Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What My Father Asked the Brigade Commander

A few days ago, I visited my father in the retirement center where he lives to attend a lecture by a retired Army Colonel who was once a Brigade Commander in Iraq and served on General Petreus’s staff. He is now a professor at Ohio State. If anyone is surprised by his career path, they shouldn’t be. I have always respected the wisdom that General William Butler showed when he said, “Any society that divides the scholar from the warrior will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.”

I found the colonel’s speech fascinating and anyone who thinks he would rubber-stamp any decision made by higher-ups in Iraq and Afghanistan would be in for a few surprises. When the colonel finished his speech and took questions, my father asked, “Why is it that the United States is doing all these things? Who says we have to play global policeman?” The colonel said, “Whatever you think of American policies, the simple fact is that, if America doesn’t do it, it won’t get done.”

Kindly note that I’m not saying that our policies, but I’m pointing out that, seventy years ago this month, Americans might reasonably hope that the British and French empires would deal with unpleasant situations overseas. Those days are long past.

Anyone who thinks that the United Nations will ever accomplish anything is willfully ignorant of the history of the past sixty-four years. A bit later on in the day, I did chide my father, pointing out that the answer to his question would have been the same in the early months of 1945 when he and the rest of his B-24 crew flew missions over Germany.

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