Murphy's Law: May 8, 2000

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The Victory Disease is Winning: Peacetime armies, especially after a victorious war, fall apart. It's not just the attitude that winning a war makes it less important to keep the troops sharp. The politicians also see defense spending as less important and, more ominously, that the military is fair game to use for whatever political cause that's in fashion. It gets worse. Less money, more politics and generals who go along with the political games leads to low morale in the ranks. Recently the army ran a survey of their junior officers and discovered that these young officers were pretty fed up. And they were voting with their feet, getting out rather than making the army a career. The air force and navy, but not the marines, are having the same problem. You don't have to be a seer to know what happens next. When another war comes along, a lot more troops get killed because of poor leadership, training and morale. 

When the cold war ended, and American troops rolled over the Iraqis in 1991, there was a general acknowledgement in the American military that Victory Disease was coming. Officers and troops steeled themselves to fight the dreaded malady and, one hoped, beat it. But this time around, Victory Disease had a lot of powerful allies. 

The 1990s version of the Victory Disease came at time of significant cultural changes. This sort of crept up on everyone. Among the unexpected changes was the tendency of the younger troops to get married. This was never a problem before conscription ended in the early 1970s. When most of the junior troops were draftees, they just wanted to get their military service out of the way and take care of marriage later, on their own terms. But the all volunteer armed forces raised pay considerably, making it more tempting for the younger soldiers to get married. For thousands of years, the younger soldiers had been discouraged, or forbidden, to marry. Young troops had too much to do learning how to be a soldier, and too little money and sense to handle a wife and soldiering at the same time. This ancient experience is still true and unit commanders now had constant headaches taking care of young couples who could not cope. But times had changed and ancient wisdom had gone out of style. The Marines tried to forbid younger troops to marry, but had to back off in the face of public (or at least political) uproar. This incident pointed out another major cultural change; the media, and many politicians, were now paying close attention to what was going on in the military. In the past, the military was pretty much left to take care of it's business. Except in wartime, when the media served mainly as a cheering section for the boys in uniform. But now we had a lot more girls in uniform and that became a political issue as well, as did open homosexuality, multi-culturalism and sensitivity in general. Soldiers had learned, over thousands of years of experience, that the successful army is one that is unified, intolerant of individualism and insensitive to hurt feelings and other privations. This is one reason why boot camp is such a harsh experience. Experience has shown that you can, if you are vigorous enough, turn a civilian into a disciplined soldier in eight weeks. Civilians die on the battlefield much more quickly than trained soldiers. Effective basic training was seen as too harsh for sensitive civilians, not to mention the increasing number of women entering the service, so basic was toned down. This gave commanders still more headaches having to deal with civilians in uniform. 

There were never many warriors in the military. These are the people who really know what they are doing when the shooting starts. Perhaps five percent in peacetime and maybe ten percent in wartime. These lads saw what was happening in the 1990s and began to bail out. Being a warrior under fire is dangerous in the best of times, but when surrounded by so many ill disciplined civilians pretending to be soldiers, it appears suicidal. Many warriors stayed in elite units like the Special Forces, rangers and the like. The Marines let it be known that they were still a real military organization, and they alone have not had any problems meeting their recruiting goals. 

And then there was the emergence of the two career family. Military wives, especially those of officers, were no longer content to stay home with the kids and move wherever hubby's new assignments took them. So more officers got out, that being the only way to deal with the wife unwilling to sacrifice her career. Military pay was never that great, and the second paycheck was something families were getting used to. While civilian companies have found ways to deal with the two career family, the military never came up with a workable solution.

There was more. Smaller families and fewer children, and changes in attitudes towards warfare, made it official policy to do anything to avoid casualties. This included not getting the job done, which was anathema to military professionals. And then there was the major legacy of the cold war, the military-industrial complex and using the military budget for political purposes. That is, tossing the defense money around to get politicians reelected, not give the troops the best tools for the job of fighting.

Year by hear, more troops who are in to fight are replaced by those who are civilians in uniform. At least that's what the folks in uniform say. They should know. Ask them.

 


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