June 13th, 2011


don my nods

“They use IEDs because otherwise it’s not fair,” Ryan says. “You get rich Saudi teenagers coming to the mountains, thinking it’s an adventure. I’d flank them, and they’d still be firing one-handed over a rock. Just kids, you know?” When it’s only me, Ryan hardly ever talks about combat. But Papa brings it out of him. “At night at the firebase sometimes I’d look through my nods—night vision—and see these fuckers, pardon,” Ryan stands up and pantomimes a blind person stepping tentatively, “see these guys coming up the mountain for us.” Now he pantomimes holding a rifle. “We got an infrared beam that only we can see in our nods, and I’m painting these blind bastards right in the face.” He laughs a little, and so do Papa and I, because he pantomimes the sightless Taliban again. “So I’d let them do a little of this before I put the steel to ’em.”
—Kent Russell, “Ryan Went to Afghanistan”, n+1, No. 11

To my friends who feel like holding forth on our “bloated military spending”, I offer a free loan of USGI AN-PVS14 nods that show this issue in a very different light. Complaining that such spending fails to instill warm and fuzzy feelings in the breasts of our electorate is beside the point. Making the citizens feel safer is not a legitimate goal of foreign policy concerned with preempting and eradicating international threats to our body politic. On the contrary, the less the man in the street knows about the means of ensuring his safety, the safer he will be. In the event, the lack of stateside followups to 9/11 bears witness to the effectiveness of our preemption and eradication. Under the circumstances, the right policy is to spend more, not less, on the citizens and institutions responsible for making it so.

Notwithstanding the geopolitical notions promulgated by South Park, there is no such thing as “Team America: World Police”. Accordingly, wishing for preemption of foreign criminal conduct and eradication of foreign criminals who plot against the U.S. without deploying thousands of USGI boots on the ground wherever such criminals congregate in concord with local authorities, is not a coherent basis for U.S. policy. As Immanuel Kant pointed out, whoever wills the ends also wills, in so far as his actions are subject to reason, the absolutely necessary means that are in his power. In the final analysis, military ends call for military means. Pakistani harboring of Osama bin Laden affords a vivid example of chronic failures stemming from consigning such matters to diplomacy. The absolutely necessary means in this matter begin with maintaining an effective ongoing military control of Afghanistan by the U.S. It bears recalling that Taliban got its start as a result of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. At this point, American withdrawal would inspire a rapid Afghani reversal to the status quo ante. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”