Edward Luce, the FT’s Washington columnist and commentator, reviews and summarises the book.
How long does it take for the US military to admit defeat? The answer is forever, according to Harlan Ullman.
Today there are US soldiers deployed in Afghanistan who were one-year-olds when the war began. Yet the Taliban is no closer to being banished than it was in 2001. Indeed, it occupies considerably more of the country today than it did two years ago.
Donald Trump campaigned against America’s endless wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. He won the mandate to say “no” to the Pentagon. Yet, in power, he has given the Pentagon everything it has requested.
Ullman’s three explanations for this record of failure:
- First, the US keeps electing poorly qualified presidents.
- Second, they keep making strategic mistakes.
- Third, American forces lack cultural knowledge of the enemy
“Two exceptions were Dwight Eisenhower, who had been commander of US forces in Europe, and George H W Bush, who had been head of the CIA. Bush Senior wisely stopped the 1991 invasion of Iraq long before it reached Baghdad. Bush Junior was clearly not paying attention.”
He recommends a “brains-based” approach: Eisenhower combined brain and heart:
James Carden, a contributing writer at The Nation and executive editor for the American Committee for East-West Accord, points out that USA has “a national voter population that is largely skeptical of the practicality or benefits of military intervention overseas, including both the physical involvement of the US military and also extending to military aid in the form of funds or equipment as well – to quote a new survey” according to a new survey last November by J. Wallin Opinion Research. He records:
- 86.4% of those surveyed feel the American military should be used only as a last resort,
- 57% feel that US military aid to foreign countries is counterproductive and.
- 63.9% say that military aid—including money and weapons—should not be provided to countries like Saudi Arabia
- and 70.8% percent of those polled said that Congress should pass legislation that would restrain military action overseas.
But “There’s too much oligarch money in the arms and contracts to the military for Congress to ever listen to what the people want”: Sheila Smith indicates the serious problem endemic in both countries.
Brawn and brain have failed; the best option would be to heed the thinking of former general Eisenhower and the late Harry Patch – the true ‘bottom line’.
In 2004. Mark Tully (New Delhi) inspired a report counting the costs of our economic system. Molly Scott Cato made a major contribution to the report and obliquely supplies an answer to the madness of embarking on military ventures: ‘Counting is what capitalism is good at, what it thrives on. Counting is what the accountants and management consultants do, and they now decide how businesses and indeed government should be run”.
Warfare is undoubtedly good for the aggressors’ business, whether it be through manufacturing arms, securing resources or seeking contracts to rebuild damaged infrastructure.
A reader sent a link to an account by Guardian journalists Simon Hattenstone and Eric Allison which counted just one of the costs of warfare: post-traumatic stress disorder.
Other costs include:
- the social and economic cost of diverting resources to warfare,
- the environmental damage done by warfare
- and the human and infrastructural devastation in the attacked countries.
Simon Hattenstone and Eric Allison report that in 2009, the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) recorded 8,500 veterans serving sentences in UK prisons, and a further 11,500 on probation or parole and estimated that half of veterans in prison had depression or PTSD (compared with 23% of the male prison population). They give accounts of several cases of former soldiers eventually diagnosed with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder.
Denial and delay by the MoD keeps costs down
Those diagnosed with combat-related PTSD are entitled to a disablement pension, while victims of the crime could also potentially claim compensation. Between 2005 and March 2014, 1,390 claims were awarded under the Armed Forces and Reserve Forces Compensation Scheme for mental disorders (including PTSD). The NAPO figures indicate that half of the former soldiers currently on probation or in prison (at least 4000-at most 10,000) could make a case for compensation, as could any victims attacked by them.
In America, 20% of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq have been diagnosed with PTSD; in 2011, 476,514 veterans were treated for it. At least 191,000 soldiers have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, so according to the estimate made by forensic psychiatrist Dr Deirdre MacManus, in the next decade or so there could be more than 13,000 ex-service personnel returning from combat zones with mental health problems.
The British criminal justice system should learn from America, where veterans who are arrested are put through a different legal process and given access to psychiatrists, psychologists and lawyers who specialise in combat-related PTSD.
Above all, Britain and America should learn from Bruce Kent and Harry Patch: abolish war – it is barbaric, destructive, wasteful and futile.