October 29, 2006

''The military was forced to pay a human cost for the country's caution..."

"... and then paid again with its prestige when some labeled the inevitable results of such limited activity 'military incompetence.' '' said Jim Webb, the Virginia Senate candidate.

But he didn't say that recently. That's a quote from a fascinating February 28, 1988 article that I found in the NYT archive. (You'll need TimesSelect for access.) Webb was Secretary of the Navy at the time.

I was looking for some more detail about what he'd said about women in the military and found it:
But Webb shattered his welcome at Annapolis in 1979 with a scathing article for Washingtonian magazine. Entitled ''Women Can't Fight,'' it was a traditionalist's diatribe against the admission three years earlier of women into the academy. The piece took a tone that could only offend women; he called Bancroft Hall, the school's single, mammoth dormitory, housing 300 women and 4,000 men, ''a horny woman's dream.''

''There is a place for women in our military, but not in combat,'' he wrote. ''And their presence at institutions dedicated to the preparation of men for combat command is poisoning that preparation.''

Webb's second novel, ''A Sense of Honor,'' set at Annapolis, stirred up more turmoil. It decried the Naval Academy's emasculation and defended the old style of masculine indoctrination and hazing that Webb and his classmates had known....

Webb's views on women came up in his confirmation hearings for the reserve affairs position, and, during his tenure as secretary, the Navy has been harshly criticized by Pentagon review boards for pervasive patterns of sexual harassment and discrimination.
But perhaps more significant than that is his thinking about the use of military force:
["Fields of Fire"] is so intensely personal that one can't help but turn to it for an exegesis of its author. What emerges is a portrait of a man who views all military missions through the prism of Vietnam.

Without question, this is the case when Webb considers the Persian Gulf. For him, the frigates and destroyers in the Gulf sometimes resemble the tanks and foot soldiers that slogged into ambush in rice paddies and jungles of Vietnam. ''It is something that I think about all the time in the Persian Gulf,'' he said recently, ''where we are dangled around like a target before the next step.''...

The problem he recalled from Vietnam was that American forces were not given free rein to fight a war. ''The military was forced to pay a human cost for the country's caution,'' said Webb, ''and then paid again with its prestige when some labeled the inevitable results of such limited activity 'military incompetence.' '' Once again, in the Gulf, more than geopolitical interest was at stake. It was the prestige of the military. It was also youthful lives and limbs.

''I have really been struggling with this,'' Webb said one evening last fall. He was nursing a beer in a darkened Virginia restaurant near the Pentagon. ''The danger,'' he said, ''is that we commit our forces in an operational environment, and then become paralyzed by the political debate that follows.'' When the first oil tanker under escort hit a mine in July, Webb escalated his activities. In a set of memorandums to then Defense Secretary Weinberger, Webb called into question some of the fundamental premises of the Reagan Administration's Gulf policy....

Vietnam was not the only historical analogy he saw. He was also troubled by the parallels to Beirut - where he had worked as a journalist in October 1983, winning an Emmy award for ''The MacNeil/Lehrer Report'' on his coverage of the terrorist bombing of the Marine barracks there.

''In Vietnam, the problem was not setting clear enough goals, so that we could shape our policy in the early years, and know where we were going,'' said Webb. ''In Beirut, it was injecting a military force and then paralyzing it. You just couldn't change anything because the debate was so strong at the top.''
The danger is that we commit our forces in an operational environment, and then become paralyzed by the political debate that follows.

Webb is clearly a very smart guy with a lot of nerve and many years of experience thinking about the right questions.


AJ Lynch said...

I agree he is a very smart guy and he will rock a lotta boats if he gets elected. Including some Dem boats.

Edward said...
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Edward said...

Webb’s antiquated ideas about women in the military remind me of the silly arguments some people still use to exclude out-of-the-closet gay people from the military.

I’d definitely still vote for Webb if I lived in Virginia, because Allen has too many questions circulating about his character, or lack thereof.

Bush requires a Democratic Congress (House and Senate, hopefully) to provide oversight for his more questionable decisions.

For George Allen and Lynne Cheney to cast aspersions on the fiction of Jim Webb, a best-selling novelist, is really pathetic. Webb’s fiction should be off-limits in the campaign. It IS fiction, after all.

One irony (among many) in all this is that Webb’s novel Fields of Fire is on the
official recommended reading list of the US Marine Corps. Allen and Cheney were so foolish as to criticize by name a novel that the USMC specifically recommends.

knoxgirl said...

There's nothing more reckless and irresponsible any leader can do than to send soldiers into action to risk their lives, then if-and-but everything once they're there. If there's one thing I want from my leaders in the times we live in, it's this: if you can't stomach the consequences of military conflict, have the dignity to admit it, and don't give it your blessing in the first place.

Better to not go in at all, then go in and pull out as soon as things get ugly. I don't know if this guy mentioned Somalia, but that was a shameful exercise, and we paid a big price for it, too.

george said...

Jim Webb was merely observing from his experiences as a grunt in Vietnam that women by and large are really ill-suited to hump up and down the hills, through the jungles and rice paddies, while carrying a 60-pound backpack in the heat and humidity. From Webb's honest assessment of women as grunts, edward thinks that Webb's observation represents "antiquated ideas about women in the military (that) remind (him) of the silly arguments some people still use to exclude out-of-the-closet gay people from the military."
Now women can and should be allowed to serve in the military in combat roles suited better to their abilities. I remember viewing a news report on a female fighter pilot taking off from an aircraft carrier and doing bombing missions over Afghanistan. The news reporter characterized her as "the Taliban's worst nightmare."
How edward goes from Webb's statement to performing a politically correct attack upon him as hopelessly mired in the past because of his experiences as a grunt is specious.
By the way, edward, I served in Vietnam as a medical corpsman and along with female nurses we had gay men serving in our hospital unit there even though they were still in the closet at that time. And they all served with honor. In fact, one of my close friends was reportedly caring on an affair with a doctor, who was a major and headed the tirage team that evaluated the causalties being carried off the med evac helicopters and airplanes. I never brought up the situation with him when we were playing cards back at the hootch. Although once he did catch me just staring in bewilderment at him and asked me what I was thinking about. "Oh just what a strange war this is," I replied nonchalantly. Like Dick Cheney I had other priorities at the time, namely saving my sorry and scared ass and getting back in one piece to the world.
Whatever your sexual orientation, war is a young man's game. That's the brutal reality. After about two months in country, I dropped about thirty pounds from the heat and humidity, which was oppresive. And I didn't even fight and have to struggle day after day for survival and sanity like the grunts did.
And Webb is also correct in his statement about that dormitory in Annapolis. I tried in vain to score with one American nurse that I had the hots for. Once I told her I was reading Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms," and she reminded me of Catherine Barkley, Lt. Frederic Henry's lover in the novel. I noted that the character saw the dead in the rain.
"That bitch would really freak out during monsoon season," the nurse replied. "I'll catch you later."
So it was once again back to the whorehouse in the ville. I later heard that she had hooked up with a jet jockey, a fighter pilot. So I couldn't blame this really attractive older woman for brushing off a young man and flying off with the jet jockey for weekends in Bangkok. But my literary opinion of Heminway has waned considerably ever since she shot me down many decades ago. Boo hoo, do I deserve a purple heart?
But when I returned that novel to the base library, I picked up Joseph Heller's "Catch-22." And I finally found a literary character that I could identify with: Captain Yossarian, a hardcore civilian like me pretending to be a soldier. So I was in my own personal closet, a cowardly civilian, an actor out on loan to another movie studio, who found himself on the set of a war movie that resembled an absurd Marx Brothers comedy.
But, seriously, Webb would be a good senator for this country. He has principles rather than positions, and he knows how in the rush to war pandering for domestic political gain, President Bush has committed the worst foreign policy debacle since LBJ's quagmire in Vietnam. And look at all the political heavyweights on both sides of the aisle that voted for the war resolution and enabled the Iraq War. In my wildest imagination, I never thought an American president would make such a disastrous blunder after the the cautionary tale of the Vietnam War. "It's deja vu all over again," as Yogi Bera once said to sports reporters when his team lost a double-header one afternoon.

The Drill SGT said...

I liked Webb enough to vote for him in the Dem primary and considered him for the general election. I'm not impressed by Allen overall, but I was disgusted by Webb's campaign and reacted negatively to the MSM shilling for Webb.

I voted for Allen last Friday.

Old Dad said...


That's a terrific memoir. Can't say that I agree with your political statements, but at least you explained your rationale. I can respect that.

I could probably vote for Webb. It's a damn shame what the current political climate does to honorable men, though. Allen got creamed, too. I wonder why they put up with it?

John Kindley said...

Webbs's "A Sense of Honor" was almost required reading for those entering the Naval Academy back when I went in in 1988, though I'm sure it wasn't on any military official recommendation lists. I thought the novel was very good, though the "sexy parts" struck me as tacky, unrealistic, and detracting from the overall story. Along with what has been quoted about "Nurse Goodbody," a big subplot in the book dealt with Captain Lenahan's affair with the wife of a friend and fellow officer.

Lenahan is presented as an admirable hero in the book, who not only can kick ass but quotes Milton and Shakespeare to himself, and although he is presented as conflicted about the affair, this struck me as just really not OK.

Why didn't this character just stick to the loose nurses and horny single female military personnel Webb was so aware of? Frolicking with a fellow female officer would presumably be off-limits for an "honorable" character in a Webb novel, as the character would be falling prey to, and an accomplice in, the dangers of a co-ed military that Webb perceived (what we called "going over to the dark side" at the Naval Academy). But any viable and psychologically realistic "sense of honor," military or otherwise, would seem to exclude screwing the wife of your friend and fellow warrior (unless he gave you permission to do so).

Honor has a very specific meaning at the military academies. "A midshipman does not lie, cheat, or steal," and will be kicked out for one offense if he does. Lying to anyone -- even a girlfriend -- about anything is -- or at least was -- grounds for expulsion. But honor also of course has a larger meaning implied by that basic proscription against deception, and logically would proscribe the deception inherent in adultery with a comrade's wife.

I'm no prude when it comes to art. I like watching movies about very bad people, and I'm aware that great men can have tragic flaws. But this character just struck me as artistically unintelligible. Webb wants us to think of him as having honor (or maybe only a "sense" of honor?), and in every other aspect of life he was a stand-up Marine, but yet he's doing something that is extremely dishonorable. Perhaps in a better work of art this scenario could be portrayed more convincingly, but here it just seemed gratuitous, and any point or moral was lost on me.

It's quite possible to have a certain piggishness in sexual matters, and even exhibit disrespect (but not dishonesty)towards the opposite sex, without betraying one's honor in the above sense. Being a gentleman and being honorable, though both are important, are two different things.

To the extent that Webb suggested that one could be honorable and be an adulterer (in a book widely read by future officers), he did a disservice to the military culture and to the military's concept of honor.

These juvenile parts of the novel reminded me of a conversation I had with my grandma when I was about 8 years old. I thought I had a novel in me, and as I began scratching out the first chapter on a piece of notebook paper, I asked her if it was okay if I used cuss words, since I knew all good novels had them.

Edward said...
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Edward said...

Drill sgt: Thank you for letting us know yet again that you voted for Allen.

I remember seeing an almost identical post from you in another thread.

Allen has had plenty of people shilling for him, people like Lynne Cheney.

ShadyCharacter said...


Spot the difference:

The mainstream media shilling for a democrat.

A republican partisan shilling for a Republican.

You're right, no difference at all...

Though I'm surprised to see a lefty so willingly admit it.

Edward said...


Dream on. I never admitted that the mainstream media shilled for Ford. I, for one, don’t believe it.

Perhaps my last comment about Lynne Cheney wasn’t my most felicitous.

You must admit, though, Cheney did a miserable job explaining why the racy scenes in her own novels are any different from the racy scenes in Webb’s.

Cedarford said...

Webb's a good thinker. Along with Ford, the best quality new candidates Senate Democrats proffered up. Both may lose, while crap candidates like Sherrod, Whitehouse, Casey and Menendez sleaze on in.

I'm a Vet.

Webb is absolutely right on the 1st issue Althouse mentioned - About America sending the military forth then marooning them in the political paralysis and partisan political poison of the American political system...denying them a chance for success. Happened in Vietnam, and it's happening again through a combination of Bushie stupidity and the Democratic Far Left whose secular progressives see Bush as a greater evil than Islamic Jihad.

Webb is also broadly correct on women in the military. They are unsuited, in general, for a wide range of tasks - though people can always argue the exceptional Sigma 4 or 5 from the norm exists...[the old non-military folks thinking, about how normal ablility'd "babes" like Demi Moore could actually make SEAL, the idea of many civvies that a female martial arts instructor would make a super soldier, or everyday girls like Jessica Lynch or Shoshana were able to be "transformed" into competent warriors] Or the old fatuous "pushbutton" argument. Warfare is now so technical and physically easy that a woman or child person in a wheelchair can push a button - so there is no call to "discriminate".

Women also come with lower readiness for duty/deployment stats, lower medically available for duty stats, higher unplanned attrition stats (mainly pregnancy), and higher accident rates in stressful circumstances.

George - I remember viewing a news report on a female fighter pilot taking off from an aircraft carrier and doing bombing missions over Afghanistan. The news reporter characterized her as "the Taliban's worst nightmare."

Besides the Jessica Lynch imperative liberals have to "prove" that women are every bit the equals of men in war....reporters naturally slaver over a "female fighter" as good copy. Especially if they are fine-looking. Some high profile females, like the "only female B-52 pilot" had their own devotees in Congress since they are seen as "advancing gender equality". The B-52 pilot even argued her uniqueness should put her on a different standard in military justice and block her being drummed out for initiating an affair with a married enlisted subordinate and then lying about it. Didn't work.

George's memory was of the high media focus on women in the military that they got a taste of in the Gulf War, but that one was over too fast. Afghanistan allowed them to pick it up and tout not only the equality of women, but that they were somehow America's secret weapon. That somehow the Taliban feared them and they were somehow going to bring women's lib to Afghanistan. The idea if Afghani women only knew that the person pushing a bomb release button 50,000 feet up was a woman, they would be emboldened to "throw off their burquas".

We didn't understand the Muslim honor culture or Islam very well and honestly thought the idea of a woman flying over a country with no air defense and manipulating weapons controls for supporting SpecOps forces in the field of battle painting targets was something the Taliban or Muslims would see as "intimidating bravery by female warriors". Or that somehow, Muslim women would be "empowered" by the fact a female was safely, way up in the skies, dropping bombs on their defenseless boys and husbands.

The reporters that extolled this concept were clueless on the risks, clueless on Muslim women, clueless on what mujahadeen holy warriors consider bravery.

A squad of USA females taking out Al Qaeda or Taliban in a firefight WOULD have impressed since they risked their lives...but that never happened.

It has happened a few times in Iraq, but not by design except the A-10 pilot. They involved (1)a female MP officer that led a male squad to take out an ambush, (2) A female A-10 pilot that took significant fire and damage and returned fire - definitely a Sigma 4 or above gal, (3)a few occasions where women in a convoy hit by ambush returned fire rather than freeze up, (4) certain women drivers, helo pilot/crew that took fire and continued with the mission.

The Iraq/Afghanistan role of women is impressive on a level of certain individuals excelling, but on a collective basis tends to confirm Webb's analysis - women are less suited for frontline military work and have lower readiness levels than men.

PS - Civvies have also pushed the "indispensibility" of various gay soldiers because they do not understand how the military works. The indispensible "Arab translators" lost for hitting on straight soldiers, the "indispensible" gay nurse or intelligence specialist. Sadly due to circumstances of death and maiming, because of the nature of war, our military is constructed on the premise that no soldier is indispensible. And in peacetime, the weeding out process is a major reality for straights and non-transgressors who may excel at duty, but excel less that a cohort of peers selected for promotion rather than dismissal..

What counts is unit readiness, good order, and discipline - and ability to replace losses. What doesn't work is anything that undermines the unit...including individuals tolerated in other American spheres. And gay translators, nurses, spooks in the military appear to be replacable.
It IS wasteful and many gays in the military who are discreet indeed are common and very valued - but until psychologists or our culture figures out a way to have open gays in the military and not destroy unit cohesiveness in the process - the gay agenda should not be shoved down the throats of the military.

JorgXMcKie said...

Edward, remind me again which office Lynne Cheney is running for? VA Senator? President? I'm a little confused. I thought Webb was running for VA Senator against a football coach or something. Who knew he was running against the VP's wife.

Also, given Webb's previous writings and statements, if he's elected can we expect him to push for a military strategy of 'git-r-done' with minimum US casualties? That would drive the Kossaks and the DUmmies crazy for sure.

Maybe Webb could debate Ned Lamont.

The Drill SGT said...

I'm obviously a Vet, and married to a serving NG Officer. I think that women can do some jobs in combat as well as men and a few, perhaps better. Though just as clearly they will fail at others. As Cedarford implied, but did not explicitly say, the Army is not a social science experiment. Leadership in combat is tough enough without complicating it unnecessarily. When we decide to open up a combat MOS to women it ought to be based on an overall military effectiveness calculation, rather than to provide an opportunity to a single woman that has both the ability and desire to do the job. Examples:

1. at one end of the spectrum, there are not enough women who have the physical build, endurance, and interest to do jobs like 11B (infantryman) or 19E (tanker). The endurance and body strength requirements are such that it would screen almost all women and from an overall organizational perspective, the small numbers that can qualify aren't worth the trouble to adapt. However, they can do a good combat job as MP types, where there aren't the huge lifting or load bearing issues

2. At the other end, women (absent some plumbing issues) make excellent pilots. High attention to detail, great hand eye coord, a bit weaker in spatial orientation, and with less testosterone, make fewer really bad ego mistakes.

open combat jobs to women only where there are enough that qualify to make a difference.

as an aside, back in the late 70's, I was in a Brigade HQ's after they had been opened to assignment for women. The commander, a man I respected, refused to take women until the Division could assign him 4 with one of them being a SGT. He wasn't bigoted. The point was that taking one woman alone in a unit of 100 was unfair to all. with 4 and an intermediate supervisor, they could be integrated and effective. unit effectiveness is the only criteria that should matter in assigning females.

Fenrisulven said...

On one hand, having less hemoglobin and bone density means women must put out 110% just to keep up. I saw this firsthand as an 03 in the Marines. I buddied up with a female for a land nav course [NCO School]. During the event, she acquired two stress fractures. She endured pain that would put me in the fetal position, and refused to let me carry her pack or weapon. Her heart was there, her body wasn't. The saddest part is that while we completed the course, she rcvd a medical discharge b/c of the stress fractures.

On the other hand, the fast-track to promotion amoung officers is with combat units. Females who are denied an infantry billet aren't promoted as quickly as their male peers.

The Drill SGT said...

Fenrisulven said...

On the other hand, the fast-track to promotion among officers is with combat units. Females who are denied an infantry billet aren't promoted as quickly as their male peers.

I guess that what is a strength for the USMC is also a weakness. By that I mean the motto "every Marine a rifleman". Heresy I know :). My point is that unlike the Marines, the Army doesn't bias that much in favor of combat arms ( Infantry, Armor, Artillery). promotions are generally equal across all of the branches and specialties and you compete only directly with peers. Having said that there is no "combat arms" bias, there is a "leadership" or command bias, by that I mean that a commander of an MP unit will have an advantage over an MP staff weenie etc. So a female MP commander who wins a Silver Star crushing an ambush will get 2 advantages over somebody who sat the war out in a staff billet in Qatar.

Ernie Fazio said...

The long winded Glenn Greewald today posts a very interesting op ed from the same Jim Webb circa 2002 regarding the ramp up to the war. Here it is:

American military leaders have been trying to bring a wider focus to the band of neoconservatives that began beating the war drums on Iraq before the dust had even settled on the World Trade Center. Despite the efforts of the neocons to shut them up or to dismiss them as unqualified to deal in policy issues, these leaders, both active-duty and retired, have been nearly unanimous in their concerns.

Is there an absolutely vital national interest that should lead us from containment to unilateral war and a long-term occupation of Iraq? And would such a war and its aftermath actually increase our ability to win the war against international terrorism? On this second point, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the Joint Chiefs vice chairman, mentioned in a news conference last week that the scope for potential anti-terrorist action included -- at a minimum -- Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Georgia, Colombia, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and North Korea.

America's best military leaders know that they are accountable to history not only for how they fight wars, but also for how they prevent them. The greatest military victory of our time -- bringing an expansionist Soviet Union in from the cold while averting a nuclear holocaust -- was accomplished not by an invasion but through decades of intense maneuvering and continuous operations. With respect to the situation in Iraq, they are conscious of two realities that seem to have been lost in the narrow debate about Saddam Hussein himself.

The first reality is that wars often have unintended consequences -- ask the Germans, who in World War I were convinced that they would defeat the French in exactly 42 days. The second is that a long-term occupation of Iraq would beyond doubt require an adjustment of force levels elsewhere, and could eventually diminish American influence in other parts of the world.

Other than the flippant criticisms of our "failure" to take Baghdad during the Persian Gulf War, one sees little discussion of an occupation of Iraq, but it is the key element of the current debate. The issue before us is not simply whether the United States should end the regime of Saddam Hussein, but whether we as a nation are prepared to physically occupy territory in the Middle East for the next 30 to 50 years. Those who are pushing for a unilateral war in Iraq know full well that there is no exit strategy if we invade and stay. . . .

The Iraqis are a multiethnic people filled with competing factions who in many cases would view a U.S. occupation as infidels invading the cradle of Islam. Indeed, this very bitterness provided Osama bin Laden the grist for his recruitment efforts in Saudi Arabia when the United States kept bases on Saudi soil after the Gulf War.

Nations such as China can only view the prospect of an American military consumed for the next generation by the turmoil of the Middle East as a glorious windfall. Indeed, if one gives the Chinese credit for having a long-term strategy -- and those who love to quote Sun Tzu might consider his nationality -- it lends credence to their insistent cultivation of the Muslim world. . . An "American war" with the Muslims, occupying the very seat of their civilization, would allow the Chinese to isolate the United States diplomatically as they furthered their own ambitions in South and Southeast Asia.

These concerns, and others like them, are the reasons that many with long experience in U.S. national security issues remain unconvinced by the arguments for a unilateral invasion of Iraq. Unilateral wars designed to bring about regime change and a long-term occupation should be undertaken only when a nation's existence is clearly at stake.

It is true that Saddam Hussein might try to assist international terrorist organizations in their desire to attack America. It is also true that if we invade and occupy Iraq without broad-based international support, others in the Muslim world might be encouraged to intensify the same sort of efforts. And it is crucial that our national leaders consider the impact of this proposed action on our long-term ability to deter aggression elsewhere.

Fenrisulven said...

Is there an absolutely vital national interest that should lead us from containment to unilateral war and a long-term occupation of Iraq?

Yes. We have to reform the ME, or it will destroy us. Its really that simple.

Is that op-ed by SockPuppetMan or repost of Webb's?