One of the most popular techniques of marketing (or propaganda) is Testimonial, which can be also employed for entirely altruistic and positive ends. This is especially true in the halls of the US Congress, where requisite expertise is often rather lacking and where nonsense abounds. One area that is taking on ever increasing importance to the nation in that Congress concerns matters military.
Senator John McCain is widely regarded as an undisputed expert on all things military, due mostly to his achieving very well deserved military hero status during the war in Vietnam. He is thus a frequent testimonial voice regarding military matters, both in Congress and in the media. But Senator McCain spent almost all of that war in a tiny torturous prison cell, and as a carrier jet fighter pilot never set foot in South Vietnam, never experienced ground warfare, conventional or unconventional, and speaks little that is in synch with a modern soldier’s world, with Army and Marine soldiers who today experience 98% of war casualties.
Still, Senator McCain is far better than nothing in Congress. By 1975 members of Congress with military experience were at 70%; today it’s below 20%, the lowest since 1940, and most of them served just brief tours in the National Guard or Reserves. None is a women. We no longer use a draft, and over half of our adult population is still exempt from even registering for the draft, so only a tiny portion of our population has any real understanding of the US military. The majority of that “understanding” now comes from popular culture that is childishly way off the mark. Most Americans don’t even understand the many differences between the Regular forces, the National Guard and the Reserves.
No longer the giant powerhouse of 1985, the US Regular military workforce today is about the same size as the Wal-Mart workforce, and most civilians think that “power” is all about nifty high tech potent machines. It doesn’t seem to dawn on anyone that our “powerful” military in 2011 has been fighting for ten years (!) a potent enemy that doesn’t own ANY machines, yet they’ve still killed or maimed over 30,000* of our soldiers! 30,000! And that was AFTER the Navy’s “Mission Accomplished”. (Thank God a million times for that super great body armor!) Were those soldiers just inanimate widgets?
Since today there is a significant disconnect between the military and civilian worlds, a testimonial voice like Senator McCain’s is welcomed, even though a better one, one with actual modern ground combat leadership experience, as a mid-level career professional, would be desirable. And the more such voices the better. Of course, even better would be a few of these who are women. It is very easy for such a Congress, susceptible to all sorts of interest group propaganda and money, plus inherent naiveté, to put funds, attention and policies in the wrong places and in the wrong ways, and still think that they have done the right thing. This is a very dangerous situation.
Consider: A commentator in the London Guardian (Younge, 30 Jan 11), recently marveling at the high regard Americans have for their military – “on a scale rarely seen anywhere else in the West”, also observed that a Pew survey found that over an 18-week period last year, fewer than 1 in 10 Americans said that the war (presumably the one in Afghanistan) was a top news story they were following in any given week. “The country, it seems has moved on. The trouble is, the troops are still there,” he wrote. A month later Navy man McCain was repeatedly urging with considerable emotion that the President order the military to attack Libya! Was this military “expert” saying: “Damned the soldiers; find some use for the machines!” ? Despite the public’s perception that our Navy and Air Force whiz-bang toys can do anything, for the past ten years a small portion of those toys have been properly employed mostly in supporting ground soldiers do the toughest job there is; the remaining portion has been mostly idle. Sooner or later the public is going to ask why they pay for all those incredibly expensive toys when what they really need is soldiers willing to risk everything on the ground up close and personal with nothing but a rifle.
General Powell was correct: “You break it, you own it.” The US Army spent over thirty years training the Egyptian army, so we knew that the Egyptian army would be the necessary glue holding the country together until the quite well developed political, economic, business and academic communities in that country figured out how to run the place without a dictatorship. In Libya all we have are disorganized bands of unknown “rebels”, apparently without leadership or an effective organization, or even credible military expertise. The country has no credible educated elements who can step into a vacuum created by Gaddafi’s departure. If he is removed, the country will descend into chaos. Which elements will then come in to exploit that situation, for what purpose? At that point there will be more emotional demands for the “international community” to “step in”, i.e., send in ground soldiers. Americans today never seem to have an acceptable answer for, “What comes next?” when they are busy demanding that “someone else” go do something today.
The history of the past half century has shown that a chaotic and leaderless Libya will mean US ground soldiers, because everyone else has now perfected the best way to get the Americans to do all the heavy lifting in these things. The EU has both a population and an economy larger than those of the US, and still they contribute less than 30% of what would by objective standards be considered an equitable share of the load in the world. The Europeans are never going to commit their ground soldiers to Libya. The US Army has lost more than twice as many women over the last ten years in war than any country in continental Europe has lost men, even though American women are barred from combat! Over 85% of our whiz bang toys have remained sidelined for the last ten years of warfare while our ground soldiers die. War is fought on the ground, where actual humans live, and when US soldiers go in to Libya, given the state the populace, they will be there for at least twenty years. Are we to repeat such action in every country that is very likely to see internal conflict over the coming years?
All those bloviating armchair generals with hidden domestic political agendas screaming for the US military to “do something” are always the first to abandon those soldiers and move on to the next “crisis” when things don’t go the way they never considered already at step #3. Whenever these emotional “crises” come up on the boob tube, everyone is very quick to use the imperial “we”, but what they really mean is that “someone else”, some dumb people we pay to die, should go do the hard stuff for “me”, that no one else – no other group, no other country, no other organization, no other group of countries – has a similar responsibility, and that what happens is important enough to our national defense for ground soldiers to sacrifice their lives for “me”. ALL “elitist” armchair generals want to re-engineer the world according to THEIR wishes, when time after time history has shown that it’s always best to let the people involved decide their own fate. IF those people request our help, then that possibility should be seriously considered, AFTER those people have demonstrated some capability of their own – so that it’s reasonably probable the result will not be worse than either the ensuing process or the former status. When one is the world’s single super-power, the most dangerous word in American English is the imperial “we”; more often than not is just a cover for ulterior objectives or a cheap substitute for individual self-worth. Talk is the cheapest thing there is.
Just what does attacking Libya have to do with defending the US Constitution, defending the nation? (How did we regard the attack on Pearl Harbor?)
My guess is that those soldiers will still be there in Afghanistan, and dying, ten years from now, forgotten and alone long after our smarter “allies” have gone home. Now we want to repeat that insanity in Libya?
What we need is a truly universal Draft and a 50-50 split among our ground combat soldiers that is evenly American men and American women. Maybe then more Americans back home would think these things through to their logical conclusions, before the fact.
“In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress.” – John Adams
(See “The Constitution And The Military” and “Smiling Faces And Purple Fingers – And Egypt”, posted separately.)
Note: Libya, until 1947 an Italian colony, was the target of the very first American foreign intervention, when in 1801 President Jefferson sent a flotilla against the Barbary Coast pirate slave states while a US Marine expeditionary force attacked Tripoli from the rear across the desert from Egypt. Although the brave and costly US military efforts were for naught when the US, unknown to the deployed US forces, in 1805 agreed to pay a ransom for the release of prisoners held by the Barbary Muslim pirates, that event became rightly enshrined in the Marines Corps hymn.
* That’s SIX modern aircraft carriers, with full ship’s company and air wing each. US casualties Iraq and Afghanistan as of 1 March 2011: KIA: Iraq – 4,440 / Afghanistan – 1,510 / Total – 5,950 Wounded (Not Returned to Duty): Iraq – 13,936 /Afghanistan – 3,159 / Total – 17,095 Total KIA/WIA – 23,040 (Another 7000 wounded were returned to duty)