Honoring Andrew Bacevich, father and son

To the family of Army 1st Lt. Andrew Bacevich, killed at age 27 this week in Iraq, deepest sympathies. There is nothing others can say to ease this blow, except: we are sorry for the loss of your son, and brother, and nephew — and send you support and sympathies in this time of loss.

From a coldly logical point of view, news of this death is no worse than the steady flow of news of other deaths, American and otherwise, coming out of Iraq. But for many people it is worse, based on the widespread knowledge that Lt. Bacevich’s family includes his father, retired Army Col. Andrew Bacevich.

The elder Andrew Bacevich graduated from West Point, served in Vietnam, and became an academic and scholar, as professor of history at Boston University. He is also an Atlantic Monthly author.

Through the buildup to the Iraq war, the elder Bacevich has distinguished himself as a particular kind of critic of the policy that led to that war. His opposition arose from a conservative (as opposed to crusading) cast of mind, and from his deep familiarity with the gap between the neat-sounding concepts that lead a nation to war and the “unforeseen” problems that foreseeably arise once shooting begins. This is a lesson that societies seem to need to learn again and again — and many of Bacevich’s books, including his recent The New American Militarism, were attempts to convey these lessons. His perspective differed in detail from that of Jim Webb, another Vietnam veteran who is of course now the Senator from Virginia, but its moral grounding was similar. They were both people who had seen war themselves and cringed when they heard others talking about war with terms like” cakewalk.” They differed from almost everyone making the war policy in having served themselves, and in having sons of their own in combat in Iraq.

(This video, with the wonderful interviewer Harry Kreisler of UC Berkeley, gives a sample of Bacevich’s perspective, as does this very recent Atlantic interview. I discussed his Militarism book with him at a CATO program two years ago, here.)

That a man who himself served in an ill-advised war should now lose a son to a war the father tried to prevent is almost too painful to contemplate. All the deaths in Iraq are wrenching for the families involved. Perhaps this one might bring an extra moment’s reflection, or shame, to the people now persisting in a doomed policy. Perhaps.

Let us honor the memory of Lt. Andrew Bacevich and extend sincere condolences to Col. Bacevich (Ret.) and his family. Let us urge our leaders, as the elder Andrew Bacevich has done, to reconsider their course of folly.