How little the U.S. knows of war

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HoustonDavid
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How little the U.S. knows of war

Post by HoustonDavid » Tue Jan 04, 2011 11:14 am

How Little the U.S. Knows of War

By Richard Cohen
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
The Washington Post

I present you with a paradox. The U.S. Army that fought the Vietnam War was reviled, not spit upon (that's a myth) but not much admired, either. In contrast, the Army of Iraq and Afghanistan is embraced and praised. Yet one was an army of the people, draftees and such, and the other is an army of volunteers, strangers to most of us. What's happening here? The answer, I fear, is a cliche: Familiarity breeds contempt.

That "I fear" in the preceding paragraph is not an artsy pause but a genuine emotion. The Vietnam War Army happened to have been my Army. I was on active duty as a reservist, not for very long but long enough for the Army to have lost all its mystery. I found the Army to be no better and no worse than other large institutions. Some of its leaders were fools, and some soldiers were thieves, and everyone wasted money like there was no tomorrow. This is the truth and everyone once knew it.

No more. I sometimes think I am the only person around who has been in the military. This is because most people I know are college-educated professionals, many of them writers. But if I throw in politicians and even the White House staff, nothing much changes. Lots of people know the expression "lock 'n load" but very few know how to do it.

The military of today is removed from society in general. It is a majority white and, according to a Heritage Foundation study, disproportionately Southern. New England is underrepresented, and so are big cities, but the poor are no longer cannon fodder - if they ever were - and neither are blacks. We all fight and die just about in proportion to our numbers in the population.

The all-volunteer military has enabled America to fight two wars while many of its citizens do not know of a single fatality or even of anyone who has fought overseas. This is a military conscripted by culture and class - induced, not coerced, indoctrinated in all the proper cliches about serving one's country, honored and romanticized by those of us who would not, for a moment, think of doing the same. You get the picture.

Talking about the picture, what exactly is wrong with it? A couple of things. First, this distant Army enables us to fight wars about which the general public is largely indifferent. Had there been a draft, the war in Iraq might never have been fought - or would have produced the civil protests of the Vietnam War era. The Iraq debacle was made possible by a professional military and by going into debt. George W. Bush didn't need your body or, in the short run, your money. Southerners would fight, and foreigners would buy the bonds. For understandable reasons, no great songs have come out of the war in Iraq.

The other problem is that the military has become something of a priesthood. It is virtually worshipped for its admirable qualities while its less admirable ones are hardly mentioned or known. It has such standing that it is awfully hard for mere civilians - including the commander in chief - to question it. Dwight Eisenhower could because he had stars on his shoulders, and when he warned of the military-industrial complex, people paid some attention. Harry Truman had fought in one World War and John Kennedy and Gerald Ford in another, but now the political cupboard of combat vets is bare and there are few civilian leaders who have the experience, the standing, to question the military. This is yet another reason to mourn the death of Richard Holbrooke. He learned in Vietnam that stars don't make for infallibility, sometimes just for arrogance.

Little wars tend to metastasize. They are nourished by chaos. Government employees in Nevada direct drones to kill insurgents in Afghanistan. The repercussions can be felt years later. We kill coldly, for reasons of policy - omitting, for reasons of taste, that line from Mafia movies: Nothing personal. But revenge comes back hot and furious. It's personal, and we no longer remember why.

The Great Afghanistan Reassessment has come and gone and, outside of certain circles, no one much paid attention. In this respect, the United States has become like Rome or the British Empire, able to fight nonessential wars with a professional military in places like Iraq. Ultimately, this will drain us financially and, in a sense, spiritually as well. "War is too important to be left to the generals," the wise saying goes. Too horrible, too.
"May You be born in interesting (maybe confusing?) times" - Chinese Proverb (or Curse)

Barry
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Re: How little the U.S. knows of war

Post by Barry » Tue Jan 04, 2011 11:58 am

The disconnect between the military and most of the civillian population is an important topic. Thanks for raising it.

Here is a portion of a longer piece by Robert Kaplan that touches on the same topic:

Never-say-die faith, accompanied by old-fashioned nationalism, is alive in America. It is a match for the most fanatical suicide bombers anywhere, but with few exceptions, that faith is confined to our finest combat infantry units—and to specific sections of the country and socio-economic strata from which these “warriors” (as they like to call themselves) hail. They are not characteristic of a country in many ways hurtling rapidly in the opposite direction. This is not the 1950s, when Americans felt a certain relief in possessing “the bomb.” Fifty years later, most Americans feel a certain relief in never having to even hear about “the bomb.”

Faith is about struggle, about having confidence precisely when the odds are the worst. Faith is the capacity to believe in what is simultaneously necessary but improbable. That kind of faith is receding in America among a social and economic class increasingly motivated by universal values: caring, for example, about the suffering of famine victims abroad as much as for hurricane victims at home. Universal values are a good in and of themselves, and they are not the opposite of faith. But they should never be confused with it. You may care to the point of tears about suffering humankind without having the will to actually fight (let alone inconvenience yourself) for those concerns. Thus, universal values may pose an existential challenge to national security when accompanied by a loss of faith in one’s own political values and projects.

The loss of a warrior mentality and the rise of universal values seem to be features of all stable, Western-style middle-class democracies. Witness our situation. The Army Reserve is desperate for officers, yet there is little urge among American elites to volunteer. Thus our military takes on more of a regional caste. The British Army may have been drawn from the dregs of society, but its officers were the country’s political elite. Not so ours, which has little to do with the business of soldiering and is socially disconnected from what guards us in our sleep. According to Marine Maj. General Michael Lehnert, nine Princeton graduates in the class of 2006 entered the military, compared to 400 in 1956, when there was a draft. Some Ivy League schools had no one enter the military last year. Only one member of the Stanford graduating class had a parent in the military.

Nor do our top schools encourage recruitment. In fact, they often actively discourage it, as may be reckoned by the number of elite campuses from which ROTC is banned. Many people, especially academics and intellectuals, have a visceral distrust of units like Army Special Forces. They are more comfortable with regular citizen armies that seem to better represent democracy. But other than a professional warrior class or a reinstituted draft, what is available to a democracy whose upper stratum has a constantly diminishing commitment to military values?

Here is the crux of our civil-military divide: As American society grows more socially distant from its own military, American warrior consciousness is further intensifying within the combat arms community itself. The identities of each of the four armed services gradually grow less distinct. Rather than Army green, Air Force blue or Navy khaki, the slow but inexorable trend is toward purple, the color of jointness. The services have not yet lost their individual cultures, but operations both big and small are more and more integrated affairs. As each year goes by, interaction between the services deepens. The Air Force, with its once cushy, corporate ways, is becoming more hardened and austere like the Army, even as the Big Army becomes more small-unit oriented like the Marine Corps. The Big Navy, with its new emphasis on small ships to meet the demands of littoral combat, is becoming more unconventional and powered-down, also like the Marines.

Without a draft or a revitalized Reserve and National Guard that ties the military closer to civilian society, in the decades ahead American troops may become less soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen, and more purple warriors—in essence a guild in which the profession of combat-arms is passed down from father to son. It is striking how many troops I know whose parents and other relatives had also been in the service, especially among the units whose members face the highest level of personal risk. Contrast this with the fact that, at the 2006 Stanford commencement ceremony, Maj. General Lehnert, whose son was the lone graduating student from a military family, was struck by how many of the other parents had never even met a member of the military before he introduced himself.


Army-Marine Corps joint sniper training in Djibouti
A citizen army is composed of conscripts from all classes and parts of the country in roughly equal proportion. But a volunteer military is necessarily dominated by those regions with an old-fashioned fighting ethos: the South and the adjacent Bible Belts of the southern Midwest and Great Plains. Marine and Army infantry units, and in particular Army Special Forces A-teams, manifest a proclivity for volunteers from the states of the former Confederacy, as well as Irish and Hispanics from poorer, more culturally conservative sections of coastal cities. In sum, the American military has become in some respects a higher-quality version of what it was on the eve of World War II. The Greatest Generation may have come from all walks of life and all regions of the country, but when it got to boot camp its trainers were professional soldiers, often with Southern accents, intent on doing their thirty years.

The Southern soldier of today is different, even if they have strikingly similar names. Take Army Special Forces Major Robert E. Lee, Jr., of Mobile, Alabama, whom I met in the Philippines in 2003. Major Lee named his son “Stonewall”, but he also worked as a church-based volunteer in a poor, African-American section of Wichita, Kansas. “It was my first real exposure to blacks, I mean not from afar”, he told me. “It was a year of learning, day after day, that folks are just folks.” He is not unusual. It is a commonplace among observers of the American military that race relations in the barracks are better than in American society at large.

Yet even such an encouraging evolution constitutes another sign of the emergence of a separate American warrior caste. It is not just in war zones that soldiers bond with one another. They do so at bases within the United States, too, where troops and their families usually live separately from civilian communities close-by, and the short-duty rotation makes it hard for the inhabitants of the base to develop ties outside it. Spending months upon months with American troops, I entered a social world where friendships stretched across units and racial lines more than across military-civilian ones, and homefront references were to forts and bases, not cities, towns or states.

Liberal democratic societies have commonly been defended by conservative military establishments whose members may lack the social graces of the cosmopolitan classes they protect. Such a conservative American military now has a particularly thankless task, however. Much of what it does abroad is guarding sea lanes and training troops of fledgling democracies, helping essentially to provide the security armature for an emerging global civilization. But the more that civilization evolves—with its own mass media, non-governmental organizations and professional class—the less credit and sympathy it grants to the American troops who at times risk their lives for it. Irony is stock-and-trade for sophisticated wit, of course. But it cannot forever obscure the contradiction between the functions of an effective warrior class and the unwillingness of those functions’ beneficiaries to support its warriors. I cannot remember how many times a soldier or marine told me that we don’t want to be pitied as victims, but respected as fighters. That respect is not abundant, which brings us to an especially sharp practical edge of what our forgetfulness has wrought.

http://www.the-american-interest.com/ar ... ?piece=289
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Winston Churchill

"Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement." - Ronald Reagan

http://www.davidstuff.com/political/wmdquotes.htm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pbp0hur ... re=related

jbuck919
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Re: How little the U.S. knows of war

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jan 04, 2011 2:48 pm

By and large the casualties of the two current Asian wars are from the same socioeconomic stratum as those of Vietnam, and contrary to what is implied in that article, very many communities have felt losses that have hit close to home. Surely the difference is one of numbers. Though it implies an unattractive cynicism in our leadership to say so, there is not going to be mass civil protest over even a war of huge dubieties as long as the number of deaths is kept to only a few thousand mainly from the non-professional class spread over a decade.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Barry
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Re: How little the U.S. knows of war

Post by Barry » Tue Jan 04, 2011 4:02 pm

jbuck919 wrote:By and large the casualties of the two current Asian wars are from the same socioeconomic stratum as those of Vietnam, and contrary to what is implied in that article, very many communities have felt losses that have hit close to home. Surely the difference is one of numbers. Though it implies an unattractive cynicism in our leadership to say so, there is not going to be mass civil protest over even a war of huge dubieties as long as the number of deaths is kept to only a few thousand mainly from the non-professional class spread over a decade.
Actually, according to this study, the average income of those who enlist pretty much mirrors the average income of the American population at large. The middle class is over-represented. The lowest income group under-enlists in comparison to their proportion of the population at large. The highest income group showed the biggest increase in enlistment following 9/11:

http://www.heritage.org/research/report ... after-9-11


Here is a chart if you want to skip to the meat: http://www.heritage.org/static/reportim ... 708B48.gif


And before you dismiss the source, their sources are provided and difficult to dispute. Also, remember that while the average income may appear low, so many of the recruits come from southern areas where the cost of living is nowhere near what you and I are used to in our regions.
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Winston Churchill

"Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement." - Ronald Reagan

http://www.davidstuff.com/political/wmdquotes.htm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pbp0hur ... re=related

jbuck919
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Re: How little the U.S. knows of war

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jan 04, 2011 4:22 pm

Barry wrote:[
And before you dismiss the source,
No, I respect the Heritage Foundation for that much (and maybe a little more). :wink: Thanks for the information.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

jbuck919
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Re: How little the U.S. knows of war

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jan 04, 2011 5:11 pm

Then there is this, from GovernmentExecutive.com:

The Fallen: A profile of U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan
By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. National Journal May 28, 2004

Go tell the Spartans, you who've read,
We took their orders, and are dead.

Those words, freely translated from the ancient Greek, long marked the battlefield of Thermopylae. In 480 B.C., about 700 Greeks -- led by the Spartans, the best professional soldiers of the age -- held the narrow mountain pass against more than 100,000 troops of the Persian Empire, the Middle Eastern superpower of the day. It was a suicide mission: The Spartans stood their ground and died there, every last man. But their desperate rearguard action bought the rest of Greece the time to rally and, ultimately, to repel the invaders. In the process, the soldiers preserved from Persian despotism not only Greek independence, but also a peculiar Greek idea -- one the Spartans themselves were not too keen on -- called democracy.

The number of American troops killed so far in Iraq and supporting operations -- 801 as of this writing -- is almost the same as the number of Greeks killed at Thermopylae. But the rest of the situation is almost perfectly reversed. After 25 centuries, the seed of democracy, transplanted far across the sea, has grown into an empire itself. And now that democratic superpower has sent more than 100,000 troops -- the best professional soldiers of the age -- to invade the Mesopotamian heartland of the ancient Persian Empire, with the paradoxical purpose of imposing by force the freedom that land has never known. Just as in the days after the 700 Greeks fell at Thermopylae, the battle has been joined but the outcome hardly decided. The dying is not over yet.

But on the eve of Memorial Day, with the hand-over of some form of sovereignty to the Iraqis scheduled for the 30th of June, it is an appropriate moment to take pause and count the price. Add to the toll in Iraq the 122 U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan and in supporting anti-terrorism operations around the world -- in short, all the deaths that the military officially counts as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom -- and the total is now 923.

In the scales of history, a thousand bodies are almost too light to measure. Even a young and relatively unbloodied country such as the United States has borne heavier burdens, and for longer. More American troops died every month at the height of the Vietnam War in 1968. More American troops died in one day at the start of the Normandy invasion in World War II. More American civilians died in minutes on September 11, 2001, in either tower of the World Trade Center.

But on a human scale, a thousand dead are almost beyond imagining. Some concrete comparisons might help. It is as if every male student (plus two dozen women) at some smallish liberal arts college had been wiped out. If the dead from this war could somehow return, if they were guests at the next State of the Union address, every senator and representative in Congress would have to yield his or her seat on the floor of the House chamber to an Army soldier killed in the Middle East. Soldiers slain elsewhere, plus all the Marines, airmen, and sailors, would overflow onto the balcony. If the dead could attend a White House reception, if they passed through the receiving line at a brisk clip of about three seconds per person -- handshake; hello; thank you; next, please -- the president would be shaking their hands for roughly 45 minutes, nonstop.

Then there are the living left behind. The vast majority of the troops killed so far in the "global war on terror," as the Pentagon calls it, were young enough to be survived by both their parents. About half of the dead were married. They leave more than 580 children.

All Ages, All Specialties

The differences among the dead are as important as the totals. If there were an archetypal fatality from this war in Iraq, he -- and it would be a "he" -- would not be all that different from one in past wars: He would be an Army infantryman, slain in combat. Unlike his predecessors from most past conflicts, he would be from a metropolitan area, and he would have died after "major combat operations" were officially over. He would be 20 years old.

But while more of the dead fit this description than any other, they are by no means the majority. Like the rest of America, the dead have become more diverse both by race and gender -- 3 percent of the U.S. dead are women, compared with one-hundreth of 1 percent in Vietnam. And though the vast majority of the dead are ground troops from the Army and Marines -- today's enemies can hardly reach U.S. airplanes and ships -- they have also come from every branch of service and from dozens of military specialties.

In a global war without front lines, death has visited commandos and mechanics alike. Some have died heroically, such as Paul Smith, an Army combat engineer working at the supposedly secured Saddam Hussein International Airport on April 4, 2003, when more than 100 Iraqi Special Republican Guards staged a surprise attack. Smith grabbed the machine gun on his rocket-scorched M-113 armored vehicle and, like a Spartan at Thermopylae, held off the Iraqis until the rest of the Americans could rally. Some troops died without ever getting to face the men who killed them, such as Carl Curran and Mark Kasecky from the Pennsylvania National Guard, who were blown up by a makeshift roadside bomb (an "improvised explosive device" or IED) on May 16, 2004, in the western Iraqi town of Al Karmah. Some trained for years and traveled thousands of miles, only to die in random accidents; their ranks include Thomas Allison, James Dorrity, Jody Egnor, Curtis Feistner, Jeremy Foshee, Kerry Frith, William McDaniel, Bartt Owens, Juan Ridout, and Bruce Rushforth -- Army and Air Force Special Operations aviators whose helicopter conked out and crashed into the Philippine Sea on February 21, 2002.

Of the U.S. troops who have died in the global war against terrorism since 9/11, nearly a third -- 31.3 percent -- have perished not from enemy action but from accidents or illness. The percentage of such "nonhostile" deaths is an outright majority, 57.5 percent, in the actions grouped under Operation Enduring Freedom -- campaigns against terrorist groups in Afghanistan, the Philippines, and the Horn of Africa -- where fighting is less intense but the terrain more difficult. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, by contrast, 73 percent of deaths result from hostile action, which still falls short of the intensity of Vietnam, where hostile action accounted for 81 percent of deaths. However, in such unconventional wars, "hostile" does not mean "in battle"; roadside bombs, car bombs, and suicide bombs account for almost a third -- 29.4 percent -- of hostile deaths in Iraq.

Another difference from Vietnam is that the dead today, on average, are older and higher-ranking. "Two major changes both produce an older force," said David Segal, a military sociologist at the University of Maryland. First, where Lyndon Johnson was loath to call up the Reserves and National Guard, George W. Bush has leaned heavily on these troops, most of whom have spent a tour or two on active duty before becoming reservists. So the proportion of reservists among the dead has nearly doubled, from 10 percent in Vietnam to 17 percent today.

Second, the active-duty force itself is older, because the end of the draft and the rise of the all-volunteer Army has replaced young conscripts with more-professional, longer-serving troops.

So while more 20-year-olds still die than any other age group, the average age at death has risen, from just 22 and a half in Vietnam to almost 27 now. The average age is even higher, 29, in Afghanistan and other Operation Enduring Freedom actions worldwide, which tend to involve smaller, more-specialized, and more-experienced forces. Similarly, the most common rank at death in Vietnam was pay grade E-3 -- a private first class in the Army, equivalent ranks in other services -- whereas in Iraq today, it is E-4, specialist or corporal, and in Afghanistan it is E-5, sergeant.

These older soldiers are more likely to have families. Among the dead in Vietnam, single men outnumbered the married by more than 2-to-1. Today, the proportions are almost equal. And at least 40 percent of the troops killed in Iraq had children. So the young still suffer disproportionately -- but this time, it is a different subset of "the young."

Ethnicity

It is wrong to say that minorities are disproportionately bearing the burden. Whites are indeed slightly under-represented in today's active-duty military as a whole: They make up 64.2 percent of the force, compared with 69.1 percent of the U.S. population. (The reserve components are somewhat whiter.) But whites are slightly over-represented among the dead, at 70.9 percent.

Conversely, African-Americans are notably over-represented in the military as a whole. They make up 19.1 percent of the active-duty force, and a staggering 24 percent of the Army, as opposed to just 12.1 percent of the population. But blacks are not significantly over-represented among the dead of this global war: They make up only 12.4 percent.

The reason for this discrepancy, say experts, is that although blacks sign up in greater numbers, they cluster pragmatically in noncombat units whose training in mechanics, electronics, and logistics translates well into civilian careers upon leaving uniform. "The proportion of blacks to whites is very much smaller in the combat arms than in other branches," said retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, former commandant of the Army War College and a noted author. He added that Special Forces and aviation units have the smallest percentage of minorities of all segments of the military.

During the initial invasion of Iraq, the minority-heavy support units were strung out along poorly secured supply lines. That made them vulnerable to irregulars such as Saddam's Fedayeen -- as the capture of Jessica Lynch and the death of her American Indian comrade, Lori Piestewa, illustrated. Ironically, said Segal, even as the fighting in Iraq moved into anti-guerrilla warfare, support units moved into more-secure base areas, shifting the burden of casualties back onto the combat units actively hunting the insurgents. The pattern is even more pronounced in Afghanistan, where white-dominated elite units lead the hunt and take the heaviest losses. Helicopter pilots make up 6.4 percent of Army deaths in Operation Enduring Freedom but only 3.2 percent of Army deaths in Iraq; Special Forces make up 15.4 percent of Army dead in Enduring Freedom but only 1 percent in Iraq. Thus, the percentage of white casualties is highest, and that of blacks lowest, in Afghanistan and related operations; the percentage of blacks was highest, and that of whites lowest, during the initial invasion of Iraq. The ethnic mix for the current counterinsurgency in Iraq falls between those two extremes. In other words, the dead have gotten whiter as the insurgency has persisted.

The pattern for Hispanics is similar to that for blacks, although the differences are less extreme. The highest proportion of Hispanic dead came during the initial invasion of Iraq, the lowest in Afghanistan, with the Iraq insurgency's numbers falling in between. Overall, unlike blacks, Hispanics are significantly under-represented in the ranks of the military's living and -- to a lesser degree -- of its war dead. Hispanics make up 12.5 percent of the U.S. population but just 9 percent of the active-duty military (9.9 percent of the Army). They account for 11.1 percent of those killed worldwide. Hispanics' socioeconomic disadvantages help keep them out of uniform and out of danger: They are much more likely than other racial groups in the U.S. to drop out of high school and hence lack the diploma required to enlist.

The great exception, interestingly, is the Marine Corps, the service with the most aggressive warrior culture. Hispanics are slightly over-represented among living Marines, at 13 percent, and startlingly over-represented among the ones who have died, at 18.6 percent. If the archetypal casualty of this war is a white Army GI, a Hispanic Marine Corps rifleman lies close by his side.

How does all this compare with Vietnam? For blacks, the percentages are virtually identical: 12.4 percent of the dead in the war since 9/11 are listed as African-American, whereas 12.5 percent of the dead in Vietnam were then listed as "Negro."

But the terminology of the time is problematic in more ways than one. Most important, the category "Hispanic" did not exist in official forms or in most people's minds until the 1970s. As a result, the Hispanic death toll during Vietnam is hidden among the "Caucasian" and, to a lesser extent, the "Negro" figures. Attempts to reconstruct the Hispanic share of the Vietnam era give some high figures -- a quarter of those killed in action were Latino, by one estimate -- but rely on shaky methodologies, like guessing whether individual names sound Spanish. Academic sociologists such as Segal and the Defense Department's own official record-keepers agree that all racial and ethnic data from Vietnam (let alone Korea) are inherently suspect and dangerous to compare with current categories.

Class Warfare

Record-keeping has indeed improved since Vietnam. But one crucial bit of demographic data remains elusive even today: class. Vietnam is burned into memory as a war fought by the poor and the working class. After Vietnam and the end of the draft, many feared that the new all-volunteer force would still suck in only those with the worst options in life. The military of today, however, requires a high school diploma, rejects people with drug or other criminal offenses, and holds to other higher standards.

"There is a class effect, but not the one that people think," argued Peter Feaver, a professor of political science at Duke University. The most privileged don't bother to enlist, but the most disadvantaged don't qualify, so "it's the middle classes that are mostly represented in the military," Feaver said. "Obviously, folks who go into the military today are facing economic pressures. The biggest predictor of whether you're in the military today is the unemployment rate in your home county."

So do the disadvantaged do most of the dying? The Pentagon officially records educational attainments and home ZIP codes -- two of the best indicators of socioeconomic class. But the records are scattered across multiple databases in multiple formats, often buried in thousands of individual files, and, say Defense officials, prohibitively difficult to compile. The only readily available data on origins is "home of record," which is not only imprecise -- identifying a town rather than a demographically definable neighborhood -- but also potentially inaccurate. Young people often move away from home before enlisting, for example, and long-serving reservists often settle somewhere entirely different from where they lived at first enlistment. In a National Journal spot check of newspaper and wire-service obituaries for dead troops from seven states, 13 percent were found as having grown up somewhere other than in their official Pentagon "home of record."

Nonetheless, some conclusions can be teased out of the available data. A study done for the Austin American-Statesman by Bill Bishop and Robert Cushing revealed that, although the majority of the war dead come from what the Census Bureau calls "metropolitan" areas, which usually include close-in suburban counties, a disproportionately large share came from "nonmetro" counties. According to Bishop and Cushing, nearly a third (29 percent) of dead troops came from rural areas and small towns, compared with only a fifth (19 percent) of the general population. Given the concentration of political, economic, and cultural power in America's cities and near suburbs, and the slow dwindling of opportunity in many small towns, this analysis does suggest that the lower middle class is unduly bearing the burden. But the information is hardly conclusive. The definitive answers will take years to disinter. And in the end, the truth, like the dead, may be lost in the fog of war and time.

Nobody seems to be taking up the notion that absolute numbers of dead and the density of casualties over time make a decisive difference. So maybe I just made it up.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

John F
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Re: How little the U.S. knows of war

Post by John F » Tue Jan 04, 2011 7:09 pm

Excuse me, but what's the point here? Does Cohen want to bring back conscription? Does he want American civilians to despise and revile our military men and women, as during the Vietnam War? What's his problem?

As I remember it, the antiwar movement of the '60s and '70s tore our country apart. The protests were significantly fueled by the draft, which literally threatened the lives of a whole generation of young men, nearly 60,000 of whom were killed in action and over 150,000 were severely wounded - while a great many of these young men and their families felt the reasons given for these sacrifices and for the war itself were inadequate. A President was brought down by antiwar protests, many left the U.S. to evade being drafted, others including two recent Presidents found ways to avoid war service without risking imprisonment, four student protesters were shot to death by National Guardsmen on a college campus, and after all that, we lost the war.

The Iraqi and Afghanistan wars have been different. They followed and were officially justified by the worst attacks on American soil with the largest number of civilian deaths in the century (Pearl Harbor was not American soil at the time). They have involved far fewer casualties, and these have been suffered by an all-volunteer military. These factors account for the absence of anything approaching the antiwar protests of the '70s.

To say that today's all-volunteer military is "conscripted by culture and class" is, not to mince words, a flat lie. Conscription, by definition, is involuntary and compulsory; military service in the U.S. today is neither. If some individuals feel pressured to join up, these pressures are personal and private, and are not backed by the threat of a prison sentence.

And Cohen's characterization of the military as "something of a priesthood" is nonsense. There's no such mystique except perhaps in his own imagination. Now as always there are those who think highly of military men and military service (and politicians who exploit such feelings, whether sincerely or cynically), others who do not, and still others who hardly think about it. But who romanticizes it? There's no "Ballad of the Green Berets" at the top of the charts today, as there was in 1966. The Vietnam War was ended only 35 years ago, and the generation that served during the war and protested against it is mostly still alive. One Vietnam War hero (awarded the Silver Star and 2 Purple Hearts) ran for President as recently as 2004, and was attacked by those whom you'd expect to honor one who actually fought with valor in one of our country's wars. So much for the pro-military "priesthood."

I'm not going to deprecate Cohen's military service (in the reserve with what he says was a brief time on active duty) or harp on my own. These are not relevant to whatever he thinks he's talking about. By the way, once again, what might that be?
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Re: How little the U.S. knows of war

Post by living_stradivarius » Tue Jan 04, 2011 7:32 pm

Perhaps not full conscription but some years of mandatory service at least.
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Re: How little the U.S. knows of war

Post by John F » Tue Jan 04, 2011 7:40 pm

living_stradivarius wrote:Perhaps not full conscription but some years of mandatory service at least.
Such as? Unless it's military service, it would be irrelevant to this thread, I should think. As for me, I'm against involuntary servitude in general. :)
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Re: How little the U.S. knows of war

Post by Cosima___J » Tue Jan 04, 2011 11:51 pm

Thanks John F for your excellent post! You've expressed my sentiments exactly, but in far better prose than my poor abilities would permit.

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Re: How little the U.S. knows of war

Post by living_stradivarius » Wed Jan 05, 2011 6:10 am

The OP doesn't quite capture the profundity of the RMA that is really going on. To do so, we need to think about the complex interrelationship between society, technology and warfare.

1. The (military) technology we use reflects our social organization. The greeks were able to field agile, flexible hoplite armies as a result of their citizen-soldier democratic model. England, with its more flexible feudal system, could more easily incorporate longbowmen into its forces than the French. Effective use of firearms remained the preserve of mercenaries and elite troops (and the states that could hire/train them) for several centuries. Industrialized societies and nationalism were necessary before rapid conscription could be work (consider the speed of German mobilization vs. Russian mobilization in WW1).
Just as importantly, tactics, strategy, organization are all a kind of technology. Command and control is about a lot more than a particular type of situational awareness and communications system (e.g. C4ISR), it also encompasses procedures, doctrines, the cognitive processes of the people in the field and at HQ.
As a corollary, consider the proposition that a weapon without the right social background is useless. Consider that the 152 British soldiers at Rorke's drift were able to hold out against 3-4000 zulu soldiers despite possessing similar weaponry.

2. What is changing, however, is the degree to which our societies are dependent on technology. Critical infrastructure, logistics, communications, commerce, etc etc all depend on the web. We're all aware of the devastating potential of cyber-attacks.


3. These changes reflect a broader shift in the elements that constitute power. Whatever you may think of Clausewitz's famous dictum as a normative statement, it holds great analytic sway: "War is the extension of politics by other means" or, paraphrased, 'coercive power is the realization of state ends by other means'. What does this mean for the changing nature of warfare?
For most of human history, the main source of power and end of conquest has been land. Medieval and early modern wars served to extend the physical boundaries of the state. (With more complicated, centralized states and social organization came of course wars to control the center (wars of succession, civil wars, dynastic wars). This did not much change until 18th-19th century, when industrialization and nationalism raised the value of population and resource control. By the 20th century, we see conquest aimed at controlling particular populations or more specific natural resources (consider the incentives of most of the belligerents in WW2, middle eastern wars, proxy wars).

But social and technological changes also affect what kinds of state goals are realizable through war(like) action. Acquiring land through violent conquest is no longer an effective way to boost your economic production, competitive power, domestic legitimacy or international prestige. Economically - the agricultural output of most land is of negligible import; the immediate control of food supplies is of negligible values. Competition revolves far more around value-adding processes, controlling supply chains, market-making power. Conquest per se does not endear many rulers to their publics. And international law and the behavior of the international community (as much as there is one) have in theory deemed war with the end of gaining territory illegal and illegitimate. Perhaps most importantly, power is (ever more) fungible. Why conquer what you can buy. More so now than ever, economic power trumps military might.

This does not mean that force is without utility. Force is a useful tool to:
- clear the commons. There is nothing new to anti-piracy operations, but the interconnected nature of global commerce give them a new urgency
- disregard (Westphalian) borders. There is nothing new about failed states, but for similar reasons, we care more about the problems they breed (terrorism, piracy, organized crime).
- compel others to do as we wish. The US is particularly apt to reach for military force when it can't achieve its policy aims by less coercive means (eg Panama, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan).
- cause insecurity
- prevent others from doing as they wish.

The kinds of weapons we should be worried about aren't just space lasers and ray-guns, but cyber-attacks, trade weapons and so forth. And what's really freightening isn't just the existence of such weapons, but potential adversaries' higher willingness and ability to use them.

China's strategic thinking combines different theaters of coercive attack, including cyber attack, with economic power and social control to steal industrial and military secrets, threaten America's critical infrastructure, take advantage of our aversion to loss of life while itself rendering itself less vulnerable to such attacks.
Russia, in a similar vein, has a holistic conception of "information warfare" wherein attacks on systems (cyber-attacks), ideological attacks, controlling messaging and the media, and situational awareness and intelligence all bleed into one whole. Again, their lack of a free discourse and a paucity of non-state-influenced channels of communications help them carry out such a strategy while making themselves less vulnerable to similar attacks.

We see the utility, means and aims of post-modern warfare at work in the 2008 Georgian war. Russia's main goal was not to gain territory (though it may yet incorporate Abkhazia or S Ossetia), new subjects or direct control of resources. Rather, the attack allowed the government to stop Georgia's NATO ambitions, destabilize (and render too risky an investment) alternatives to Russian energy supplies (that might go through Georgia), and rally the domestic population. Though not fully successful, Russia attempted to coordinate media coverage and the public discourse in a manner that would leave Georgia appearing the aggressor.

In conclusion: The failures of US (and NATO defence planning) are a lot broader than picking the wrong weapons systems to develop. They include:
- insufficiently integrating concerns of domestic and international security, law enforcement and military work, into a whole that looks at deliverables and prevention
- too strong of a dividing line between military and civilian
- poor crisis reaction plans
- lagging doctrinal thinking
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Re: How little the U.S. knows of war

Post by living_stradivarius » Wed Jan 05, 2011 6:12 am

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/arc ... acy/68837/

Perhaps the DADT repeal is just what CMR needed... ROTC's back at Columbia :)
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Re: How little the U.S. knows of war

Post by HoustonDavid » Wed Jan 05, 2011 11:16 am

Henry (i.e. Strad), that was a borderline brilliant analysis of the historical changes
in warfare and those occurring now in modern warfare. Where did you get it, or was
this your own analysis?
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Re: How little the U.S. knows of war

Post by living_stradivarius » Wed Jan 05, 2011 7:05 pm

HoustonDavid wrote:Henry (i.e. Strad), that was a borderline brilliant analysis of the historical changes
in warfare and those occurring now in modern warfare. Where did you get it, or was
this your own analysis?
These are a culmination of things my classmates and I have been writing via e-mail, two of whom have military experience.

Re: Kaplan: There is a growing divergence between a secularizing and ever more socially liberal America and the conservative, devout military elite that defends it. This is also noticeable in the Israeli Defense Forces. That those who choose to risk their lives in the Nation's defense are more religious and conservative on average than their peers should worry the secular and centrists. It is not only a question of a breech between the military and society that must be filled, but also a ideological challenge to Enlightenment values. Across the post-Cold War world, religious fundamentalists on the street gain ground because their supporters are willing to shed their blood for their cause, whilst the enlightened in cafes cannot even shed pounds.

The trillion dollar question, then, is how do we achieve this new form of CMR in/across representative democracies without declaring martial law? Is it the only way of equalizing the playing field of post-modern warfare? How is the required level of cohesion across private, gov't,
and military sectors even possible in US, never mind NATO? Tech upgrades, as isolated as they seem, are still what keep NATO on its tenuous pedestal as the world's keepers of the peace.

Has power become so commodified that is truly that fungible? Beijing's economic power comes from others' adherence to the rules of the current economic system, which is rather problematic for a power that derives said leverage from selective violations of those strictures, such as currency manipulation. Beijing now seeks to buy Portuguese debt and purchase Greece's debt-funded infrastructure and businesses, for instance. A default by a single southern European nation could reveal a naked emperor. Protectionism would cripple China's factories. Beijing thrives only because the West's elites have been captured by the West's capital.

Ultimately so as to build power states must retain control over a population or 'biopower' that will produce wealth to purchase power or fight for power if necessary. Populations and biopower remain vulnerable to a gamut of weapons. Biopower itself can be challenged by the humblest of arms. China's leaders fear carriers, realizing that a naval defeat might so delegitimate them that they would be toppled even faster than the Argentine junta after the Falklands war. But this week the Politburo Standing Committee may be focusing as much on small arms as American carriers (Gunmen go on rampage: Three killed, six wounded - People's Daily Online), for they understand the depth of discontent and harbor an inbred fear of 'warlordism' in China proper.

Talk of trade weapons and cyber attacks on commerce leaves much ground for skepticism. Is there not a cyber balance of terror, where an attack on a large firm or financial sector would destabilize the entire global economy? Russia's cyber attacks on Estonia and Georgia achieved precisely the opposite of their intentions, strengthening those countries resolve and that of allies. Had those countries held the loyalty of more hacktivists, Russia might even have lost considerably as its commerce was attacked. And Wikileaks will likely engender a recompartmentalization of classified information within government.

Though I carp at their development, I nonetheless agree with Luukas' conclusions. Because cyberattack challenges democracies by blurring the lines between domestic security and warfare to an even greater extent than terrorism, I'm not even certain cyberdefense should be a primarily military function. The culture clash alone between technologists and military institutions seems an issue. Perhaps the primary authority should be agencies placed within ministries of the interior and DHS in the US. This crisis would be an excellent opportunity to give DHS to grownups, and bolster the role of NATO by naming it the coordinating authority for MoIs and DHS.

Just to quibble with the use of Rorke's Drift as demonstrating the effect of superior organization or leadership, I would argue that battle is instead an example of the decisive role of technology. 152 desperate Britons found themselves trapped at a religious mission station by 3,000 to 4,000 Zulus. They had Martini-Henri rifles and benefited from cover at that compound, while the Zulus fought in the open and preferred their short stabbing spears or iklwa. Shortly before, 1,700 troops from the same regiment were wiped out at the hands of 10,000 to 15,000 Zulu in the Battle of Isandlwana. Those Britons simply had not received enough ammunition from ample stocks and defended too large a perimeter.

Colonial powers learned the lesson well and with sufficient ammunition for their repeating and then bolt-action rifles, machine guns and breech-loaded artillery were able to annihilate their subjects. At the Battle of Omdurman in 1898 8,000 British troops with 17,000 Egyptian auxiliaries defeated over 50,000 Sudanese warriors, killing nearly 10,000 of them at a cost of only forty-seven men. A young Winston Churchill, taking part in the British Army's last cavalry charge, witnessed how the British unpacked their machine guns and assembled their riflemen, and fired for hours into the charging Sudanese. Few got to within 100 feet of British lines. Somehow European officers never pondered the consequences of their turning this marvelous technology upon one another, and the result was the slaughter of WWI.

Western technological superiority in ground combat ended only at the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, which signaled the end of European colonial rule throughout the world. To this day ground combat remains Western powers' Achilles Heel, as the casualty ratio is not favorable enough to be able to win the war of wills through attrition. Whereas before Europe's foes submitted to the most heinous colonial rule rather than face hopeless combat, today any terrorist start-up can enter the market knowing that staying power counts more than firepower.

Though I'm the first to argue against an excessive focus on technological solutions to enduring military quandaries within certain aspects of the American military in particular, I would claim counter insurgency doctrine depends on technology, for COIN can only work if given enough time. The costs of COIN must be so low as to render operations palatable to electorates - unless the counter insurgents hold the unflinching support of a decisive majority of their nation's population before they earn that of their host country's population. Apart from a handful who object on principle, opposition to the war in Afghanistan - or even that in Iraq - would have been mute if few Americans were losing their lives and the wars less costly.

Hence DOD pursues full spectrum dominance and launched a mini-Manhattan project to defeat IEDs, the principle source of American casualties, in addition to enthusiastically adopting drones and ground-based unmanned vehicles. The best weapon in ground combat is still a highly-trained and motivated infantryman. But in aging, herbivore societies he is an increasingly rare asset that must become more survivable. The future is robotics.

To return to Beijing, what is rather worrisome is when the world's most powerful Leninist party develops antidotes to America's carrier battle groups and the means to air superiority, as we are again reminded today:

Chinese J-20 Stealth Fighter In Taxi Tests | AVIATION WEEK; China Rolls Out Its First Stealth Aircraft - NYTimes.com.
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Re: How little the U.S. knows of war

Post by HoustonDavid » Fri Jan 07, 2011 4:01 pm

I have avoided responding to Cohen's Op-Ed because for anyone who has served in the military during wartime, it is a deeply personal and difficult subject to talk about with "civilians".

I know Cohen to be correct - my Vietnam generation (John's too) - was the last great swath of the American population to be swept up into the military and take part in a war of sizable dimension. Those who actually had to face the enemy and leave blood on the ground are even fewer in number, including Cohen, and I presume John and myself.

Cohen is correct that familiarity (with the Armed services) breeds much more contempt
than adulation. I can say truthfully, as does Cohen: "I found the Army (Marine Corps in my case) to be no better and no worse than other large institutions. Some of its leaders were fools, and some soldiers were thieves, and everyone wasted money like there was no tomorrow. This is the truth and everyone once knew it."

If there is any branch of the military "most admired", I believe it would be my Marine Corps. We still wear that "dashing" dress uniform so admired by new recruits who will probably never actually wear one.

Marines have always been noted, rightly or wrongly, as being the "toughest" of the services: "You don't mess with a Marine!" But that too is largely a myth. Those I served with were much more average guys than toughies, and those that tried to be "bad-ass" were generally looked down on.

John is right, in that:
John F wrote: As I remember it, the antiwar movement of the '60s and '70s tore our country apart. The protests were significantly fueled by the draft, which literally threatened the lives of a whole generation of young men, nearly 60,000 of whom were killed in action and over 150,000 were severely wounded - while a great many of these young men and their families felt the reasons given for these sacrifices and for the war itself were inadequate. A President was brought down by antiwar protests, many left the U.S. to evade being drafted, others including two recent Presidents found ways to avoid war service without risking imprisonment, four student protesters were shot to death by National Guardsmen on a college campus, and after all that, we lost the war.
No one who was part of the military during those terrible and nation-changing years would want a repeat to occur regarding the circumstances of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the very capable armed forces who are fighting those wars.
John F wrote:And Cohen's characterization of the military as "something of a priesthood" is nonsense. There's no such mystique except perhaps in his own imagination. Now as always there are those who think highly of military men and military service (and politicians who exploit such feelings, whether sincerely or cynically), others who do not, and still others who hardly think about it. But who romanticizes it?"
I believe John interprets Cohen wrongly when he quotes him about a military priesthood. I believe Cohen is speaking to our current perspective of the military rather than the decidedly negative perceptions of the 60's and 70's. One only has to view the recruitment advertising for military service on television to realize this is a new view of those who choose to serve.

We have returned to the great mythos of "romantic" war, where the John Wayne school of film making led us after our fathers came home from the real bloodbath that was World War II. It is personified in the bloodless military games so popular with our children, and even some adults who have never worn a uniform. "Wannabes" is what the cop culture would call them.

Unfortunately, there is also a growing disparity between our perception of the new professional military and our civilian world without any military history or realistic perception of it. Henry and his astute colleagues describe it well:
living_stradivarius wrote:There is a growing divergence between a secularizing and ever more socially liberal America and the conservative, devout military elite that defends it.
And with that segue I will refer you back to Henry's (Strad's) two near-brilliant analyses posted above. Reread them, then "let's get it on" in a discussion of our past and present military, their perception by civilians, their present iconic nature, and their past sorrows. There are many paradoxes here. As Cohen says: "War is too important to be left to the generals," the wise saying goes. Too horrible, too.
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Re: How little the U.S. knows of war

Post by John F » Fri Jan 07, 2011 11:09 pm

HoustonDavid wrote:I believe John interprets Cohen wrongly when he quotes him about a military priesthood. I believe Cohen is speaking to our current perspective of the military rather than the decidedly negative perceptions of the 60's and 70's. One only has to view the recruitment advertising for military service on television to realize this is a new view of those who choose to serve.

No, I was referring to today's attitudes, not those of 40 years ago. (Is it possible?) Of course there are those today who romanticize the military, as there always have been. But as far as I can see, this is no more widespread than it has been in the past - rather less so than when I was a kid.

If we were fighting a popular war that the whole nation could get behind, such as World War II, it would be different - and the entertainment media would profit by exploiting pro-military sentiment, as it did so conspicuously and profitably during the '40s and '50s. I see no "John Wayne school of film making" today, nor do those old movies turn up on TV. Remember Audie Murphy? He was the most decorated soldier in WWII and then a successful movie star. I'll bet few born after 1960 have even heard of him, let alone seen his movies such as the autobiographical "To Hell and Back," a huge popular and financial success in its time.

So we have different perceptions of American attitudes toward the military today. Might have something to do with where we live, or something. No doubt there's something in what each of us says.
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Re: How little the U.S. knows of war

Post by living_stradivarius » Sat Jan 08, 2011 4:41 am

HoustonDavid wrote: Marines have always been noted, rightly or wrongly, as being the "toughest" of the services: "You don't mess with a Marine!" But that too is largely a myth. Those I served with were much more average guys than toughies, and those that tried to be "bad-ass" were generally looked down on.
Though the Marine Corps OCS test is by far the most grueling, at least it has been so in recent times. And the incentives driving USMC enlistment are entirely different - those who choose to join have to be both focused and extraordinarily capable, nor do they expect to get any of financial benefits Army, Navy, and Air Force recruits get in the form of college aid etc.
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Re: How little the U.S. knows of war

Post by lennygoran » Sat Jan 08, 2011 8:08 am

"The other problem is that the military has become something of a priesthood. It is virtually worshipped for its admirable qualities while its less admirable ones are hardly mentioned or known. It has such standing that it is awfully hard for mere civilians - including the commander in chief - to question it."

This quote of Cohen's is hard for me to accept--in the old days when I was growing up--the late 1940's and the 1950's-- I don't remember our troops being criticized at all. Vietnam was a big turn around on this imo. Since then the public seems much more alert on the military and I don't see it being treated a a priesthood at all. Just a few days ago on the news I saw the interview with Williams and Boehner.

"In his first interview since being sworn-in as House Speaker, John Boehner struggled to identify budget cuts that could be made to reduce government spending. The one-on-one with NBC News' Brian Williams aired on Thursday night...

"I believe there's room, to find savings in the Department of Defense," explained the Ohio Republican. "There are a lot of needs at the Department of Defense. And I think Secretary Gates has a reasonable plan to allow the service chiefs to go in there and root out wasteful spending -- so they can find the money that they're going to need to make sure that we have the weapons of the future."

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/0 ... 05576.html

Regards, Len

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Re: How little the U.S. knows of war

Post by HoustonDavid » Sat Jan 08, 2011 10:56 am

Len and John, I would agree with you on the point you make that "the priesthood"
of the military (in the eyes of "civilians") has diminished rather than strengthened
as Cohen propounds. I think that can be directly attributed to the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan.

The first Gulf War was a roll-over with almost no casualties, which we - particularly
the "civilians" - attributed to the military leaders at the time: Colin Powell and Norman
Schwarzkopf. They were certainly very capable men whose strategies were indeed
largely responsible for the quick victory. This probably is part of the reason for
attributing "priesthood" status upon our very successful officer and General Officer Corps.

The prolonged problems, both military and political, with the on-going wars have
certainly knocked down our perceptions of the infallibility of our generals, in particular.
The politicians and the White House have been forced to realize that incompetence
is as prevalent in the military as in any large organization, as Cohen rightly points out.
The firing of Stanley McCrystal - rightly or wrongly - is one example.

Secretary of Defense Bob Gates is another example of seeing the military - and its
bloated budget full of weapons for large-scale conflicts of old - for the monolith it is,
and working to reduce its budget and weapons procurement programs to a more
manageable and realistic scale. It looks as though he has the backing of some in the
new Congress and the White House in particular.

He will be sorely missed. We can only hope his replacement is as realistic and motivated
as he has been to reduce the swollen Pentagon budget and dump unnecessary programs.
We can better use the money elsewhere. We can also hope the Congress will use it wisely
rather than wastefully, as they so often do.
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Re: How little the U.S. knows of war

Post by John F » Sun Jan 09, 2011 6:54 am

Is Secretary Gates leaving any time soon? I missed that.
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Re: How little the U.S. knows of war

Post by lennygoran » Sun Jan 09, 2011 8:11 am

>Is Secretary Gates leaving any time soon? I missed that.<

Gates to Leave Pentagon by End of 2011

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/08 ... tagon-end/

I had missed it too! Regards, Len

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Re: How little the U.S. knows of war

Post by John F » Sun Jan 09, 2011 9:29 am

Ah so.
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