Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Letters, Lord, Do I Get Letters... 
One American reader now living in Switzerland responds to yesterday’s post by writing,

“I thought President Bush was responsible for you going to Iraq, and you didn’t have a choice in the matter…I had pegged you as too intelligent to volunteer for this mess.”

Yes, President Bush is responsible for sending my unit to Iraq. But in September of 2002 I rescinded a letter of resignation I had put in that summer, precisely because I knew we were going to be mobilized, and see service in Afghanistan or Iraq. The politics were clear by September 2002: President Bush had staked his presidency on the removal of Saddam Hussein from power, and I told my NCO leadership that at the time, in those very words.

I could have let my resignation go through, and bowed out gracefully. But infantry officers move to the sound of the guns, and my commissioning oath required me to pledge that I “take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation, or purpose of evasion.”

The letter reflects a common cynical, or even nihilist assumption which I do not share: that intelligent people do not seek to serve in a volunteer military, or that if they do, they fail to seek challenging and dangerous assignments.

The underlying assumption is that intelligent military leaders must fail to lead.

Intelligence is not the same thing as self-preservation.

Rather, I would suggest that when confronted with a totalitarian regime that practices systematic torture, rape, genocide, and murder, and which actively supports terrorist organizations which make a practice of setting off bombs on school busses abroad—and when offered a chance to help contribute to its demise—a truly intelligent man would discern a certain moral obligation.

And that equation is entirely separate from the question of self interest.

So yes, in effect, I did volunteer for ‘this mess.’ And if I had to do it all over again, I would do the same thing utterly.

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