"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Monday, June 13, 2005

They Won't Go

(A soldier's job is to kill. I can still hear the drill sergeants in basic training screaming at us decades ago: "What are you? What are you?" And we'd scream back: "Killers! Killers!" And the sergeants would say, "What is your purpose?" And we would shout: "To kill! To kill!")

George W. Bush is in no danger of being ranked among the nation's pre-eminent commanders in chief. Not only has he been unable thus far to win the war in Iraq, but on his watch significant sectors of the proud U.S. military have been rapidly deteriorating.

The Army reported on Friday that it had fallen short of its recruitment goals for a fourth consecutive month. The Marines managed to meet their recruitment target for May, but that was their first successful month this year.

Scrambling to fill its ranks, the Army is signing up more high school dropouts and lower-scoring applicants.

With the war in Iraq going badly and allegations of abuse by military personnel widespread, young men and women are increasingly deciding that there's no upside to a career choice in which the most important skills might be ducking bullets and dodging roadside bombs.

The primary reason the U.S. went to an all-volunteer military in 1973 was to ensure that those who did not want to fight wouldn't have to. That option is now being overwhelmingly exercised, discretion being the clear choice over valor. Young people and their parents alike are turning their backs on the military in droves.

The Army is so desperate for even lukewarm bodies that it is reluctant to release even problem soldiers, troops who are seriously out of shape, or pregnant, or abusing alcohol or drugs. And it is lowering standards for admission to the junior officer ranks. For example, minor criminal offenses that previously would have been prohibitive can now be overlooked.

At the same time Army recruiters have been chasing high school kids with such reckless abandon that a backlash is developing among parents who, in many cases, want the recruiters kept out of their children's schools.

"To the extent that we think students are threatened by recruiters, it's our job to intervene," said Amy Hagopian, a co-chair of the Parent-Teacher-Student Association at Garfield High School in Seattle. Ms. Hagopian, who has an 18-year-old son, complained that recruiters too often put the hard sell on impressionable high school youngsters without informing them of the potential dangers of a life in the military.

Recruiters with the gift of gab go into the schools with a glamorous pitch, bags full of goodies for the kids (T-shirts, donuts, key chains) and a litany of promises they often can't keep. The kids don't hear much about their chances of being maimed or killed, or the trauma that often results from killing someone else.

(A soldier's job is to kill. I can still hear the drill sergeants in basic training screaming at us decades ago: "What are you? What are you?" And we'd scream back: "Killers! Killers!" And the sergeants would say, "What is your purpose?" And we would shout: "To kill! To kill!")

The Army, frantically searching for solutions, is offering enlistments as short as 15 months and considering bonuses worth up to $40,000. But it may be facing a problem too difficult for any amount of money to overcome. Americans are catching on to the hideousness and apparent futility of the war in Iraq. Five marines were killed in a single bomb attack in western Iraq on Thursday. On Friday, a front-page Washington Post headline described the effort to rebuild the Iraqi military as "Mission Improbable."

A Washington Post-ABC News poll last week found that nearly three-quarters of Americans believe the number of casualties in Iraq is unacceptable, and 60 percent believe the war was not worth fighting.

There's something frankly embarrassing about a government offering trinkets to children to persuade them to go off and fight - and perhaps die - in a war that their nation should never have started in the first place. It's highly questionable whether most high school kids are equipped to make an informed decision about joining the military, which is exactly why they're targeted. The additional knowledge and maturity gained in the first few years after high school make it easier for a young man or woman to make a wiser, more meaningful choice, pro or con.

The parents of the kids being sought by recruiters to fight this unpopular war are creating a highly vocal and potentially very effective antiwar movement. In effect, they're saying to their own children: hell no, you won't go.

E-mail: bobherb@nytimes.com

Solzhenitsyn's Maxim

Famous Russian dissident-novelist warns against U.S.-sponsored "democratic" revolution

Terrorists chose Russia's "National Day" – the celebration of Russia's rebirth in the ashes of the Soviet Union – to strike once again, as they did at Beslan. As the passenger train coming from Grozny, capital of war-torn Chechnya, approached the village of Uzunova, 90 miles south of Moscow, a remote-controlled explosive device derailed the locomotive and five passenger cars, injuring at least 15 people. Although a technical malfunction was suspected at first, further investigation showed that an explosion had occurred under the fender of the locomotive. The Russian and Chechen governments immediately pointed out the obvious: it had to be a terrorist attack, the first major one since the beginning of this year.

That this augurs the beginning of a new round of attacks on Vladimir Putin's Russia – and not only by Chechen separatists and other al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups – is a prediction hardly fraught with risk. A lot of people have it in for Holy Mother Russia, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn pointed out the other day in a rare television interview, and the Chechens are the least of it.

The Russian novelist and famous dissident has made almost no public appearances since his return to his homeland in 1994, and his privacy is jealously guarded. That is why his return to public life – in an interview on the Rossiya (channel 2) television station, generally regarded as pro-Putin – has attracted such attention. For Solzhenitsyn to come out of his cocoon, a sort of self-imposed internal exile in which he has been contemptuously silent on the subject of politics, it must be important, and, as it turns out, Solzhenitsyn is worried about the survival of the Russian nation. Russia, he says, could face a Ukrainian-style uprising financed by foreign interests:

"An Orange Revolution may take place if tensions between the public and the authorities flare up and money begins flowing to the opposition."

He didn't say, at least in the excerpts I saw, where the money would be flowing from, but – I ask you – where else would it come from except Washington, D.C.? The U.S. government has brokered a whole series of color-coded "revolutions," from Georgia to Ukraine, in Kyrgyzstan and now in Belarus, and it makes sense that they will ultimately home in on the object of their determined encirclement: Putin's Russia.

Solzhenitsyn agreed with his interlocutor that Russia has freedom of expression, but these are only "signs." "One sign does not mean democracy." Western accusations that Russia is "backsliding" into authoritarianism – a staple of the neoconservatives these days – have to be put in context:

"'It is often said that democracy is being taken away from us and that there is a threat to our democracy. What democracy is threatened? Power of the people? We don't have it,' he told Rossiya, the state-run channel. 'We have nothing that resembles democracy. We are trying to build democracy without self-governance. Before anything, we must begin to build a system so that the people can manage their own destinies.'"

Local government is the key to understanding how the liberalization of Russian society is going to proceed, he averred:

"Democracy cannot be imposed from above, by clever laws or wise politicians. It must not be forced [on people] like a cap. Democracy can only grow upwards, like a plant. Democracy must begin at the local level, within the local self-government."

Nor can it be exported at gunpoint:

"'Democracy is not worth a brass farthing if it is being installed by bayonets.' Taking clear aim at Washington, he said that over a decade ago the U.S. 'launched an absurd project to impose democracy all over the world.'"

A project, one might add, that may have been started by Bill Clinton, but is now being played out with a vengeance in the killing fields of Iraq.

"The U.S. has a strange idea of democracy," continued Solzhenitsyn. "They first interfered with the Bosnian situation, bombed Yugoslavia, then Afghanistan, and then Iraq. Who is next? Perhaps Iran?"

Perhaps Russia is next. Solzhenitsyn, at any rate, is right: Russia is in our crosshairs, and the money is already pouring in. The buildup has been going on for quite some time, and the American agenda could not be clearer: after Belarus, Russia itself is next to be fitted for the Ukrainian template. However, the Americans also have a very strange idea of just how to go about this.

One has to wonder why, for example, U.S. government officials would try to make a hero out of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who stole more than 20 Enrons laid head to toe? Here is a man who created a vast fortune through his political connections with the old Soviet ruling class, and is rightly reviled for it by Solzhensitsyn – and most Russians – yet he is lionized by American officials. Is this how we think we are going to provoke a revolution in favor of "freedom" in the former Soviet Union? It's enough to make anyone wonder exactly what is it we're trying to provoke.

Another odd cause that has attracted a lot of American support is that of the Chechen terrorists trying to overthrow the duly elected pro-Russian government of Chechnya: this is the ideological equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle, where the convergence of al-Qaeda and the Project for a New American Century is startling, to say the least. The radical Islamists committed to jihad against Moscow, who seek to carve a Central Asian "caliphate" out of the remnants of the Russian "near abroad," have no greater or more influential champions than the neoconservatives, who have banded together in an organization known as the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya (ACPC).

The ACPC valorizes the terroristic Chechen "resistance" the way some Western leftists glorify the Iraqi insurgents: even after Beslan, their line was that we need "peace through understanding" in Chechnya. Putin, in their view, is a villain. The ACPC sports dozens of neoconservative luminaries in its ranks, including Eliot Cohen, Midge Decter, Larry Diamond, Norman Podhoretz, Morton Abramowitz, Elliott Abrams, Kenneth Adelman, Bill Kristol, Max Kampelman, Joshua Muravchik, Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney: in short, practically anyone who's anyone in the neoconservative network, with a few Democrats, such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, thrown in to spice up the goulash.

The crowd that loudly lauds Bush for his tough stance against "terrorism" wants Putin to negotiate with terrorists intent on attacking Russia's cities. The same people who lose no opportunity to howl that we must never forget 9/11 want the Russians to forget Beslan. It's uncanny – and inexplicable. Unless, of course, the idea is not to democratize Russia, but to destabilize it.

Solzhenitsyn said, "The U.S. must understand that democracy cannot be introduced by force, by the army," but force can introduce a crisis into Russian society – one that would-be "Orange Revolutionaries" would find very useful. In seeking to pull off a "democratic" revolution in Russia against Putin and his fellow Slavophiles, such as Solzhenitsyn, the U.S. has no need to utilize its own armed forces when there are so many other willing substitutes already on the scene.

An alliance of Chechen "freedom fighters" and Western "human rights" organizations keep the pressure on Putin, as terrorist bombs explode on trains and even Russia's cities are once again the prey of mysterious bombers, until finally we have "regime-change" in – how's that for a scenario? – Russia. You don't need the U.S. military to pull that off. You only need an army of propagandists and the willing suspension of disbelief on the part of our own media, which goes along with the neoconservative narrative that demonizes Putin – and Solzhenitsyn – and characterizes Russian nationalism – indeed, all nationalism, except the American brand – as incipient fascism.

What is interesting is that Russian nationalism, unlike the resurgent American variety, is not expansionist and, on the contrary, is passionately introspective. As Solzhenitsyn, the quintessential Russian nationalist – a kind of latter-day Dostoevsky – put it in his interview:

"When commenting on the CIS situation, he said it was even more complicated than in Russia. He also said, 'it is not Russia's business to foster CIS countries.' 'We [should] be the best to set an example. We need to cure ourselves first.'"

There is a maxim that needs to be engraved in the memory of each and every American policymaker and politician, every policy wonk with delusions of grandeur who thinks he can usher in the "end of history," every laptop bombardier with a "blog" and an unending stream of opinions, all of them involving warfare and the taking of human life in the name of a great "ideal."

We need to cure ourselves first.

How one wishes American conservatives would take their cues from their Russian counterpart, and stop glorifying a foreign policy of global meddling and social engineering. Sadly, they have caught the Jacobin virus, and are sickening themselves and the nation with it. The symptoms of this revolutionary contagion are that "fire in the mind" as described by George W. Bush in his inaugural address. It is a fever, a form of madness that makes the victim delusional: he begins to believe in his own omnipotence. If we can cure ourselves of that, and return to a condition where we can at least begin to see reality in the cool light of reason, half the battle is won.

Justin Raimondo