If these are the early days of a better nation, there must be hope, and a hope of peace is as good as any, and far better than a hollow hoarding greed or the dry lies of an aweless god.
—Graydon Saunders (via Scottish writer Ken McCleod)
I tried to ignore the most recent Republican debates.
I think political debates are idiotic and a terrible way to pick a leader.
I think political debates pander to the very worst traits of our society. In fact, I think political debates encourage those base habits.
Political debates are reality TV, people watch for the same reason they watch NASCAR – they’re hoping for a spectacular crash.
And so, I tried to ignore the debates.
But then they started talking about carpet bombing.
I saw it scroll past over and over in my social media and news feeds: carpet bombing, carpet bombing, carpet bombing...
I thought: Are they really talking about saturation bombing again?
And then, as I sat there boggling, the phrase “waterboarding” began to scroll past.
I opened the live feed to watch in stunned revulsion as the men who would be president of the United States of America argued over which one of them was more insane.
Carpet bombing? Waterboarding? And the crowd cheered.
The crowd cheered.
What in the holy hell is it with these goddamned people?
When did the unabashed willingness to engage in the indiscriminate obliteration of entire populations, when did the enthusiastic willingness to torture our enemies, when did those things become traits anybody liberal or conservative would want in an American president?
When did genocide and torture become things we cheered as a nation?
We used to call people like this psychopaths.
Much of the civilized world still does.
And yet, there they were, up on stage talking about which one was more willing to carpet bomb and torture our enemies.
This obsession with force never ends with these people. Never.
Might makes right, that’s it and that’s all and they’ve made a fetish of military force.
These people, lately all they ever talk about is "rebuilding" our military.
All they talk about is rebuilding the largest, most powerful military in not only the world, but in the entire history of the world.
In a Gallup Poll released yesterday, 51% of Americans questioned said they thought the US Military wasn’t powerful enough.
That’s right. Fully half of American believe the US Military isn’t powerful enough.
The US military.
Isn’t powerful enough.
I don’t suppose I have to tell you which half of America thinks that.
“Ted Cruz has a plan to rebuild our military so we can lead from a position of strength.”
Think about that.
No, really think about that.
Do you see the implications? Can you follow this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion?
These people are those grade school bullies you remember, the drooling dimwitted meatheads whose only response to any situation is a punch in the mouth. They don’t lead from reason or intellect or diplomacy or even from a position of (supposed) moral superiority. They can’t even imagine such a thing. In fact they sneer in disdain at those concepts.
No, might makes right and for them leadership is a punch in the mouth.
Ted Cruz has a plan. Donald Trump has a plan. Republicans have a plan.
But, have you ever noticed they're damned short on details?
Let us start right at the beginning:
Not powerful enough how?
What is it that we’re lacking?
Do we not have enough nuclear bombs? Not enough drones? Not enough poison gas? Are we not monitoring enough phone calls and social media and emails and library records? Are our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines substandard in comparison to other nations? Are our military academies lacking in some way? Is our military budget not large enough? Do we not have enough defense contractors in the Military Industrial Complex?
What is it that we’re lacking? Be specific, show your work.
Aaaah, I see.
Will. Of course. We lack the will to use our military. That’s it, isn’t it? Will.
Problems that were solved with diplomacy, we should have used guns.
Problems that were solved with treaties and international agreement, we should have used bombs.
Problems we solved with economics, with reason, with international pressure, we should have used threats of force.
Yes, I see.
Let’s come back to that. In the meantime, rebuild ... how? Exactly?
What is it that we need? More nuclear aircraft carriers? More fighter jets? More tanks? More bombs? More satellites? More intelligence agencies? More bullets? More bodies? More money? What exactly are we talking about here?
What are the specifics?
More importantly: what, exactly and in detail, do we base this idea on? That we must “rebuild” our military.
In order to answer that question, we must roll it back one more step to the very basic of assumptions.
Cruz echoes Trump echoes Reagan with "We can rebuild our military so it will be feared by our enemies and trusted by our allies."
Feared by our enemies?
Ah, there it is.
This, this right here, this is it, the foundation stone. The basic assumption. Our enemies must fear us, fear our military might, fear that we will use it at any time, any place, for any reason, in response to any transgression no matter how slight.
The way you fear a bully’s fists.
And that fear, you see, will keep the world in line, keep our enemies at bay, keep us safe.
Okay, how do you measure that?
No. No. Stop. No hand waving. No moving the goalposts. Be specific. If this is the fundamental assumption we are to base national security on, this fear, making our enemies fear us, fear our might, fear our unfettered military power, then what are the metrics?
How do we measure “feared by our enemies?”
I used to be a war planner. I designed military doctrine. I helped write a portion of the war plan used to invade Iraq (and whatever happened later with the occupation, with the politicians, that part of the plan worked perfectly). I designed strategies and tactics, methodologies for the employment of weapons and forces, I wrote hard objectives and methods both qualitative and quantitative for measuring if they had been achieved. I put my own ass on the line to execute those plans. I taught others how to do it. I have some extensive experience in this area. And here’s how it is: You can’t build a national strategy, you can’t write an OPLAN, you can’t build a federal budget, you can’t design the weapons and more specifically the doctrine to use them effectively, without measurable objectives.
If fear is the objective, then we must be able to measure it.
Because if you can’t measure it, then you have no way whatsoever to determine if your strategy is working.
So, what are the metrics? Show me the equation. What are the components? What are the assumptions? What are the variables? What are the constants? What are the limitations? What are the assets? What are the targets?
Let’s see ‘em.
Trump, Cruz, conservatives in general and Republicans in particular, feel that our enemies don’t currently fear us, so let’s start right there. That’s the first variable: enemies.
Define enemies. Be specific. Again, show your work.
Russia? Is Russia our enemy? We trade with Russia. We do business with Russia every day. We travel to Russia and Russians travel to the United States on business and on vacation. We fly into space with Russians on Russian rockets and in fact if it wasn’t for Russia we’d have no manned space program at all. We do scientific research with Russia, medicine, physics, agriculture, astronomy, and energy.
So, is Russia our enemy?
Is Russia our enemy?
If so, why? It matters, you know.
You can’t design a strategy if you don’t know why.
Why is everything. Why tells you where the vulnerabilities are. Why defines the objectives. If Russia is our enemy, why? Is it ideology? Is it religion? Is it resources? Are they murderous cannibals? Have they attacked us for our precious bodily fluids? Is it just simple convenience, do we fear them simply because they’re weird and different and over there?
If Russia is our enemy, shouldn’t we all understand why?
If Russia is our enemy, shouldn’t each and every one of us be able to articulate why? Spelled out, in simple language, in detail.
Well? Is it Russia? Is that who we want to fear us?
And what would that take, to make Russia fear us?
At the height of the Cold War, when the world could have ended at any time, when America and Russia spent massive sums in blood and gold to build world destroying weapons, did they fear us? Did they? Did we fear them? And what did that fear accomplish? When our fleets fenced on the open seas and the skies with the fate of civilization hanging in the balance, did it make the world a safer place? When our children hid under their school desks, ducking and covering and waiting for Russian bombs to fall from the sky, was America safer for Russian fear?
And now? Today? What exactly would it take, how big, how powerful, how capable, how advanced, does our military have to be to strike fear into Vladimir Putin’s heart? To bend him to our will – assuming we can agree on what our will is.
Ask yourself this: What if that fear requires a military so big, so massive, so powerful, so capable, that America collapses under the burden of supporting such a force – as the Soviet Union did?
When the men who would lead America speak of rebuilding our military, why do you suppose they never mention any of these things?
China? Is China our enemy? We trade with China. We do business with China. We travel to China. The American economy is deeply, deeply invested in China at the expense of American workers. If China is our enemy, then why are so many of the products filling the shelves in Walmart and Target made in China? If China is our enemy why is our lumber processed in China? It is, you know, we cut down the trees here and send them to China to be turned into lumber, then we pay to ship them back – honestly, where did you think all those 2x4’s and plywood panels in Lowes and Home Depot come from? Why do we buy tens of thousands of tons of farmed fish from China? Why do we sell coal and LNG energy to China? Why are our car parts and electronics and iPhones manufactured in China?
Tell me, if China is our enemy, then why do Wall Street bankers and American investors like Mitt Romney and the Koch Brothers and the Walton Family grow immensely rich by sending American jobs to China – is that not colluding with the enemy?
The rising Chinese economy, what powers that?
The growing Chinese military, who pays for it?
If China is our enemy, then how much American money should be devoted to “rebuilding” our military in order to fight a Chinese military that we are also simultaneously paying for?
At what point does this become ridiculous?
So who then? If not China, if not Russia, who is the enemy we want to fear us?
North Korea? Iran? ISIS? Really? Are we really putting ISIS and Kim Jong Un on the same footing with global powers such as the US, Russia, and China? Really?
North Korea must fear us, fear our military might, fear that we might use our fists at any moment. I would suggest to you that they do already fear us – which is why they want nuclear bombs of their own at the expense of feeding their own people. Ditto Iran.
Conservatives want guns to protect themselves from America. Why should ISIS be any different?
But that’s not what we’re talking about is it?
It’s not. We’re not talking about respect here, we’re talking about fear. We want them to fear us.
We’re not talking about rebuilding our education system into the best in the world.
We’re not talking about remaking our infrastructure into the envy of nations.
We’re not talking about retooling our social safety nets, or our medical system, our science, our innovative engineering, our space and exploration programs. No, that’s not what we’re talking about.
Our politicians don’t stand up there on that stage debating which one of them is more willing to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, heal the sick, educate our children, or colonize Mars. No, they intend to make America great with their fists, by bombing entire populations out of existence, by waterboarding our enemies, through military force, by fear.
When Trump, Cruz, et al talk of making our enemies fear us, when the crowd cheers, what we’re talking about here is real fear.
The kind of fear where they will never challenge America. Ever.
The kind of fear where when an American strays into their territorial waters or crosses their border with a weapon concealed in his trunk, they don’t think about questioning the reason or defending their own sovereignty or even enforcing their own laws.
The kind of fear where they capitulate immediately and in total to any US demand – be it military, political, or economic. If we want them to give up a weapons program or territory or their religion, they do so instantly and without any show of resistance or resentment.
The kind of fear where terrorists would never think of taking one of ours hostage, or detonating a bomb anywhere near Americans, or even so much as giving us a dirty look.
That’s what we’re talking about.
That’s the fear Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are talking about.
But see, here’s the problem, even in the darkest hours, even in the deepest depths of fear and terror, humanity tends to resist.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, in Vietnam and Korea, despite our overwhelming military superiority, our enemies fought back as best they could. All the military might in the world couldn’t beat it out of them completely.
In Chechnya, despite Russian willingness to ruthlessly slaughter terrorists and civilians with equal abandon, Chechens fight back even now with bombs and homemade guns and terror.
In Israel, despite ruthless determination on the part of one of the best trained and best equipped militaries in the world – and a government willing to use it – Palestinians fight back. Violently. Every single day.
In Northern Ireland, despite the vast and powerful British Army, the Irish fought back, with car bombs and bullets and their bare hands.
In the fearful horror of the concentration camps, despite an absolute power willing to murder them six million deep, in Dora and Mittelwerk, the Jews resisted.
In the old west, despite the Gatling gun and the Sharps rifle and the cavalry and the reservations, despite starvation and disease and genocide, Native Americans fought back.
In divided Berlin, despite the mine fields and the barbed wire and the dogs and the machine guns, East Germans fought their way through to the West or died trying.
In the old Antebellum South of the United States, despite ruthless oppression, American slaves fought against their chains and, again, all the ruthless brutality in the Confederacy couldn’t beat it out of them.
On December 7th, 1941, on September 11th, 2001, knowing they were attacking a vastly more powerful enemy, knowing we would come for them, knowing we would kill them and their families and crush their strongholds, our enemies attacked us.
And yet, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, the pundits and the talking heads, the shouting mob, they demand our military become so powerful, and our willingness to use it so ruthless, that no enemy will ever challenge us.
Think about that.
Think upon what kind of nation that would be.
We must be able to measure the achievement of objectives.
If the objective is fear, fear to such a degree our enemies will not challenge us, then the only measure is that they don’t. Ever.
It’s about will. Remember?
Imagine such a nation.
Imagine a nation so unassailable, so powerful, so utterly ruthless, so utterly without sympathy or humanity, so willing to use force, willing to carpet bomb entire populations out of existence, willing to torture its enemies, willing to sacrifice its sons and daughters and its treasure, willing to forgo education and healthcare and even eating, to do anything and everything to preserve its security. And to do so to such a degree that no enemy would ever dare to even think about resisting it.
Now, you tell me: what does that nation look like?
Give that some thought, why don’t you?
Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.
—Alasdair Gray, Scottish Novelist and Playwright (attributed to Canadian author Dennis Lee)
Footnote: These very same men utterly fear the power of government and would arm themselves against it in resistance. Ironic, no?
The Latter Days of a Better Nation, Part II, is here