Taking a hill, &c.

President Dwight D. Eisenhowever


Earlier this week, I had a blogpost on the defense budget. It was called “Decline Is a Choice. A Bad One.” It began,

“Last year, when President Obama nominated Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense, I said, ‘The president wants a Republican war hero to preside over the gutting of American defenses. Hagel will be his cover.’ Even as I said it, I was hoping it wasn’t true. But it is true, I’m afraid.”

Whenever you write as I did, people tell you about Eisenhower and the “military-industrial complex,” as though you never heard of that phrase, or the speech in which it was used.

What Eisenhower said was important — particularly for January 1961 (which is when he gave the speech).

In any event, I was especially interested in an Eisenhower statement that a reader shared with me. Ike said some version of this:

“You have a hill. A good platoon could take it, but would have heavy casualties. A good company could take it with fewer casualties; a bad company might not be able to take it. What do you do? You make it the objective for a two-battalion attack, and they’ll take it without firing a shot.”

Our reader (a retired captain in the infantry) said, “Overwhelming force saves soldiers’ lives.”

Yes. I don’t mind a little redundancy in the military. A related point is, the stronger your defenses, the less likely you are to have to use them. “Peace through Strength” is not a mere slogan.

A different reader, who works in the defense arena, made a very important point:

“You surely have heard the joke that, given the overwhelming predominance of entitlement spending in the federal budget, the United States is not a nation but instead a pension plan with an army.” I had never heard that, but it is a good joke.

Well, continued our reader, “the military is itself increasingly a pension plan that also fights wars on occasion.”

Yes. That is a huge problem. Because, if you attempt to do anything about this — if you attempt to enact some reform — someone, or many someones, will say, “Why are you breaking faith with our warriors?”

Con Coughlin, in the Telegraph, had a blunt blogpost: “America’s enemies will be delighted by the latest cuts to its military strength.” Sure.

And Janet Daley, in the same newspaper, or at the same website, had a blunt question: “So tell me, those of you who have demanded for years that America and the West should end their ‘domination’ of geopolitics, and their interference in the affairs of far-flung nations: is this what you wanted? A free-for-all for rogue states, lunatic extremists and long-dead imperial powers, in which the lives and freedoms of populations caught up in the murderous power play would count for nothing?”

One more go, from Daley: “If Ukraine — or Syria for that matter — eventually finds its way to some form of stable democracy, it will have been with precious little help from the West, which seems to be either uninterested (America) or useless (the EU). So I ask again: is this what those who longed for a post-American, post-Western world had in mind?”

Some of them did, yes. Some of them, no. And they should reconsider. In America, the Obamite Left and the Paulite Right are teaming to gut our defenses and relinquish world leadership. Most other people are indifferent, I think — and to be indifferent is to cast a vote, in a sense. Because the most energized will get their way.

Do you know what I mean?

Earlier this month, I had a “Hillsdale Journal” — some notes on a visit to Hillsdale College, in Hillsdale, Mich. In the current National Review, I have a piece on the college (and higher education generally): “A Campus Apart.” I’d like to make some further points here.

Hillsdale College is an odd place — at least from my perspective — because the overwhelming majority are conservative. I’m used to places, certainly campuses, where the overwhelming majority are liberal, or rather, left-wing.

As I say in my magazine piece, I am acutely sensitive to those in a political or philosophical minority. I have had ample experience in such a minority. Very, very few on the left have said, “You know, Jay’s here. Jay’s among us. We’d better cool it on the politics — or at least speak in respectful tones.” They have just used their majority numbers to plow through.

Consider mealtime: Have you ever been at a table where you were the only conservative? And others mocked or scorned your point of view, or acted as though you weren’t there? Now and then, I’ll be at a table with conservatives, plus one or two liberals — outnumbered liberals. And I will do anything to keep the conversation from politics (unless a purpose of the gathering is political). I don’t want anyone uncomfortable, as I have been so many times.