Motivation is the key to winning those wars we always lose
In 1969, hundreds of draftees in a packed auditorium were told that the South Vietnamese needed America to continue training Vietnamese soldiers until they could defeat their enemies even after we left.
When officers up front asked if there were any questions, a kid in the 17th row raised his hand. He was probably a naïve college brat who didn’t know the painful difference between Philosophy 101 and Basic Training.
The officer corps huddled and reluctantly told the kid to go ahead. This is the obvious question the kid asked:
Why does it take years to train Vietnamese boys to fight in their own war in their own country, when it takes only a few weeks for the Army to train us to fight in the same war, on the other side of the world?
Reaction to the question was predictable. No officer even tried to answer it. Instead they mounted a verbal attack on the cowardly traitor in the 17th row who dared to ask it.
We hear the same “training” message today: our soldiers are merely visiting professors teaching the skills of war to deserving students. But don’t ever ask why it takes them so long to graduate.
We train Sunnis to fight Shiites today; Shiites to fight Sunnis tomorrow. We silently wish everybody would convert and become Kurds, or even better, Lutherans.
We train our allies to drive tanks; then give them tanks; then they abandon tanks to the enemy; then we give our allies anti-tank weapons.
Our allies take all the training we can give, and the hardware, and of course the money. Yet the enemy soldiers, who don’t get our training and hardware, consistently win – unless California surfers and Kansas farmers and Rhode Island quahoggers are there to stop them.
So here is the answer to the obvious question that the kid in the 17th row dared to ask:
It takes years to unsuccessfully train local soldiers to fight in their own war…because the soldiers we train don’t love our side of the fight as much as the enemy loves the enemy’s side of the fight.
Motivation makes the difference. We might hate the monstrous people we oppose, but we can’t deny that superior motivation drives their success against our allies.
No amount of “training” can make our allies succeed – if they don’t desperately want to succeed. Football coaches know that. Even ballet teachers know it. You know it too.
We can train people to fight in a war using our methods and machines. We can’t train people to die in a war for our reasons.
In the Middle East, we fight two battles: one to kill the enemy ourselves; another to motivate our allies to do the same; but our allies don’t zealously want what we want them to want. They lose battles, fight with each other, keep our money, and demand more training.
Isis is on a rampage. The Democratic President is sending Americans to train Sunni soldiers to work with, instead of kill, Shiite soldiers. The Republicans think (a) we should never have left Iraq or Afghanistan or Quagmiristan and (b) we should send more troops back there real soon.
It’s time we repudiate the silly fraud behind these “training” wars. The kid in the 17th row did his part 45 years ago. Now it’s your turn.
It’s time for Americans to insist – loudly and often – that we should not invest our money and our children in someone else’s war if our allies aren’t already hungry to kill the bad guys, and only the bad guys. If they want to kill our friends, or each other, or us, don’t show them how.
Richard Galli is a Rhode Island lawyer and writer; a former news reporter; and a 2014 MacDowell Colony Fellow. Of Rice and Men — a warmly comic novel based on his wartime experience as a Vietnamese interpreter — was published in 2006. In 2007 he embedded as a freelance writer with Army soldiers in Iraq.