Last April, Ambassador Robert D. Blackwill, a distinguished diplomat, summarized American policy toward Pakistan. “Every time a new administration in Washington comes to office,” he said, “they get worried about Pakistan, which has a stockpile of nuclear weapons. The US Secretary of State then visits Pakistan and meets the top leadership.
After 17 years on a treadmill, obviously no good option exists. But to pull out our troops would be to repeat Saigon in 1975. The consequences to America’s credibility would be crushing. Unlike in the Vietnam case, no domestic political movement is dedicated to insuring a total, humiliating withdrawal. Conversely, no American power center, bureaucratic or political, is lobbying to increase our force numbers.
Ken Burns recently released a documentary entitled “The Vietnam War: An Intimate History.” The script concluded with these words, “The Vietnam War was a tragedy, immeasurable and irredeemable.” That damning hyperbole neatly summarized 18 hours of haunting, funereal music, doleful tales by lugubrious veterans, and an elegiac historical narration voiced over a collage of violent images and thunderous explosions.
At different historical periods, weapons emerged that changed how armies fought. Four millennia ago on the flat plains of Mesopotamia, the Assyrians employed the chariot—predecessor of the tank—to dominate all opposing tribes. In the twelfth century A.D., Genghis Khan’s horsemen swept out of Mongolia, employing highly mobile firepower—superb riders equipped with short bows—to terrify the more civilized peoples living along the western edges of Europe.
The Military History Working Group at Hoover concentrates upon logic, facts, and trends communicated via the written word. At the same time, more people in all strata of society are basing their judgments upon social media and digital images. Consider: almost 60 million people watched Steven Spielberg and Tom Hank’s Band of Brothers miniseries. Video attracts audiences one thousand times larger than bestselling books.
The 1938 hurricane season resulted in 700 fatalities. The lack of technology to provide early warning caused that high number. In the current cases of Texas and Florida, casualties are far less because we have early, accurate warning and have learned how to prepare. But since we cannot change nature, we cannot prevent the physical damage and so Congress appropriates vast sums—likely to exceed $150 billion—to repair.
The short response is yes. Crime forever? Also, yes. Turbulence, terror, pestilence, famine, love, procreation, taxes, families, sunsets, rain, shine, etc.—all are components of the human condition. There is no arc toward perfection in human nature.
What technological breakthroughs could recalibrate military operations in the tradition of the tank, guided missile, jet aircraft, or nuclear weapon? It’s not the technologies; rather, it is the motivation driving the technologies that has changed. The American Way of War has reverted back to the pre-1775 style called “skulking”: you try to kill your enemy while staying alive.