Looking up

“I was returning on a flight from Vancouver, and as we waited to taxi onto the runway, I looked about at the other passengers. Not a one of them (excluding me) was looking up. They were all looking down at their cellphones/PDAs, busily processing innumerable bits of useless information. I say ‘useless’ because, as a former Canadian Forces military intelligence officer, I understand the distinctions between information, knowledge, and truth (wisdom) — in ascending order. Truly we live in a world looking down.”

This is why we need military intelligence; for an occasional “heads up.”

For some reason, having to do with “Afghoon” and “Raq,” and my own former employment as a hack journalist, I have made the acquaintance of various gentlemen over the years, who work in “signals.” The one in email quoted above now goes back some distance; he recently resurfaced. What I love about that trade, is the requirement it puts upon its practitioners to keep their wits about them.

Military, not civilian, intelligence is useful. The civilian agencies quickly fill with the Ivy League types. They worship their own brains, their own genius for “analysis,” their own imagined superiority and “aboveness” — which is why they’re invariably looking down, missing the forest for the root causes. Like all the self-important people in Business Class, they process innumerable bits of useless information.

(Make me President of your country, USAmericans, and I will shut down the CIA almost as quickly as I shut down the Environmental Protection Agency. For that matter, everything with an acronym, that I can find.)

Whereas, in military, especially when a war’s on, we have people oriented to finding out what is going on. And often, too, somehow finding a way to explain it to their civilian bosses, especially the politicians, conditioned by everything they’ve read in their papers, which is more or less uniformly false. I could tell some wonderful stories about encounters of this sort, between intelligence briefers and prominent politicians; “Annals of clewlessness” might be the title. But really I should not.


My effusion yesterday, touching on Iraq, seems to have drawn a few retired out of the woodwork. Some others could not see the point of it, and one complained that I did not mention God. But trust me, He’s always in the plot, somewhere. Indeed, the only character legitimately above it.

Overnight, I added a paragraph of parenthesis, to make my retrospect clearer. My views on that War (which has yet to be over) were and remain not quite identical with those of anyone else. I was gung-ho for the Invasion, then increasingly appalled by the follow through. But I did not agree with the people who thought our side should have made a quick exit after knocking off Saddam. I thought the attempt to “rebuild Iraq as a democracy” was ludicrous; that it was hearts-and-minds back to Vietnam. That part could certainly have been omitted, at a savings of a few hundred billion.

The Americans had done the people of Iraq enough of a favour by destroying the tyranny; let the Iraqis get on with the task of creating the next one in their own good time. Better yet, divide it into three countries, the way Joe Biden suggested; smaller, more homogenous tyrannies being better than larger and more ethnically various (usually). No objection to distributing food, water, and the odd candy bar. But we had not the stomach for old-fashioned Imperialism; nor should have bitten more than we could chew.

With the media satisfied, by a good quick war, and taking advantage of their short attention span, the next phase should have been mopping up, strictly. Arrogance, partly, was preventing Team USA from seeing at first that more needed doing, especially along the road from Baghdad to Damascus. The Daesh were already functioning in places like Fallujah, and it would be a considerable task to track and kill them all. … (Semper fi!)

And the less publicity for this, the better. People back home would not want to know what it takes to eliminate the sort of force that gloats over video executions. It might ruin their breakfasts.

Do not embed journalists. As the British in Malaya and Borneo, who defeated a Communist insurgency using modest commando resources — while the Americans were busy losing Vietnam, with half-a-million troops, to say nothing of the aeroplanes — the last place you want the modern journalist is in a war. Let the armchair specialists write the history, after the event. Let them say what you did wrong, after you have defeated the enemy.

Vietnam was a formative experience for me (I was there in the early 1970s). Very young, and unsure of myself, I was astounded by the bureaucratic scale of the U.S. enterprise. It impressed me in one way, and then in another: I had never seen anything so counter-productive. Nor could I believe, till I’d had a good taste, how malicious and untruthful my fellow journalists could be, filing stories from the rumours they had told each other in the safety of the Saigon bars. Or taking what they’d been told at the “Five o’clock Follies” (the daily official press briefing at MACV), and simply inverting it.

An essential component of military intelligence, is distinguishing friend from foe. American military intelligence had somehow failed to notice that the journalists were working for the other side.


God does come into this. At the frontiers of every civilization, there are savages to be dealt with. Christian civilization is unique, in our belief that these people may somehow be converted: Christianized, by untiring missionary labour, over time. But Western Christendom, at least, was never in confusion about the hard, underlying fact of barbarism. We are up against men who murder, rape, and enslave. This must be stopped. You don’t stop it by talking about it.

To the point, Western Christendom did not survive wave after wave of Islamic conquest by “turning the other cheek” in surrender. One does not adopt a superior moral posture, for oneself, while the innocent are being slaughtered. One adopts, rather, the spirit of the Crusades. We turn to Jesus for the shriving of our souls, then follow Saint Michael into battle.