Are we ready? Are we able?
September 15, 2001 11:30 PM   Subscribe

Are we ready? Are we able? Is anyone else offended by this question? This article presents a fairly balanced view. My question would be, do we have any choice but to be ready militarily, politically and diplomatically? What is the alternative? Was this question asked so frequently in the days following Pearl Harbor?
posted by dewelch (6 comments total)
The only thing that Alexander the Great managed to retrieve from his Afghan campaigns (he went that
way on his way to India) was an arranged marriage to a tribal beauty named Roxanne. When the Brits
marched to Kabul in the high flying days of their Empire, after they had marched through the Khyber
Pass, all communications with them ended. What remained was silence. The Afghans had cut all
communications off. Several months later, one spring morning, a single British drummer boy appeared at
the top of the pass. He was the only survivor of the first British expedition to the centre of Afghanistan.

The Russians have tried (that’s modern history) and that defeat broke them so badly that the Soviet
Empire never recovered. Earlier, the Chinese had several tries. They all failed. The Huns, the fiercest
horse warriors who have ever existed, tried and failed. To this day, unless anything has really changed in
Afghanistan since this author was there close to thirty years ago, in the high hills they are still singing
songs about Alexander the Great, whom they admired so highly as a warrior that they awarded him one of
their most beautiful women for his own high valour and for the high courage of his Macedonian troops.

The Afghan highlands are the graveyards of the hubris of Empires.

--William Buckler, The Privateer

Typed from a newsletter, no link, sorry.
posted by Nothing at 3:34 AM on September 16, 2001

(My ideals are strewn throughout this site like shards of glass from a broken vase (fooljay). Apologies for repeating here thoughts expressed elssewhere, but I think this thread brings together a couple of previous threads.)

Leonard J Pitts, in his rhetorical piece in the Miami Herald, cited victory over Japan as evidence of American readiness and ability to go to any lenth in pursuit of a vital interest. He understandably omitted reference to Vietnam, in which the war was suspended inconclusively at the point when the American Government sensed the public was, in fact, not prepared to bear any more suffering, pay any cost, or go to any length, in the pursuit of justice. Further pause for thought is required in realising that our stamina was spared the ultimate test of attrition warfare by the disruptive technology of the nuclear weapon, an option not available (pray God) to us today. (And Saddam is still at large, to the regret of many, for fear of public reaction to committing US land forces to the "terminal phase".)

And MeFi hosted a discussion about the tension between "civilisation" and "barbarism." I believe, from a strict perspective, that an armed force is the method by which a state applies lethal force in pursuit of its vital interests, and that anything that weakens that force brings forward the point at which the state has to concede to its opponent. Today's "civilised" commander has to worry about (1) whether any of his men are distracted by their gay sergeant (2) how to provide for the protection and evacuation of his People-With-Disability personnel in the event of being over-run (3) how CNN is going to broadcast his activities on the evening news (4) whether any of his men are going to sue him or his Government for putting their lives at danger and exposing them to trauma. I would argue (without belittling any of the issues represented) that that constitutes a weakening.

Anyone baying for blood today would do well to consider whether the public stomach has strengthened significantly to lend substance to a claim of being "ready", and whether we are "able" to oppose an uncivilised force and remain civilised.
posted by RichLyon at 5:45 AM on September 16, 2001

Anyone baying for blood today would do well to consider whether the public stomach has strengthened significantly to lend substance to a claim of being "ready", and whether we are "able" to oppose an uncivilised force and remain civilised.

This has been one of my concerns from the start, which I've alluded to in a couple of posts. I don't think most Americans have any realistic notion of what is coming, and fear their rejection of doing what will be necessary to achieve success once they find out. Bin Laden and his ilk would like nothing better than to have more tales (like the one he tells of Marines running away from battle, crying and dragging the corpses of their comrades in Sudan) of what they perceive as American cowardice and weakness to shout to their troops and the world. Not to mention that it would translate into defeat for us and victory for them, a la Vietnam.

Let us be sure of our resolve before we test it.
posted by rushmc at 8:33 AM on September 16, 2001

We are ready. Period.
posted by davidmsc at 10:10 AM on September 16, 2001

Davidmc. Some of us need to be ready to return home in a body bag (thats the 'ready' I needed to be when I was a military pilot). Some of us need to be ready to see our loved ones and friends return home in a body bag (thats the 'ready' I need to be now with my son's Godfather, who is a military pilot). And some of us need to be ready to see many people with whom we have no relationship other than 'citizenship' return home in body bags.

Which group of 'ready' people do you most closely identify with?
posted by RichLyon at 10:54 AM on September 16, 2001

I, of course, meant to type "Somalia" above, not "Sudan."
posted by rushmc at 4:34 PM on September 16, 2001

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