Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Collateral Damage

The WikiLeaks episode will harm our war effort in Afghanistan and represents a danger to simply defending our nation.

It is a threat to the war going on right now because the reports reportedly show nothing that is new about the war. But by providing glimpses of the war in more detail, it shows the horrors of war--any war--and thus gives defeatists more ammunition to argue for losing the war by retreating from it.

WikiLeaks founder even charges war crimes from looking at the material:

Assange told reporters in London that "it is up to a court to decide really if something in the end is a crime. That said ... there does appear to be evidence of war crimes in this material."

The basic problem is that any war--even the former good war of World War II won by the Greatest Generation could be portrayed as a litany of war crimes if subjected to the kind of scrutiny the Afghan campaign is getting now.

And it does no good for the Obama administration to distance itself from that level of scrutiny by saying the releases are about a period pre-Obama. I know they believe the planet starting healing and the waters stopped rising in January 2009, but do they really think the nature of war changed on that date? Besides, that was the time Afghanistan was called the "good war" by the anti-war side. Now they get ammo to justify their switch to opposing the only war they have to protest.

The longer term problem of simply defending ourselves may be less obvious, but stems from this issue of the "good war" being fought as any war is fought. The details laid out may be no different than any other war we've fought, and today's soldiers fight more cleanly than their World War II counter-parts, but what is natural in war can be horrifying to read from the comfort of our homes.

What, I asked more than five years ago, is the price our troops and nation will pay for fighting under a microscope where civilians judge their actions too far removed from the fight? I wrote:

How do we get our military to win when human rights groups might get a hold of tapes that show fatal mistakes and even isolated crimes?

We want our troops to fight clean but when even a good war like World War II would be flyspecked in our day, how do we deal with all this recorded material and how do we bring our troops home with their heads held high over a war well fought and won?

I don't have any answers at the moment, but we need to think about how we will treat our soldiers when their every step in an inherently chaotic environment is scrutinized for errors or wrongdoing. Perhaps years after the events.

If we don't, our military won't fight for us. It will kill--such as in Kosovo when we face inferior enemies unable to strain our capabilities--but will it fight and struggle in a tough fight?

That isn't all that clear to me.
It still isn't clear to me how we cope with the problem I saw coming. Now that the problem has arrived in the form of thousands of first-hand accounts of battle and war, I don't think it is clear to our military or nation. Our troops fight more cleanly than virtually any other nation's army at war, and that includes past American armies. But we may find that faux human rights concerns aimed at our army--rather than armies and forces that truly kill and injure innocents as a matter of policy or indifference--will harm our ability to fight. And that won't be good for global human rights.
I'd say that this effect on our troops and ability to fight is collateral damage to WikiLeak's purported goal of transparency, but I'm pretty sure they hit their target.