Back from Maine, Books, Words from Iraq

OK. This should be three posts, but its late, I’m tired and I just kept typing. You have been warned.

What a vacation. Work issues ate a chunk, then a medical issue (don’t worry we’re all OK) ate a bunch more, and the return trip with four small kids was an ordeal. But mostly it was good. My sister got us a terrific house about a five minute walk from the beach in Ogunquit. With little kids, we don’t do a lot of restaurant dining, but you can get good fried whole clams at any of a dozen places, and I availed myself of this relatively inexpensive local delicacy.

I managed to finish Max Boot’s Savage Wars of Peace, (buy it here). It is a decent book, though it falls short of some of the raves it got. It is especially useful if you are not well-acquainted with America’s smaller wars. I also finished Neils Bjerre-Poulsens book Right Face: Organizing the American Conservative Movement 1945-65. That one is a great honking slab of all-beef political history of the type I like best. I may do a post at some point on the history of Conservatism, but there is a wave of current scholarship which I am not current on, and I’d like to be. It may be while on that one. I also read Bruce Gudmundsson’s book On Infantry, which is superb. I have read a shopping cart full of military books in the last several months, many of which touch on the themes which Gudmundsson focuses on like unit cohesion, and military effectiveness not being primarily a function of technology. I hope to do a big blog post on all that, too, time, energy and Divine Providence permitting. I ended up re-reading James Burnham’s (see this also) somewhat dated masterpiece Suicide of the West: an essay on the meaning and destiny of liberalism. I grew up with Burnham’s columns in National Review. He was the coldest of Cold Warriors. Like many of the initial National Review crowd, he was a former commie, and he brought an icy, hard-headed Leninist ruthlessness to the struggle against communism, which he was only able to wage through his writing. This book, once I finish rereading it, certainly merits a few good paragraphs of analysis here. I went to the Book Barn in Wells, Maine, which is a pretty good used book store. I got, for $1.50, Luigi Barzini’s American’s Are Alone in the World. Barzini was a great writer and very insightful about the United States. This will go on the shelf until the cows come home, probably, but anything by him is sure to be good and I may even get to it someday.

I also got, for $3.50, a damaged copy of G.R. Gleig’s Personal Reminiscences of the Duke of Wellington. This is a justifiably forgotten book, almost raw data for a real narrative biographer to refer to. Still, if you like this kind of thing, its very banality is a window into the political and cultural world of England circa 1830, when Gleig worked as a minion of the Iron Duke in the struggle against the Reform Bill, which was a major reform of the election of members of the House of Commons. The Duke, bless him, was a conservative of a stripe we can no longer even imagine. He loathed democracy which, with reason, he saw as mob rule. He remained a tough old bird, long after he left the army. At the time he was opposing the Reform, there was a lot of “agitation” in the country, “mobs burnt towns and sacked gentlemen’s houses”. Gleig warned Wellington to be careful coming out to his country house. Wellington responded, “I suspect that those who will attack me on the road will come rather the worst out of the contest, if there should be one.” Gleig, with a few gentlemen from the area rode out, each armed with “a heavy hunting whip, and pistols”, to meet the Duke: “I found him in his open caleche, provided with a brace of double-barrelled pistols, and having his servant likewise armed, seated on the box.” No mob emerged, so the Duke did not have to work the execution of any rustic miscreants with his own firearms. (Blair may make a good speech, but I’ll be believe he is the Iron Duke’s equal when I see him in an open-topped car with an automatic rifle in his lap.) Gleig, an Anglican clergyman, treats with admirable delicacy the question of Wellington’s relations with Mrs. Arbuthnot. I can say that as of page 224, I have gotten more than my $3.50 worth of utils out of it.

I saw Joschka Fischer on Charlie Rose. Fischer is a smooth and soothing phony. I read a column by William Pfaff in the Boston Globe, which I fished out of the trash at the airport — I’d never give a cent to the Globe. Both made the same point that it is simply awful how the Atlantic Alliance is crumbling, and how it is imperative that Europe and America work together, and according to Pfaff, how European intellectuals roll their eyes at the supposed global menace of Osama bin Laden. The only sane response to this, shorn of fully-merited profanity, is so what? Who cares? If the American public agrees with the president that there is a danger requiring a military response, and the European intelligentsia, lefty pols like Fischer, and would-be sophisticates like Pfaff don’t like it, so what? Why do we need them to do anything? If they don’t perceive a danger, stay home. Regulate the fat content of cheese, mandate a 32 hour work week, keep the grocery stores closed at night, create a “consitution” with a right to a government-employed guidance counsellor for anyone who is sad. Whatever. Do your thing, Europe. (Anyway, the Germans are in Afghanistan, because they agree it is important to be there, not out of sentimentality.)

We’ll do ours. “Ours” includes demolishing the Taliban and Saddam and hunting down al Qaeda, the purportedly imaginary menace that massacred 3,000 Americans. I was forwarded an email from an officer in the 101st Airborne recently. He had a lot to say, including this:

I know it looks bleak right now, but do not despair. Today they started to count the bodies at just one of the grave sites, and they counted at least over a hundred, and they believe that they can identify nearly a thousand bodies in this cave. I saw the photos from the sight. It’s in this cave and the bodies are pretty well decomposed though some still have hair and what not. Almost all are women and children with gunshot wounds to the head. They literally tossed the bodies into the cave into massive heaps like garbage, and then they left them there. It is pretty disconcerting to see. I have never seen so many bodies, and it reminds me of the Holocaust. We allowed this to happen twelve years ago, and after you see it, you can never be the same. You realize how you cannot allow these people to return to power. It will be a long fight.

He goes on to say: “We are America. We are the greatest country in history — not because of the countries we conquered, not because of the lands that flew our flag, we will be remembered for we are liberators, for the lands whose flags we returned.”

William Pfaff and liberals like him, for reasons of their own, would be embarrassed by these types of sentiments, and facts. They live in dread of the ironic smirks of Belgian journalists or French bureaucrats or German university professors. As for me, I don’t care about such people and I feel perfectly assured that a solid majority of Americans think and feel the same way.

The worst thing of all for these people is that what the United States is doing is working. I got an email containing some language from a senior officer in Baghdad. He does not sound like he is bogged down in any quagmire:

I travel with a loaded 9mm pistol on my lap. This place reminds me of Max Max and the Road Warrior movies. … We are fighting former regime-backed paramilitary groups, Iranian-based opposition, organized criminals, and street thugs. We have stood up governing councils from neighborhood to district to city level. We have conducted humanitarian action in numerous areas to include repair of electricity, water, sewer, hospitals, and schools; created refuse collection systems; and built numerous recreational facilities (particularly soccer fields). We have cleared hundreds of tons of UXOs and weapons caches. … On any given day I deal with the political realm of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the humanitarian realm of the NGOs, and the military realm of firefights/improved explosive devices/snipers/mortar attacks. [The brigade] contains active duty, reserv ists, and National Guardsmen. [It] has lost 4 soldiers since taking over the sector. The soldiers are staying focused and disciplined, and are getting more effective with each passing day. Our snipers have had some success of late – enough said. Even though we are still being shot at daily, the vast majority of the population supports our objectives and just want to get on with their lives. We are doing some excellent humanitarian work, but it doesn’t make the news because all the press wants to talk about is the attacks. The infrastructure is up and running and the shortfalls in electricity, water, sewage, etc., are being addressed. We have local advisory councils of Iraqi citizens set up in Baghdad and a functioning city council. The people we kicked out of power can’t stand our success, however, and will do everything they can to try to make us fail. Thus the ongoing gun battles in the streets. There is also a lot of organized crime here. I have flashbacks to “The Godfather” all the time. … We had a visit from a team from the British Army experienced in operations in Northern Ireland, and we were already doing everything they talked to us about.

These are the voices of an army which is winning, which has the momentum, and which knows it is serving a just cause. Don’t let the misleading news media reports fool you. They want the United States to fail, they want our soldiers to die for nothing, both out of malice and out of a belief that this outcome will help elect a Democrat president. But they are not going to get their wish.

To wrap up, we spent our last day out East in Natick, Mass., where my sister lives. We walked down to the town square. Like every New England town there is a Civil War monument, with the town’s dead listed by name. Natick lost about 100. Several names are in groups, three Manns, I noticed. Three brothers, maybe? The monument says that it there to preserve the memory of those who gave up their lives to save their country “in the war of 1861.” Nothing changes. Everything we have and everything we are was bought and paid for with blood. American soldiers are fighting in a remote place, tonight, now, to bring peace and order to a foreign land to advance our ideals and to preserve our safety and freedom. What they are doing is right. Those who oppose them, jeer at them, lie about them, are wrong. I will continue to pray for the souls of the ones who died so far in this war, and for their families, and for an end to these horrors for the people in Iraq and for a more peaceful and orderly world. God bless America.

2 thoughts on “Back from Maine, Books, Words from Iraq”

  1. Interesting read. “Joschka” Fischer is maybe even phonier than you think. You probably know about his association with the Baader-Meinhoff gang and his training with Palestinian terrorists, but did you know that he has no post-secondary education? There is a widely-read 1980s discussion between Fischer and the French “nouveau philiosophe” Andre Glucksmann where Fischer mentions this, and tells Glucksmann that he has decided to read the great philosophers in alphabetical order, and is presently working on Aristotle. (Glucksmann laughed … he probably had Fischer sized up already.) I read it in French about 20 years ago, but it is also discussed by the American leftist writer Paul Berman in an essay called Terror and Liberalism. Fischer pretty much had to go into a career in politics because he doesn’t have any other skills. Something to think about the next time Continental intellectuals are dissing G.W. Bush, BA Yale and MBA Harvard.

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