ARKIN’S ILL-CONSIDERED WORDS
For those who are unaware, William Arkin is a defense intellectual and critic of the Bush administration who blogs at the Washington Post under the rubric Arkin’s Early Warning. He is also the author of Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operations in the 9/11 World – a book that is invaluable as a reference on contemporary operations to military historians, though by virtue of ” outing” quasi-secret and secret military and intel nomenclature. I mention this because I wish to be clear that Arkin is not a Georgetown cocktail party ” expert” playing pundit but someone who really knows his stuff.
“These soldiers should be grateful that the American public, which by all polls overwhelmingly disapproves of the Iraq war and the President’s handling of it, do still offer their support to them, and their respect.
Through every Abu Ghraib and Haditha, through every rape and murder, the American public has indulged those in uniform, accepting that the incidents were the product of bad apples or even of some administration or command order.
Sure it is the junior enlisted men who go to jail, but even at anti-war protests, the focus is firmly on the White House and the policy. We just don’t see very man “baby killer” epithets being thrown around these days, no one in uniform is being spit upon.
So, we pay the soldiers a decent wage, take care of their families, provide them with housing and medical care and vast social support systems and ship obscene amenities into the war zone for them, we support them in every possible way, and their attitude is that we should in addition roll over and play dead, defer to the military and the generals and let them fight their war, and give up our rights and responsibilities to speak up because they are above society?
I can imagine some post-9/11 moment, when the American people say enough already with the wars against terrorism and those in the national security establishment feel these same frustrations. In my little parable, those in leadership positions shake their heads that the people don’t get it, that they don’t understand that the threat from terrorism, while difficult to defeat, demands commitment and sacrifice and is very real because it is so shadowy, that the very survival of the United States is at stake. Those Hoover’s and Nixon’s will use these kids in uniform as their soldiers. If I weren’t the United States, I’d say the story end with a military coup where those in the know, and those with fire in their bellies, save the nation from the people.
But it is the United States and instead this NBC report is just an ugly reminder of the price we pay for a mercenary – oops sorry, volunteer – force that thinks it is doing the dirty work.”
Technically, from the perspective of military history, Arkin is correct that professional soldiery are a ” mercenary” force. John Keegan has written the same thing in another context. Militaries come in only a few basic forms, conscripts, mercenaries and caste – and professionals from the Swiss Guards to Renaissance captains to the U.S. military have war as their vocation.
That being said, Arkin was not using ” mercenary” in that context but in the casual perjorative meaning, as a slur. And he knows it. Why did he do it ? Because he was mad that troops in Iraq, guys to whom the label of ” chickenhawk” won’t stick nor with whom could stronger insults be applied without incurring the wrath of WaPo editors, criticized the anti-war movement. Accurately criticized, more to the point. The troops you, see, are supposed to shut up and ol’ Bill was incensed.
I’m a believer in free speech so I do not support calls for Arkin to fired, censored, physically menaced, burned at the stake or whatever. The man has just made a fool out of himself on a national platform and plenty of people are letting him know it. The justifiable verbal abuse being heaped in his direction comes as a direct cost of saying stupid things.
Particularly, when everyone knows that you know better. You want to blog Bill ? Learn to take your lumps like a man.
Arkin retracts the use of “mercenary”. Good. That was the right thing to do.
UPDATE II – ARKIN LINKS:
Castle Argghhh! has a round-up