Saturday, March 2, 2013

Empire and Total War

I just read an article that asks why there is a rise in suicides among members of the U.S. military in recent years.

Of course I don't know, but it makes me think of a passage in the prophet Samuel.  King David sends his army to fight, "in the season when kings go off to war," but he does not join them.  He stays behind and winds up having an affair with a married woman, then arranging for her husband to die on the front lines to cover up David's dalliance.  (By the way, David is remembered as one of the good kings.)

The bold passage above tells us something about the history of warfare: small states cannot afford total war.  They can only go to war when their crops are in the ground, and must return before the crops are to be harvested.  Not so with empires.  Large states can draw soldiers from many places and so can afford to field an army year-round.

Sometimes you're just in the right place to capture the photo. The Blue Angels soar past Walmart.

While King David's state was small enough that it was still bound by the growing season, he was enjoying a period when his state had grown large enough that he could send his troops out without joining them, without committing himself to sharing in their triumphs and losses.  And this detachment of the leadership from the fighting forces led to deep tragedy, and even to a kind of human sacrifice, wherein the king was willing to sacrifice one of his men to cover up the king's own error.

So while I don't know why the suicide rate is increasing right now, I am not surprised to learn that our troops are suffering.  We commit them to long tours of duty, not just for part of a growing season but for years on end with only short rests.  It is lamentable that they are often so far from us it is hard to even imagine what they endure, much less to share in it with them.


See my earlier post on the cost of war here.

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