Note on a Leftist Apologia for Military Studies

I’m a leftist, though sufficiently idiosyncratic of one that many others so identifying look askance at such a claim on my part. One factor in my intellectual homelessness is that one of my primary concerns is the martial.

America abounds in the sort of gear head who revels in military tech divorced of any consideration of the context in which it came to be, or the kind of person who believes in honor and thrills at tales of gory sacrifice. The entire business model of the History Channel is built around bring together these people with endless re-edits of stock footage of the Second and Vietnam wars. I am not a person who so thrills. At this point, I intend to devote myself to issues military, but if I could turn my life into something greater than a few thousand calorie-a-day contribution to the heat death of the universe, it would be the first principle of the Charter of the United Nations, “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.”

But the question remains, why the obsession with war? Why the minutia and the machines and the faux generalship?

The left has eschewed any consideration of the nuts and bolts of military issues in favor of wholesale condemnation, no further consideration required. The outcome of this position is that having nothing to say that resonates with voters is an abdication to the military thoughts of less scrupulous elements of the polity. In the hurly-burly of politics, time is the most scarce commodity. Having a plan at the ready when the moment strikes is the better part of victory in politics. And in those last three principles, operative to the determent of the left, can be found the whole explanation for the present imbroglio of the United States in the Middle East.

To effectively shunt war aside, the left must possess a minimum of military credibility. We must be able to deal with war in its own terms.

I think there is a Hegelian unfolding of the world spirit in the political-military happenings of the world where there is no around, only through (the truth of the flower is as much in the bud as the blossom). War will not halt, it can only be dampened. It is not merely enough to condemn nuclear weapons. It will be a varied and arduous road between world-ending arsenals and total disarmament. It is a road that must be plotted in detail, traversed along the whole of its track. There is no substitute for the compromising and half-measures of disarmament. To hate and fear something so much, one must also love it, revel and writhe in it.

Most consider strategy and military studies an entirely instrumental practice, whether pursued for the ends of national power, or for the excise of war as a scourge of humanity. I think there is more to it than that. There is something, many things, profound in war and violence.

In so far as society and its precepts are not optional, there is a continuity between force and violence and civilization. War is everywhere, even amidst peace. War is the substrate of peace. War is natural and peace an artifice.

What has me thinking in this direction is the excerpting by James Marcus (“Turning a Page,” History News Network, 5 November 2008) of a few lines from Tobias Wolff’s In Pharaoh’s Army: Memories of the Lost War:

It’s the close call you have to keep escaping from, the unending doubt that you have a right to your own life. It’s the corruption suffered by everyone who lives on, that henceforth they must wonder at the reason, and probe its justice.

Our thoughts on morality and justice, taken amidst the consolations of society, are pat and facile, so unfamiliar with the whole gamut of relevant circumstances of life are the majority of us. It is only from this side of the wall separating civilization from nature that someone could assert something so stupid as a right to life. Forces of the universe assert otherwise. Very few of us have been caused to fundamentally doubt this. And not merely to doubt in the abstract, but in the concrete of concrete: do I have a right to my life?

In the martial is more than machines and terrain and maneuver. There is a weltanschauung to be found there. It ought to be explicated.

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