The Power of Weakness
by William S. Lind
by William S. Lind
Can anything more be said about the debacle of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, beyond the fact that it demonstrates the immense power of the moral level of war? There are two observations I have not seen elsewhere.
First, the apparent breakdown in discipline among the MPs at Abu Ghraib may relate to the presence of women, and especially to the fact that the commander was a woman, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski. The climate of "Political Correctness" (or, to give it its true name, cultural Marxism) that has infested and overwhelmed the American armed forces makes it almost impossible to discipline a woman — and risky for a man to attempt to do so.
Some years ago, I asked an Army friend, a sergeant major in the medics, how he disciplined the many women in his unit. He laughed and said, "We just let them do whatever they want." When I expressed astonishment, he replied, "Look, it just isn't worth it. Anytime you discipline a woman, she may try to get even by accusing you of ‘sexual harassment.' And since, as a man, you are presumed guilty until proven innocent, your whole career is on the line. So we let ‘em do whatever they want."
This unpleasant reality of life in America's "PC" Army may have relevance to the roles of female MPs in what went on in Abu Ghraib. At General Karpinski's level, the effect of the ideology of cultural Marxism, which defines women as "victims" and men as "oppressors," was undoubtedly more subtle. If one of her male subordinates, say a colonel, or a peer, or even a superior officer, had raised issues that might have damaged the career of "a senior Army woman," his career would immediately have been in jeopardy. He would probably have been "counseled," and his concerns quietly suppressed. Even now, when asked her present status by the Washington Post, General Karpinski replies, "I am still in the Army Reserves. I am still in command of the 800th Military Police Brigade." Under the rules of cultural Marxism, because she is a woman, she remains untouchable; any man in her situation would by now have been relieved of command, at the very least. What happens to an Army full of women when women may not be disciplined? Exactly what we have seen at Abu Ghraib.
A second observation is that Abu Ghraib is what occurs when the strong fight the weak. Last week, I was lecturing on Fourth Generation war in Norway, along with my friend Professor Martin van Creveld, author of the best book on 4GW, The Transformation of War. In a recent paper, "Why Iraq Will End as Vietnam Did," Martin explains why the strong cannot fight the weak:
In private life, an adult who keeps beating down on a five-year old — even such a one as originally attacked him with a knife — will be perceived as committing a crime; therefore, he will lose the support of bystanders and end up being arrested, tried and convicted. In international life, an armed force that keeps beating down on a weaker opponent will be seen as committing a series of crimes; therefore it will end up losing the support of its allies, its own people and its troops. Depending on the quality of the forces…things may happen quickly or take a long time to mature. However, the outcome is always the same. He (or she) who does not understand this does not understand anything about war; or, indeed, human nature.
In other words, he who fights against the weak — and the rag-tag Iraqi militias are very weak indeed — and loses, loses. He who fights against the weak and wins also loses. To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel; to let that opponent kill you is unnecessary and therefore foolish. As Vietnam and countless other cases prove, no armed force, however rich, however powerful, however advanced, however well motivated is immune to this dilemma. The end result is always disintegration and defeat…That is why the present adventure will almost certainly end as the previous one (Vietnam) did. Namely, with the last U.S. troops fleeing the country while hanging on to their helicopters' skids.
The demoralization and disintegration that come to an army of the strong fighting against the weak were evident at Abu Ghraib prison. More fundamentally, the question of how a strong state such as the United States can fight the physically weak (but often morally powerful) non-state enemies it now faces is a central problem in Fourth Generation theory. Unless we can come up with an answer (mutually agreed chivalric codes may be the beginning of an answer, where those are possible), the 21st century may see the weak triumph over the strong.
May 22, 2004
William Lind [send him mail] is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation.
Copyright © 2004 William S. Lind