I think that most people remember history as small packets of information: slogans such as, “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes,” events such as the Boston Tea Party, or dates such as 1779.
Hearing and reading about the final combat troops leaving Iraq made me think of how we remember history, because our leaders and generals seem to have ignored some big history lessons in prosecuting the Iraq-Afghanistan wars.
I confess that I’m using anecdotal evidence here, which means it’s just what I remember people talking about. My assertion (and the premise of this blog entry) is that when people think about how we fought the Revolutionary War against England, its King and the belief that certain people are inherently better than others by virtue of birth, we remember two concepts, both hammered into us by elementary and high school history teachers and textbooks:
- It’s impossible to beat a foe thousands of miles from your home when it fights a war that grinds you down with retreats and evasion. Washington played such a game until the British gave in, realizing it would take decades and an enormous expenditure of money and lives to win.
- You are at a disadvantage when you outsource your military functions to mercenaries such as the Hessians.
Leaders and generals on American soil have a long history of ignoring the first concept. For example, the Confederate general Robert E. Lee choice to aggressively engage the troops of the United States of America in combat instead of playing hide-and-seek, ensuring not just defeat, but a particularly bloody one. (FYI, Lee usually is considered one of the greatest generals of all time, but I think that’s just part of the mythologizing of the Old South, similar to the odious myth of the “happy plantation slave.” I consider Lee to be the single most overrated figure in all of recorded history, and as a warrior for slavery also among the most despicable.)
And we all know what happened in Viet Nam, first to the French and then to us.
And yet, we began the war in Iraq (for dubious and ultimately unfounded reasons) and then continued to pursue it long after it became clear that there was not even a definition of winning, let alone a hope for it. And still we persist in Afghanistan, which previously defeated the British, the Soviet Union and just about every other foreign invader.
On to the second concept that I believe that those who remember their history remember: that hiring mercenaries is a bad thing. In the excitement about announcing the withdrawal of all combat forces from Iraq, the Obama Administration forgot to mention that 85,000 military contractors remain in Iraq. In other words, we have more mercenaries in Iraq today than we have soldiers. Remember that these mercenaries follow the policies and regulations of the companies for which they work. Their fist loyalties are to these companies. They are contract workers, doing a dirty job, not American soldiers dedicated to serving our country and trained (or indoctrinated, if you prefer) in the military’s version of our values virtually every day. These mercenaries tend to make more money than American soldiers and the companies that hire them make profit, which significantly drives up the cost of what is turning out to be a very expensive set of wars.