Thursday, March 27, 2003

The American attitude towards war generally frustrates me. As Dad said today, it's a shame that the American impatience with war actually gives the enemy a hope of defeating us - if we were Russians, the Iraqis would have no hope, because we'd never give up. As it is, Saddam has a hope (albeit a small one) of dragging this out long enough for the American public to decide the military had its chance and now it's time to give up. It reminds me of what you learn in high school about the Tet Offensive - a situation which was an overwhelming victory for our boys in uniform, turned into a defeat in the eyes of the public by the American media. God grant that my children live in an America which has confidence in its military rather than being dogged by the bogeyman of a conflict thirty years obsolete.

I don't mean to suggest that the American military should be totally divorced from the opinion of the public. My grandfather, who retired in 1988 as an Air Force major general and the highest-ranking Asian American in the Air Force, wrote to me once that one of the things he wanted me to understand about war was that it should not be undertaken without the support of the American public (which is why, I might add, I support the war). But it frustrates me that the American public gives no evidence of understanding what war is like - or perhaps I should say it frustrates me that the media is not educating them. Examples from recent reporting:

When Air Marshal Burridge gave his press conference last night, he said that he doesn't concern himself with the ground-level details of an operation. A reporter asked him in a rather nasty tone if he didn't think the British public mightn't be concerned by their overall commander saying he doesn't concern himself with "details." In case it isn't immediately obvious to you what a moronic question that is, allow me to spell it out: if the overall commander is micromanaging his campaign, that means that a). he has no faith in his subordinates to do that (details are their job), and b). nobody is taking the time to look at the big picture (because that's his job). I hope the British public is not so stupid as to be disturbed by the fact that the Air Marshal is doing his job.

On a recent CNN broadcast, a retired service officer (I can't remember if he was Army or Marine) talked about the Iraqi column headed for the 1st Marines, and said that after they'd been pounded by aircraft, helicopters, and artillery, we would "hopefully not take them head-on" and encircle them. Now, all that is true - but it makes it sound like taking them head-on would be bad for us. And that just isn't true. If we took them head-on we'd kick their @sses. But of course we want to encircle them, so that instead of beating them severely we crush them like bugs.

You may remember the reporting concerning the operation which involved that Apache setting down from mechanical failure. Reporting with that event said that most of the Apaches were hit, and had to return to base, although only the one had to set down. Now, that is all undoubtedly true. Most of the Apaches probably were hit, and they all returned to base - but anybody who knew anything about the Apache gunship would know that the Iraqis had nothing in that battle capable of doing anything more than scratching their paint. They returned to base because their mission was over.

Now, in all fairness to the American media, most of my gripes about the war coverage stem directly from the fact that the embedded reporters (not to mention the ones back here in the States) are not war correspondents per se; they're just regular old reporters. They don't understand the workings of the American military, and they certainly don't understand the capabilities of our hardware or the capabilities of the enemy's. Probably they're scared and uncertain themselves. I can understand all of that. But it leads to reporting which feeds into American uncertainty about the war, which I would say is a grave journalistic sin given that the war gives every appearance of going phenomenally well.

I don't know that there's anything to be done about the reporters' apparent lack of knowledge regarding military history. But I do think it would help them, and their viewing public, to get educated about the weapons our soldiers are using and coming up against. At least then we wouldn't get reporters talking with fear about American tanks facing Iraqi ones, or making ridiculous statements about Apache helicopters. And if the military can dredge up some charismatic spokesmen to explain what they're doing, that wouldn't hurt either. I'm sure the folks talking to the media thus far are fine soldiers and fine officers, but sometimes I think they don't understand the basic need to reassure the media - or else they don't understand how to do that.

Oh, and let's not forget the humanitarian aid situation. CNN quoted Donald Rumsfeld as saying that a cease-fire in Iraq to distribute humanitarian aid would not happen. Now, that's a shining example of making Secretary Rumsfeld sound like a sound-thinking, reasonable individual. Clearly the man cares nothing for the Iraqi people. But HELLO, when we tried to distribute aid where we could, Saddam's cutesy little secret police fired on the crowd to get them away from our soldiers handing out water and food. If we negotiate a cease-fire with Saddam, he'll say okay, and his army and Republican Guard units will get a much-needed reprieve from the unmitigated beating our boys are handing them. The Fedayeen, meanwhile, will be sabotaging our aid efforts and firing on their own people - and we'll be lucky to get a "we regret the actions of the free Iraqi people" statement out of Baghdad. No, there won't be a cease-fire. That aid will get through when we've rooted these Fedayeen vermin out of the south. But what about the American motivations here? Ask yourself the following:
1). Will the war profit America a great deal of money? Recall that Rumsfeld has asked for $75B so far, with no promises about how much more will be asked for later.
2). Will the war win America friends in the Arab world?
3). Will the war win America friends in the non-Arab world?
4). Have we demanded that Iraq become an American protectorate? Recall that the French-German plan called for Iraq to become a UN protectorate indefinitely - for Iraq to turn over the reins of government because the UN asked nicely.
The answer to all of those questions, I think you'll agree with me, is "no." So tell me: which side is out for the good of the Iraqi people?

If you read this, try to take the media's reporting with a grain of salt. And even though I know no soldiers in Iraq will read this, give 'em hell, boys.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

As M'lakMavet has recently observed, the formal onset of military action against Iraq will no doubt inspire bloggers the world over to turn to their browsers in search of a forum to declaim on the situation. I admit that a certain amount of angst compels me to write this rather than turning immediately to bed - but I would say that my attitude toward the war (I know it's not a war, but let's not quibble over that; calling it a "conflict" will only insulate us from what we're actually doing) bears rather significantly on the side of me that this blog is intended to illuminate, and so declaim I shall.

I happen to agree with the legal argument that resolutions 678, 687, and 1441 give the coalition a sound legal footing for what we're doing. I don't mean to say that there's an airtight case for it, but I do think it's a very defensible one and one that a respectable person can hold. There may not be anything in the UN charter about overthrowing nations by force, but if you think that the overthrow of a nation's ruling elite is not entailed in the prosecution of war, I submit to you that you're dreaming. We can thank the Romans for bequeathing to the western way of war the idea that defeat - nay, the unqualified annihilation - of a nation's armed forces does not mean that said nation has lost the war. Nations lose wars when they give up, and not before. Which means that any time you go to war you had best be prepared for the possibility that you will have to put a gun to the collective heads of the people who make the decision. If you aren't willing to do that, should the foe's ruling elite compel you to, best admit to your fighting men and women that you aren't willing to back them to the hilt and stay home. Which means, in my opinion, that either the UN charter does implicitly allow for the violent overthrow of regimes, or else the UN charter is hopelessly out of touch with what the use of force actually means.

As I say, I happen to think we're on sound legal footing - and never mind what the nations who drafted and ratified those resolutions meant. In the first place, in the current environment it's highly unlikely that anybody's going to be objective about what we meant ten years ago (when, let's recall, Iraq was the clear bad guy). The point is, what's written is all we have to go on - and it's not exactly the coalition's fault if what was written can legitimately be construed to support a course of action the original authors no longer find attractive.

So as I say, I think we're on solid legal ground. This does not mean I think we're on sound moral ground. I will not speak in this forum one way or the other about what I think on the morality of this particular war. I will mention a few things about the certain anti-war stances which I find particularly annoying, however:

First is the Vietnam complaint. I know not many people who are very informed about the situation worry that "we might be getting into another Vietnam," but allow me to go on record expressing my frustration that Vietnam continues to be the bogeyman of the peaceniks of my generation. The Vietnam fear is ostensibly that we don't have clear objectives and will therefore get bogged down in endless, high-casualty fighting. I'm not positive about this, but I was under the impression that we do have clear objectives - destroy the Republican Guard as a fighting force, kill or apprehend Saddam Hussein, remove the current regime's weapons of mass destruction and dismantle (again) the means to construct them. If I'm wrong about that, somebody let me know. But what really bugs me about the Vietnam fear is the sense I get that what people actually fear is the sense that our fighting men will find themselves cut off, in strange territory, against a foe they cannot defeat. I suggest that Mr. Cordesman is correct in suggesting that that is not the case. Bluntly put, we're better than they are. I don't mean to suggest that the Republican Guard and even the regular Army are inconsequential foes - but the fact of the matter is that our troops have superior training, superior morale, superior equipment, superior support, the initiative - we're better than they are. By a large degree. Of course Iraq's armed forces might surprise us - but is there any reasonable basis for expecting that we will not crush them utterly?

My second frustration is what I will call the Death complaint: namely, that war causes people to die. You've probably been involved in or heard a conversation rather like this recently: the anti-war person says "war makes people die!" and the pro-war person says "that's what happens in war!" to which the anti-war person says "I know that!" I am not speaking specifically of civilian casualties or combatant casualties here - merely the sense that death in general is a great evil.

I am not suggesting that death should be avoided where possible, but I am suggesting that there are much worse things out there than death. Death, as I have argued elsewhere here, is not a particularly bad thing - oh, it's painful for the survivors, and carries the risk of damnation for the deceased. But pain is not an evil, it's just unpleasant. And damnation, while deadly serious, is a function of the individual's choice not to accept Christ (but what if the individual doesn't believe in Christianity? someone will say. Well then, say I, he has no right to complain if it turns out he's wrong). Is it not worse to stand by while injustice is wrought than to commit violence for the sake of intervening on behalf of the innocent? Or are governments not "an avenger to execute wrath on him who practises evil?" (Rom. 13:4).

Of course you may think that the death toll which warfare inflicts is not worth alleviating whatever suffering Saddam inflicts on his own people. Or you may think that absolutely that suffering should be stopped, but simply have no faith in this campaign's ability to stop it. If so, that is your prerogative - though I avail myself of my own prerogative to disagree with you.

But what I really wanted to write tonight was this: yes, the war deeply distresses me. Yes, it makes me want to cry because the world is so broken. But no, I refuse to let those emotions - emotions, I repeat - prevent my support for what we are doing. This support is based secondarily on the fact that I am willing to back my president's judgment call (and although you did not vote for him, by supporting the Constitution of the United States you affirm Mr. Bush as your president until the next election). But mostly it is based upon a conviction that the men and women who do the killing and dying are putting themselves at much more risk - morally, emotionally, physically - than I, and I do care deeply about the prospect that those men and women will kill and die. I refuse to send my fellow Americans to kill and be killed while shouting at them from the sidelines that what they're doing is wrong, that their sacrifice is in vain and the motives which moved them to pledge themselves to uphold the decisions of lawfully constituted authority were misplaced. Now that the shooting has started, my prayer is that it be over quickly - which means, as the president said, hitting with overwhelming force as hard and as fast and as accurately as we know how. Give 'em hell, boys, for our sake and for theirs.

Jenny asked me tonight if my support of our attack extended so far that I would go if drafted. The answer to that is no, I would not be drafted, but yes, I would go. If things got so bad that the service repudiated its opposition to the draft - if things were that bad and my government was still intent on pressing the campaign - I would sign up. I would sign up rather than wait to get drafted because if things were that bad (which means they would be truly horrific, given the service's current stance on conscription and the unprecedented power and prowess of the United States military) I would want some say in my fate rather than waiting to see where they stuck me. I would go (as opposed to, say, running to Canada) because I would not ask some other mother to send her son to fight and die overseas in my place. I do not go now because there is no indication that my country requires my services, and because God has not called me to join the military. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to know that my country was defended by people who were in uniform for any reason other than a compelling certainty that God had told them that was what His plan for their life was. Probably most of the military doesn't have that certainty, but I see no reason to add to that unfortunate fact.

So my prayer for the war is this: Lord Jesus, let it end as soon as it may. While the shooting lasts, deliver the foe into our hands - not that we can boast of our might, but that the suffering may end soon. May those who fight fight with courage and honor. If they may not lay down their lives for a just regime, at least grant that they lay down their lives for their friends fighting next to them. May those who must die die quickly, with little pain, and may those who may be spared be spared. Grant our boys good targets, that they may attack the soldiers of the enemy and spare those who refuse to take up arms against them. Let them fight with all their skill, tenacity, and ferocity - not out of hatred for the enemy but out of love, and a recognition that war prosecuted by half measures only prolongs the suffering.

When the shooting ends, God, may you move mightily in Iraq. Let the Iraqi regime which emerges from this war be one which fears you and is committed to rule justly and well. Let it be a regime dedicated to serving Iraq and not itself. May the good intentions of America and the world not confound your purpose there, and may the Iraqi people display a worthy courage to stand up and seize the government of their nation for themselves, rather than allowing international politics to dictate their future to them. Whatever you think of this war, Lord, I ask that you use it to display your glory. Confound the naysayers, even if they were right all along, and take this situation and bring about a lasting good from it.

Sunday, March 09, 2003

One of the lamentable facts of my lifetime is the decline of American animation. Time was when you could come home from school and be regaled on a daily basis by two hours of quality cartoons during the Disney Afternoon. And there was C.O.P.S. and Swat Kats and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and MASK and Dino Riders ... really, what happened to good cartoons? And that doesn't even count the fact that I was a child during the great revival of good Disney movies: Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King. After that Disney movies kind of fluctuated between okay and not-so-hot. Oh, and Tarzan, which I would say goes all the way up to "pretty good" (it's one of my favorite movies, but that doesn't make it a good movie).

I would say that Mulan comes pretty close to "pretty good" too. Its soundtrack doesn't exactly sparkle, and Eddie Murphy is no Robin Williams, but it's got a good cast of supporting characters and the army schtick is pretty fun. "I'll Make A Man Out of You" is by far the best number in the show, and not just because it's got cool accompanying animation or good voice acting ("hope he doesn't see right through me!"). The use of the army in Mulan is really clever, though in my opinion underplayed because the show isn't marketed to people who know how to analyze literature. The army is what makes the whole gender-questioning thing work: as the great manly activity, it provides a forum to show that in point of fact none of these characters is men. Interesting side-note: they become men (that is, they become "tranquil as a forest, but on fire within ... swift as the coursing river, with all the force of a great typhoon, with all the strength of a raging fire, mysterious as the dark side of the moon") after triumphing over the villains. In other words, Shang's training didn't do it, and their self-confidence didn't do it: while masculinity is something which must be internalized to be held, it requires validated accomplishments to exist at all.

Anyway, the army also provides the venue for "A Girl Worth Fighting For," which is not exactly a great song but is wonderfully conceived. Well, with the exception of Mulan's line: "How about a girl who's got a brain? Who always speaks her mind?" (to which her buddies go "nah!"). That line should not be in the song, because it tries to reduce the masculine desire for "a girl worth fighting for" to some sort of chauvinistic objectification of women. In fact that is nearly the exact opposite of the truth, and it is a well-attested fact that men on campaign spend a great deal of time and emotional energy thinking about their women. Heinlein remarks in Starship Troopers that women are the ultimate reason men go to war. And I think that's true, for what symbolizes what makes life worth living more than Beauty's love?

Note that I capitalized Beauty there. I did that on purpose, because Beauty is an archetype who need not be beautiful. As the song points out, "a girl worth fighting for" has very little to do with physical attractiveness. What do the soldiers imagine their girls will have? Ling wants a girl "paler than the moon, with eyes that shine like stars," true - but he also dreams, "my manly ways and turn of phrase are sure to thrill her." Yao says, "my girl will marvel at my strength, adore my battle scars," and Chien-Po says, "I couldn't care less what she'll wear, or what she'll look like: it all depends on what she cooks like." To these wistful dreams all Mulan can say is, "huh?"

But what are they really asking for? What those lines are all saying is I want a girl who thinks I'm Somebody. Yao and Ling are looking for girls who will look at them and see something other than the pathetic losers they really are ("my girl will think I've got no faults, that I'm a major find"). Chien-Po is looking for one who understands what's important to him and thinks it's important too.

In my opinion there are other factors which make a girl Worth Fighting For, but this song touches on one of the fundamentals (besides - with that one stupid line aside - being a poignant exposition of character for the soldiers who are otherwise merely comic relief): if a girl is to be worth fighting for, she must think that you're a man worthy to fight for her. What makes Beauty beautiful is not what she looks like but the beauty she has to unveil - and the fact that you have stood at the bars of her woman's soul and been judged worthy for that beauty to be unveiled to.

Saturday, March 01, 2003

My Bible study is reading a book called Wild at Heart, by John Eldredge. It falls under the category in Christian literature of "men's book," but I am going to discuss it here anyway because I think this one has some good stuff to say. Actually I suspect I'll have a great deal to say about this as I get further into it. Rose's Bible study is reading The Sacred Romance, which Eldredge co-wrote with Brent Curtis. She quoted me some excerpts from it because she said it "sounded like me" speaking. Which it did.

Eldredge's premise in Wild at Heart is that there is such a thing as the masculine soul (as distinct from, though not opposite to, the feminine) and that modern Christianity - and society at large, for that matter - has badly missed what that soul is about. I quote from his first chapter:

When all is said and done, I think most men in the church believe that God put them on the earth to be a good boy. The problem with men, we are told, is that they don't know how to keep their promises, be spiritual leaders, talk to their wives, or raise their children. But, if they will try real hard they can reach the lofty summit of becoming ... a nice guy. That's what we hold up as models of Christian maturity: Really Nice Guys. We don't smoke, drink, or swear; that's what makes us men. Now let me ask my male readers: in all your boyhood dreams growing up, did you ever dream of becoming a Nice Guy? (Ladies, was the Prince of your dreams dashing ... or merely nice?)

And again: Little boys yearn to know they are powerful, they are dangerous, they are someone to be reckoned with; and again, Adventure requires something of us, puts us to the test. Though we may fear the test, at the same time we yearn to be tested, to discover that we have what it takes; and further, The battle itself is never enough; a man yearns for romance. It's not enough to be a hero; it's that he is a hero to someone in particular, to the woman he loves. In short, Eldredge argues, "in the heart of every man is a desperate desire for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue."

If it isn't already painfully obvious to you why my heart resonates with this book, you have missed an essential part of my being.

I should interject a note here: Eldredge is not conceiving of the "beauty" as some sort of passive object. He is explicitly rejecting the message that the apex of womanhood is to be "tough, efficient, and independent," and I agree with him there. But he is not saying that a woman should be some sort of wilting flower trapped, helpless, in the highest tower. Instead, he proposes:

Not every woman wants a battle to fight, but every woman yearns to be fought for. Listen to the longing of a woman's heart: she wants to be more than noticed - whe wants to be wanted.

I am not a woman, but I think that's a fair statement to make. So too:

Every woman also wants an adventure to share. ... So many men make the mistake of thinking that the woman is the adventure. But that is where the relationship immediately goes downhill. A woman doesn't want to be the adventure; she wants to be caught up into something greater than herself.


Every woman wants to have a beauty to unveil. Not to conjure, but to unveil. Most women feel the pressure to be beautiful from very young, but that is not what I speak of. There is also a deep desire to simply and truly be the beauty, and be delighted in.

Of course Eldredge isn't a woman either. But at the very least I think he's got his finger on the essential character of masculinity, and so at the very least I think he's identified here the kind of woman that a man's soul will resonate with. The most poignant moment in all of the Song of the Lioness quartet is when Alanna (this is the Alanna who is a bazhir shaman, the finest knight in Tortall, the woman who killed Duke Roger) comes into the common room of an inn at the Roof of the World in a dress with earrings. Liam guffaws at her, and what does she say? "Sometimes I like pretty things." I believe that that scene, in one form or another, lives somewhere in the heart of every man.

There are two points I think deserve to be observed here. First off, Eldredge is not speaking in strictly metaphorical terms. I think (I haven't finished the book yet, but I think) he is speaking metaphorically, but he's also speaking literally. In other words, there is nothing wrong with the man's desire for adventure, or to be dangerous - yes, literally, to be a perilous character, capable of inflicting grievous personal injury. In fact, I think he argues (and I certainly do argue), the man who is afraid of force is a hollow shell of a man.

And here I mean all kinds of force: Are others almost afraid to challenge you in debate because they know you can back up your position and defend it ably? Do people know that throwing tantrums around you won't work, because you aren't afraid of social confrontation? Are people afraid to disappoint you because they respect you that much? Are people afraid to mess with your loved ones because they know that you won't take that lying down? And yes, are you willing to apply lethal force until rendered physically unable to do so if your moral duty demands it of you? If not, why?

All of this has given me a curious angle on video games. There are two curious facts about video games that people often find difficult to reconcile: the fact that they're violent makes them fun; and yet that does not translate into an enjoyment of violence by gamers (you will hear otherwise on the news, but as a member of the first generation of young men to grow up playing video games I will tell you the media are wrong. Anecdotes of aberrant cases will not make them right. If you want to see the real heart of the modern gamer on the subject of real violence, watch me break down and cry about Iraq in Rose's car on the way home from church. Or, if you want a thoroughly non-Christian view, I invite you to consider the views of the Penny Arcade, widely held to be representative of the geek gamer, in this news post). And I will not deny that I enjoy slicing people up with my lightsaber. Because it's just so cool.

Let's stop there and analyze that statement. What did I just say? What I did not say is that I enjoy the thought of walking out onto the Stanford campus with a lightsaber in hand and hacking up my fellow students - I wouldn't even enjoy the thought of hacking up a bunch of Dark Jedi who somehow infiltrated the Farm. I said that lightsabering people is cool. Because in Jedi Knight II it is: it gives you the feeling that you're doing stuff from the movies, that you are in control of a Jedi's weapon, that you are skilled and are a force to be reckoned with. When you take down your first saber-wielding Reborn warrior in JK II, you know you've reached it: that is the moment (to borrow another video game quote) you officially become ... badass. And because physical, dangerous badassness is a part of all the other, more "acceptable" uses of force, the whole thing is emblematic. The game affirms that yes, you have what it takes.

What about the adventure? Well, take a good long look at video games and I think you'll find that the really great ones do give you an adventure. Sure, games like Quake and Doom are little more than twitch-fests - but those are not great games. They'll be remembered for their technical innovations. TIE Fighter, now, and MechWarrior 2, and Half-Life, and Myst, and the great Blizzard titles like WarCraft II and StarCraft ... those will be remembered for the adventure, the sense that the force is being harnessed to a purpose. Those games give you a chance to be a hero, not just some gun-slinging machine. Those are the games that people will tell you are the greatest games man has yet produced.

And the beauty? What about her? Not many games give you a beauty to rescue ... but then again, some do. How many people felt just awful when they found out how Sarah Kerrigan had been betrayed - and how many people resonated with Jim Raynor's inability to save her? You spend virtually all of Jedi Knight II trying to rescue Jan Ors, desperate in the knowledge that she might be dead and you never told her how you feel. And, corny as it sounds, Blue Rose will be able to corroborate that the end of Red Alert II sent me into a wistful state of shock, because it turned out that Tanya Adams was more than Rambo in a sports bra after all. Games may not be able to harness the power of romance very effectively - but I think that's because we have never yet seen a great game. Great by the standards of games, yes. Great by the standards we apply to other art? Not even close. Give me a game like that and I'll show you how much potential there is in giving the player a beauty to rescue. These others only hint at it.

All of this leads me to suspect that the failure of the media and all those concerned friends and citizens out there to prove that video games are bad for your character is because they're trying to make a connection that isn't there. The violence and adventure in a video game affirms a man's heart, satisfies in some way the deep core longings of his being. That's what they appeal to - not some morbid desire for death and gore.