In prose of a deep grey shade and soporific torpor which the Times regards as augustan an article with the head: Report By Powell Challenges Call To Revise Military describes shallowly what is a bold move by the Army to establish itself as the Fifth Estate. Never mind the issues of how military mechanics are to be run and by whom it should be managed: according to our law the president is chief of the Army and people like Powell work for him. General MacArthur discovered that in Korea when he worked for Truman. What Powell is trying to establish is the autonomy of the Senate or the Judiciary in running military affairs. It is a logical extension of the gradual destruction of the constitutional image of what an American Army should be. Originally the draft was illegal; the United States military was a volunteer populist army of men all of whom had guns and knew how to use them.
In the 70s the military had concluded from their Vietnam experience that their problems there did not come from CIA misinformation, the illegality and unpopularity of the war, the colonial agendas of American corporations, cultic evangels, bigtime heroin operators, or whole American cities with a one-crop economy: death. Nah, it was none of that; it was the lousy performance of a draft army. The generals needed a professional army to do the bloody job.
The Iraqi War was a piece of media theater that established the values of such an army. It killed 125,00 Iraqis in a few hours. Wow! Hey, if you’re going to do it, you gotta like that kind of army. Never mind that the whole things was a setup, that Saddam worked for us, that we betrayed the aspirations for freedom of the Shiites and the Kurds which had as much validity as those of the Kuwaitis, that we left Saddam in power, that the ultimate victims were 200,000 of Saddam’s Suni Muslims whom both we and Saddam considered totally dispensable, that no war was legally declared- again- bypassing our own law, that no press was allowed freedom to cover the war, and that it is no big deal to knock off an enemy who is in your pay.
Colin Powell is a media hero like Belasco, Zeigfield, Barnum and Orson Welles. He thinks Clinton is weak enough to push out of the way while he creates a freedom of action for the army previously one could only admire from afar reading the local news from Paraguay.
I find Colin Powell rather impressive, perhaps even superior to a very intelligent core of men at the top of our military, men of high vision, a sense of history, philosophy and spartan morals. We don’t produce military geniuses but we do turn out thinkers in our army. I’m discomfited by their rightwing turn of thought, but at least they are not the stupid and vulgar fascists who call themselves conservatives in our political and religious arenas.
The last thing I care about is his skin pigmentation, any more than I would worry about a suntan on a brain surgeon. Doctors and generals work at life and death; we can only afford to be racists in the toy department of life. But part of the reason the army sends up Powell as their champion against the executive power is that any politician will think a little longer about attacking him.
Now we have twenty million black people who live in places that are only physically in America, citizens of color who are more disenfranchised than Saddam’s Kurds and Shiites who they do not have a clue how to get power and autonomy, and as the depression depresses everything gets worse daily. Don’t worry: if one general of Jamaican descent can make trouble for Clinton and get away with it, racially everything in America is okay. It’s media magic, folks.
Since the Times won’t do it, let us look a little at this revolution of the nature of our government disguised by the Times as a disagreement between equals. Americans have put five generals into elective office: Washington, Jackson, Harrison, Grant and Eisenhower. But the best of them, Washington and Jackson, led political revolutions, not military ones.
The aim of our law is to make the army and the people identical. Washington lost all the battles and won the war like the Vietcong; it is no accident that Ho Chi Minh quoted our Jeffersonian constitution word for word in his own basis for law. As long as the army and the people are the same, no one can use force to aid tyranny. As clumsy and mediocre as our draft armies have been, something that comes into being for a specific purpose like war never tries to be powerful or autonomous. It is not around long enough.
We have been at war for over half a century, and have evolved a huge standing army which must inevitably try to be the professional military fifth estate. If the army were not monitored elective officers, MacArthur would have commenced a vast land war in China, the Vietnam War would have started in 1961 and ended with atomic bombing the whole country, and we would have probably invaded Iran, Columbia and Cuba.
We can imagine a history of Vietnams where the army, realizing it cannot effectively pacify the locals, slaughters them, much as Saddam did the Shiites and Kurds. Saddam is a model of the limitations of military rule.
Such decisive action would echo through our urban ghettos and guard our suburban streets. patrol our Indian reservations, quiet the hullabaloo in our schools, and enter us into a tragedy without model in our nation. Army people think the way George Bush does when he describes the goals of force at West Point. One sets reasonable objectives, mechanically realizes them, and withdraws. Trouble is, nature is openended, complex; one cannot identify objectives or controllable mechanics of achievement so easily. Also, force only operates domestically when a vast spiritual death of the inhabitants of a country prevents them from embracing a moral, charitable life. It is the sign a catastrophe has taken place. War is a confession of human failure.
If we are getting an autonomous army we are going to see it as the other side of a national malaise of communal meanspiritedness.
I think Clinton will take on Colin Powell and ease him out. Clinton did not get elected by the old Left but by the new Center running away from the old Right. They are focusing on domestic change, not imperial moves of the Bush-Reagan sort. They are trying to rid of the fifty year old war economy that has allowed our standing army to flourish. They want to retool.
That does not mean that the shadow of the army will go away. Kennedy thought he had squelched the army and the CIA by letting them know after the Bay of Pigs he was their boss; then they killed him.