First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
American Soldiers and How We Use Them
When our young men (and women) volunteer to serve in our military, it is usually with an eye to serving their country, even at the risk of their own lives.
In the process of their service, they will take orders, constantly. Sometimes those orders will come from people they respect -- even love. Sometimes, though, the orders will come from people they dislike, or disdain, or fear, or hate.
Yet the ones who last in the military learn to submerge their own will and keep silent, except when some truly outrageous or dangerous or illegal order is given -- whereupon they either disregard it or make formal protest. These are, after all, Americans. Citizens first, citizens always, though they willingly surrender some of their rights during the duration of their service.
That is why they have such respect for the principle of civilian oversight and control over the military. In America, despite the fantasies of some writers, there is scant danger of a military coup, because few are the soldiers who would cooperate in setting military authority above civilian.
Self-Control of Our Soldiers
I have sat in conferences and seminars where civilian experts (plus me -- I'm not an expert on anything) offer their counsel on issues that will matter to those making decisions concerning our military's future. The civilians are at the table; an officer moderates but takes no sides.
And lining the walls are officers in uniform, who say absolutely nothing except when asked to provide some bit of information. They listen. They take notes. They never, never contradict anybody.
Now, this would be impossible to me. Bereft as I am of expertise, I do have a full raft of doubts and questions and make myself quite irritating to some of the experts -- even as I eagerly learn from them.
I remember being at one seminar a year or so before the election of 2004. The experts were, with perhaps one exception, all contemptuous of Bush and his administration, and some of them repeatedly spoke as if everyone knew that Bush would be turned out of office in the upcoming election.
Finally I had to speak up and point out that it was highly unlikely that Bush would be defeated. "Americans don't turn out their presidents in the middle of a war. Even a bloody, unpopular war like the Civil War -- we kept Lincoln. Don't bet on Bush being thrown out."
Afterward, one officer took me aside and quietly said, "Thank you." For which bit of "wisdom" that I said he was thanking me, I could only guess. Perhaps that comment about President Bush and his chances of reelection.
Only the Retired Can Speak
Our soldiers silence their own voices while they're in service, so that no matter what party is in control, they can serve with their civilian leaders' full trust that they will carry out their orders.
Only when a soldier leaves the military is he free to speak his mind. And boy, are they ready to do it -- at least some of them.
Which brings us to the recent tempest in a teapot over the retired generals who, apparently, held a club meeting and agreed that Donald Rumsfeld was just awful and had to go.
As a result, we had all kinds of sober, head-shaking editorials in the local Democratic Party paper, assuring us that the wisdom of these retired generals absolutely must be heeded. Nothing for it but to have Mr. Rumsfeld's head on a pike.
This was silly, for any of us with a memory. There were plenty of retired generals during the Clinton administration who warned about the danger of our depleted military stores and the inappropriate use of our military -- but the Democratic Party newspapers throughout America (which is, of course, most of them) paid scant attention, swatting these retired generals aside.
What the Establishment Wants
Because, of course, the academic-intellectual-media Establishment of America has nothing but contempt, in the main, for our military. The Establishment regards itself as the heirs of the Vietnam anti-war protestors (which is why they just hate it when I call them, accurately, the Establishment), and their attitude toward the military ranges from suspicion to hostility.
They assume that anyone who enters the military must be a murderer at heart, who can't wait for a chance to torture people or club babies to death. Or at least turn their backs while other soldiers behave that way.
These are the people who think John Kerry was not a liar or a stooge when he accused the U.S. military in Vietnam of committing atrocities as a matter of policy. It was because of this attitude that so many of our embedded reporters were stunned to discover that the soldiers among whom they serve were actually decent, regular guys -- except that they were in really, really good physical shape and generally knew what they were doing in the face of the enemy.
The Establishment does not care one whit what generals have to say about anything. As a general rule, whatever the generals and admirals want, the Establishment assumes must be a boondoggle or a murderous plot against civilization.
But when you can find retired generals who want to say something bad about the Devil (i.e., anyone in the Bush administration who seems to be effective), then the Establishment is all ears. Oh, yes, we must listen to these wise, experienced public servants.
Why Some Generals Might Hate Rumsfeld
But let's remember some recent history. As soon as the Bush administration took office, they started rebuilding military stocks and stopped misusing our military on fools' errands. The generals rejoiced -- somebody cared about national defense again!
But the rejoicing soon slackened, because the Bush administration wasn't just listening -- it was talking.
Donald Rumsfeld did not go down to the Pentagon with a blank purchase order on which the generals could write down their wishes, which it would be Rumsfeld's job to grant.
Instead, he went there as one of the most accomplished and conniving bureaucratic maneuverers ever to work in Washington -- and that's saying something.
Rumsfeld had an agenda, partly derived from President Bush and partly from his own experience in the past. Rumsfeld knew that the military, if left to itself, would choke on its own institutional debris.
For all fulltime professional military cultures share some common traits. For one thing, during peacetime, it is not the great military leaders who rise, it is the conniving bureaucratic generals. As a conniving bureaucrat himself, Rumsfeld knew exactly whom he was dealing with, and he was better at the game. (Plus, he had the ear of the Commander-in-Chief, and he was a civilian.)
So all the standard means by which a Washington bureaucracy captures and coopts its politically-appointed "leaders" simply did not work on Rumsfeld. They could not get around him. They could not delay and obfuscate and bloviate until he went away. When he said "hop," he kept watching until he saw some hopping behavior.
Now, Rumsfeld is no fool. His agenda was to remake the military into a force that could deal with modern asymmetrical warfare -- where a big country (us) must deal with a teeny-weeny country or a nontraditional military.
And there were people already in the military who knew exactly how to do the job. How to create a highly mobile, effective force that could, openly or clandestinely, counter terrorism, insurgency, guerrilla warfare, warlords, or rogue states.
Rumsfeld found those people. Rumsfeld made sure they were listened to.
Some of them had been struggling for years to get the bureaucratic generals to listen to them. But the old ways of warfare were so thoroughly intrenched that they could barely be budged.
Rumsfeld budged them.
The result was a general change in doctrine and organization that required, for instance, Navy and Air Force pilots to be in direct contact with ground troops -- not with generals, but with captains and lieutenants and squad leaders on the ground.
Small groups of highly-trained soldiers were inserted into remote areas where they became friends with the local citizens and earned their trust, until the locals began to tell them where the guerrillas or terrorists were hiding and what the best way was to get to them.
As a result, they stopped preparing for the last war and actually began to prepare for the war that they were soon called upon to fight in Afghanistan and, after the initial conquest, in Iraq.
Oh, that conquest of Iraq -- that was traditional warfare. That's what these generals were trained to fight. But they hated Rumsfeld's meddling. They knew how to do this.
It was only after that war ended, and the occupation began, that we began to see what had already been amply demonstrated in Afghanistan, if anyone had cared to notice:
In asymmetrical warfare, you cannot win until and unless you have allies, small and large, among the locals. There is no quantity or strength or targeting of cruise missiles that will accomplish anything compared to what you can do with a couple of Farsi-speaking Special Ops soldiers who have earned the respect and trust of villagers. When those villagers believe that they will be protected from reprisals and that these soldiers don't mean to rule over them, then they will help.
The war in Afghanistan was fought (and continues to be fought) through the use of U.S. soldiers of many different ranks who know and care about the people they're working with, and can help them fight their own war for civilization and against the forces of tyranny or anarchy.
But that kind of war has no glory in it ... at least not for generals.
Think of what happened to these recently retired generals. They kept their mouths shut and took orders and survived all the bureaucratic maneuvering and all the promotion boards to finally get to a position of real authority in the military. To be a general was like being king. You could make stuff happen!
And suddenly, because of Donald Rumsfeld, they found that most of the interesting work was being done by small groups who were trained by remote and obscure branches of the service. You went to Baghdad and sat in an office and gradually realized that you were almost completely interchangeable with any other general officer, because it was at much lower levels that the interesting and important decisions were being made and actions were being taken.
They couldn't blame Bush. But they could blame Rumsfeld. After all, he was the one they could see. They heard rumors about how generals withered under his scorn. How he not only gave orders, but also checked up on compliance and made life hell for people who resisted him on issues he cared about (which are, of course, all of them).
Where Are the Pro-Rumsfeld Generals?
Not all generals responded this way, of course. In fact, most of them recognized that what they were seeing was a revolutionary change, mostly for the better.
Not entirely. We still have an Air Force that is being pressed by Congress into buying an airplane that is too expensive to be usable in battle; but that's not Rumsfeld's fault, and they know it.
No, I daresay that most officers, while they might disagree with this or that idea of Rumsfeld's (or Bush's!), recognize that this is the best civilian leadership the military has had since Eisenhower was President.
But somehow the Establishment isn't quoting any of them.
Partly, I suspect, because the officers who respect Rumsfeld and recognize the greatness of his achievement -- moving the military to change itself! -- are still in service or, having retired, have no motivation at all to pick up the phone and call a reporter.
What would they say? "Oh, Mr. New York Times Reporter, I want to tell you how great a job I think Mr. Rumsfeld is doing and how well I think the war is going in Iraq."
They couldn't even finish that sentence before they heard the dial tone again. Remember, the press hates the military -- they just hate Bush and his administration more.
How Much Do They Hate Our Soldiers?
It isn't just the press, of course. It's the entertainment media -- just as much a part of the Establishment, and thrilled to take opportunities to spread anti-Bush propaganda.
Of course, the obvious ones, like David E. Kelley with his endless, unfunny, and lying attacks on the Bush administration in Boston Legal, are not terribly effective.
There is, however, a much subtler campaign going on -- which may, in fact, not be a campaign at all, but simply a natural response to the extreme leftist and anti-American culture that permeates the Establishment in Hollywood.
Here's where it shows up:
On Prison Break (a terrific show, by the way), one of the prisoners was a soldier in Iraq, where he was an expert at "getting" stuff that superior officers wanted -- good liquor, for instance. Black marketeering, technically -- but a time-honored tradition in all military organizations.
As a reward, he is given a cushy, you-won't-get-killed assignment as a guard over prisoners of war. But he overhears some American officer torturing somebody, and he reports it.
When he refuses to recant, he is arrested and given a dishonorable discharge for black marketeering -- by the very officer who asked him to get him stuff. Why? To silence him and stop him from exposing the systematic torture going on in the military prison.
Now, to anyone who gives this a moment's thought, this is a silly idea. If our military were really carrying out systematic torture, then (1) they would not assign an untrusted person to be within earshot of it; (2) if someone did discover it, they would (being brutal and immoral) kill him -- nothing is simpler than killing somebody in war and claiming it was enemy action that got him; and (3) they would never give him a dishonorable discharge, since that would send him home to where he would have no trouble at all getting the academic-intellectual-media Establishment to listen to his charges and publish them.
But quite apart from the absurdity of this, here is the real damage: Prison Break doesn't make a big deal about the use of torture. It takes it for granted that of course our military is torturing people.
Now take Lost -- one of the best shows in the history of television. They have the character Sayid Jarrah (Naveen Andrews), who was a torturer in the Iraqi military. So far so good -- he's a fascinating, complicated, tormented character because he managed to keep his conscience but can't get rid of his memories.
But apparently somebody said something scornful to a Lost writer about how they must have been pressured by the government not to tell the "truth." Yeah, they said, you can show Iraqi torturers, but nothing about American torturers.
So, to be fair and evenhanded (they suppose), they do another flashback episode in Sayid's story in which his first experience as a torturer is actually under the direction of Americans who captured him during the Gulf War back in 1991.
In other words, the Iraqi torturer learned torture from American soldiers.
Again, there is no open outrage about this -- these are not shallow propagandists like David E. Kelley. They just take it for granted that American soldiers torture people.
A third example: 24. Again, a brilliantly effective show. They show a Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU) that has a torturer on staff, ready, by the use of drugs or brutality, to extract needed information on an emergency basis -- from anyone, including American citizens.
Moreover, the leading character, Jack, does his own ad hoc torture -- "off the books" -- in order to get results. Totally justified, because of course there's such time pressure to finish the whole thing in twenty-four one-hour episodes.
Ostensibly, 24 doesn't even seem to be against the use of torture. But they show it as a routine policy instrument of the U.S. government.
Here's the truth: Torture, per se, doesn't work. When you inflict enough pain, most people say whatever they need to say in order to make it stop. While those strong enough to resist it, die without telling anything true.
And if you use drugs, what you get are fantasy answers -- in the dream-state of drugs, the answers you get aren't particularly reliable.
In short, torture doesn't work.
What does work is deception -- threats, yes, but also reframing the world of the prisoner being interrogated so that telling you what you need to know comes to make perfect sense.
It's like the old myth that you can't hypnotize anyone to do something he doesn't want to do. For instance, you can't tell a hypnosis patient to take of her clothes in front of a room full of people. True enough -- but you can tell her that she is coming home from a hot day of outdoor activities and she can't wait to get into the shower, and here's the shower, and ... and the clothes come right off, if the trance is deep enough.
Reframing is not torture. Lying is not torture. They are legitimate means of gaining urgently needed true information from the people who have it.
A Climate of Loathing
It is arguable that 24 is pro-military and pro-American. But the effect of these three shows is to plant and reinforce the idea in the minds of the viewers of the program that the American government and the American military torture prisoners whenever they need to. And if the namby-pamby higherups won't authorize it, the guys in the field will do it themselves, without authority, in order to save America.
What are the consequences of making this belief "common knowledge"?
1. People who have fantasies of torturing people will be more likely to join the military and law enforcement organizations than they already are, thinking that the torture they long to inflict will be excused or even authorized. As a result, our soldiers and police have to serve alongside an increasing percentage of dangerous wackos.
2. Americans learn to think of our own soldiers with a kind of sick dread -- did you have to torture anybody when you were in the military? And when the soldier looks at them like they're insane and says, "No, of course not, I killed them directly, in battle, you idiot, because they were shooting at me," the person pats his hand and says, "I understand, you can't talk about it."
3. These TV shows are picked up and shown in foreign countries, where anti-American sentiments are fueled by the fact that even American shows depict American soldiers as torturers -- so who can doubt it now? Therefore, if an American soldier is captured, his captors will be perfectly justified in torturing him, won't they?
This might be justified if, in fact, there were any evidence that American soldiers or police used torture as an instrument of policy -- i.e., that people with legitimate authority use torture.
There are rumors that the CIA has used client states that do torture in order to get around U.S. prohibitions; but what the people who spread this belief forget is that these soldiers -- and CIA agents -- are Americans.
What American Soldiers Do
In the real world, not the paranoid fantasies of anti-Patriot-Act mouth-frothers, there is not a shred of evidence that America is using torture anywhere. Not even in Guantanamo.
And if we learn anything from the aberrant events at Abu Ghraib, it's this: If wacko mistreatment of prisoners is going on, it can't be kept secret.
American soldiers are not perfect. In the heat of battle, terrible things are done. There really is such a thing as blood-lust, the berserker mentality in which adrenalin-charged people carry out appalling acts of slaughter, and Americans are not immune to it.
There are also sick or evil people who use war as an excuse to indulge their immoral desires.
These things happen in all armies, throughout all of history. And in many cultures, such acts are institutionalized. Many American Indian tribes routinely tortured prisoners; the Spanish Inquisition really happened.
What is remarkable about American soldiers is that, on average, there has never been a more humane group of soldiers in the history of the world. Sure, Yanks have been resented as occupiers or conquerors -- what occupiers or conquerors have not been?
But our soldiers are far more often cheered as liberators or at least tolerated as decent guys trying to do their jobs well. Even in Iraq, though the mainstream media do their best to pretend these things don't happen, there are countless incidents that show that many, perhaps most, Iraqis and Afghanis are grateful for the presence of American soldiers.
American soldiers have died or risked death to save civilian lives. They have also served the civilian population in many other highly visible ways. Many Iraqis -- perhaps most -- trust an American soldier more than any other figure in their country right now.
Yet somehow most charges of widespread torture by Americans in Iraq come from insane anti-American Americans, like Ramsey Clark and his ilk. Most Iraqis know they have been liberated from a terror state, not had a new one imposed on them.
With our highly targetable weaponry, America has virtually renounced damage to civilians as a method of war. In our ground engagements, our soldiers are able to be far more selective in targeting than any army in history.
No army has ever been as self-restrained as our army is today. And that is not because of pressure from the Left. It's because our soldiers are decent American citizens who are serving their country, not getting vengeance or indulging authority fantasies.
So these charges of torture, so carelessly and negligently made by our leading television writers, are being applied to Americans who are innocent of such offenses.
Yet foreigners are being convinced that Americans are all torturers, because our own TV shows admit it; and it is hardly far-fetched to say that this creates part of the climate from which our terrorist enemies recruit their bombers. Indeed, I think it is fair to say that there will be an undeniable causal chain from these charges of torture to dead American, military and otherwise.
Who Are the Sellouts?
After all, watching glamorous actors smoke leads people to smoke -- we know it happened. The stories we share as entertainment play an enormous role in shaping the moral worldview of our own culture -- and any other culture that receives our entertainment media.
So when the Establishment slanders these American soldiers, exposing them to greater risk of death or betrayal or, if captured, torture, it is not just "entertainment." It is a gross evil being perpetrated against those who are risking most in defense of our civilization.
How long would these television writers last -- as writers, anyway -- under a government led by a Saddam or an Osama or the Taliban? They can only write such slanders against their own nation's troops in a free country defended by soldiers like ours.
There are consequences to the things that writers write and actors portray. Yet so anti-American has the culture of Hollywood become that apparently nobody on the set, nobody in the production company, nobody in the networks challenged these episodes that clearly and obviously will lead to people feeling justified in the torture or murder of some (or many) American soldiers?
Propaganda works. Lies, repeated often enough, are perceived as truth. That's why we have an American populace right now that truly believes we are losing one of the best-fought and successful military actions in history. And that's why we will soon live in a world where everyone believes that the best, most self-restrained and decent soldiers in history are the opposite.
And all because, in Hollywood, anyone who makes a tv show that looks too pro-American will be despised for having sold out to "the establishment." That's because, inside the Establishment, the myth persists that the "establishment" is the government and traditional-values Americans.
But this is not so. Traditional-values Americans are despised in Hollywood -- and in Hollywood's work-product -- as religious wackos, or as soldiers who torture, or as rightwing presidents who conspire to take over a country they already run. In doing this, Hollywood merely follows along with the Media Establishment, who are in lockstep with the Academic Establishment that gave them their college degrees in journalism or English.
That is the Establishment to which these writers have completely sold out, having replaced facts and logic with the "common knowledge" of those who shape the opinions of the elite.
And as these false charges of routine, government-sanctioned torture begin to have their effects in the real world, these are the people who will have the blood of our soldiers on their hands. Why? Because they put the good opinion of the Establishment ahead of the lives and safety of our soldiers.
"But we were just writing a TV episode!"
That's right. Just typing. How easily the terrible lies slip out through the fingers onto the page; how noiselessly they slip into the public mind.
Copyright © 2006 by Orson Scott Card.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.