The following commentary was sent to us in response to a blog I posted on September 26 concerning U.S. Army inquiries into the human element of war. The writer focuses on the importance of belief and values in sustaining the will to win wars — with specific reference to the Islamic world that has so preoccupied U.S. policymakers over the last generation. Lexington Institute takes no position on such issues, but we thought our readers would benefit from hearing a viewpoint that seldom finds expression inside the Beltway. — Loren Thompson.
Dr. Thompson posted a brief essay about the Army’s realization that wars are not won by technical or tactical expertise. The officer who said, “war is not a math problem — it’s a clash of wills” is correct. War is a test of wills — the leader’s, the people’s, and the fighter’s will. Therein lies the problem and I doubt the Army can work the problem through to the end.
Although this is only the Army’s first step in thinking through the problem (you must admit you have a problem before solving it), at its heart is the realization that soldiers who do not believe in anything will always be at a disadvantage to fighters who deeply believe in something. What do American soldiers believe in anymore beyond themselves, their stuff, and their buddies? What are the unifying elements of an American ideology or theology that motivate our efforts? I honestly believe that those who are holders of a materialist worldview can never fully comprehend the power of human belief.
However, it goes further; soldiers have to think that what they believe in is significant enough to fight for, to die for, and to kill for. They have to know in their hearts that if they win, no matter the cost, the world will be a better place and there will be a substantial payoff (and I do not mean monetarily). What do American soldiers believe in anymore? What can they believe in anymore? They learn that we are not an exceptional nation; that on the contrary, we are the source of evil in the world; that the nation is racist, that there is no God, no moral absolute. Our national values are now diversity, expediency, and efficiency. Those are only war winners if you have no moral limits and are willing to exterminate your enemy by technological means.
If, on the other hand, you want to impose your will on your enemy and have a better, safer world on the other side, you need to believe your cause is righteous and you are fighting on the side of the angels. We’re not there, so I am not thinking the Army will find a solution to this.
The questions to start this conversation with are these:
- Who are we as a people?
- What about us is worth fighting for, dying for, killing for?
- How will the world be a better place because of America fighting and winning?
- What is at the heart of American ideology?
- What do we believe in?
- At the same time, what roles do restrictive rules of engagement have in degrading mission capability and troop morale?
- We fight war with various means and for various objectives; how do we communicate to soldiers, leaders, and our population, what those limitations and objectives are without revealing our intent to our enemy?
In the specific case of the war against Islamism, is this a war against some amorphous “false interpretation of Islam” or is it a war against what is at the heart of Islam? Do we grasp that, contrary to the trajectory of the Bible, the Quran starts peaceful and ends in calls for unremitting violence against all unbelievers? What is the character and nature of Allah?
It is important to understand that just as there are ChINOs in the US (Christians In Name Only), there are at the same time MINOs (Muslims in Name Only) both in the US and in the Muslim world. However it is the heart of the ideology itself that is the center of gravity. What is at the heart of Islam? Is it possible for someone to be both a faithful Muslim and live within the context of the US Constitution and a pluralistic, liberal society? Until our national and military leaders are willing to confront and deal with the consequences of their own worldviews as well as the worldviews of our enemies, we will continue to spin our wheels on the issue of the human dimension of war.
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