Why we fight

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- On July 9, 1776, Gen. George Washington had the Declaration of Independence read to his troops in New York City in order to explain why they must fight. 

During World War II, military leaders at all levels were directed to explain the reasons "Why We Fight" to their troops on a regular and recurring basis.

It might seem to us today that it was unnecessary to explain to American patriots why they needed to fight British oppression, or to explain to the greatest generation why they had to fight against the evils of fascism. Leaders of those generations understood some fundamental truths about warfare that remain unchanged today.

War is a contest of wills between people and it is decided on the battlefield by moral factors more than by physical ones. American leaders of the past knew that they needed to get maximum effort at all times from their people to succeed against a fanatically driven enemy.

Today, it is even more important to explain why we fight. We are engaged simultaneously in a long war against religious extremists and in deeply-rooted insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In all of these related conflicts, the enemy seeks victory by eroding our will over time. Our enemies know that they cannot overcome our troops on the battlefield, so they seek to weaken the will of these brave warriors any way they can.

We are a free society and we do not withhold political and press commentaries from our troops which are often critical and defeatist concerning our war effort. These criticisms, when not balanced with reminders of why we fight in the first place, can contribute to the erosion of will which our enemies seek.

Therefore, I encourage leaders to recognize our collective responsibility to understand the wars in which we are engaged and be prepared to discuss with even the most junior Airmen how their assigned duties contribute to victory.

We need not resort to propaganda in order to portray the evil nature of our enemies or how each Airman's duties are critical to a successful war effort. Last week's news presents many typical examples. We learned that our enemies in Afghanistan are not above employing a helpless 6-year-old child as a suicide bomber. We also learned that terrorists in Britain continue to seek ways to exploit the many rights and freedoms permitted them in a free society by seeking to commit more mass murder.

The Baqouba offensive provides an excellent opportunity to explain the vital contributions of troops in the so-called rear areas, who require even more attention to their motivation because their vital duties do not allow them to close with the enemy.

This offensive is part of the overall clear-and-hold strategy that is necessary to combat the insurgency in Iraq. Coalition forces have thus far succeeded beyond expectations in clearing most Al Qaida insurgents from their major stronghold in the Diyala province.

The offensive has succeeded to this point partly because logistics support has enabled warriors on the scene to distribute over 33,000 lbs. of rice, flour and water to people trapped in the city and denied rations by Al Qaida.

The Baqouba offensive will ultimately succeed or fail based upon our ability to adequately equip and provision the Iraqi military forces which now must provide security for this vital area and to feed the people within it. The offensive, and the overall global war effort, will not succeed unless every Airman in the entire area of responsibility continues to give 100 percent to their duties at all times.

All leaders must study the war news daily, look behind the headlines and learn to communicate strategically with our fellow Airmen. I am confident that you will learn and be able to explain with moral clarity, that the American war effort is based upon promoting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That is why we fight.

Editor's note: Colonel Rothrock is the former commander of the 377th Security Forces Squadron.