I know I could batter internet memes all day, but this one, by the Democratic Underground, particularly annoys me, as has the “chicken hawk” canard that knee-jerk anti-war activists have been wielding for decades.
To begin with, it’s an ad hominem argument, and thus unethical on its face. The question is whether a military option is the best and most responsible solution to an international problem, not who is asserting that it is. It is also an incompetent argument, as in stupid. There is nothing about typical military experience that conveys expertise in foreign affairs or international politics. Military service, as in training, marching, being deployed and shooting a gun, and military action, as a strategic tool of diplomacy and international politics, are two different things. Lincoln was a superb Commander in Chief, but he didn’t gain that ability from his brief combat experience fighting Black Hawk Indians.
In fact, what is the statement above supposed to imply? No Commander in Chief has had to risk personal combat if he chose war. Because there has been no draft since the the Nineties, the only way a political leader would ever have military experience would be if he chose a military career, which would mean that the meme suggests that a military career is a prerequisite for national leadership. But Democrats don’t believe that; nobody believes that. In fact, Democrats are wary and suspicious of the military, which they believe, with some justification, is biased toward military involvement. They don’t even especially respect military service: look at how James Webb was treated in his brief presidential run.
The smear on the Republican field is a dishonest Catch-22: if someone has a military background, like John McCain, well, “those guys always think war is the answer.” If a candidate believes that the United States should use military force but did not serve, then he’s a hypocrite. “If you like fighting so much, why did you let poor guys and blacks do it for you, huh?” This is the pacifist strain in the Democratic/progressive ranks, being deceitful and hypocritical. Obama and Clinton ran against three war heroes: was the idea behind picking the leaders who didn’t know which end of a gun to hold that it wouldensure that they would never advocate military action, or that they would be incompetent executing it, or what?
The meme is also historically ignorant, and especially so for Democrats. Who was the most vociferous advocate in the Continental Congress for war against Great Britain? One of the few Founders with no military experience, that’s who: John Adams, and aren’t we glad he wasn’t shushed by stupid memes. The U.S. has fought in two World Wars, the first under one Democratic hero (until recently), Woodrow Wilson, and the other under the greatest Democratic icon of them all, FDR. Neither had any military service.
The argument that there is anything unseemly or hypocritical about statesmen without service records supporting military action is cynical, dishonest and brain-dead. Nobody should make it, Democrats least of all.
Your Facebook friend or Twitter pal who posts this meme is channeling idiots, and you can tell them I said so.
25 thoughts on “Unethical Meme Of The Week: Democratic Underground”
The argument in my family when I was a kid was that we should elect a President with military experience, because, knowing what a war looks like, he (it was always a “he,” then) would do everything possible to avoid one.
With the exception of John McCain in his bellicose later years, this has largely held true.
I don’t think the meme is as bad as you do, although, traveling in the political circles I do, I saw it several times and didn’t re-post it. I do think there is something to be said for an argument that it’s a little problematic for a politician of any stripe to put our military in harm’s way without having shown a willingness to make a similar sacrifice. It’s even more of a problem when a collection of pols tries to out-belligerent each other rhetorically when literally none of them have anything personal at stake… nor ever have.
Is it kind of a dumb argument? Yeah, but if we eliminated all the kind of dumb things politicians and their minions say, we’d get about a paragraph of commentary every fortnight.
A more reasonable meme about war would be if the candidate recognizes the need for a war option do they respect the military. Based on past rhetoric and positions does the candidate recognize the selflessness of the troops? Especially in a volunteer military. And we could add do they respect law enforcement officers?
A minor critique: FDR served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under Woodrow Wilson so one could argue that he learned a considerable amount about the Navy which he put to good use during WW1 and WW2. Active military service is useful at the officer level: Most of the Presidents had some military experience from Truman to Carter. However, knowledge of foreign policy is just as critical, if not more important.
I remembered FDR’s stint as Asst. Sec. of the Navy myself, but there’s no actual naval service leading up to that and it was largely a political appointment, regardless of how well he did the job or what he learned from it.
Yes, but an appointed political post is still not military service, and Asst. Sec is not a military position.The argument that a President has nothing personal at stake when he puts men in harm’s way assumes a callous and unethical character based on—what, party affiliation? I don’t see it. Lincoln ( a little service), Wilson (none), FDR (none), Eisenhower ( a lot) and LBJ ( some) put soldiers in peril for the same reason: they were soldiers, it was their job and duty, and in the assessment of the President, a battle needed to be fought and a war won. The peril to individual soldiers cannot be part of that calculus—their willingness to die is assumed. My Dad, who hated war, was very clear on that point. Avoid unnecessary death, but not at the cost of the mission and the welfare of the nation.
Judge can I get a gavel and dismissal of the case?
“Military service, as in training, marching, being deployed and shooting a gun, and military action, as a strategic tool of diplomacy and international politics, are two different things. ”
Really? You think that’s people in the military do? Maybe for junior enlisted and officers but any officer above the rank of Lt Col is going to have to have gone on to get their masters degree, attended the Naval and Army war colleges and any senior enlisted above the rank of E-6 is going to have to have gotten a degree on their own time plus attended numerous schools in the service that teach real world consequences of military action. When I attended the SNCO academy we discussed in length the global political consequences of military action. Every Sgt Major I served with had at least a bachelors degree some a masters and one a PHD.
But even without that none of these guys has ever walked the walk they just talk the talk. They are the type that are more then willing to have others fight for them but don’t have the personal fortitude to do the fighting themselves.
I think the same of the ones on the other side of the aisle that talk like they do.
You have spoken about admiring Senator Webb. Why do you think he is the man he is today? Because he DID serve . He been there done that and gotten the merit badge.
I was not intending to trivialize the experience, Bill—just shorthand; an extensive paragraph about the entire military experience (for some) wasn’t practical.
Jim’s a Marine, as you are. Marines are special, as you know, and their training is special. You know the average enlisted man or women does not necessarily get policy-relevant training.
Fabulous piece Jack!
I’d still like to know how and why John Kerry staged and had filmed home movies of him running around with an M-1 playing soldier during a perfectly ongoing war? What was he thinking?
I guess that does explain it, doesn’t it. Hah.
No, he wasn’t, he was terrible, at any rate for the first few years. He was the one who told a general, “if you aren’t doing anything with my army, can I have it?” – and promptly took it out of the hands of those who were deliberately training it and preparing it for the long haul (which takes literally years, starting from scratch, which the south wasn’t, quite) and gave it over to the rash and ill-considered use of those who were ready and willing, though not able, to use it more immediately. He did not acquire the judgment to spot and appoint the competent until a few years in.
What Lincoln did have from the beginning was the political skill to keep the military effort backed properly; done right, this leads to the sort of useful partnership and division of labour found between film producers and directors, among others. But doing it right needs that judgment of subordinates, which can come from only two sources, experience in the particular area or a profound ability to detect and avoid bullshitters. The point at issue in this thread relates to the former, but although the latter is in some ways an even better substitute it must be capped by the moral luck in having the right potential subordinates turning up (Grant was just such a one, but not for all kinds of military need – he would probably have failed as Napoleon’s marshal in that kind of war). When it all came together Lincoln covered and deployed sound generals, as Cimon of Athens had done long before. Arguably, Lincoln had to make bad military decisions early on to keep the political backing – the home front – going, but they were bad all the same. He may or may not have known that he was grappling with such a dilemma at the time.
Oh, people who do have what it takes through direct experience can instead fall prey to micromanaging, as Hitler did. But even he had solid grounds for some militarily unsound directives, like his stand fast order; as he observed, “my generals don’t understand economics”, so they didn’t appreciate how crucial it was not to fall back so much that it hindered oil production. Even the allies didn’t recognise the importance of that resource base until long after Hitler did (it’s why he invaded Crete and the Crimea at great cost in time, men and materiel rather than bypassing them to break Russia’s back while he still had a shot at that – Crete and the Crimea could have been used to bomb Rumania’s oil industry with the then available medium range aircraft).
Now that’s one of your best contrarian posts. There is near total agreement that the man Lincoln said “if you aren’t doing anything with my army, can I have it?” to was an incompetent coward, George MacClellan (I first wrote MacMillan, because I’m not awake), who possibly could have ended the war early if he hadn’t used every rationalization to avoid combat. You can fault Lincoln for deferring to his terrible judgment as long as he did, and especially for giving him a second chance.
Remind me, or better still, remind yourself, what are your views on hindsight bias? Not only could a similar charge have been laid against Lee had he had the rug pulled out from under him after his early reverses, but also we do have contemporaneous sources available to inform us (you know, the reverses that let the north seize certain border counties and had Lee’s own troops calling him “old lady Lee” when that was all they knew of him; just for the moment it escapes me just who bounced Lee then, so perhaps some reader can remind us). Lo, your remarks prompted me to revisit Trollope on North America, and what do I find in chapter ten of volume two but a passage much like the general thrust of evidence that formed my views (it’s not my only source, just one to hand right now):-
Trollope goes on to present that decision and its ramifications even-handedly, being careful to point out that nobody then was in a position to second guess any of that as a military decision, least of all Trollope himself. But Trollope does make it clear that it was changing horses in mid stream, as a consequence of particular events, decisions and actions that Lincoln himself had particularly ordained be done, and clearly Trollope’s contemporary view held Fremont to be the worst of those three generals.
Out of curiosity, why do you typically stop your consideration of material I present at merely labelling it with such epithets as “contrarian”, as on this occasion, and never* go on to enquire into whether it is correct?
* No, never…
Well, hardly ever.
But as your position on McClellan is undeniably contrarian, this is not the hill on which to make that stand.
It should be noted that, while McClellan was an excellent trainer and a competent general in defense, he had no talent at all on the attack. He preferred to fight “set piece battles”- a mindset that served him ill when up against the unorthodox tactics of Lee and Jackson. His greatest success- Antietam- was made possible only by his extreme good luck in finding a mislaid copy of Lee’s orders to a corps commander. Even with that, his poor handling of his troops in that battle turned it into the bloodiest engagement of the war and failed to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia. Despite that, McClellan utilized his popularity and the North’s war weariness to run against Lincoln on a peace platform! Lincoln’s remark about “borrowing the army”- after McClellan’s lengthy training, lack of any offensive posture and endless demands for more men and equipment- resulted in a personal animosity that worked to the Confederacy’s advantage.
I read a lot of historians lately who come right out and say he was a coward. Do you agree?
I don’t think so, Jack. As with most of his peers in high command- North and South alike- McClellan served with honor during the Mexican War. He likely shared that “set piece battle” mentality that I mentioned with others of the old (Napoleonic) school of warfare. Like so many others in that war, he failed to understand that new weapons (such as the rifled musket) had made the stand up, fire by volley tactics of war obsolete. Appalled by the resultant carnage, he was just reluctant to attack except under conditions of high advantage. Thereby, he threw away many opportunities per excessive caution. He likely had an honest love for his soldiers (which they sensed and returned) and let that regard cloud his sense of mission. Ironically, that ultimately resulted (as I mentioned) in the bloodiest battle of the war. One Confederate general, noting this during a battle of the Peninsular Campaign (in which Southern troops had been bloodily repulsed and had retired in confusion… and with no counter from the Northern side) remarked, “Only McClellan would have hesitated to attack”.
In my opinion…
Some leaders would rather beat the holy crap out of the enemy and send them packing rather than to chase the rats down their rat holes and take the very real chance of a waiting ambush when you knock down the door where they sleep.
Watch the last major battle scene of The Patriot and you’ll get a little understanding of how the overall tactic is used in battle. McClellan chose not to be suckered by the arrogance of winning, to him a win was a win without going down the rat hole.
McClellan was not an idiot or a coward, he had his own tactics and tried to use them to his advantage.
What? He was a bad general for the job he was obligated to do. He grossly overestimated the strength of the opposing forces repeatedly, and often inexplicably, to avoid combat. “He had his own tactics and tried to use them to his advantage”—so did Hooker, so did Burnside. What kind of defense is that?
I think you did a little reading between the lines, I did not say and did not try to imply that he was a good General for the job; however, he was the General that had the job and sometimes you simply have to fight with what you’ve got right up to the point that you remove the person in the position – which they did.
I’m really not defending the job he did, just trying to add another piece to all the hindsight enlightened arm chair quarterbacking.
I don’t agree.
Back in those days you simply didn’t get into those kind of leadership positions without getting your hands a bit bloody in a rather non-cowardly manner.
We could certainly say that his planning and implementing skill set related to attacking the enemy might not have equaled some of his peers; but if we’re truly honest, we can say the same thing about many or our current leaders when you compare them to their peers.
Sometimes you simply have to fight with what you’ve got!
It should be pointed out that McClellan appointed Alan Pinkerton to be his chief of intelligence. While he may have been a good detective, he proved a terrible G-2. His faulty intelligence- often vastly inflating the actual numbers of Confederate troops opposing the Union Army- caused the already skittish McClellan to hold up his slow advance up the James Peninsula to Richmond. General John Magruder completely faked out the Northern invaders at Yorktown with his division, causing McClellan and Pinkerton to believe that his line was of historic proportions! Actually, “Prince John” utilized the old trick of parading his men around in such a way as to give the impression that he had a whole field army behind his earthworks. It was amazingly effective.