Defeatism of this sort is nothing new. Prognostications of failure in American military campaigns predate the founding of our republic. The "wrong war, wrong strategy," "no way to win" and "not worth the cost" arguments didn't begin with Vietnam; they have been commonplace in contemporaneous critiques of every military endeavor in our nation's history. So, too, have been calls for the heads of those leading these fights. "Fire them all" is hardly a new mantra for American military leaders -- or the politicians who send them to war.
In the 1750s -- during what we call the French and Indian War -- British and Colonial troops set out to drive French forces from North America. They were thwarted by an alliance between the French and Native American tribes. During a disastrous campaign to capture Fort Duquesne -- now Pittsburgh -- the British-American effort was repulsed in part by unconventional warfare attacks perpetrated by Indians who were initially thought to be our allies. Thank goodness, the widely publicized failure didn't destroy the future military career of an otherwise promising young Colonial officer named George Washington.
Washington's eventual success as the commander of the Continental Army during the American Revolution is remembered fondly today. But in the long fight from Boston in 1775 to the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781, his military prowess was anything but certain. He was roundly criticized for failing to deal effectively with a lethal Tory, or loyalist, insurgency behind the lines. The disastrous winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge nearly finished his army. And when Benedict Arnold, one of his most successful subordinates, betrayed the cause and defected to the British, there was a chorus in Congress demanding Washington's replacement and insisting that we "settle our dispute with the Crown" and sue for peace.
That same sense of defeatism was pervasive during the War of 1812, particularly after President James Madison was forced to flee our new capital when the British burned Washington. Though Francis Scott Key was inspired to record in verse that our flag still was flying over Baltimore's Inner Harbor after a vicious bombardment by the most powerful navy in the world at the time, there were others in Congress and the press who wanted us to abandon the fight because we could not win.
Two centuries have changed little about the appeal of defeatism among certain of our political and media elites. Though "jingoistic journalism" is derided in our institutions of higher learning, the portent of potential failure is a far more frequent theme in much of the reporting on the American Expeditionary Force in 1917 and the bloody campaigns of World War II. The premise that Americans no longer can win wars was expanded during the Korean War and perfected by the time my brother and I arrived in Vietnam. Now, 11 years to the week since U.S. troops arrived in Afghanistan, the storyline that "America's longest war is unwinnable" has become pervasive throughout our homeland.
There is a minor problem with this narrative. The American, allied and Afghan troops we are accompanying didn't get the memo. They stubbornly refuse to admit defeat, persist in believing they can prevail over the Taliban and have convinced themselves, if nobody else, that Afghanistan can be a good news story someday despite all "evidence" to the contrary.
According to the MSM, green-on-blue attacks compelled U.S. troops to cease accompanying Afghan security forces on missions and to halt all training. That simply isn't true. This column is being written on outposts where we are surrounded and vastly outnumbered by well-armed Afghan soldiers, police, commandos and special forces. We already have accompanied them on a half-dozen operations. The distrust and disdain being reported in our media and on various blogs simply aren't evident.
When the number of U.S. combat deaths here passed the 2,000 mark this past week, reports in the U.S. and international press cited this milestone as a point of "dismay" for the 67,000 U.S. troops still here. But every American killed or wounded is mourned by his or her comrades. Notably -- and rarely reported -- their Afghan counterparts grieve, as well. But the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines with whom we are keeping company say this makes them even more determined to succeed.
Our press and politicians may be defeatists, but the young American and Afghan troops we're with are not. When I asked for a single word to define them, the response was "resilient."
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