Strong opinions, weakly held

The perils of endless war

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.


  1. I find myself more and more depressed by such news and commentary. The lack of change on these fronts between Bush and Obama administrations show how deeply institutionalized many of the problems are. Does nobody at the top pay attention??

  2. There is a reason our founders tasked the government with providing for the common DEFENSE and created the Department of WAR. We’ve gotten so far away from that original mission that we invaded, conquered and occupied two countries for eight years without a declaration of war in either case.

    Pax Americana had a good run, but I think we’ve overextended ourselves militarily, diplomatically and fiscally to try and keep it all together.

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