Postmodern classic?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The 'Hollow Military'

'Military experts' are like... use your imagination. Don't get me wrong, knuckle-dragging grunts like me (even though I'm no longer among that hallowed company I still bear the imprint) should be taken with a grain of salt too. What would I give to take a few of these so-called experts and beat them with the 'common sense' stick a couple times. But, as we all know, the problem with common sense is that it's not so common... and so all these unproven theories abound.

If only people were aware of my theory! It explains everything- buy my book since I'm so smart! Our loyal and selfless heroic troops (even if they're poor manipulated victims unable to adapt on their own, without my sage advice) are being betrayed by the current leadership which is leaving them without xxx item! Or so says the recent issue of AEI, in an article a new book on the 'Hollow Military' (found on Prof Bainbridge's site). One of my favorites (not really), Fred Kagan, is evidently a supporting author for one of the essays in this book.

Oh the hubris! A better example of a hollow military would be the years following Vietnam, when there were rampant drug use and other major institutional problems that wouldn't be effectively dealt with until the volunteer military had been fully integrated. Was that a hollow military? I don't think we're having those kind of problems now. In fact my experience suggests the opposite, that we have the best military we've ever had. This selection at Mike Yons site suggests similar thinking among those currently deployed:

I’ve heard senior Command Sergeant Majors and officers saying throughout 2005, and now in 2006 and into 2007, that this younger group of soldiers is far superior to the previous generation of American soldiers. The senior combat leaders tend to comprise an odd mixture between warriors and grandparents (truly, grandparents with grandchildren back home). Many have children who are older than these young soldiers who are fighting their hearts out and often being shredded before their leaders’ own eyes. There may be some cold and callous souls out here, but our senior combat leaders truly tend to be combat-hardened people who also know how to change diapers.

The people enlisting and reenlisting in the military do so with the full knowledge that they will be deployed to combat zones overseas, most likely Iraq and Afghanistan. This means that they know full well they will be exposed to mortal risks in defense of their country, before they sign up. This was not the case with conscription, which as we should remember, was the source of much motivation for the antiwar crowd, which surprisingly enough seemed to evaporate when that policy ended... but our military experts tell us the Army is 'hollowing out', and therefore morale must be bad.

One of the fundamental truths of Special Operations is that humans are more important than hardware. Take that as a leadership lesson, the ultimate conclusion of military science; the best equipment anywhere will fail before a better organized and committed unit. Functional and reliable military equipment is a great asset, but most critical is the human element.

Is this so hard to figure out? Evidently. Just look at our monstrous defense budget. I dare anyone to slog through that behemoth and tell me just what good are these massive inefficiencies. A $20 million dollar fighter jet that can be taken out by a $10,000 missile? The hundreds of billions of infrastructure required to maintain that and similar programs that might be spent on something else? Let me do the math on that... Super precision weapons that fail in bad climate? Dependence on electrical and satellite systems vulnerable to electro-magnetic pulses? Micro-managing bureaucracy based in Washington, DC? Check, check and check...

I don't want the military to do 'bake sales for B-2 bombers', to echo the old anti-war slogan. We need a healthy defense industrial infrastructure and development. We need a staff to manage that, working closely with the civilian leadership. But the state of things in Washington leads cynics like myself begin (?) to think that the art and management of actual warfighting going on in places like Iraq is more of an annoying distraction, rather than an opportunity to work and validate our existing doctrine, for the staff and associated bureaucrats of our defense community.

That might be a broader swipe than I intend. We need many people to serve in a variety of different capacities. However, this is another opportunity to look at some of the numbers these people should be crunching. Most important in my mind is the 'tooth-to-tail' ratio, measuring the proportion of combat soldiers to support. During WW2, it took about 3 people to support one infantryman. Now it's about 10. If this is the price for all our precision warfare and logistical excess, then we need to think that one through again.

While all soldiers and Marines can think of gear and kit that could be helpful, the fact remains that there is no silver bullet that solves all problems. What they need is support and the abstract, ill-defined but critical quality of 'leadership'.


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