Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Congrats to the CRs

The screening of "Outside the Wire" was a huge success. I was glad to be there to support the CRs. I am very proud of them.

I think many students who really had no idea before what was going on in Iraq have a much better idea now. This was an incredibly educational moment. It's what college should be all about: smashing misconceptions and broadening horizons. Too bad the media wasn't there to cover it and hear the stories of our local heroes.

Since the draft ended some 34 years ago, a bigger disconnect exists now between those who have served in the military and those who haven't than at any other time in recent American history. When veterans were asked to identify themselves, maybe half a dozen in a crowd of around 100 raised their hands.

I'm not advocating the return of the draft. Our modern technological military requires skilled volunteers. We have the best-trained, best-equipped fighting force in history. But it is concerning. The war in Iraq is being fought by 19 to 24 year olds. As was pointed out in the movie, war is all some of these young men have known since high school. Yet, to their peers in the audience tonight, military life and war must seem as alien and unknown as the dark side of the moon.

We have often heard the WWII generation referred to as "The Greatest Generation." But I'm here to tell you that the young men (and women) who serve in our armed forces today would stand out among any generation. They volunteer to serve in a dangerous and dirty war, where death or dismemberment can come suddenly and at any moment, some of them over and over again. One young Staff Sergeant in the movie left behind a comfortable job and family to lead his Marines into battle one more time. And they do it out of the most noble of patriotic motives.

We owe these heroes, and they are heroes in every sense of the word, our respect. And we owe them undersanding, at least as much as possible, of what it is they do and why.

4 comments:

Barenjager said...

Tom,
I disagree with you on one point. I believe it is essential that we re-institute the draft. As you mentioned, the average American is out of touch with the military and doesn’t understand the hows, whys and wherefores of service, protection of national interests, or the way other countries deal pursue their interests.

In addition to those concerns, I fee there is a much bigger problem rising through the system which will soon begin to plague us. Our military is now on the same rotation path as the German forces were in WWII. Since there are no masses of new reserves to draw from at home, the same people are forced into the danger zones again and again. This leads to a number of problems.

First and foremost, even the most dedicated and courageous of soldiers will reach their limits if they begin to believe there is no relief in sight. This will lead to reduced efficiency as they begin worrying more about making it home for the final time, reduced ability to motivate and lead troops as their motivation inevitably shifts from mission accomplishment to mission survival, reduced retention of experienced soldiers and reduced efforts to do “in service recruiting” of promising young troops they would ordinarily move heaven and earth to get them to stay in, and finally, a significant number will begin to loose the humanitarian outlook which has always separated American troops from others.

That means it will become much more likely we will see our folks commit real war crimes, not the piddly crap the media howls about now. If you consider history, even the Nazis didn’t start out having camp guards or ordinary soldiers who would commit atrocities. As the war wore on and hope for victory faded, the atmosphere changed to one conductive of abuse.

Whether we want to believe it or not, this is occurring now in the US. We no longer trust politicians nor do we feel we have any control or significant influence over them. Those of us that actually pay attention know the politicians are too satisfied with the status quo to change the situation and we know equally well we aren’t about to leave Afghanistan or Iraq any time soon. We have artificially and unnecessarily recreated the conditions of 1944 and imposed that mess on our military.

A draft is the one thing that could fix the problem. It would provide enough manpower to fix the multiple rotation problem, boost morale, boost retention of career soldiers, improve citizen involvement and increase the incentive for the politicians to pay attention to their constituents. Of course, that last point is the reason we’ll not see a draft. It would upset the cozy existence of the politico who only has to answer to the money rather than the masses.

Tom Forbes said...

Barenjager,

You make some great points. I really struggle with the draft issue for the reasons you mention.

Some liberals, I think also struggle with the draft, but for totally different reasons. On the one hand, some libs favor a draft because it would create much more protest against the wars the "neocons" want to wage. On the other hand, some libs fear the "militarization" of society and a widespread belief among the public that "war is okay" that a draft would create.

As a student of military history, I'm intrigued by your analogy of the current situation with Germany in 1944. Many historians blame Hitler's failure to put Germany on a "total war" footing back in 1939-1940 as one of the reasons Germany lost the war. I'm reading a book at the moment titled 'Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror" that makes the same point about America failing to mobilize completely to fight terrorism.

If we were to have a draft, it would have to be one like during WWII, with very few exemptions. The college deferments during the Vietnam Era created a lot of issues (morale, education, drug use, etc.), which I think is one of the reasons why the Pentagon today is opposed to a draft.

But I agree with you, no politician has the will, or the ability, to institute a WWII style draft again.

Barenjager said...

Yeah, Tom. We've come to their 1944 because we repeated their 39/40 mistakes.

Another frightening thought is that in terms of technology, training, motivation, discipline and ability, the Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine were unrivaled in the world in 1940 and by 1944 that had changed dramatically. In my view, the only things keeping that from being an exact replication is that the formal conflict has not expanded and we started out much stronger (in literal and relative terms) than the Germans did.

Shocking what you'll find if you dig around in some musty old books, isn't it?

Tom Forbes said...

Yes, I am concerned that optempo will cause a degradation in morale and efficiency. But, I don't think any generation of American warriors has ever had this much combat experience. We are going to have hardened combat vets serving as senior NCOs and officers for the next 30 years. That can only be a good thing. We will learn from our mistakes.

Speaking of the German Army in 1944, with no air superiority, a declining supply of natural resources, and increasingly obsolete technology, it held off easily 10-20 times their number on two fronts for a year. After three years of continuous combat, the Wehrmacht was the most experienced fighting force since Napoleon's Imperial Guard or the Roman legions.