A response to Lutrell–the only possible one, in my view.
Yes, Marcus. Your friends died in vain. They went selflessly. They fought bravely. They sacrificed nobly. They lived in the best traditions of duty, honor, and country — hallowed words which dictate what every American can and ought to be. But they died in vain for the exact reason that they went where their country sent them and did what their country told them to do. America failed you because it failed its obligation to those principles. It gives me no pleasure to write these words, because it applies as much to the friends I lost as it does to yours. But it needs to be said, because the sooner we acknowledge it as a country, the more lives we might save.
As I write this, America is two weeks into its 13th and presumably last year of war in Afghanistan. Already, two service members have been reported killed there. The strategic outlook after our withdrawal is not optimistic. Indeed, current events forebode a harsh future for Afghanistan. We are only two years removed from our withdrawal from Iraq and the al Qaeda flag flies over the city of Fallujah, in which more than 120 American service members died. The ultimate failure of American military might to secure Fallujah does nothing to diminish the honorable nature of their service. But likewise, all their gallantry cannot change the fact that they died for an unfulfilled cause. The honor is theirs alone. The disgrace belongs to America.
Throughout history, our nation’s greatest leaders have understood on a deeply personal level that however honorably a soldier acquits himself, he can die in vain, and that it is the responsibility of the leaders and citizenry to see to it that they don’t. Our country has lost its sense of that responsibility to a horrifying extent. Our generals have lost the capability to succeed and the integrity to admit failure. Our society has lost the courage and energy to hold them accountable. Over the last decade, our top leaders have wasted the lives of our sons, daughters, and comrades with their incompetence and hubris. After each failure, our citizens have failed to hold them accountable, instead underwriting new failed strategies as quickly as their predecessors with our apathy and sense of detachment. And then we use the tired paeans of “never forget” and “honor the fallen” to distract ourselves from our guilt in the affair. When we blithely declare that they did not die in vain, we deface their honor by using it to wipe the blood from our hands.
We have lost our collective ability to win a war as well as the strength of character to accept defeat. And in the end, it is those who represent the epitome of that character we lack that pay the price. Can there be a death any more in vain than one that secures for us freedoms that we hold in such low regard as to not even use them on behalf of those that protect us? If there is, I cannot think of one.
Bring ’em all home, and keep ’em here until this country rights itself; rediscovers its self-respect, the sacredness of its founding principles and their absolute worthiness of vigorous defense; and resolves never to enter into any war again without an absolute determination to win, overwhelmingly and without reference to political correctness or squeamishness over the very nature of war itself. Absent all that…just keep ’em home. Wretchard asks the real question:
The date on the Foreign Policy column is January 15, 2014. But in spirit is closer to January 15, 1939 when it dawned upon altogether too many that the vast losses of the Great War merely bought a chance to fight an even bigger war. Great must have been the temptation to cynically scrawl over the Menin Gate. “Yes. They died in vain.”
There is a similar sense today of a collapsing house of cards. Disaster is the new normal. One of the greatest hurts the Obama administration has inflicted on the national psyche is a profound demoralization; an acceptance of hopelessness. People are no longer looking for good news any more than they’re hoping for jobs. Many have stopped fighting the tide of woe and fully expect more to follow, with nothing whatsoever to be done about it. An administration premised on Hope has taught us to give up hoping.
By now we expect Obama to lie; lie for the sake of lying; misrepresent for the heck of it, even when the truth can safely be admitted in candor; to spit in the soup for no reason that even he can think of.
And nobody’s mad at Obama. For they know the truth. It isn’t Obama that is frightening since he’s just being himself. It is the circumstance that 50% of the electorate wanted him — and may want him still — that is absolutely terrifying. That is the source of the despair. We gaze into the mirror and lose hope.
Jim Ghourley puts the epitaph in the wrong place. “They died in vain” is less apt upon their tombstones than “they lived in vain” is on the lintels of our homes. For to all appearances, Marcus Luttrell’s men are not half so dead as we are. They live in some way still. In saga if not as a blockbuster movie. But what can we say for ourselves? That we live after death on some voting roll? That we resisted until the first stern admonition from Candy Crowley or Chris Matthews?
An event, Buchan would write, is never “at the moment fully comprehended…time hurries it from us, but also keeps it in store”; and only later do we see it for what it is. It is less than completely true to say the Red Wings died for a mission order. To a certain extent they advanced to their own private drummer and died for each other without counting it a loss. Maybe the right question to pose is “do we live in vain?” That remains an open question. We know the administration had not the least iota of faith in the men of the Lone Survivor mission. But by their actions we know that they still had faith in us.
Um. Ouch. That observation ought to sting every last real American right to his very core.
What we do with that bequest; well there’s the rub. The present is all the past has to show for itself.
Well said, and all too true. America has long coasted on past glory, relied on its former strength, to claim a power it no longer possesses or even values. We’re coming to the end of that ignoble and fruitless march. We’ve gobbled up the seed corn and forgotten how it was planted. One way or another, we’re going to be relearning some painful lessons very soon now.