one of his comments that extended the discussion, he said:
"We are at war and we are doing quite poorly in all of those wars and its worth asking why "equality of opportunity" matters more than winning wars. I suspect that we exist in a state where winning and losing wars looks basically the same for most Americans. This is bad. There are people in this world who actually know how to win and we won't like losing in the future."The same day I ran across a post at David Axe's War is Boring site that said pretty much the same thing:
"...we are a nation at war. In the past 15 years, American troops have fought in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and Syria."All of this talk of war made me think about "war"; what it is, what "we" (as in "We the People") think it is, and what the institutions that direct it and conduct it think it is.
I think that what's crucial about understanding what's going on - why there are American wars but not wartime in America - is understanding the physical reality of the United States in 2015 versus the rhetorical, intellectual, and emotional picture of the United States that most US citizens carry around in their heads.
The reality is that the US is a de facto imperial Great Power in the military sense. U.S. armed forces are busy around the globe doing the sorts of things that the European powers used to do in the global hustings back in the colonial era; "advising", training, and supplying client rulers, suppressing bush rebellions, spying and gathering information, patrolling the "commons" - sea lanes and land corridors.
Some of these missions involve combat, and for those engaged in the fighting these little wars are just that; wars. It's disingenuous to call them something else. If I'm getting shot at I can tell you damn straight I'm in a fucking war.
But...the U.S. and most U.S. citizens has a difficult time with the term "war". For it, and most of us, a "war" is one where people you know go to fight and some never come back except in a bag, where the news is full of battles and foreign adventures, where there are maps and pictures in the papers, where Bugs Bunny sells War Bonds. We have never been good at reconciling the "savage wars of peace" with what we think of as War with a capital "w".
So for most Americans - even the ones that really do buy the formulation of a "war on terror" - I don't think that the notion that "we are at war" is a reality.
(Which, in a sense, is a GOOD thing. Nations and peoples do some pretty terrible and stupid things to themselves when they are "at war". Wars tend to empower the worst, stupidest, and most shortsighted elements in a society, and the sorts of expedients required of nations in wars - however essential those expedients may be to surviving and winning that war - are not really good for the nations or the people that take them.)
And this whole business of female Ranger School grads is a good indication of the fact that even the U.S. Army is not "at war". When TRADOC is "at war" - as it was in the Forties, early Fifties, and Sixties - it tends to get very focused on cranking out new meat for the meatgrinder. My old Reserve unit (104th Division (Training)) had that as its entire mission; the idea was that when the balloon went up in Korea, say, we'd mobilize to Ft. Lewis and reopen the old Vietnam-era Infantry OSUT, crank out 3-4 divisions worth of replacements and then ruck up and go to war with the last cycle through. There were something like 5-6 similar "training divisions" in the USAR with similar missions in various parts of the country.
What I find very interesting is that in the past decade the USAR has drastically downsized or eliminated these units. The 104th is pretty much gone; its mission has been turned around to running ROTC summer camps. The 91st (which was the other West Coast training division) is doing something called "operational" training. The old 78th Division now is the mobilization evaluation outfit for USAR units called up for deployment...
What that, and TRADOC's willingness to push the USAIS into putting female troops in the Ranger course, tells me is that the U.S. Army has abandoned the notion that there will EVER be a situation similar to WW2, Korea, or Vietnam where the training establishment will have to be ramped up to crank out masses of 11-series bodies...which, in turn, makes me think that the U.S. Army has moved fully over to thinking like the old British Army of 1890; that it is a largely constabulary and expeditionary organization that will never have to field a WW2-style mass Army again...
Meaning that the Army thinks that what the U.S. public thinks as "war" will never occur within the foreseeable future, and that what we have now - these low-level brushfire and colonial-type "wars" - are the new normal.
Whether the public will ever "get" that - or whether the various organizations and factions that concentrate power in the United States WANT them to "get it" and will work actively to ensure they don't - remains to be seen.
Out of all of this, however, I think We the People need to have several discussions with and amongst ourselves.
We need to decide whether we're good with being an imperial power, first of all. Because imperial powers fight imperial wars - that is, "little wars" that don't need, and, indeed, pretty much require a fairly hight level of disinterest within the imperial citizenry.
And if we don't...we need to decided what level of these brushfire wars we ARE good with and how much we need to, as a citizenry, get involved in debating and overseeing them.
Will we do this?
I'm fairly confident that we won't.
The individual wars themselves and the general level of civic engagement needed to learn about and make intelligent decisions regarding them is just too high. We prefer our wars as we prefer everything else about our self-government; simple, easy, and, preferably, done by someone else.