Monday, February 18, 2013

Quis Custodiet?

I kinda hate to keep hammering on this nonsense.



It probably bores the hell out of you like any other family feud and I admit that it really is a sort of military "inside baseball"; of interest only to the sort of people who keep stats and obsessively squirrel away bizarre trivia about obscure minor leagues.

But, like jock itch, this story gets to me in particularly tender places.

And, kidding aside, it says some things that concern me about my country and my Army.

One is the irritating nature of the "Global War on Terror" as presented to, and accepted by, the U.S. public.

Ever since 2002 I've thought that the most ominous part of the various wars and quasi-wars and secret wars we've been fighting (largely in the unpaved portions of Asia and Africa) is the way they have been almost completely removed from and independent of public opinion and public purview. The U.S. public as a whole neither pays a price nor has an interest in what their soldiers are doing in the less paved parts of the world under the auspices of the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force.

I could go over why this isn't a good idea, the multiple reasons that cabinet wars and imperial expeditions are not in the best interests of a democracy. The inevitable erosion of liberal governance and the expansion of executive power that occur in wartime. The moral and intellectual hazard of accustoming a people to continual, low-grade expeditionary wars (without immediate costs or consequences to the people bankrolling the wars). The bad habits that governments, troops, and citizens pick up whilst committing mayhem in places to other peoples without either seeing or feeling the effects of the mayhem themselves.

We've effectively turned these damn wars into a third-person shooter game, complete with it's own fucking music video and all, for God's sake. And - although largely unwilling to join the fight ourselves and uncaring about the real people who do - we've turned our pixellated images of them into cartoonish heroes, ridiculously inflated and lionized "warriors" for what should be a warrior-free zone: an industrial democratic republic.

So this "Shooter" has become, for me, a living version of the crayon-drawing of a modern American "warrior" that We the People seem to want; imputed with unlikely and improbable virtues, excused all critical assessment, feted and fetishized and blown up beyond the reality of what soldiers have always been. Your neighbor's idle brother, the smart kid behind the counter at the convenience store, the nice guy your sister dumped because "he was boring", the knucklehead who cut you off at the freeway on-ramp.

What especially got to me on this subject was the fawning reaction this Shooter got when he and his cronies stopped off on Capitol Hill (see the first link above), where the people who should have been his fellow citiens and notional governmental superiors treated him like a bunch of gushing fangirls and fell all over him to praise his work which is, at bottom, no more than any other infantryman has been asked to do in this endless farkling about in central Asia only with fancier kit and more secrecy.

This basically irks the shit out of me, this whole business about fellating the "warriors" and bumper-sticker patriotism and endless painless videogame wars. I don't think it's healthy for a republic and I don't think it's a smart thing for us as the notional sovereigns of the United States to be doing to ourselves.

And this "Shooter" has become the poster child for all of my irritation with my fellow citizens.

The other problem I have with this story is what I think it says about a troubling development within my Army and the U.S. ground troops in general, by the way one of the guys from one of the Navy's Special Operations outfits feels about the rest of the Navy and (by inference) the other military outfits he is forced to share the battlefield with.

The magilla with this Shooter has been his loud complaints about how tough it is to be him, how tough the Special Operations outfits have it, and how - because of that - he and they deserve special consideration; early retirement pension vestment and special benefits if they ETS before they earn their retirement.

By publicly agitating for special privileges for the Special Operations forces - and only the SOF - this Shooter is taking a fire axe to this weak join between the SOF and the line units. By publicly demonstrating his contempt for the guys in the Navy Choir, for the line squids on the carrier decks and in the Stores warehouse at Norfolk this Shooter is fueling the fire of resentment and irritation that these guys, many of them, probably feel for him and his high-speed brethern.

One of the reasons that the U.S. Army and the other U.S. services have been so competent and successful tactically is that they have always been good at working together as a team. Every element in the team; the combat, combat support, and combat service support units, and individuals, recognize their mutual dependence. The guy who kicks down the door depends on the helo driver overhead who depends on the avionics tech back at the FOB who depends on the guy loading the supply truck back at the Corps rear who depends on the PAC clerk working the computer back at Ft. Ben Harrison back in the States. Who, for God's sake, depends on the guy in the 82nd Chorus singing at some fucking high school in Cornhole, Iowa to get the kids all excited about volunteering for the Army.

And one reason all those people work together is the understanding that they're all in the same Army; they all - although some get a little more money and some get to wear some cooler uniforms - get the same basic deal.

They HAVE to work together to win, and the way the service treats their service recognizes that fact. The door-kicker doesn't succeed if the PAC clerk fucks up his pay, his allotment doesn't get to his family, their e-mails get him all fucked up and so that night he's thinking about his sick daughter's not getting TRICARE instead of the people who might be behind the door with a nasty surprise for him and his team.

But the Shooter doesn't care, or probably doesn't even know, about this. And because of that he's busy kicking in a door that I don't think, either as a soldier or a U.S. citizen, we want to open. It does and will do us no good to make our special operations units a sort of Special Republican Guard, and the example of the originals should tell us so.

There's always an entropy in military organizations that works around eliteness. The elites can easily start looking down on everyone else with contempt and everyone else starts envying and resenting the elites.

In Third World armies this can cripple the organization; the Iraqi Republican Guard was a classic of the genre.

The Guard was vastly expanded in the Eighties to ensure the loyalty of an Army fractured by the war with Iran. After the defeat in the Second Gulf War of '91 the Special Republican Guard was created to provide even more "eliteness" loyal to the regime. Each time it was the best guys, the most loyal, the smartest and most technically proficient who were pulled into the "elite".

By 2003 the bulk of the Iraqi Army was just fucking incapable of modern military operations and the U.S. Army went through it like a dose of salts. All that "eliteness"? As useless as a tampon in a typhoon.

The U.S. military is nowhere near as big a jugfuck as the Iraqis were and U.S. society is nothing like the trainwreck that Iraqi society was and is.

But this "Shooter" represents something I haven't seen before in the U.S. military; an elite-unit guy willing to just come out and flat-out say; I'm better than you, I work harder than you, this war (the way it's being fought and my role in it compared to yours) means that I deserve more and better stuff than you.

And those are exactly the sorts of things that led to the Special Republican Guard. We just don't have a Saddam here willing to use them to MAKE a Special Republican Guard.

But there's nothing in human nature or U.S. society that says we can't find one.

And between that and what this "Shooter" nonsense says about our country and our soldiers I can't help but worry at least a little.

15 comments:

Syrbal/Labrys said...

And imagine, my grief with the whole glorification of the military special guy comes from thinking of OTHER "shooters"....shooters like Chris Dorner, for instance.

Because glorifying "shooters" helps foster the idea that any situation that doesn't respond to reason, to justice, to NORMAL dealing systems WILL by GAWD respond to bullets PRODUCES shooters like Chris Dorner.

And he was better at keeping his aim on actual applicable targets than the LAPD! The whole idea that in a representative democracy , that justice or anything else but lead comes from the mouth of a gun just creeps me the fuck OUT!

BigFred said...

Chief, lots of talk on MilBlogs about should folks who risk more get more and sooner than folks who do not. I had a "rode hard, put away wet" sort of experience, and am ambivalent to the argument, although it is gaining some traction.

BigFred said...

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Ael said...

"The result of these methods was undoubtedly to lower the quality of the rest of the Army, especially of the infantry, not only by skimming the cream off it, but by encouraging the idea that certain of the normal operations of war were so difficult that only specially equipped corps d’elite could be expected to undertake them. Armies do not win wars by means of a few bodies of super-soldiers but by the average quality of their standard units."

Field Marshal Slim

FDChief said...

Syrbal: well, there ARE some times when a government is placed in a position where force is the only or the most rational solution. But it is frustrating to hear the number of people that seem to think that it is ALWAYS the first and best solution.

And nothing comes out of the muzzle of a weapon but a bullet. Whether that bullet is the instrument of "justice" or anything else is completely dependent on who is holding the damn thing and why. This seems to have largely escaped the debate.

BF: That's why I generally stay the hell away from places like goddamn BlackFive and the other milblogs. I think I explained pretty well in the post why this is a particularly bad idea on its face and even worse for a military organization that is supposed to be the armed force of a notional republic, but your mileage may vary, I suppose.

IMO we already had this discussion back in 1783 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newburgh_Conspiracy) and it was pretty much settled back then. The resulting solution for this sort of barracks-room bitching is "Soldier, shut up and soldier." I'd add to that the very idea of letting the fucking cabinet wars instill permanent changes in the U.S. armed services' pension, benefit, and allowance tables is exactly one of the main reasons I've opposed the goddamn things from the start; they're the living embodiment of the sort of goatfucks that Sun Tzu warned about when he counseled against "long wars"...

Ael: Thanks for the Slim quote. The man was one of the best commanders of his generation and I'd recommend that we reflect on that for a moment.

FDChief said...

Re: the whole business of "special" forces, here's a wonderful (and sort of grumpily-awful) quote from a crusty old colonel of the 23rd Infantry about the Ranger company attached to his regiment during the battle of Chipyong-ni in 1951:

"The Ranger Company Commander complained to some of the 2d Battalion officers that his unit had been misused, and that his unit was just for "hit and run" actions and was not capable of ordinary attack and defense like Infantry units. Unfortunately the 2d Battalion Commander did not hear of this until the next day, when the Ranger Company was no longer under his control, or he would have had a "heart to heart" talk with one Lieutenant Ranger Company Commander. That is the main trouble with prima-donna outfits like the Rangers. They don't want dirty fighting, they just want the glamour. The veteran Infantrymen of the 2d Battalion thought that their "hit and run" tactics consisted mostly of running.

The Army is much better off without these special units."


So this isn't the first time this sort of thing has emerged and it won't be the last.

But I think the new, troubling development is that this Shooter guy and his pals are arguing straight-out that they are "more deserving" than the line dogs that do the bulk of the sorts of sweeps, night-raids, and valley-hunting in these fucking little wars. THAT is a problem, and almost a dead-solid certainty to cause a serious break between the regular infantry and the special operations forces. The two organizations can't afford that, and if this guy was anything but a knuckleheaded gun-bunny he'd have figured that out and kept his damn mouth shut.

But he isn't and didn't.

Lisa said...

While I agree with you, Chief, you see that everything conspires to make this guy think he has a cause for special oh-woe-is-me consideration. OBL -- the biggest, baddest wolf, and once he's gone, well ... all will be well, right?

What sells today? Shooter video games and movies. Why, those shooters are the ones keeping us a democracy, no? What's that you say ... "rule of law and The Constitution"? Naw, surely The Shooter and his handlers have shot through those feeble documents.

I think you've nailed it when you indict the lack of teamwork today. We are not so much a country as a bunch of vehemently opposed vested interests.

FDChief said...

The thing is, Lisa, we sort of always have been. Read the stories of the people who profiteered off the Revolutionary army. The divisions between the slave and free state Congressmen. Hell, damn near the first thing we did after throwing out the Brits was have a Whiskey Rebellion...

So I don't think this guy's deal is anything more than the age-old human need to be acknowledged as a Speshul Snowflake. The main differences I see, though, are the disconnect between the soldiers and citizens that allow him to march his little parade down Main Street without the vast majority of his fellow Americans calling bullshit on him, and something broken (I suspect) inside the services that produced this guy as a high-speed infantry private after 16 years of service.

Leon said...

Sorry to go off-topic Chief, but don't know any other method to send this to you.

Just found that there's a military-themed false news site (like the Onion) that fooled McConnell. The place is called www.duffelblog.com and it's got some good laughs (and some close misses). Thought you ex-service types would enjoy it. Especially the "AWOL private returns after seven years with box of grid squares" story.

FDChief said...

Thanks for the heads-up, Leon. I'll amble over to see. But what was the item that they fooled McConnell with? I've clearly missed that story...

FDChief said...

...you see that everything conspires to make this guy think he has a cause for special oh-woe-is-me consideration."

It took me a while to parse this out, Lisa, but I get it now. And, yeah, I think that this guy sees himself as the Ranger breaking into Hitler's bunker and putting two in the center of mass of the Worst Person In History Evah. So of COURSE we're supposed to see him as a National Treasure.

FDChief said...

Leon: Found it:

"On November 14, 2012, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wrote to Elizabeth King, the Pentagon’s congressional liaison, with an unusually credulous query. “I am writing on behalf of a constituent who has contacted me regarding Guantanamo Bay prisoners receiving Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits,” McConnell wrote in a letter acquired by Danger Room. “I would appreciate your review and response to my constituent’s concerns.”

Um, Guantanamo detainees getting GI Bill benefits? Yes, that’s from the Duffel Blog, as McConnell’s constituent clearly states, complete with the reference URL. Said constituent even notes that he or she can’t find any information about the alleged government payouts to suspected insurgents and terrorists."


No duh?

The fucking stupid, it burns.

This is our Republic. Cherish it.

Lisa said...

Totally agree with this:

the disconnect between the soldiers and citizens that allow him to march his little parade down Main Street without the vast majority of his fellow Americans calling bullshit on him, and something broken (I suspect) inside the services that produced this guy as a high-speed infantry private after 16 years of service.

Divisiveness in opinion is not the problem -- it may be the heart of a healthy democracy. We may grow and advance against such struggle.

But against intransigence, ignorance, disinterest and ineptitude? There is no medicine for that. The old Soviet intel types like Yuri Bezemenov predicted it years ago.

Ael said...

Speaking of a corrupted republic, have you heard of DHS's new boat?

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