This morning I was talking about English nationalism and the World Cup with a friend, and the discussion shifted to an op-ed in this morning’s Washington Post by Andrew Bacevich on the corrosive effect of long wars on the military and on democracy. Here’s how his piece begins:
Long wars are antithetical to democracy. Protracted conflict introduces toxins that inexorably corrode the values of popular government. Not least among those values is a code of military conduct that honors the principle of civilian control while keeping the officer corps free from the taint of politics. Events of the past week — notably the Rolling Stone profile that led to Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s dismissal — hint at the toll that nearly a decade of continuous conflict has exacted on the U.S. armed forces. The fate of any one general qualifies as small beer: Wearing four stars does not signify indispensability. But indications that the military’s professional ethic is eroding, evident in the disrespect for senior civilians expressed by McChrystal and his inner circle, should set off alarms.
My friend sent along the poem The Cuirassiers Of The Frontier that really hits the theme of Bacevich’s piece. The poem, on the subject of soldiers in the Roman army, closes with the following two lines:
We, not the City, are the Empire’s soul:
A rotten tree lives only in its rind.
It’s not hard for me to imagine that’s how General McChrystal’s team in Afghanistan see themselves.