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09 May 2007

Emotion versus intellect in war

As Robert E. Lee (not William Tecumsah Sherman) said, “It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it.” However, the recent trend towards obscuring the hard realities of the battlespace has been creeping in far too often to where it should be recognized for what it is. The Long War is tiring – it drains individuals as it confronts them with horror upon horror. The question of how one hardens to it, and what kind of person they are when they come away from it, is for each individual to answer on their own.

But out of the same war that formed Sherman’s views has been one of the key thrusts of the American way of war – spend things, not people, whenever possible. It is better to expend treasure than blood – although no amount of treasure will ever make war bloodless.

Thus it is with amazement and disgust that we view the recent Washington Post article cited by Belmont Club. The anthropomorphism of military tools is an old tradition – from at least the days of the first sailing vessels onward, and it is only natural that men come to emotionally value those objects which have been their companions for long, difficult times under extreme stress, and which have saved their and their comrades lives. However, the use of materiel in combat often leaves those items roughly handled – and if in doing so, saves additional US and allied lives, then so be it.

We thus strongly disagree with the favorable interpretation of this anecdote held our esteemed virtual colleague Wretchard. These are the emotional indulgences we cannot afford, as they grow out of the continued (and regrettably naturally human) desire to avoid confronting the harsh realities of war. Writ large, these are the same dynamics which the adversary attempts to exploit through sapping the will to continue at the coal face. It is this same impulse to “make it stop” through disengagement, appeasement and retreat, in the futile hopes that the enemy will likewise no longer wish to pursue conflict. And it is equally as wrongheaded – testing of new tools should be done as destructively as necessary, and then more again. After all, it is precisely that kind of unexpected performance above and beyond anticipated design parameters that led to the phenomenal longevity of the Mars rovers, in but one example of a civilian unmanned ground vehicle applications.

And as for us, we will save our emotion for the human casualties of this war - US, allied, and the true non-combatants cruelly used by an enemy which hides among them and kills to cynically manipulate emotion unrestrained by intellect. And when we can at last declare, in spirit if not on calendar, our V-L day, we will once again allow the indulgence of these and other emotions for things of lesser distinction than the paragons of the sacrifices, the courage, and the astounding achievements of the fighting force.

UPDATE: Correction, with thanks to our Civil War history contigent, who pointed out our error of attribution in the opening quote. One can perhaps blame this on our learning the history of the Northern Agression from a politically correct perspective, that would also have presumed to have taken all of the good lines after - but it is entirely our fault, and we are grateful to our attentive readers to keep us accurate (and honest.)

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