Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Edward Gibbon or Douglas MacArthur?

I fault being a total geek. You see, there was something humming around the edges of my conscious thought – and I finally swatted it down. I had seen several milbloggers posting about wild inaccuracies in the media, politicians speaking from a position of deep and abiding ignorance, and generally taking a forceful stand on many issues.

“So what?” you may ask. Well, as I said I am a geek, so this jarred loose a memory or two. First of which was what I remembered of Edward Gibbon’s central thesis in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon, if I remember correctly, put it that Rome was lost not to outside forces, but to internal decline. What had made Rome great; hard work, universal participation in and respect for service in the legions, love of liberty and all honest virtues were replaced by sloth, reliance on mercenary barbarians, slavishness, and vice. In other words, what had made Rome, well… Roman, had vanished, and then, so too did the Empire.

I started to ask myself if milbloggers (not exclusively, of course) were trying to stand up against a similar force for decline. However, before I could engage in any pompous or heroic framing of the military/blogging experience, another thought bustled its way to the forefront and demanded an audience. It was a part of GEN Douglas MacArthur’s “Duty, Honor, Country” speech from 1962:

“Others will debate the controversial issues, national and international, which divide men’s minds. But serene, calm, aloof, you stand as the Nation’s war guardians, as its lifeguards from the raging tides of international conflict, as its gladiators in the arena of battle. For a century and a half you have defended, guarded and protected its hallowed traditions of liberty and freedom, of right and justice.
Let civilian voices argue the merits or demerits of our processes of government: Whether our strength is being sapped by deficit financing indulged in to long, by federal paternalism grown too mighty, by power groups grown too arrogant, by politics grown too corrupt, by crime grown too rampant, by morals grown too low, by taxes grown too high, by extremists grown too violent; whether our personal liberties are as firm and complete as they should be.
These great national problems are not for your professional participation or military solution. Your guidepost stands out like a tenfold beacon in the night: duty, honor, country.”

Is milblogging professional participation? Or has it come to simply reporting truth or relating experience contrary to politicians or the media is being “political” Can we, milbloggers and the like, stand serene, calm and aloof when there are plenty at home that would pull us from the arena of battle? Is this something bad, or is this an overreaction/over-reach on my part?

I am inclined to believe that since there are not enough civilians, enough Michael Yons to carry the day – we need the Greyhawks, the Indepundits, the Blackfives and so many others who have emerged from the arena. We need the SGT Hooks, They Call Us Docs, 365 and a Wake Up and the others still in the arena. We need them all.

Duty, Honor, County do stand out like a tenfold beacon in the night to me. But I think they demand of me that I lend my voice to informing the Nation of what is happening. And for now, I shall.

P.S. Military solution is something I have addressed already – and not in a blogging sense (and considering the comments from my fellow service members, I do not fear this problem at all).


Anonymous gail said...

Great post, Major. Am I the first snowball in the Instalanche?

8:31 PM  
Blogger Frank Wilson said...

Let me second Gail's comment, Major: A great post!

8:37 PM  
Anonymous Ana said...

Inform on, Major John. Truth. Facts. Logic. You aren't going to find them in MSM.

8:46 PM  
Blogger matty said...

i'm not familiar with the term "millblogging", but your post is interesting. i'm curious about what you think of the crop of military vets turned political candidates this term, on both sides of the aisle?

9:02 PM  
Blogger PatCA said...

I think the milblog is part of the beacon, and MacArthur would approve. Bloggers carry a cultural trope that is suppressed or ignored by all other media. It may, if we're lucky, stem the tide of self-hate and ennui and despair that knaws away at our insides. It may delay or prevent a Second Sack of, America.

Reading the Iraqi bloggers and the milboggers helped bring about profound change in me. I was ready for it, but bloggers lit my path.

9:06 PM  
Blogger Jeff Medcalf said...

Almost all soldiers are also citizens. I believe MacArthur's warning would apply to military action — that is to say, organizational interference in politics — rather than to individual soldiers speaking their minds.

9:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I might suggest a slightly different Roman analogy.

Your suggestion that Rome fell because of a loss of Roman freedoms might apply equally well to the late republic (Sulla/Grachus). The yeoman farmer/freeman was under great stress by then, and ended up mostly impoverished by Caesar's time. Those who used to be the backbone of the Republic became just another living off of bread and circuses.

A different analogy would be the "Emperor for a day" that started in the early Imperial period, and became epidemic by the late imperial time (see Gibbon on the "Year of the 4 Emperors"). What unites these frontier generals with the current Democtrat Left is a belief that the prize is within reach, and that there will not be long lasting damage to the body politic from their leaving their post to sieze power.

This seems to be the real root of the Democrat's anger at being challenged as being unpatriotic: they see themselves as loving this country highly. They don't see it the way that many others see it: they may not be siding with the enemy per se, but they are are indeed leaving their posts.

"Politics ends at the water's edge" only applies if you see yourself as a frontier general, not as a potential emperor. Especially if you don't think this would really, really hurt the empire. Or at least, not so much that the prize wasn't worth it.

9:24 PM  
Anonymous Luke said...



9:34 PM  
Blogger Morgan said...

I suspect Douglas MacArthur would approve, but I know Morgan MacArthur does, and that's all that matters.

9:44 PM  
Blogger Citizen Grim said...

I believe the Duty, Honor, Country that MacArthur was referring to did not merely mean that the military is obliged to kowtow to the prevailing political tides, but more fundamentally, to strive:
- in defense of Constitution, and more specifically, the founding principles of our nation (Duty)

- with the same composure and humility that buoyed "the long gray line" of soldiers who have gone before (Honor)

- and ultimately, in defense of this country's citizens, from the Commander-In-Chief all the way to the lowliest bus driver, janitor, or homeless person (Country)

I see no conflict, then, in fusing Gibbon's and MacArthur's words, and adhering to their advice. After all, there could always be a day (God forbid!) when the temporal government (whomever is in office at the time) asks the military to do something that violates the transcendent government (the core values we hold dear, especially as codified in the Constitution)

10:26 PM  
Blogger Major John said...

Matty - milblogging = military blogging, specifically by people in the service, or vets. Two of us in this blog qualify, myself and the Inner Prop.
Vets running for office now - hmmm. Depends on their positions. They can be anything from opportunists to genuinely fired up about continuing their service in another way.

10:42 PM  
Blogger qoz said...


if, as you put it, temporal government exceeds transcendent government, well that's a matter for the voting public. enjoy reading milblogs...but the fine line that's walked particularly in the milblogs of serving soldiers lies between the provision of information--as a rule of thumb good for transparency and good government, though with the caveat that there are government activities that necessarily are covert--and shirking, using Peter Feaver's term (which he applies broadly). That Major John is giving thought to the issue is all to the good. And while as patca says, Macarthur may well approve, the more important question is whether Truman would be of the same mind.

12:18 AM  
Blogger Dan M said...

Gibbon blamed the rise of Christianity for the demise of Rome.

He was an early, quasi-modern. And shared with the modern a hostility to religion, especially Christianity.

12:57 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

It's quite interesting that you discuss the fall of the Roman Empire and Douglas MacArthur. I've been reading a book called Collossus in which MacArthur's return to Washington to great adulation and presidential aspirations is presented to be a sort of "crossing of the Rubicon." The author sees it as a point in time where the US very nearly became a full-blown empire (as opposed to the un-recognized empire which according to his thesis the US has always been).

It's an interesting book, although I have to admit I haven't finished it yet as I've gotten hooked on Patrick O'Brian's Captain Aubrey/Steven Maturin series (of the Master and Commander ilk).

5:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gibbon "blamed Christianity", but gave specifics, particularly that the church removed able people from administration positions and fostered an other-worldly outlook, avoiding daily decision making. I was having a discussion with a devout Christian who often "cited Gibbon", thinking that he posited the fall of Rome on homosexuality. When I mentioned that Gibbon actually blamed Christianity, he said "and a good thing that it fell." Ah, intellectual flexibility!

6:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re-read the last part of the post -- Duty, Honor, County

I agree all politics is local.

6:50 AM  
Blogger Mike Rentner said...

I think one of the points that MacArthur mentioned is quickly eroding. When I came into the Marine Corps in the early 80's it was anathema to discuss politics. Now, military officers and enlistedmen openly discuss politics, in the most partial ways imaginable.

I think it's very dangerous to the future of our mlitary's perceived apolitical nature. If this trend continues, will the military become the strong arm of one or more political parties like some banana republic?

8:05 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

The role of the professional military officer, and the long apolitical tradition of the US military was very much on my mind as I began Countercolumn while serving as an Infantry officer in Iraq. The blog became more overtly pro-conservatism after I left active duty, though, and returned to the part-time soldier world.

The bottom line, of course, is that while the military may advocate a certain position (indirectly, through veterans organizations and organizations like NCOA, ROA, and NGOA), in the end, we execute the lawful orders of elected civilian officials.

In the meantime, as George Washington said, "When we assumed the soldier, we did not lay aside the citizen."

8:11 AM  
Blogger Major John said...

This is the kind of commentary I was hoping to elicit. Excellent points by many of you. I guess if I ask a good enough question, I can learn a lot. Thanks to all of you.

10:15 AM  
Blogger Maggie45 said...

While I was still reading the first part of the post I'm saying out loud "But JOHN"....And then you said what I was thinking in the second part. Love your blog..I don't get here every day, but I do catch up weekly. Thank you.

10:58 AM  
Blogger Strabo the Lesser said...

You are not the only one with Gibbon on the mind. I have worked through most of his book and I see not only the United States but all of western civilization as treading the same path as the Romans...

11:25 AM  
Anonymous Californio said...

I do not have a fear of overt politicization (sp?) of the military. I am, however, concerned that a strategy by the left to exclude the military from perceived "intrusion" into daily life is very, very harmful to the republic. Specifically, I refer to the dust-up over the Solomon amendment and recruitment by the military at law schools. [demonizing the military is seen as a valid political strategy versus criticising Congress - which could then cut funding! ouch!]

The development of two separate worlds, military and civilian, a'la Latin America, where families develop and intermarry only within their respective spheres - THAT is the threat to our republic.

4:56 PM  
Blogger Major John said...

Claifornio - good point. Fortunately here in the US, we have plenty of opportunity outside the military, so it isn't a lifetime choice, unless you want it to be. Also, we have the ability to keep a hand in the military, so to speak, as a Reservist or National Guardsman - but not be part of a cloistered military society.

8:18 AM  

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