Fighting a war or defending the peace?

Fighting a war or defending the peace?


By Manuel L. Quezon III
Last updated 01:19pm (Mla time) 08/14/2007


DOUGLAS MACARTHUR FAMOUSLY SAID, “IN war, there is no substitute for victory.” He also famously ended up dismissed because President Harry Truman believed MacArthur had gone too far, and encroached on the authority of the US President to set the strategic goals of the war, that is, to determine the limits governing the conduct of a war and define the conditions for victory.

MacArthur, having repulsed the North Korean invasion, suddenly faced an infusion of Chinese troops to defend North Korea; having pushed the North Koreans all the way to the Chinese border, his UN troops were forced to retreat in great disorder. In response, he wanted to expand the war into China, with atomic weapons, if necessary. Truman did not want to go that far, and risk the Russians mobilizing in support of their Chinese allies. He was content with preserving South Korea, which had been invaded by the North; if the North Koreans could be kept in check, then the aims of the United Nations forces would have been achieved.

MacArthur made his views public and so Truman fired him. Gen. Mark Clark was appointed to replace MacArthur, and the North Koreans, who’d pushed UN forces back after the infusion of Chinese troops, were pushed back in turn, to the dividing line between North and South: at which point an armistice was signed, which uneasily persists to this day.

The ultimate lesson for the American armed forces, however, was clear: civilians, not generals, should set the conditions for victory (which also places responsibility, and ultimately, the blame for those conditions being met, or not, on the politicians: as happened with Johnson in Vietnam, Bush the Elder in the First Gulf War and Bush the Younger currently in Iraq).

Now, about Mindanao

The situation in Mindanao requires civilians to engage in a crash course on how wars are fought. A soldier, by training, understands that war requires three things. Strategy, which is the planning of campaigns; tactics, which is the execution of plans and maneuvering forces in battle; and logistics, which is how the armed forces are fed, equipped and maintained. Of these three, civilians bear the responsibility for determining strategy, while tactics and logistical matters are primarily the responsibility of the armed forces.

Sen. Joker Arroyo believes civilians should shut up, and leave the armed forces alone to conduct operations in Mindanao –

He observed that “No military commander would want casualties or defeat. The officers and men who are prepared to die for flag and country, they who immerse themselves in the chaos of a real war, are doing their best to beat the enemy who has mastered the terrain for centuries. The last thing they need is to be asked by armchair strategists to explain why they cannot defeat the enemy rebels and terrorists.”

Arroyo’s tart comments were made in response to statements from two of his colleagues in the Senate. Sen. Francis Pangilinan declaimed a series of questions: “What is happening in our Armed Forces? … Is anyone in charge? … The buck stops with Esperon to explain why we are being clobbered in the field despite pronouncements that we will end the insurgency in three years. Are we all being taken for a ride here?”

Is Pangilinan off on a wild goose chase or merely being ignorant? Certainly, his shotgun approach suggests he ought to hit the books before asking questions. The buck doesn’t stop with Esperon, though he should be answering some tough questions himself (if involving tactics, then in executive session). The buck stops at the commander in chief’s desk. But to point that out would be, shall we say, an inconvenient truth; better to set up Esperon as a straw man, because after hitting him, the President can reiterate that enjoys her full confidence, and by then, Pangilinan would have gotten his share of the headlines.

More perceptive—surely because he’s been more exposed to military, or at least, naval, thinking—was Sen. Richard Gordon pointing out, “While we offer our sympathies to the families of the fallen… I believe Congress and the public deserve to know more about the real situation in the South so that appropriate adjustments… can be made and better support to our troops can be provided.” Congress and the public deserve information, so that everyone will know not only why the fighting has increased, and the reasons behind the military reverses being suffered by the troops, but also, what it’s all meant to accomplish, and what it will take to achieve those ends.

Garry Wills in his book “Uncertain Trumpets” pointed out that “Leaders, followers, and goals make up the three equally necessary supports for leadership.” The President herself seems to have put the strategic cart before the tactical horse: “The military offensive against the Abu Sayyaf must continue, not as an act of vengeance but as a strategy to win the peace. We cannot allow terrorists to hold the south hostage to their agenda of mayhem and bloodsport.”

It seems to me that you must have peace before you can win it: that is, winning the peace comes only after peace is in place, whether imposed by force of arms or negotiated at the bargaining table. If the civilian leadership suffers from the delusion that peace has already been achieved, then it’s proper to ask whether this represents a gigantic obstacle to the armed forces achieving anything at all.

The military can either vanquish its foes—which begins with understanding who they are—or hurt them so badly that they’re willing to negotiate an end to hostilities. How far it can go in pursuit of either objective depends on the ultimate objective, which only the civilian leadership—the President, Congress, the citizenry—have established as their shared goal.

What are we fighting for? Against whom? And how? That shared goal has not been identified, which is why officials and the public and the military, too, are at cross-purposes


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