It is vain to do with more what can be done with less. ~William of Occam
In an age of drastic military cuts set against a background of international instability and conflict, a sane person could be excused for thinking the US Army would have to cut out as much nonsense as possible in order to assure it fulfill its central role: winning wars.
Instead the Army has upped its impressive resume for pettiness. Big Brother is watching, not just the Taliban and al-Qaeda, but our own Soldiers. “Courtesy Patrols” skulk the halls of PXs and commissaries, ready to pounce on the heretics who’d dare talk on a cell phone while walking. Soldiers at some posts are assigned the duty of policing for small violation of regulations on Army posts. The title “Courtesy Patrol” is an interesting manipulation of language, a key aspect of all authoritarian regimes, and reminiscent of Orwell’s observation that “pacification” is a term used when the military bombs a village. Courtesy. The Army is doing Soldiers a favor. Honest. These courtesy patrols even keep their eyes peeled for the exposed underwear of Army spouses. Who could make this stuff up?
There’s a problem, though. No one cares except the Commissars.
As a cop, I learned that enforcing laws with no moral force earns not only scorn for the law, but scorn for the enforcers of those laws. Rules concerning walking whilst talking on cell phones hold no moral force. None. Nada. Zilch. Want Soldiers to hate the Army (many do), just institute and enforce regulations that hold no moral force. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn stated, morality is above the law, always. If murder were legal, murder would still be wrong, just as lying is now legal but wrong under most circumstances. The US Army’s Commissars believe they are maintaining discipline with small rules, controlling every aspect of a Soldier’s life. In truth the Commissars are merely bored. The Long War is now short. The Commissars have to hurry to ensure their careers have meaning. After two COIN debacles, the idea that senior Army officials will now have to sit virtually inert signing leave forms is driving these Type A personalities bonkers. So it’s now to making petty rules, to make sure every Soldier knows the importance of the Commissars. Reflective belts, cell phone rules, mustache regs, the, the power!! Lost to the authoritarians in the Army is that we suck at fighting. For the billions of dollars spent on the Long War, barely an American benefited. A witch’s brew of multicultural nonsense and bad strategy, Americans got robbed. Making petty rules is easy, winning wars is tough. Any high school student can make up inane rules and assign them arbitrary relation to “discipline.” It takes real genius to win wars. Real discipline is bravery. Fake discipline is rote memorization. Now, I know some will excuse this as all part of military rigor. Nope. There’s a historic term for this BS. It’s called Mickey Mouse, an old military pejorative.
The Free Online Dictionary defines as the slang use of Mickey Mouse as:
Soldiers are crushed under a mountain of petty regulation that have nothing to do with the reasons armies exist and nothing to do with the reason people join the Army. Entire days and weeks are spent completing “online training”, surveys, and certifications. Staff Soldiers often have no time to train skills fundamental to fighting modern wars, such as using radios. We are well on our way to a Hollow Force, a military in which blocks are checked but can’t win wars. The Hollow Force will be great at wasting Americans money, allowing its citizens to be killed, and conducting meetings in which Mickey Mouse and the Commissars can share ideas on how to enforce discipline. Count me out.
Instead, the Commissars and Authoritarians would be better off taking advantage of the odd psychological aspects of victims of Stockholm Syndrome. People under the influence of Stockholm Syndrome come to worship their captors should they be allowed the most basic of human necessity. Merely being allowed to use a toilet is interpreted as god-like righteousness on the part of terrorists. Cutting out the petty regulations in the Army would probably result in an increase in morale more than commensurate with the actual impact on daily life. Moreover, many good Soldiers would gain respect for an an organization that realizes rules and laws should have something to do with morality, and in the Army, winning wars is moral. The military’s rules are bound by Natural Law, just as are all good rules. No matter how some try, they cannot find true outrage at those walking and talking on cell phones. Yet they will still fight and die for the American way of life. Like a fat Soldier, the Army is carrying too much flesh, so much so that it’s hindering the mission. Cut the fat, and by fat this isn’t just concerning budgets.
The Wikipedia entry on the Authoritarian Personality notes:
Alfred Adler provided another perspective, linking the “will to power over others” as a central neurotic trait, usually emerging as aggressive over-compensation for felt and dreaded feelings of inferiority and insignificance. According to this view, the authoritarian’s need to maintain control and prove superiority over others is rooted in a worldview populated by enemies and empty of equality, empathy, and mutual benefit.
Note to the Commissars: Our Founding Fathers were anti-authoritarian. Read some Thomas Jefferson and put down AR 670-1 for a few hours. The Army defends the foundation upon which our country stands, not 670-1.
We are becoming an Army of Martinets, not the Spartans of Thermopylae that so many military people adore. So, think, are we upholding our Western values in our own Army? The epigram, placed upon the grave of the Spartans that saved Western Civilization, read:
Stranger, bear this message to the Spartans,
that we lie here obedient to their laws.
What laws did they speak of? The eternal laws, Natural Law, that great men fight and die for foundational values, not minutiae that only small minds find important. I’d first have that every Soldiers carry a copy of Sun Zsu’s Art of War and Thomas Paine’s Common Sense before AR 670-1. Freedom is the reason the Army exists.
Today I made a big decision.
I decided that I would not re-enlist in the US Army when my contract expires. I made the decision while standing in morning formation. The impetus for this decision, or, more accurately the straw that broke the camel’s back, occurred at approximately 0710 hours, this morning.
Our entire unit was told that our formation would convene in a location different from the norm, and that it was at the directive of the Sergeant Major. Everyone thought that something was wrong, that we were in for some type of punishment (or, corrective training, the code word the Army likes to use for punishment not approved by a Commander). There were rumors that the barracks had been found an unkempt abode and so the NCOs may have to mop floors while the soldiers looked on, all as a way of teaching mid-level leaders to do their job of supervision.
But then the 1st Sergeant stepped to the front of the formation with an award folder in his hands. Still, we were wary until the award for a departing NCO was read, and the order to commence physical training was given.
I will grant that the last 4 months have been some of the most trying of my Army career. The 10th Mountain Division has been a large part of the War on Terror since 9/11 and the operational tempo is extremely high. Additionally, I was placed in an E7 position, though I only held the rank of E5 for most of that time (I’m an E6 now). This has been extremely demanding. And let’s not forget, that due to military draw-downs, my entire Brigade is only 70% manned, and will continue to be so until Brigades in Europe are dissolved.
But what really hit me this morning was the realization that I live in a constant state of fear. I do not fear the enemies of the United States. I fear the Army. I walk around all day fearing, at a subliminal level, that I have done something wrong. Did I walk on the grass? is my patrol cap properly situated on my head? Is it past the date on which we are allowed to wear fleece caps?
If I were to write a book about my time in the Army, I would title it, “Sweating the Small Stuff.” The Army gives this the noble title: “Attention to Detail.” The way the Army ensures attention to detail is by cultivating an atmosphere of fear. I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that every morning meeting I’ve gone to in the last 2 months contained accusations of dereliction of duty by NCOs. All of it hyperbolic. I have many tasks during the day, and frankly I don’t have the psychological energy to worry about ankle-biting regulations. I avoid walking on the grass at all costs.
I fear the grass. A Sergeant Major may be lurking in it.
I miss my freedom. I have to fill out DA 31 leave forms to travel beyond a certain distance from home. I want to be able to wake up on a Saturday and drive where ever a grown man in America is allowed to drive. I don’t want to worry that being 10 minutes late for morning formation could result in legal actions against me, as it can in the Army.
While in Afghanistan, I rarely felt fear for the Taliban. Most days, I only feared my chain of command. I swear this is not an exaggeration.
All of this has led me to question the necessity of rank and to wonder how other systems that are not nearly as heirarchal as the military manage to work so well, and yet the inefficiency and communication problems are greater in the Army then in any other place I’ve worked. I’ve seen bullying by people of rank that astounded me. At my core, despite being a cop for 8 years, and now being an NCO in the Army, I’m anti-authoritarian. Or, more to the point, I need to tell someone to fuck off when they need to hear it. And the amount of bureacracy cannot be described. I’ll just say that I find it maddening.
I do not know how I have managed to succeed in the Army, but I have. Despite never feeling comfortable for more than a couple days in a row for years, on paper, I seem to be thriving. I reached the rank of Staff Sergeant in the quickest possible time. I was Solider of the Year for my unit in Germany.
As a police officer, I felt alive, energized. I felt like I really made a difference. Kent Anderson, in his great novel, Night Dogs, says that all a good cop needs is compassion and common sense. So much of both seem to be lacking in the Army.
I am not at all denigrating others who serve, or who choose to make a career out of the Army. Quite the opposite. I’m amazed that some can do it. That there are people who have the will to mind the little things and the big. However, there is a fine line between minding details and pettiness.
My artistic side has suffered greatly since I came to my new unit. I have little time or energy to read or write; both things are a joy to me. While at the law enforcement academy, we had a class on stress management. The main point made by the instructor was to keep on doing the things that you liked doing before you got into law enforcement. Many cops simply start living only their jobs. Not me. While I was a cop I always did all the things I loved, like hiking, playing softball, going to movies, reading. I wasn’t physically and mentally depleted like I am now.
My job needs to draw my interest and create motivation. I’m not all that great at creating motivation within myself over creating Power Point slides, which is mostly what I do all day.
But mostly my choice is about the atmosphere in the Army. There is always a sense of foreboding. As the specter of the “Garrison Army” looms with the winding down of the wars, it seems sure that the pettiness will only get worse.
I feel like a great burden has lifted from my shoulders. I have about 15 months left, and I’ve already begun to count the days. I burned my candle down to a nub and there’s simply nothing left to burn.
But mostly, I just don’t want to be afraid of the grass.
Good-bye to all that.
The longer I’m in the Army, the more I question whether leadership can be taught in a formal manner. The US Army heavily stresses “leadership skills”, and talks about leadership incessantly in manuals and throughout its training. Ranger school is essentially a leadership school.
In all honesty I have never seen worse leaders than what I have encountered in the military. People who are downright abusive and in some cases mentally unstable. The Non-Commissioned Officer’s Creed states: “I know my Soldiers and will always place their needs above my own.” I’ve seen very few NCOs who live up to that standard. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Most NCOs use lower ranking Soldiers merely to make their own jobs and lives easier. Obviously there is an accountability and rating problem in the Army, which I suspect is the same problem encountered in any industry that does not produce tangible goods. The fact that many NCOs can reach the rank of E7 and higher while remaining tactless bullies to those under them speaks more of the Army’s rating system than of the rated NCO. The Army is currently implementing a 360 degree rating system in which the lower ranking Soldiers rate their leadership, but even this will not present an accurate picture of what’s going on; lower ranking Soldiers will still be afraid of their bully superiors.
Just a small example of what I’ve consistently seen in the Army. The senior NCO in my office routinely calls his Soldiers “fags”, “nerds” and other derogatory names. Of course he presents this with a small dose of plausible deniability–like he’s joking. He may be joking but I’m aware of what he’s really trying to accomplish: To psychologically subjugate those under him. If he’s truly just joking around, perhaps he would mind if the E4 working for him called him a fag. Doubtful. He doubles his power by telling us all that he can’t stand people who can’t take a joke. Again, can he take a joke?
This is far from the only time I’ve seen this kind of behavior. In fact, I am surprised when I don’t see it.
The Soviet military held that there was no known way to efficiantly make leaders; leaders emerged and took charge through natural processes and those who displayed leadership characteristics were promoted. I tend to agree with this. A person’s psychological and ethical makeup, as well as his or her own personal experiences do more to determine leadership qualities than dreary doctrine.
In any case, it is my fundamental belief that the Army is broken in a deep way. Not only does its leadership exibit a proto-fascist quality in many cases, but the Army’s systems do not function well, systems that are used daily and should run like a smooth machine. But a rough-running machine would be tolerable with consistently good leadership. Instead the Army seems to attract and breed borderline sociopaths. In three years I’ve witnessed ethical and personal violations by NCO that I never saw in any other job. Daily verbal abuse, belittling, sexual relations with lower ranking female Soldiers (against regs), and other actions for which lower enlisted Soldiers would be counseled and punished.
As sergeant of my unit’s S2 shot, I am responsible for developing the physical training program for all the Soldiers that I work with. I develop monthly plans and present them to the O3 Officer In Charge (OIC) for his approval. The OIC told me that he is a PT fanatic and expounded that PT could be done twice a day. He also brought up something that I have come to hate: CrossFit. Crossfitters invariably believe in constant progress. They believe that fitness is a linear, ever-rising thing, and that by merely being tough and grinding through workout after workout, a person can become super-fit.
This mentality goes against the training regimen of almost all world class athletes. Physical training must involve back off days, and slight variations in rep/set protocols as well as type of exercise in order to maximize results. Not only will people not see the best results from “maxing” every day, they will feel awful. Over training can make people miserable. The worst thing about over training is many people will not even realize just how bad they feel until they stop training and rest. Even then, they may not make the connection between their exercise and mood, sleep and appetite.
Fortunately the Army has caught on, though the word hasn’t made it yet to every ear. The new Army program, Physical Readiness Training (PRT), incorporates many aspects of periodization of exercise. Not only are Soldiers discouraged from going all out every day, but cardio and strength workouts are done on alternate days, a method scientifically proven to promote recovery.
I plan on fully incorporating the PRT model into my office’s training. But I expect some push-back from higher. Of course, I have the highest levels of the Army behind me as this as PRT has been mandated as the doctrine for Army physical training.
The recent speeches by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and NATO General Anders Fogh Rasmussen highlight Europe’s growing dependence on American military power. Europe is withering. Suckling on the teet of the American hegemon, Brussels has enjoyed the protection of the world’s greatest power and yet at times has been so critical of American interventionism that many Europeans resemble the two grumpy old men from The Muppet Show, Statler and Waldorf, hurling insults from afar and yet never failing to buy tickets and watch the show.
We must ask what Europe’s welfare state has bought them. A reluctance to spend on defense could be understood if in fact Europe’s quality of life were significantly better than Americas, but it’s not. Europeans should ask their respective governments how high taxes, hyper-regulation, and an impoverished military industrial complex manifestly makes Europe stronger, it’s people safer or happier.
America no longer has the will to fight and win wars. If our enemies are able to weather our airstrikes, we are wholly unprepared at nearly every level to place sufficient pressure on fanatical guerrillas whom find war a preferable state to peace. Never in history has an army enjoyed such a monopoly on firepower and mobility as does America, and yet been so unwilling to use it.
We are blessed by the geographical bulwarks of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and cursed with partisan demagogues in Washington who know little of military history or the culture of war. Perfectly willing to start a war, the politicians don’t want to hear what it takes to win it. No matter how much data multi-million dollar computer networks feed those in the Pentagon and Congress, few of the recipients of that data can feel our wars; the data crunchers and politicos can know the wars, but the visceral sensations of ground commanders and grunts will always be beyond them, as thus we can assume that almost all of their decisions will prove inadequate. When war does not fit into comfort zones or proffered theories, many believe we just need to try harder to make the theories work. Few would question the theories themselves lest horrible answers become truths.
Washington’s elites are safe when we lose. The 25 year old squad leader in Afghanistan is not.
The quaint mythologies of counterinsurgency theorems have us following a Yellow Brick Road paved by Non-Governmental Agencies and State Department aid money. We hoped that Oz was a place where suicidal zealots laid down their rifles and stopped making bombs in exchange for a school house and a new pair of shoes. When the curtain was thrown aside to reveal the Wizard, we saw his bloody hand raised skyward, grasping the severed head of the school teacher. And even when the sheer brutality and power of the Taliban terrorist revealed itself, we refused to believe what we saw. We prefer to think that all men want peace, that brutality doesn’t work, and that killing cannot be the answer. Convenient dreams for those in Washington whose greatest daily danger is a Tweeted revelation of sexual misconduct. We question ourselves whereas the men of old, seeing the world more clearly than do we, quickly identified the problem and dealt with it. Swimming is oceans of information, we find it more difficult to choose proper paths, but the ancient warriors of yore, though lacking technological aids—perhaps because he lacked those aids—instinctively discerned human psychology.
Enter Alexander The Great. Imagine for a moment that future technologies could spring the Macedonian king back to life and the modern social and political delusions that prevent decisive victories in war have vanished by the wayside. Now place Alexander in command of history’s most powerful military and charge him with defeating the insurgency in Afghanistan. First, we’ll have to listen to Alexander give us a history lesson. Contrary to revisionists whom extol the invincibility of Afghans fighters, Alexander was never defeated by the people inhabiting the land we now call Afghanistan. And then he would tell us that his tutor, Aristotle, wasn’t about giving peace a chance; the father of Western philosophy implored young Alexander to force Hellenistic ethnic supremacy upon the world of the barbarians.
To the Neo-Alexander, defeating the Taliban begins with an offer to meet insurgent leadership at the bargaining table. And here’s the offer: Submit or die. This language resonates with the Taliban at a far deeper level than does the current Coalition Force offers of reintegration and power sharing. A reasonable man, Alexander offers the Taliban their religion and way of life in exchange for their weapons. The sovereign lines of the Pakistani border mean nothing. They are semi-porous membranes that hold back American power and allow insurgents to move freely to and from their safe havens in Pakistan. In response to each suicide bomber making his way from Western Pakistan, Alexander orders biometric identification through DNA testing, and using covert CIA intelligence cells seeded throughout Pakistan, identifies the village from which the suicide bomber originated. The Macedonian orders B-2 bomber and Reaper drone strikes on all known Madrassas in the village. No apologies are offered for civilian casualties. The retributive strikes are timely and painful. The suicide bombers quickly transform from heroes to sources of great pain in the villages. Soon, being a suicide bomber is disgraceful, not honorable.
The terrorists resort to using their greatest weapon: The media. In response, all media embeds are ordered to leave Afghanistan. Journalists stream into North and South Waziristan, hoping to document American atrocities. Members of the Haqqani Network set up ad hoc repeater stations, hoping to broadcast propaganda from small, handheld Motorola VHF radios. America counters by dropping electromagnetic pulse bombs at random intervals into the tribal areas. These weapons destroy any modern electronic equipment, leaving journalists to their pens and notebooks and Haqqani insurgents to courier communications.
As for terrorist infiltration along the Pakistan border, Alexander knows that not every infiltrator can be stopped. However, it is possible to make crossing into Afghanistan too painful a gamble. Areas along the border are declared free-fire zones. Approximately 5 kilometers on each side of the border are free-fire; that is, since the areas are assumed cleared, anyone in those areas can be fired on. The 5 kilometer range allows for ranges of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan and Haqqani Network rocket fire, such as which killed two American Soldiers at FOB Salerno in May of 2011 (with no punitive action taken by the US military out of respect to our Pakistani “friends”).
Entire villages will be held accountable for the actions of individuals that live within them. Villagers in Afghanistan always know what goes on within the village. Villages where US forces are attacked will be subject to curfews and those found to be involved in insurgent activity shall be given a field trial by US military officers and if found guilty, executed. Special Operations night raids and air assaults will be constant in areas infested with Taliban, al-Qaeda and Haqqani fighters. Protests by villagers about the night raids will be ignored, as most of these protests are spawned by agitated insurgents. The cooperation of local villagers is the goal, but America under Alexander will place the safety of her troops and the destruction of the insurgency above the safety of villagers. Civilian casualties will be avoided when possible, but local Afghans will need to provide intelligence and information to American forces in order to ensure that America kills the right people. Otherwise, the insurgents will merely use civilains as living shields. Cooperation will help both the Afghans and America. The “sanctity” of the people will no longer be assumed; entire populations can be just as evil as individuals. The terrorists will be held to the same standards that the US military is held. All war crimes will be prosecuted in the field if possible.
The shrines of dead al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters will be closely monitored by payed CIA informants. Sympathizers who come to venerate terrorist grave sites will be followed, and at a convenient time, interviewed and their biometric data entered into a huge data base known as BATS–Biometrically Automated Toolset. These people will be placed on watch lists, denied entry to US bases, and denied the possibility of serving within Afghan government security forces for 5 years. Individuals assessed to be of a higher threat level shall be denied access and government work on a permanent basis.
Alexander will reward the friends of America. India, the largest democracy on Earth, will be provided special trade rights. She has earned it. A full embargo of Pakistan will commence. We have treated our enemies better than our friends in hopes that our goodwill would bring them to our side. But they mistook our goodwill for weakness. Those who fought bravely beside us, such as Britain, did not get 4 billion dollar rewards, such as did Pakistan.
Every chance will be given to those in the Federally Administered tribal Region of Pakistan to formally surrender Siraj and Jallaludin Haqqani, the familial leaders of the Haqqani Network. America will make war for a better peace denied her by maniacs. Letters will dropped in each village in North and South Waziristan, telling the inhabitants to give up their weapons and submit to searches of their residences. Aggressive actions taken by Pak military units will result in 5,000 lb GBU-28 Penetrator Bombs being dropped on all Pakistani nuclear missile sites, which have been carefully tracked by the National Ground Intelligence Center and the National Geospatial Agency for years. Alexander–a genius at war–knows that this war will escalate. All wars escalate. But no one can out-escalate the United States Military.
Villages not wishing to submit to search will be given 24 hours notice to evacuate. Then the village will be razed by Fire Support Teams (FIST) utilizing 155 mm Howitzer fire and B-52 Arc Light strikes and tactical airstrikes under the guidance of Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) teams. Not only will there be no apologies for these actions, Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) units will broadcast images of the destruction to other villages, warning them of the implications of resistance.
Anything less than the above guarantees an American defeat in Afghanistan. If our leaders cannot do what Alexander would do, they should save the blood of our Soldiers and Marines and bring them home. And they should never again begin or escalate a war for political gain if they don’t intend to win it.