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Loving the German War Machine to Death
William J. Astore, TomDispatch
I’ve always been interested in the German military, especially the Wehrmacht of World War II. As a young boy, I recall building many models, not just German Panther and Tiger tanks, but famous Luftwaffe planes as well. True, I built American tanks and planes, Shermans and Thunderbolts and Mustangs, but the German models always seemed “cooler,” a little more exotic, a little more predatory. And the German military, to my adolescent imagination, seemed admirably tough and aggressive: hard-fighting, thoroughly professional, hanging on against long odds
… when I entered Air Force ROTC in 1981, and later on active duty in 1985, I was surprised, even pleased, to discover that so many members of the U.S. military shared my interest in the German military.
… This idolization of the German military was a telling manifestation of a growing militarism within an American society which remained remarkably oblivious to the slow strangulation of its citizen-soldier ideal. At the same time, the American military began to glorify a new generation of warrior-leaders by a selective reading of its past. Old “Blood and Guts” himself, the warrior-leader George S. Patton — the commander as artist-creator-genius — was celebrated; Omar N. Bradley — the bespectacled GI general and reluctant soldier-citizen — was neglected. Not coincidentally, a new vision of the battlefield emerged in which the U.S. military aimed, without the slightest sense of irony, for “total situational awareness” and “full spectrum dominance,” goals that, if attained, promised commanders the almost god-like ability to master the “storm of steel,” to calm the waves, to command the air.
In the process, any sense of war as thoroughly unpredictable and enormously wasteful was lost.
… Precisely because that disaster did not befall us, precisely because we emerged triumphant from two world wars, we became both too enamored with the decisiveness of war, and too dismissive of our own unique strength. For our strength was not military élan or cutting-edge weaponry or tactical finesse (these were German “strengths”), but rather the dedication, the generosity, even the occasional ineptitude, of our citizen-soldiers. Their spirit was unbreakable precisely because they — a truly democratic citizen army — were dedicated to defeating a repellently evil empire that reveled fanatically in its own combat vigor.
Looking back on my youthful infatuation with the German Wehrmacht, I recognize a boy’s misguided enthusiasm for military hardness and toughness. I recognize as well the seductiveness of reducing the chaos of war to “shock and awe” Blitzkrieg and warrior empowerment. What amazes me, however, is how this astonishingly selective and adolescent view of war — with its fetish for lightning results, achieved by elevating and empowering a new generation of warlords, warriors, and advanced weaponry — came to dominate mainstream American military thinking after the frustrations of Vietnam.
Unlike a devastated and demoralized Germany after its defeats, we decided not to devalue war as an instrument of policy after our defeat, but rather to embrace it. Clasping Clausewitz to our collective breasts, we marched forward seeking new decisive victories. Yet, like our role models the Germans of World War II, we found victory to be both elusive and illusive.
So, I have a message for my younger self: put aside those menacing models of German tanks and planes. Forget those glowing accounts of Rommel and his Afrika Korps. Dismiss Blitzkrieg from your childish mind. There is no lightning war, America. There never was. And if you won’t take my word for it, just ask the Germans.
Copyright 2010 William J. Astore
William J. Astore ([email protected]), a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and TomDispatch regular, teaches history at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. To catch him in a Timothy MacBain TomCast audio interview discussing the U.S. military’s fascination with the Wehrmacht, click here.
(18 February 2010)
Also at Common Dreams.
Not much discussed in peak oil circles is the likelihood that the United States will have to wind down its military ventures to a more manageable size. In that case, it would be good to plan for it, rather than for it to catch us unawares.
This isn’t Falklands II
Simon Tisdall, Guardian (UK)
Sabre-rattling over Malvinas oil serves a useful political purpose for Argentina’s President Kirchner. But she’s no Galtieri
It was Karl Marx who said “history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce” – and in the case of the abruptly reigniting dispute over the Falkland Islands, aka Las Malvinas, there is reason to hope he was right. Argentina’s latest protests, sparked by the prospect of an oil bonanza around the islands, could easily be dismissed as hot air. But that was the mistake Britain made last time, and almost 1,000 people paid with their lives.
The parallels with the runup to the 1982 war, echoing eerily down the years, are uncanny, although susceptible to exaggeration.
… The first offshore oil rig to work the area since 1998 arrives off the islands this week, with drilling scheduled to start next year. Britain says such activity is entirely legal. “We have no doubt about our sovereignty over the Falklands islands and the surrounding maritime area,” the British embassy in Buenos Aires said in a statement.
… But unlike the dark days of the late, unlamented dictator, General Leopoldo Galtieri, nobody is seriously talking about resorting to main force. One possible avenue for Buenos Aires is to take its grievances back to the United Nations. It can also put pressure on Britain through regional organisations and bilaterally. Or – and this may be the smart move – it can bide its time while British firms and capital do the heavy lifting.
By some estimates, 60bn barrels of oil may be sitting under the sea around the Falklands, a potential North Sea-scale bonanza. But previous exploratory drilling has been disappointing and so far not a drop of sellable “black gold” has been extracted. Added to the political strains are the physical strains of working in such a southerly region. The sea in some areas reaches depths of 3,000 metres, rainfall is high, storms are frequent, winter temperatures are typically near freezing, and the cost of operating a rig in such an environment can run to $1m a day.
These are formidable challenges that may yet prove insuperable. Just as historical tragedy replays as farce, black gold often turns to fool’s gold. Before doing anything silly, Kirchner’s Argentina might be best advised to wait and see whether there is anything worth fighting over.
(17 February 2010)
Yemen’s Water Crisis Eclipses al Qaeda Threat
Ulf Laessing, Reuters
… The West frets that al Qaeda will exploit instability in Yemen to prepare new attacks like the failed December 25 bombing of a U.S. airliner, but this impoverished Arabian peninsula country faces a catastrophe that poses a far deadlier long-term threat.
Nature cannot recharge ground water to keep pace with demand from a population of 23 million expected to double in 20 years.
More water is consumed than produced from most of Yemen’s 21 aquifers, especially in the highlands, home to big cities like Sanaa, with a fast-growing population of two million, and Taiz.
… The crisis is worsened by excessive irrigation by farmers growing qat, a mild narcotic leaf that dominates life in Yemen, where most men spend half the day chewing it, even at work.
Agriculture accounts for more than 90 percent of water use, of which 37 percent goes to irrigate qat, GTZ estimates.
(17 February 2010)
Also at Common Dreams.