Reacting to the same story about a veteran writing in support of Elena Kagan, a conservative commentator at Power Line adds an additional point:
First, it’s unfortunate that we’ve reached the point where the military feels constrained to have a legal adviser serving in a Marine infantry batallion. I hope that the actions of this batallion are based solely on military considerations such as killing the enemy and protecting the lives of our forces, as opposed to legal advice.
This comment reflects such a deep ignorance of the role that legal concerns and “just war” principles play in modern “warfare among the people” that I feel that I have to make a quick response.
First, one thing that distinguishes the American military from many others is the deep dedication of its soldiers, from the generals down to the lowliest privates, to the idea that “we are the good guys”. Notwithstanding operational doctrines that favor application of overwhelming firepower, American forces require for their morale an underlying belief that they are trying to do good. Having one officer in a 800-man battalion who’s job description includes advising leaders of the legal and moral considerations of various operational and tactical choices is hardly excessive and is probably really helpful to this unique attribute.
Second, as British General Rupert Smith observes in his excellent update of Clausewitzian principles for the post-modern era, military conflicts these days are fought “among the people” rather than on discrete battlefields. More importantly, the prize sought is not the control of a geographic location, but rather the ability to exercise influence over the people themselves. That means that even if one personally objects to the strictures of a legalistic and moral approach to warfare on tactical grounds as many political conservatives do, it doesn’t matter. As long as compliance with those legal and moral standards is part of how the people we are trying to influence assess whether or not Americans are worthy of their support (or at least their acquiescence), those concerns remain strategically vital even if tactically annoying. So having an expert on those issues in every battalion is a strategic asset not to be disparaged just out of macho “steel on target” posturing.
UPDATE: The strongly conservative web site The Other McCain agrees. And in response to one of McCain’s commenters, I will add that is it not about choosing to lose rather than violate the Geneva Conventions. It is about learning that the nature of post-modern “warfare among the people” is such that complying with Geneva as much as practicable (and I am not a purist on this — Geneva has some elements that are obsolescent and useless) has become how you win in the first place.