Sunday, October 22, 2006

Moral Victory

Here's a simple, ugly truth with a lot of important conotations. People are almost never physically beaten. They give up.

There are exceptions. Sometimes in cases of "excited delerium" the threat (who is often on drugs, withdrawing from drugs and/or has a history of severe psychiatric issues) will literally fight until his heart gives out. Occassionally you break enough bones that the person can't move or do enough damage to the central nervous system that the threat is shut down completely, but it's rare.

Even most "knockouts" are, in my opinion, a matter of heart. I've been hit just right and left dizzy and puking for three days; hit so hard that my helmet broke off and flew across the room; but only once did I lose consciousness and that was for only a second... but I lost consciousness twice more in the next two hours, sign of severe brain trauma. The "get hit, fall asleep for awhile, fine later" Hollywood knockout doesn't happen, in my opinion. It can seem like that, because I've seen it happen with strikes that really shouldn't have caused any damage, but in the incidents I can remember the person knocked out was essentially a coward who didn't want to be there. The "knockout" gave an honorable excuse to stop and leave. IMO.

So fights are won, usually, because someone gave up. I'm finishing John Keegan's "The Face of Battle" and he makes a similar statement about battles and wars. "It requires, if it is to take place, a mutual and sustained act of will by two contending parties, and if it is to result in decision, the moral collapse of one of them. How protracted the act of will must be, and how complete that moral collapse..."

Fighting, from the nastiest smelliest jailhouse brawl to WWII is an act of will. A contest that unless complete destruction happens is only ended when one side gives up. When they suffer a moral collapse.

Moral, in this sense, is not about ethics but about will, esprit, morale and a feeling of righteousness and duty, patriotism and honor. It is this sense of 'moral' that Napoleon was referring to when he said, "In war, the moral is to the physical as three to one."

Losing sight of this is a common modern weakness. I know some of our soldiers. They are hard working, dedicated, well-trained and mostly well-led. Despite facing insurgents who can hide in crowds and have access to advantages of appearance and language and local customs our soldier are kicking ass... and they are also making friends, if you read their e-mails.

By every objective standard- body count, territory held- we are winning, spectacularly. Urban anti-guerrilla warfare is about the most dangerous possible infantry situation. In any other place and time in a similar situation, the American casualties would be astronomical. In one year (1968) in Vietnam we lost 1,919 men to non-hostile actions- accidents and diseases*. Using stats from an anti-war website: in Iraq, from from the Iraqi election 1/31/05 until now, nearly 21 months, there have been 1360 killed. Objectively, in a given year, we lost more troops by accident in Vietnam in a year than we lost by all sources combined in 21 months in Iraq. But that's objective.

What we lose sight of is that war isn't objective. Conflict at any level is psychological and 'moral'. The winner and loser in this war will have nothing to do with the body count or the technology or the efficiencies or the training. The side that loses will be the side that gives up. The side that says 'uncle'. That side will walk away with its tail between its legs and the other side will congratulate themselves on a moral victory.

I usually try to avoid politics- I voted for people who have access to more information than me. The majority of the people voted for person X, so he gets the information and it's his job to make the decision. But right now it's as if groups of people- political parties, the media, all the usual boogie men, are lining up to try to sap our moral fiber, to make America feel ashamed for acting when no one else would (though, if you count the number of UN resolutions everyone seemed to think that somebody should do something, like the neighbors who watched when Kitty Genovese was stabbed). Will, in any form, scares them. People with will stand up. People with will make decisions and right wrongs. People with will are not sheep who will blindly listen to their newscasts and vote for the media's sheep-friendly picks.

Is this the great battle of the 21st century? When I was a kid, it was Communism versus Capitalism. Later, more subtle and sophisticated, it was Collectivism versus the Individual. Is it now as simple as sheep and their herders against Men? Is the eventual goal of the shepherds to destroy will itself? The victory we need is a moral one.

*14,594 killed by enemy action for a total of 16,511 US soldiers killed in 1968.

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