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Winning the Unwinnable War: America’s Self-Crippled Response to Isla

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From this blog post:

If you haven’t yet checked out Elan Journo’s edited collection, Winning the Unwinnable War: America’s Self-Crippled Response to Islamic Totalitarianism, this month you can read the introduction and first two chapters of the book for free here.
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so, I can't find a review from this book *anywhere* that doesn't come from people that are clearly objectivists. That's a warning sign to me, has any third party/outside party reviewed this?

I went ahead and read the first couple of pages. Here are some highlights:

Starts off with Operation Red Wing recount, taken at face value from Luttrels book. Meh, pretty bad for him not to acknowledge that fact.

I wouldn't be as bothered by that but the author also chose to ignore every other report of the taliban numbers (even luttrels) and use a 150-200 number, I have no freaking clue where he got that number other than a blatant embellishment for the sake of making his case. Doesn't make the previous point look better.

Their decision to place the moral injunction to selflessness ahead of their mission and their very lives encapsulates the defining theme of Washington’s policy response to 9/1

This shows a real lack of understanding of military strategy. Selflessness is not the reason that you don't shoot civvies without just cause. Its in your self interest. Unnecessary civvie casualties are universally undrestood as unnacceptable over there because they engender enemy funding and recruiting.

Now, I will admit that the reason this war is particularly brutal is that the enemy fights out of uniform/uses civvie cover. This makes the situation much more dangerous and difficult, and i do think that in this situation there were better options for them than letting the herders go. So, its a complicated situation/argument that this author chooses to hit with the finesse of an orangutang.

But none of that is particularly problematic compared to this: Military service is one place where Rand's concept of selflessness doesn't fly that well (which is why I will never serve.) A soldier has to be willing to face death semi-altruistically for his fellow soldiers. Period. If they all operated as individuals with their own life as their sole motivator then they would not be able to operate effectively as an army. I mean, the whole purpose of boot camp is to bring strict discipline into the soldiers mind, following orders against your own self interest.

Between those obvious mistakes in the writing I would have a hard time getting through the first chapter.

Edited by emorris1000
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But none of that is particularly problematic compared to this: Military service is one place where Rand's concept of selflessness doesn't fly that well (which is why I will never serve.) A soldier has to be willing to face death semi-altruistically for his fellow soldiers. Period. If they all operated as individuals with their own life as their sole motivator then they would not be able to operate effectively as an army. I mean, the whole purpose of boot camp is to bring strict discipline into the soldiers mind, following orders against your own self interest.

Umm what? This is just asserted, not demonstrated. Can you explain this more?
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You have chosen to risk your lives for the defense of this country. I will not insult you by saying that you are dedicated to selfless service — it is not a virtue in my morality. In my morality, the defense of one's country means that a man is personally unwilling to live as the conquered slave of any enemy, foreign or domestic. This is an enormous virtue. Some of you may not be consciously aware of it. I want to help you to realize it.

^ from Address To The Graduating Class Of The United States Military Academy at West Point, New York — March 6, 1974

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Yes. That about says it all.

Like a debate I had concerning firemen going back in to a building that could collapse; they were not being "selfless".

Their choice of career, intense training and long introspection culminated in this one moment of calculated risk. The decision was made by them long prior to that point, and the act was then easy.

Not backing away from one's values: that's rational selfishness.

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Starts off with Operation Red Wing recount, taken at face value from Luttrels book. Meh, pretty bad for him not to acknowledge that fact.

I wouldn't be as bothered by that but the author also chose to ignore every other report of the taliban numbers (even luttrels) and use a 150-200 number, I have no freaking clue where he got that number other than a blatant embellishment for the sake of making his case. Doesn't make the previous point look better.

And also on page viii the number provided by Journo is 100-140, and the endnote (yes, I find the book's endnotes annoying too) cites this account from an excerpt of the book Lone Survivor from an Army Times article, as well as an MSNBC article.

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When your seargent gives you an order that is for you to do something that you do not want to do down to the very core of your being, you do it. Altruistic isn't the right word here, a better way to say it is that you have to follow orders semi-blindly.

Sure, on the grand scheme of things military service can be understood as a choice founded in self-interest, I completely agree with that, but day to day service requires the suppression of hte ego to get the job done.

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When your seargent gives you an order that is for you to do something that you do not want to do down to the very core of your being, you do it. Altruistic isn't the right word here, a better way to say it is that you have to follow orders semi-blindly.

Sure, on the grand scheme of things military service can be understood as a choice founded in self-interest, I completely agree with that, but day to day service requires the suppression of hte ego to get the job done.

But doesn't this seem very short-sighted? Especially in light of the fact that you, above, were able to realize that the reason provided for doing something (not shooting civilians) can actually be seen as in your self-interest if you take a longer-range view of military strategy, shouldn't you be able to apply the same analysis to this argument? A sergeant gives me "day to day" orders that I don't like, ergo altruism? Couldn't it just be that I value my long-range career and passions above not wanting to do some day to day task?

Anyways, you are in danger of a reductio ad absurdum as this argument could be applied to everything. I don't "want" to take out the trash, do the dishes, clean the toilet, do some crap my boss says, files these reports, clean out some crap I don't want to clean out, or just plain don't want to get out of bed in the morning. Does this mean day to day living requires "suppression of the ego" to just get by? Of course not, not I value the long-range goals above having to do these things. This is just a variant of the generic "everything is sacrifice because everything involves opportunity costs" argument.

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That's a fair point, and I'll retract the statement for the time being. I think there's an interesting argument to be had there (about the ethics of abandoning your ego for gain), but this isn't really the place since the main topic is the book, so I'll just abandon the point for right now.

But it doesn't over-ride the other issues I found with this writing within the first couple of pages. There's something really weak about his arguments. They would work with someone who already agreed with him, anyone else.....good luck. Take, for instance, this statement.

This much is true: the “war on terror” is essentially different from our

actions in World War II. Back then, we brought Japan to its knees within

four years of Pearl Harbor—yet eight years after 9/11, against a far weaker

enemy, we find ourselves enmeshed in two unresolved conflicts (Iraq and

Afghanistan) while further mass-casualty attacks and new flashpoints (such

as Pakistan) loom. Why?

It is not for lack of military strength and prowess; in that regard America is

the most powerful nation on earth. It is not for a lack of troops, or planning,

or any sort of bungled execution.

The war on terror is essentially different from the war with Japan/WWII. Undoubtedly. But HOW is it different? I'm not sure he actually answers that here. He sees the difference in the sense that we haven't thoroughly won it.

But that's a silly point when there are far more fundamentally interesting differences which are skipped by the author, such as:

The enemy is not a sovereign nation, yet is able to cause massive damage.

The enemy fights out of uniform and hides in civilian population (often using them as human shields)

The enemy lacks either the Prussian or the Bushido stance on military actions, for instance the idea of an "army" and surrender/admitting defeat.

Then he goes on to say "it's not for any sort of bungled execution". Really. You want to back that up? There are plenty who will argue that the execution has been massively bungled from day one.

...

Then there's this

Take, for instance, the policy that began in Carter’s administration, and continued under Rea-

gan, of supporting jihadists in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Why do this?

We were against the Soviets, who had invaded Afghanistan, and so were the

holy warriors—even though they were equally anti-American.

That's flat out not true, or at least its a gross exageration to say that the mujahideen were equally anti-american as they were anti-soviet.

..................

There are some other things that I liked/disliked from whta I have read so far, I'll add some more on that later.

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