[FoRK] Westmoreland Dies...
Ian Andrew Bell FoRK
Mon Jul 18 22:16:09 PDT 2005
Some day I wonder if we'll be looking back at the service of General
Tommy Franks, having overseen the current fiasco in Iraq, in much the
same way we look back upon the career of Westmoreland. Career
military are learning that if you want that career to continue on,
say, to the State Department that you've got to bend to the whims of
politicians -- or you will be replaced. Some students of history
(yours truly among them) think that Vietnam could have been pacified
with a substantial force (of course, one also has to ask "why
bother") and it was when Westmoreland changed his tune and realized
that an expanded war and a lot more troops would achieve this that he
was smacked by McNamara and ultimately forced out in disgrace.
This pantomime was played in high-speed in 2003 when General Eric
Shinseki was forced into retirement after testifying before the Armed
Services Committee that the US was rolling into Iraq with inadequate
troops. Fall out of line with the re-election-focused whims of the
politicians and you'll find yourself hawking your credentials as an
"expert" on CNN.
Unfortunately no such options existed for the disgraced
Westmoreland. He was promoted out of theatre (and thus moved into
the reality-free zone that surrounds the White House and Pentagon
during times of modern warfare) out of respect for his loyalty. When
his government began to crumble in 1972, seeing the writing on the
wall, he got out while the getting was good.
The lessons of Franks, Westmoreland, and Shinseki are essentially
twofold: that Politicians don't run wars well, which is ironic, since
it's more often politicians than soldiers who want to go to war in
the first place; and that soldiers who fail to understand the first
lesson and accommodate the political circumstances of war will have
short careers. The thing that should concern all of us is that there
has existed for some time a system which virtually guarantees that
wars will be entered into lightly by administrations for the
foreseeable future, and that they will almost consistently be
executed in the most ham-fisted manner possible.
In Vietnam, Westmoreland's bosses had an overreaching faith in Air
Power. And today? An overreaching faith in technology such as UAVs,
Stealth attack planes, etc. In both cases, it seems, the military
staff have been humiliated when it came to landing boots on the ground.
Of his Vietnamese opponents, Westmoreland once said: "The Oriental
doesn?t put the same high price on life as does the Westerner.? He
took several opportunities to downplay the genius of opponent,
General Vo Nguyen Giap, who had lost as many as 500,000 soldiers in
battle, saying that "... such a disregard for human life may make a
formidable adversary, but it does not make a military genius. An
American commander losing men like that would hardly have lasted more
than a few weeks."
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