by Andy Weddington
Friday, 17 August 2012
"A tour of duty, in whatever line he can be most useful to his country, is due from every individual." Thomas Jefferson
For today an off-beat approach but not intended to minimize the topic. Rather, the tack so taken as to make an impression that sticks, that lasts. Maybe it works.
AME ICA -- the 'R' is missing! And that leaves A"ME" problem. I'll get back to that.
In 1976, May through August, the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Military Personnel, from the Committee on Armed Services, held hearings on Marine Corps Recruit Training and Recruiting Programs. Last week I read more than 1,200 transcribed pages of testimony and am still digesting the sworn words of congressmen; a Navy admiral or two; Marines--brand new private to four-star general; recruiters; drill instructors; doctors; policy wonks; and others.
The purpose of my ongoing research is to better understand Marine Corps history increasing officer supervision in recruit training as a measure to stop recruit abuse, and then to write more about changes in supervision noticed during a recent visit to recruit depot Parris Island. That commentary will have to wait. For something else, of relevance these days, stood out in the transcripts--remarks between congressmen and questions posed to flag officers as to the merits of the All-Volunteer Force (A-VF).
Some congressmen opined they didn't believe the A-VF was a good idea. First, they didn't think it would work--in that it'd be impossible to recruit and sustain a military of the caliber required. Second, they saw it as harmful to the psyche and cohesion of our country--in that there wouldn't be shared responsibility amongst our citizenry for national defense. Today, some view the second concern as prophetic.
We're a country at war for more than a decade--two wars as well as battling high sea piracy and sundry threats e.g. drug smuggling around the globe, and it's taxing manpower and equipment. But that's not all. An article in the paper earlier this week noted the Russians are again probing our airspace along the west coast and one of their submarines recently patrolled the Gulf of Mexico undetected for a month.
This poking and prodding, this testing, of America's capabilities and resolve is ongoing while defense budgets are under assault from within; the force is being down-sized; the president winks to a Russian diplomat and whispers (thank god for hot mikes) he'll have more flexibility after being reelected; and national security intelligence secrets are leaked from the White House. It's not so much interesting as scary as hell and raises the question, "At what point do patriots in Congress, who swore allegiance to the United States of America--not their party or the president--band, stand, shake a clenched fist, and defiantly shout, 'Enough!'"?
Back to the concerns of the congressmen...
Since the A-VF, fighting our wars has not required a draft but that may not have been for our country's greater good. Today, about 1% of our populace, volunteers all, shoulder the heavy load of military service. Multiple deployments, to combat zones, is more common than not. The stress on people (including families) and equipment is taking a toll. Suicides in our military are climbing. As for the people, volunteer or not, what's a citizen's fair share? And furthermore, is it not troubling many an adult citizen does not know anyone in the military, or know anyone who knows anyone in the military, and many of these folks--self-absorbed playing computer games, texting, and following silly unreal 'reality' TV programs--carry on with daily life oblivious we're at war? Something is wrong.
Barely a day passes that a casualty notification, a combat death, from the Department of Defense does not hit my email inbox. If I happen to be sitting at the computer when one arrives, I stop whatever in progress and take a moment to read it--names, units, home towns, and circumstances of the death(s)--and then think about the sacrifices and devastated families. I've been tracking for years and each notice as sobering as the last.
Last Friday three Marines were murdered, a fourth injured, by a "friendly" Afghan police officer. The DoD release arrived in my inbox Monday--a captain, gunnery sergeant, and staff sergeant; probably a small unit headquarters. What happened? Most likely trust was established over some time, then complacency set in and they carelessly let their guard down, and were betrayed. In a second incident the same day, an Afghan disguised in a uniform murdered three Marines and injured a fourth.
Sitting 10,000 miles away in the comfort of home, these deaths seem senseless and it's difficult to understand knowing Marines are better trained and led. Tough lessons. No doubt the Marines are angry and riled to retaliate. But don't expect the assassins to be killed like the mangy dogs they are and corpses 'watered down' by Marines. Such behavior, not a year ago yet, was admonished as a breach of battlefield good order and discipline. Many, including combat veterans, scratched their head. That's putting it kindly. Two commentaries addressed and we'll leave it at that.
But I, among many thousands with family deployed, digress to opine on a war that's close to home.
Back to the issues...
Is the A-VF working? More importantly, is our country suffering a serious long foreseen consequence from the A-VF?
As to working, it depends to whom you pose the question. But the bottom line is so far the world's most capable military has not faltered defending our country. Keep in mind that's thanks to a tiny fraction of the populace who voluntarily take a step forward.
What about from the macro, good of society, angle that was on the minds of congressmen?
Some believe ridding shared responsibility, a glue that binds a citizenry, for something as basic as national defense has contributed to A"ME" society--that is, country supporting citizens vice citizens serving country. Growing masses depending on government support, accelerating during the past few years, support that hypothesis.
The A"ME" mindset and behavior, to considerable extent, is a tone set at the top. The president firmly believes in handing risk adverse, non-working people the earnings of people who take risks and work hard. Or as he sees and explained it, "Spread the wealth around." He understands humans are innately self-serving, so he's exploited and succeeded slicing our country into A"ME" cohorts--mobs that live and grow and cause havoc at the expense of others. As a consequence and predictably, bickering amongst ourselves is unlike anything ever seen. And this madness from the candidate for president who vowed to unite America. Were we not a country in crisis, it'd be hilarious. But more serious it could not be. Quite the stark contrast to a president, a decorated combat veteran, who said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." For those too young to remember, that was the charge of John F. Kennedy.
How and why the A"ME" syndrome?
One thought is the concerns and vision of our yesteryear congressmen. There's that void of a common bonding--irrespective of race, creed, socioeconomic class, gender--experience that's realized through personal sacrifice, shared hardship as part of a team, and hard work and perseverance in military training and service. The more citizens who share that experience, the better for our country. But we don't have it. We haven't had it for a long time. And sometimes it takes a while for something to bubble into a problem. We're there.
Granted, no amount of training will ever completely extinguish Mother Nature's ways. But where there's experience and understanding that self is subservient to team there's common bond for teamwork; as a country. For example, on a small scale, it explains why Marines, under fire, move forward. And why Marines, under attack, stand their ground. I know there are readers, military and civilian, who understand. And some of them bear a heavy cross. One's Marine son, who stood his ground firing his weapon to the end, was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. Important ideas like duty, selflessness, and mission accomplishment pertain.
As means of travel and communication continue to shrink our world, our country is square in the gun sights of determined enemies--bad guys coming at us from all directions; on the ground, in the air, under water, and in the cyber world. As such, is there a more basic obligation from an able bodied/able-minded citizen than service, in some capacity, to protect and defend our country? Any doubt as to what those congressmen would think?
Appreciating the impracticality of every single citizen serving in the military, is there an alternate line? Though best addressed in another conversation, the idea of some sort of national service, perhaps after high school and before college, no exceptions, has been suggested before. With that service, like military, being characterized by personal sacrifice, shared hardship, and teamwork. Imagine how different our college campuses, the college experience, and the multifaceted benefits to citizens and country. By default there would be a new tone in America.
As for the congressmen who felt moving to an A-VF would be to the detriment of our country, they just may have been on to something. Considering today's fractured populace, is compulsory service, whether military or something else, a necessary means to restore a national psyche, a sense of cohesion? Possibly.
I certainly don't have the answer(s) but do know in our crazy world there may come a time, sooner than later, for the necessity of more than volunteers to serve, and that can do no harm. As Thomas Jefferson felt a tour of duty to country from every individual was in order, might we be well-served to reflect on the wisdom of a distinguished Founding Father?
What's at stake in this election? The 'R'!
Is it coincidental, serendipitous, or fate that Romney, Ryan, and Republican begin with 'R'?
So, finally, below is my original visual -- a suggestion for the campaign -- an addition to 'The Art of the Presidency' ... http://acoloneloftruth.blogspot.com/2012/07/art-of-presidency.html