May 24, 2004
The agony that afflicted the military by their failure to defeat the
Vietnamese has never really been alleviated. Several excuses have been
advanced -- all shifting the blame.
The politicians tied their hands; the media did not adequately inform the public of their mission and were critical of their activities; and the public did not give them support.
Yet, they were provided with as many as five hundred thousand troops; were able to deploy more firepower on that small country than was necessary to defeat the combined and formidable forces of the axis in World War II; were engaged there for over ten years; and their field of operations was secretly extended beyond Vietnam itself.
The real reason the military withdrew -- the reason why many other wars were terminated even though the generals were desirous of continuing what had become a futile endeavor -- a reason generals attempt to conceal -- was their inability to control the troops!
Military historian Col. Robert Heinl, Jr. described the military dilemma in an article in the Armed Forces Journal of June 7, 1971. Its ample details are summarized by the title, "The Collapse of the Armed Forces."
In Vietnam, an inordinate number of troops were refusing to carry out orders often without opposition from their officers or Noncomissioned Officers; were deserting -- in 1970 the Army had 65,643 desertions, the equivalent of four infantry divisions; were "fragging" (murdering) their strict, unpopular or aggressive officers. In effect there was a wholesale MUTINY.
In all wars generals are confronted with similar problems.
In the Revolutionary War, George Washington had the leaders of a mutiny shot by a firing squad. In 1813, 4,000 Kentucky soldiers refused to engage the enemy. In 1816, desertions exceeded enlistments by 50 per cent. By 1864, two-thirds of the Confederate army was absent.
There were instances when troops actually switched sides. In 1846, US soldiers formed the St. Patrick's Battalion to fight alongside the Mexicans. During the Philippines campaign, hundreds of African American soldiers deserted and joined the Filipino guerilla forces.
In the late eighteenth century, widespread mutinies on most British ships caused the first lord of the admiralty to state that the Channel Fleet was lost as if it had been sunk. During World War I there were major mutinies by French, Russian and German troops.
To prevent a Vietnam debacle in the future several precepts were adopted. Overwhelming military force would be employed against an enemy. A campaign of short duration would be planned. Conscription would be eliminated and a volunteer army would be employed. The news media would be confined to areas where contradictory news influences would not be encountered and their news reports, where possible, would be censored. The public would be convinced of the need for success of the war.
These precepts were meant to address the causes that lower the morale and fighting spirit of the lowly troops.
To prevent a military cancer it is essential that the morale of the fighting troops be maintained.
What follows are possible reasons for the adoption of these precepts. Additional paragraphs explain the actions that have occurred in the Iraq situation and the results it has produced.
1. Short campaign. The enthusiasm that greets the initial phases of a war diminishes with the passage of time. Accordingly, a short campaign is imperative.
In their desire for war on the quick and easy the neocons ignored the advice of the experienced professionals. From the start they were warned by the military itself against their bush-league plans. Those who spoke out publicly, like General Eric K. Shinseki, General Anthony Zinni, and Scott Ritter, were dismissed and considered traitors. Other officers, being good soldiers, shut their mouths in public and obeyed orders. Thus, what should have been a short campaign has tied up the troops for over a year with additional years most likely.
2. Overwhelming force. The use of overwhelming force insures a quick victory. It prevents sustained battles that would lower the troops' morale.
The initial failure to provide necessary forces has exacerbated the military into invoking emergency measures. Stop/loss provisions are delaying the discharge of troops whose enlistments have expired. Troops who were promised they would return home after they had served the requisite time are being kept in Iraq.
An unexpectedly high number of casualties, the withdrawal of troops of allied nations, and the mutiny of Iraqi troops who were expected to take over policing duties (40 percent switched sides and 10 percent refused to fight in Falluja) have drained an anemic force to critically low levels.
3. No conscription. An army consisting solely of volunteers will obviously be more loyal than one that includes draftees. Its ranks would contain many who have chosen the military as a career.
The current crop of volunteers were in most cases sold a bill of goods by recruiters who convinced underprivileged kids of opportunities to learn a trade, obtain a college education, etc. Those who joined the reserves and National Guard were also enticed with the benefits and the honor of having patriotically served the country. When most of the troops now in Iraq joined up they never expected that they would be engaged in a long-term war and be required to perform the duties that are now thrust upon them.
Are the present military forces sufficient for current or future requirements? How can those numbers be increased?
Enlistments and re-enlistments are expected to fall below normal levels. Candidate John Kerry insists that the existing troop strength is inadequate and promises an increase.
A bill to reinstate the draft, the "Universal National Service Act of 2003," has been proposed by democratic Senator Fritz Hollings of South Carolina (S89) and democratic Representative Charles Rangel of New York (HR183). It is quite likely that draftees will augment the all-volunteer military after the election.
4. Media censorship. Gloomy and/or discouraging reports tend to lower morale.
Although the media has been sanitizing the news since 9/11, to maintain its credibility it must from time to time reveal certain facts that are leaking out to the public from alternate sources. These disclosures have been damaging to the administration and to the morale of civilians and the fighting men.
5. Convinced public. The home front provides the labor and taxes that keep the military machine amply supplied. A dissenting public can encourage troubled soldiers to think of withdrawing from the horror, knowing that there is a reservoir of support for their conscientious positions.
The 9/11 fear that paralyzed the public and permitted the administration to take any and all actions that it desired has withered with the passage of time, the military difficulties, and those damaging disclosures. A sizeable portion of the public is wavering in their support of the war or is opposing it. Others who remain gung-ho for the war will have second thoughts as they contemplate that they or their loved ones may be subject to a draft.
By ignoring those precepts a pessimistic outlook has emerged. Have conditions deteriorated to where symptoms of the cancer that consumed the Vietnam military are now emerging? News emanating from the military in war zones has been completely sanitized, but by reading between the lines some presumptions can be made.
GIs have been forbidden to express opinions that might offend the military, but they do not live in isolation of what is transpiring.
They have become aware that their government's rhetoric and promises do not match the performance. GIs have been short changed on basic needs and benefits. Protective clothing and equipment was not provided to all, and many families purchased and sent what was not issued. Retirement benefits were reduced to those receiving disability payments. Charges were made for meals served in hospitals.
Favored corporations are gouging on enormous profits while the GIs suffer, bleed and die. The corporate employees are performing tasks previously handled by GIs and are making big bucks. They are not subject to military discipline and if the going gets hot they take off.
They have learned that veterans of Vietnam who suffered from the effects of Agent Orange had great difficulty getting their service-related conditions acknowledged. Gulf I vets got a similar cold shoulder for Gulf War syndrome.
The horrors that they encounter in Iraq -- the gruesome corpses; the innocent civilians who are killed or wounded; the ghastly deaths of their buddies; the close calls they experience on a recurring basis -- have profoundly disturbing effects.
These factors and others might explain why symptoms of the military cancer are showing up in increasing numbers: suicides, going AWOL, claiming to have become Conscientious Objectors, etc.
The background to the war, its progress, the political developments in Washington and back home are all additional factors that they may be cognizant of.
Is the war going badly? Are the politicians losing favor? Is there a strong anti-war movement? Their most urgent question -- since it vitally affects them -- is, should the U.S. stay the course?
Since the end of World War II, colonial countries with favorable demographics have successfully overcome their militarily stronger former masters. Indonesia threw out the Dutch; Vietnam, the French and Americans; Algeria, the French; Kenya, the British; South Africa, the apartheid regime, and others.
The Palestinians have held out for over 50 years suffering now under an unmerciful pounding. Although Israel is subjected to frequent suicide bombings that keep the military in high esteem, it is now showing the symptoms of a "cancer." Refusniks refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories and former members of elite military units support them and criticize the government.
It is now apparent that the Iraqis are as eager to get rid of the U.S. as well. Thus the prognosis favors them.
General William E. Odom (Ret.), a director of a pro-administration think-tank, agrees. He has stated in a Wall Street Journal interview that "We have failed," and should get out. "The issue is how high a price we're going to pay, less, by getting out sooner, or more, by getting out later." ("Former General Sees 'Staying the Course' In Iraq as Untenable," by John Hardwood, Wall Street Journal, April 28, 2004.)
As more of such opinions are expressed, the GIs' morale will suffer even further. With many other negatives hitting them, their desire to fight is reduced.
If their conscience disturbs them, they will be more likely to follow their convictions when they feel there is a reservoir of support that stands behind them. And as more troops speak up others will gain the confidence to join them.
With each passing day those early cancer symptoms are metastasizing, and if the military remains long enough, Iraq we will witness another major mutiny!
· · · · · ·
Iraq on Swans
America the 'beautiful' on Swans
Philip Greenspan on Swans (with bio).
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