Veterans’ Day 2014: ‘Lawyers at War’

September 23, 2014

For the use of the membership only (556 words)

“All the war propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.” — George Orwell

FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER the foundation’s annual Veterans’ Day essay is being written in advance of Nov. 11. As is the formerly procrastinating author’s custom, he is wearing his U.S. Navy baseball cap with the button, “We Were Winning When I Left.”

This year he is sipping hot oolong tea sent by a friend’s parents who live in North . . . oops . . . who live in Vietnam as he sorts through a loose collection of family military medals in an old box. But he has found something wrong, very wrong: The actual combat veterans in his collection were awarded fewer medals than the others. He wonders why Douglas MacArthur didn’t wear medals. He wonders why David Petraeus wore so many.

All of which is to say that the country, even in its measure of heroism, seems headed in the wrong direction. That, however, does not excuse the degradation of honor and duty. And this Veterans’ Day we are in an Orwellian struggle to even understand what “war” means or what being our “enemy” involves. We are, alas,  lawyers at war.

Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal reports that there are now 10,000 lawyers in the Department of Defense: “The U.S. military has become a giant Gulliver wrapped in a Lilliput of lawyers. No one goes to war in this country until those Defense lawyers — plus lawyers at the Justice Department and White House — define in detail the parameters of battle. There is an intricate debate in legal blogs now over whether it is legally correct to call ISIS our ‘enemy.’”

So, if we may or may not be at war and if we may or may not have an enemy, there is no need to send actual Americans into battle. Well, that’s Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon Vietnam-era hogwash. If we should get involved — and with this bunch in Washington, that’s always a big “if” — we should be involved to win, and that means committing U.S. forces to destroy the enemy utterly.

The historian Arnold Toynbee outlined the alternative in his “third response of a declining civilization.” First there is an attempt to enlist an “external proletariat” to maintain borders and fight wars. Not coincidentally, next there is the spread of sophisticated weaponry and combat tactics to neighboring regions. “The combination of these two factors will prove to be lethal to the (civilization),” Toynbee predicts. “At such a stage, developments may go dramatically fast.”

But back to the medals. In the interest of getting that little box of colored ribbons in order, a new standard of heroism is needed, one developed without any legal input whatsoever. It can be found in the person of British Lt. Col. John “Mad Jack” Churchill.

Churchill, in command of a beach landing against a German garrison at Vågsøy, Norway, did not bother negotiating flyover rights to strike the enemy unexpectedly from the sky. He leapt from his landing craft as the ramp was being lowered playing “March of the Cameron Men” on his bagpipes before tossing a grenade and running into battle wielding a Scottish Claybeg broadsword. Later, with the help of a corporal, Churchill would capture a German observation post, taking 42 prisoners, including a mortar squad.

The refrain from Mad Jack’s bagpipe tune:

The moon has arisen, it shines on that path,
Now trod by the gallant and true;
High, high are their hopes, for their chieftain hath said
That whatever men dare they can do.

That goes in the box with those old medals.

— Craig Ladwig

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