Arm Chair Generals Speak

The arm chair generals are out in force on MSNBC and Fox calling the British officers taken hostage in Iran "disgraceful". Colonel Jack Jacobs can be heard quoting John Stuart Mill on the character of real men. Ralph Peter is on Fox talking about "kissy face" with the Iranian mullahs. These guys are going way too far.

There is no question that this was not the finest hour of the British Navy. There is also no question that in a media driven world, the lives of the fighting people are commonly considered more important than the mission. But let's examine some of the details.

First, it is now apparent that the British were out gunned and the only outcome of a fight would have been slaughter. Although not honorable, being taken prisoner is not an outrage. Armed forces have been taken prisoner in all wars and if there is no military advantage in fighting, it is perfectly acceptable to surrender.

Regarding their statements while in captivity, under British military law it is not illegal to make statements that have no military value in order to save lives. The same is true under American military law. Obviously it is preferable not to provide the enemy with a propaganda victory, but it is not a punishable offense.

Would it have been better had the British better resisted? Certainly. Was it possible? That is hard to know, and the arm chair generals certainly don't.

The problem that all fighting men and women face in Iraq is that they are part of a modern military, fighting against a medieval enemy on a battlefield defined by civilian media. It is an extremely difficult environment in which to navigate, and expecting a young officer to understand it when clearly the political and senior military leadership doesn't is unfair and unrealistic.

The performance of the British naval and marine officers is a microcosm of the West's performance in the broader war. The modern West doesn't know how to confront this enemy. It understands war only in the context of its own culture and values, where many believe the use of forces is inappropriate under any circumstances.

Expecting a military to cope properly within this context is totally unrealistic. Americans do better, because there are still people here who understand that the whole world is not a post-modern Garden of Eden. But in Europe, where cultural identity is tied to peace at all costs, militaries have an extremely difficult time coping. Punishing individual soldiers and sailors for the faults of their own leaders and cultures is not fair.