Sunday, November 7, 2010

So here's something I find interesting...

I'm sitting here reading The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, which is actually quite good once you get past the first 80 pages or so. The book is divided into four parts, and each part has a series of chapters. I'm in part 2, chapter 6. I'm referencing all of this in case you bother to look up what I'm talking about and you have a different version of the book than I do. 'Cause I realize that's a likely scenario.

Anyway, General Cummings is talking with his aid, or whatever, Hearn (clearly I've never been in the army) about "what makes a nation fight well." (As a completely random aside, what are the quoting rules when part of what you're quoting is completely normal...for instance, I was going to paraphrase and say, what makes a country fight well, but since I haven't finished reading the chapter, I'm not sure if the distinction between "country" and "nation" is important. Furthermore, that's not much of a paraphrasing, so then I was going to start the quotes on the word "nation" because, while I suppose I could think up other ways to say "what makes" it seems unnecessary. So I'm at a loss as to where I was supposed to start my quotes, so I thought I'd err on the side of conservativeness and risk quoting too much.)

Okay, back to what I actually find interesting.

Hearn suggests that "what makes a nation fight well" is likely to be how the people in the country identify with that country.

The General says that that's only a small part of it, and that the big determining factors for how well a country fights in a war are directly proportional to the number of men and the amount of resources it has. And the other piece is that an individual soldier is more effective the poorer his standard of living was in the past.

It's this last piece that I find rather interesting, especially in light of the war going on in Afghanistan.

I imagine I'd make a pretty terrible soldier, for a number of reasons. One of these reasons is that I grew up in an environment that fostered thinking. I would just like to clarify: I'm not saying poorer people are dumber; what I'm suggesting is that families with means are not struggling to meet daily requirements like food and heat, and thus can put some of their child-raising energies into other things, like encouraging their children to ask questions, to develop healthy interests in things, and to think for themselves. The stresses my parents faced in raising my sister and me were not of the can-we-afford-new-shoes variety, but more of the what-activities-can-we-sign-them-up-for-so-they-develop-normal-skills-AND-sleep-through-the-night kind.

But I wonder if Americans as a whole are so much better off than many other places, such as Afghanistan, that we fight from a different place mentally. Maybe the Afghans are so desperately poor that, even if they don't necessarily understand what they're fighting about, maybe it's something new, interesting, exciting, or simply something they can rally behind that diverts their attention from their poverty.

Way back when I read Three Cups of Tea, I was astonished to learn that it was something like a 5th grade education for women that separated the women who would give birth to terrorists and the women who would, both by example and by force, send their children to school to become educated, thoughtful, productive members of society.

A 5th grade education. I know there are Americans who don't get that far, but I don't know any. I remember 5th grade. It wasn't that complicated. But I can understand how it would be to a person who didn't have what I had growing up, a person who didn't own a small library before they actually learned to read, who developed language skills singing songs about Thumbkin, who attended puppet shows and reading groups at the public library, and most importantly, who was never denied an opportunity based on her gender.

I'm not trying to knock the American military, but considering this war has been going on for nine years now, I am sort of wondering if we're going about fighting it the wrong way. I'm not a military strategist, so I don't actually have any suggestions of my own, but it seems to me that people who do know about this sort of thing, like our military leaders, might try to come up with some new ideas, since the old ones aren't working too well. In my own life, I don't continue to do things that didn't work out well the first or second time around. This isn't a deep philosophy or anything, this is simply learning what does and does not work for me. And what works for me, or what works for me in one situation, may not work for everyone, or in every situation. It's all a learning process, but the point is to learn from what doesn't work, not to keep doing it.

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