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“What We Owe Our Soldiers”

ARI was quite proud of their “Honoring Virtue” editorial, reviewed elsewhere on this website. Soon after releasing it to newspapers for publication on Memorial Day 2002 they reprinted it in their own newsletter, introduced by a brief article whose title boasted “Op-Ed Reaches Circulation of Five Million”:

“ ‘Honoring Virtue,’ an editorial on Memorial Day by Dr. Andrew Bernstein, was published in a record 30 newspapers around the country, with a total circulation of 5.1 million. Because it was posted on major news Web sites and on the [Web] sites of newspapers that published it in their print editions, the article reached millions more readers. No other ARI editorial on its first release has garnered such exposure.”
“Dr. Yaron Brook [president of ARI] observed that ‘Dr. Bernstein’s  well-chosen illustrations helped to bring the article to the attention of many America’s leading op-ed page editors.’ ”
“One reader wrote:  ‘Great article! On Monday we sat down as a family and discussed the various points of your article. It had a great effect from the 19-year-old down to the 11-year-old. Keep up the good work.’ ” [1]
Considering that Mr. Bernstein urged the virtue of dying for freedom around the world, especially the freedom of Iraqis, and that his “well-chosen illustrations” – to quote Mr. Brook – included the Korean War and the Vietnam War [2]  we can only hope that the 19-year-old eventually saw through Mr. Bernstein’s tricks.

ARI re-released “Honoring Virtue” on succeeding Memorial Days, four times total when we reviewed it in 2005. Yet come Memorial Day 2006 “Honoring Virtue” is a no show. Instead we find:

“What We Owe Our Soldiers”  by Alex Epstein,  published by ARI on May 25, 2006.  (Republished November 8, 2006 with Memorial Day replaced by Veterans Day, and each Veterans and Memorial Day thereafter, the most recent date being November 11, 2010.)

At first glance the change from Bernstein to Epstein appears significant. Gone is the virtue of “dying for freedom around the world.” In fact that notion gets roundly criticized at the very beginning of the article:

“... all too many of our soldiers have died unnecessarily — because they were sent to fight for a purpose other than America’s freedom.”
Just the opposite of the old article! The new dispensation starts off well, the only objectionable thing about the above is the slushy  “our”  in both title and text, and the fact that it gets fleshed out, later in the article, with World War I as an example when World War II would have given it real bite.

Still we might be thankful for the improvement were it not for Mr. Epstein’s ultimate aim, which will reveal itself in good time.

His next two paragraphs are unobjectionable. A government should recognize the rights of individual men, and a government’s purpose is to protect men from the criminals who violate those rights. Soldiers are individuals too. American soldiers, Mr. Epstein writes, protect “the freedom of every American, including their own freedom.”

The fourth paragraph begins well enough. The risks a soldier takes are not sacrifices to a “higher cause.” If Americans are threatened, then a soldier acts to defend Americans he himself values. Some men enlist precisely for that reason. And here Mr. Epstein brings in 9-11 “when 3,000 innocent Americans were slaughtered in cold blood on a random Tuesday morning ... .”

Now that word “random” – suggesting unforeseen, unexpected – when in fact the U.S. had been, by choice, in the thick of Middle Eastern wars for many years installing and propping up the Shah of Iran, supporting Iraq against Iran before the Gulf War, defending Kuwait against Iraq during it, maintaining sanctions against Iraq, all the while propping up Israel – including gifts of fighter planes and cluster bombs. If you engage in war you must expect retaliation. [3]  But set that aside, it is enough for Mr. Epstein to mention 9-11. It illuminates the rest of his text, in which Iraq features prominently.

Mr. Epstein’s more astute readers will recall that many of the men who enlisted because of 9-11 eventually got sent to risk their lives invading Iraq, and that ARI had relentlessly lobbied for that invasion, using the same arguments as the Neocons, and will recall that Iraq had no part, none at all, in 9-11.

Mr. Epstein’s next paragraph elaborates his earlier remarks. An American soldier, he says, risks his life defending his life and happiness, he is “unwilling to live as anything other than a free man ... he would rather die than live in slavery or perpetual fear.” And then Mr. Epstein quotes the justly famous Revolutionary War slogan “Live free or die.”

How a fourth-rate Third World thug like Saddam Hussein had the power to enslave America or put us in perpetual fear, and why such a relatively fixed target as he was would risk doing such a thing, Mr. Epstein does not explain.

In his next paragraph Mr. Epstein continues to speak generally while obviously intending his remarks to apply especially to the then present situation in Iraq:

“What we owe these men who fight so bravely for their and our freedom is to send them to war only when that freedom is truly threatened, and to make every effort to protect their lives during war – by providing them with the most advantageous weapons, training, strategy, and tactics possible.”
“... who fight ... for their and our freedom ...” This is the same lie which sent those same men to Iraq in the first place. (See the footnotes in  A Lot of Explaining to Do  on this website.) And the same lie which ARI repeated over and over again during the run-up to the war.  (See  Relentless Propaganda  on this website.) American soldiers in the Middle East were not fighting for their freedom, or our freedom, or even the Iraqis’ freedom. What we owed these men was the truth, and a return trip with all speed, not pseudo-patriotic claptrap.

Mr. Epstein’s next paragraph elaborates the point he began with. “Shamefully, America has repeatedly ... placed soldiers in harm’s way when no threat to America existed ... ” and he mentions Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, World War I, and Vietnam – all valid examples and a tellingly incomplete list. [4]

His next two paragraphs consist of lies and half-truths with a little truth mixed in to glue the mess together:

“... the current war in Iraq – which could have had a valid purpose as a first step in ousting the terrorist-sponsoring, anti-American regimes of the Middle East – is responsible for thousands of unnecessary American deaths in pursuit of the sacrificial goal of ‘civilizing’ Iraq by enabling Iraqis to select any government they wish, no matter how anti-American.

“In addition to being sent on ill-conceived, ‘humanitarian’ missions, our soldiers have been compromised with crippling rules of engagement that place the lives of civilians in enemy territory above their own. ...”
Let’s take this a bit at a time. Iraq was among “terrorist-sponsoring, anti-American regimes.” This is true, in a way. Saddam Hussein did sponsor terrorists, not against America but against Israel. And of course he had no love of the U.S. ever since the U.S. unexpectedly took the side of the Kuwait dictatorship in the Gulf War. But as is abundantly clear by now Iraq never was a threat to America. [5]  Mr. Epstein pushes the very same lies, even now, as Mr. Bernstein did in “Honoring Virtue.”

In 2003 there could have been no “valid purpose” for “our” soldiers to risk their lives invading Iraq.

Mr. Epstein goes on to say that the Iraq War as prosecuted in its occupation phase “is responsible for thousands of unnecessary American deaths.” He emphasizes that only the Bush Administration’s prosecution of the war is wrong, not the war itself. He objects that the war is being waged, he says, “in pursuit of the sacrificial goal of ‘civilizing’ Iraq by enabling Iraqis to select any government they wish, no matter how anti-American.”

He is curiously silent about what should be the purpose of the occupation.

Setting up a democracy was but one among several reasons the Bush Administration gave out to justify the war. At first the reason they broadcast at highest volume was the same as ARI’s: Iraq was somehow involved in the 9-11 attack and would soon attack the U.S. with chemical and nuclear bombs. [6]

The Administration’s primary rationale – or pretext – changed from primarily WMD before the war to setting up a democracy after WMD were not found. Mr. Epstein objects to the democracy part, but he fails to call an end to the Iraq war. There is a kind of consistency in this. Before the war and during its early stages ARI repeatedly insinuated what Mr. Epstein now makes a show of excoriating:  that civilizing Iraq – with liberty rather than a democracy – was a good reason for occupying that country. [7]  The distinction between democracy – mob rule – and liberty – a constitutional republic recognizing individual rights – is an important one, but when used to justify a self-sacrificial crusade the difference is irrelevant.

The real purpose of Mr. Epstein’s article is not to celebrate Memorial Day, it is to  whitewash the Iraq War and ARI’s part in promoting it.  His article is one long “We didn’t mean it, we didn’t mean this!”  Yet what they were saying during the run-up to the war was right out of the Neocon playbook, and the consequence to U.S. soldiers was predictable.

Mr. Epstein goes on to say that U.S. “soldiers have been compromised with crippling rules of engagement that place the lives of civilians in enemy territory above their own.” It is true that U.S. military leaders sometimes pay lip-service to protecting civilians, but in practice U.S. soldiers kill with abandon and impunity. They carpet-bombed Iraqi towns into rubble, Fallujah being one example. They used napalm (fire bombs made with jellied gasoline). Mass civilian casualties were so common commanders consider them unworthy of report. At least one commander told his soldiers to shoot any military age male on sight whether he was in the military or not. And of course there is torture, CIA and military, most of the victims haplessly caught up in random sweeps or turned in for the bounty, torture approved right from the top of the U.S. chain of command. (See  Torture  on this website.)

Mr. Epstein repeats that the problem in Iraq was how the war was being waged, the missions and rules, not the war per se:

“In Iraq, our hamstrung soldiers are not allowed to smash a militarily puny insurgency – and instead must suffer an endless series of deaths by an undefeated enemy.”
Now we know what went wrong in Iraq: U.S. soldiers were not allowed to “smash” those who oppose them. If only they had been given reign to kill more people all would have gone well.

Even were this true, still questions go begging. Why did so many Iraqis oppose the U.S. occupation instead of the “puny” insurgency? And what was the U.S. doing in Iraq?

Mr. Epstein ends his article with an impassioned plea apparently on behalf of U.S. soldiers:

“To send soldiers into war without a clear self-defense purpose, and without providing them every possible protection, is a betrayal of their valor and a violation of their rights.
A fine generality, twisted to dupe Americans into becoming conquistadors.
“This Memorial Day, we must call for a stop to the sacrifice of our soldiers and condemn all those who demand it. It is only by doing so that we can truly honor not only our dead, but also our living: American soldiers who have the courage to defend their freedom and ours.”
Indeed, but look who’s talking. Anyone taking the above seriously will question Mr. Epstein’s sincerity. You don’t honor someone or stop their sacrifice by sending them on a fool’s errand.

“Live free or die” is a great motto from the Revolutionary War. In quoting this motto Mr. Epstein carefully neglected to point out that it was originally aimed, not against a foreign enemy, but against the government America had at the time. Today our situation is similar. Though it is doubtful that bin Laden hated America “because we are free,” to be sure the Neocons hate America for what freedom we have left.

1  America at War, a “Supplemental Issue of Impact, Newsletter of the Ayn Rand Institute,” September 2002, page 11.

2  The following excerpt from “Honoring Virtue” is typical of the whole piece. Assume, for the sake of Mr. Bernstein’s argument, that South Korea today really is free, not a military state with a democratic gloss.

“Regular American soldiers have fought and died for freedom around the globe. South Korea today is free, not a part of North Korea’s murderous dictatorship, because U.S. soldiers helped defeat Communist aggression in the Korean War.”

3  There is an additional consideration. Bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda group began as a CIA operation (via Pakistan) against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. After the Soviets left, Al-Qaeda turned against the U.S., fighting its presence in the Middle East instead.
Long before 9-11 the intelligence regarding Al-Qaeda was sufficiently good, specific, and credible that 9-11 could have been prevented, yet both the Clinton and Bush Administrations refused to act. Some Al-Qaeda operatives enjoyed a curious immunity, as pointed out by Army Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer, Navy captain Scott Philpott and other whistleblowers.

4  At this point Mr. Epstein says that the U.S. government justified the Vietnam War “primarily in the name of service to the South Vietnamese.” He is mistaken. The U.S. government justified the Vietnam War with what it called the “domino theory.” Without U.S. intervention, they claimed, all of Vietnam would fall to communism, then all of Southeast Asia, then the whole world. That last was as absurd then as it is now.

5  Besides  A Lot of Explaining to Do  on this website, see  “The Big Lie: Intelligence Failure in Iraq”  point number 6.

6  The Administration’s real reason for invading Iraq included the defense of Israel, as described in the Neocons’ white paper “A Clean Break,” a defense that the Neocons – like the folks at ARI – promote as somehow a defense of America.

7  See ARI’s “The Ideological Reconstruction of Iraq” by Elan Journo, published April 15, 2003.  Mr. Journo doesn’t come right out and advocate self-sacrifice but context is everything here. Subtitled “The new Iraq needs to learn the meaning and value of the Enlightenment’s respect for reason,” the article begins:
“Estimated to cost as much as $200 billion, the plan for rebuilding post-war Iraq is astounding in its scope – from repairing roads and sewer systems to revamping the Iraqi government payroll system and printing school textbooks. Yet no one is paying attention to the deepest foundations needed to support a free and prosperous society. What the Arab world really needs is not a transfusion of foreign money, but a transfusion of crucial Western ideas.”
Astounding in its scope!  What a phrase to use, as if he were describing the Apollo space program. As for “transfusion,” one wonders what method he would employ. In this vein see also:

“Iraqi Freedom Requires Individual Rights” by Robert Tracinski, April 21, 2003.
“Having been forced to recognize that our soldiers won a brilliant military victory in Iraq, media commentators are trying to minimize that achievement by loudly proclaiming how much more difficult it will be to ‘win the peace’ by establishing a stable and benevolent new government in Iraq.”
Mr. Tracinski worries more about the rights of Iraqis than the rights of Americans.

“Liberty, Not Democracy, in Iraq” by Robert Garmong, May 8, 2003.  Mr. Garmong refers to “our military victory” in Iraq, and says that “What Iraq needs is not democracy, but liberty.” And he makes it clear that American soldiers are supposed to give it to them.

“An Open Letter to the People of Iraq” by Bradley Thompson, December 8, 2003 and again February 3, 2005.  Mr. Thompson refers to “Iraq’s founding fathers,” as if U.S. bombs and Ahmed Chalabi were the equivalent of Thomas Jefferson.

“American Appeasement in Iraq” by Peter Schwartz, October 6, 2003:
“In postwar Japan, it was Gen. Douglas MacArthur who unilaterally drafted a new constitution – over the objections of many Japanese – and who thus paved the way for a radical shift from tyranny to liberty. Emulating MacArthur, by imposing upon Iraq a U.S.-written constitution that champions the principle of individual rights, would be an ideal means of asserting our interests.”

“What Kind of Government for Iraq?” by David Holcberg, April 11, 2003.
“If the United States is to take upon itself the responsibility for installing a new government in Iraq [Comment: nowhere does Mr. Holcberg object to that policy], it should stop talking about democracy and focus instead on forming a government based on the principles of the American system [a constitutional republic].”

“Might and Rights in Iraq” – ARI Press Release quoting Yaron Brook, December 4, 2003.
“America’s guiding principle should be the protection of individual rights [in Iraq] — not the whims of the majority.”

“The Perversity of U.S. Backing for the Gaza Retreat” by Elan Journo, August 30, 2005.
“... Washington has refused to impose on Iraq a constitution that would make the new regime non-threatening – as we did in Japan after World War II.”