Thursday, May 19, 2011
Armed Forces Day
Saturday, May 21, is Armed Forces Day. Unless you are on active duty, a military family member, or a veteran, I suspect this is one national holiday that slips under the radar of most Americans.
I am a veteran, U.S. Army, Second Infantry Division, Second Engineer Battalion, formerly based in Fort Benning, Georgia. If you have ever served in the military, it is highly unlikely you will ever forget the unit in which you spent the most time. Military life indelibly imprints itself on all who have served.
Like my generation and earlier ones, I was conscripted for service by what was called the “Draft”. It ended in 1973, but young men between 18 and 25 must still register for Selective Service in the event a really big war breaks out. I am sure the voluntary military is sufficient, but it worries me that we are taking a great toll on the young men and women in combat zones serving repeated tours of duty.
To my good fortune, I never saw combat, but I look back on the experience fondly because it taught any number of useful lessons. For many it was their first experience with the need to practice a measure of self-discipline. Orders are issued. You obey them. It is the nature of the military that it takes in boys and teaches them to be men.
You have no doubt noticed I have written that it “teaches them to be men.” I do not much care for the creeping feminization of our military. I don’t much like the inclusion of women in the military except in an ancillary capacity exclusive of battle. I understand times have changed, but that doesn’t mean that human nature has.
I don’t believe the military is a place for homosexuals. Bill Clinton tried to integrate homosexuals in the military and was met with such resistance from “the brass” that he saddled it with the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, an invitation to hypocrisy. Recently there was a report that Navy chaplains had been told to get ready to perform same-sex marriages, but that idiotic idea was swiftly quashed, presumably in the name of morality and common sense.
If I sound like some cranky old man nostalgic for “the old days”, I would remind you that, for me, the old days were the Cold War that included some hot wars fought in Korea and Vietnam. From the days of General MacArthur onward, American presidents and Congress had been told not to fight a war in the Far East.
Likewise, every empire that proposed to fight a war in Afghanistan, from Alexander the Great to the former Soviet Union, got their butts kicked, but in 2001, instead of a short demonstration of why attacking the American homeland is a very bad idea, we turned that operation in a decade of wasted money, material, and personnel.
“Regime change” anywhere should be short and brutal. Leave it to the survivors to form a new government. Iraq turned into a quagmire because we invaded with too few troops to police the nation and because L. Paul Bremer, the presidential envoy, disbanded the Iraqi army, instantly rendering thousands of men unemployed and very unhappy about it. Billions of dollars and thousands of American lives later, we are still in Iraq. Expecting Arabs to behave in a rational fashion is a fool's errand.
Ask anyone in the military, particularly in the officer class, and you will discover that no one likes war less than those who must fight it for the politicians and too many ungrateful civilians at home.
We no longer fight huge land wars like those of World War Two. The conflict in Korea ended in a stalemate and a truce that exists to this day. At the time, no one wanted to go to war with Red China and that was probably the right judgment. Vietnam was essentially a lost war by the French, a colonial power, followed by a civil war between north and south. Inserting ourselves into any civil war is unwise. Vietnam became a meat grinder for more than 53,000 young men who came home in coffins.
On a recent edition of “Sixty Minutes”, outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates described his job as “leading a department that is organized to plan for war but not to fight a war. And so everything that I’ve wanted to do to try and help the men and women in the field I’ve had to do outside the normal Pentagon bureaucracy.”
That department oversees a military that is deployed in 150 countries around the world with more than 369,000 of its1,580,255 active-duty in foreign nations. We still have 53,951 in Germany as a holdover from the Cold War. Some 28,500 are still in Korea and 32,803 in Japan. Simply put, there are real threats still in these locations that must be defended.
We are the world’s policeman. If we do not maintain this role, it will go to hell even faster than its current pace.
All of which brings me full circle to the worthy reason for Armed Forces Day. I have my arguments with some of the policies affecting today’s military, but hopefully they are transitory.
I have no argument with the courage, the patriotism, and the power our armed forces—yes, our men and women—project around the world.
© Alan Caruba, 2011