Dec 30 2014
James Fallow's of The Atlantic magazine has written a must read, thought provoking article, on the current state of civil-military relations. It is a long read, but it is well worth your time. In it, he highlights the real hypocrisy of a country that fawns over its military to the point of idolatry, yet allows its elected leadership to condemn them to unending and repetitive deployments and wars that accomplish nothing in the national interest, get a lot of fine young men killed and wounded for nothing, and insulates itself from understanding the true cost of the wars they so cavalierly cheerlead.
Outsiders treat [the US military] both too reverently and too cavalierly, as if regarding its members as heroes makes up for committing them to unending, unwinnable missions and denying them anything like the political mindshare we give to other major public undertakings, from medical care to public education to environmental rules. The tone and level of public debate on those issues is hardly encouraging. But for democracies, messy debates are less damaging in the long run than letting important functions run on autopilot, as our military essentially does now. A chickenhawk nation is more likely to keep going to war, and to keep losing, than one that wrestles with long-term questions of effectiveness.
In the body of the article he highlights what many in the military will private admit, and is a subject I have written about many times here; the fact that a lot of the military's problems are not caused by its political leadership-its self induced pain that comes from some very flawed policies by the perfumed princes that now inhabit the 3 and 4 star ranks of the services. This is especially true in the area of acquisition, which can't seem to buy anything efficiently and where warfighters are treated as persona non grata. Instead we see people who have been the acquisition community their entire careers ( like a certain director of a major DOD agency a couple of years ago) who could not lead or for that matter purchase anything either.
America’s distance from the military makes the country too willing to go to war, and too callous about the damage warfare inflicts. This distance also means that we spend too much money on the military and we spend it stupidly, thereby shortchanging many of the functions that make the most difference to the welfare of the troops and their success in combat. We buy weapons that have less to do with battlefield realities than with our unending faith that advanced technology will ensure victory, and with the economic interests and political influence of contractors. This leaves us with expensive and delicate high-tech white elephants, while unglamorous but essential tools, from infantry rifles to armored personnel carriers, too often fail our troops.
At this point the letters, LCS, should be coming into your mind. Fallows picks on the F-35 which is a fine target, but in reality all of the services have their own boneheaded procurement decisions and the Navy is no exception. The American people no longer look at their military in an objective vein, recognizing both its successes and flaws-and even worse, personnel within the military seem all too willing to buy into their own hype holding themselves out as supermen who are above the level of the civilians they so ably serve. One has only to go some of the major military blogs and read the swill that passes for a comment section. Besides making you despair about the mental ability of a certain segment of the human race, it proves the incongruity that one of Fallows' readers quite accurately pointed out. They rail with fervor about issues they know nothing about.
I am an [post-Vietnam era] West Point grad. Resigned after 5 years.
Your article is spot on. I often wonder what the rest of the world thinks of us when at each major sporting event, we have fly overs of fighter planes, B-52s, Apache helicopters and legions of troops getting awards at halftime.
I see in my classmates a total divorce from civilian reality. They live in a rarefied world where they are the only ones who are honest, law abiding, and religious.
They totally disdain social welfare programs as they receive health benefits to death, commissary privileges, and pensions. In their view, civilians are not worthy of these programs.
It is a dangerous slope we are on where we worship the troops, have no clue what they do, or why, and as along as we don't need to know, we are happy.
I hope your article stirs discussion. I fear it won't. The coup may in fact be coming.
The incongruity, and to put it bluntly, hypocrisy, of those who are vocally speaking out against other people having benefits that improve their lives, while at the same time enjoying some of the best benefits available from any employer is indeed rich. But don't try telling them that-they are special people. Don't you know that? So long as you agree with them, that is. Others of us, who served longer and equally as well but have arrived at different conclusions-get cast out into the outer darkness.
It's a dangerous phenomenon, and the ideas of people like John Nagl who defend the idea of a "Praetorian Guard" are troubling to me. Nagl thinks that because the troops "know what they are signing up for……..They are proud to do it, and in exchange they expect a reasonable living, and pensions and health care if they are hurt or fall sick. The American public is completely willing to let this professional class of volunteers serve where they should, for wise purpose. This gives the president much greater freedom of action to make decisions in the national interest, with troops who will salute sharply and do what needs to be done.”
You should be very afraid when you hear that-at least if you believe in the concept of a democracy that serves the citizens of the country. Too much history shows us where this can lead if we are not careful. Cue Fallows again:
I like and respect Nagl, but I completely disagree. As we’ve seen, public inattention to the military, born of having no direct interest in what happens to it, has allowed both strategic and institutional problems to fester.
“A people untouched (or seemingly untouched) by war are far less likely to care about it,” Andrew Bacevich wrote in 2012. Bacevich himself fought in Vietnam; his son was killed in Iraq. “Persuaded that they have no skin in the game, they will permit the state to do whatever it wishes to do.”
Shall I remind you of the things that "have needed to be done" that have been done in your name, like torture and warrantless wiretapping? Just a couple in a long list of abuses aided and abetted by the members of that "Praetorian Guard". The problem of the civil- military disconnect is real and dangerous.
In the end of the article, Fallows turns to the recommendations in a never before published memo from Gary Hart which is also worth your time to read. I will comment on those in a post after the first of the new year.
Many of you will not like Fallows term "chicken hawk"-but he's right on the mark in my humble opinion. The United States wasted the first 15 years of the new century going down foreign policy ratholes. And big part of that is because the American people are insulated from the sacrifices and the true costs of the policies they casually cheerlead. Fallows is doing a national service in pointing that out and I applaud him for it.
For the first time in the nation’s history, America has a permanent military establishment large enough to shape our dealings in the world and seriously influence our economy. Yet the Americans in that military, during what Dunlap calls the “maturing years of the volunteer force,” are few enough in number not to seem representative of the country they defend.
“It’s becoming increasingly tribal,” Dunlap says of the at-war force in our chickenhawk nation, “in the sense that more and more people in the military are coming from smaller and smaller groups. It’s become a family tradition, in a way that’s at odds with how we want to think a democracy spreads the burden.”