Every so often it comes up that I will put up a post that may provoke some disagreement among regular readers and this is one of those.
Friday, John Murtha was asked point-blank if he would join the military today, and he said, 'No.' Obviously the context was whether a young person should join, it was not whether he personally (being on the other side of sixty) would join.
Now, I have a great deal of respect for Congressman Murtha, and he was right a couple of months ago when he dared to state the obvious-- our troops in Iraq are, by their presence, creating more opportunities of all kinds for terrorists than they are taking away, and that the poorly defined and continually changing 'mission' has sapped strength from our military, with only 54% of active duty military personnel even willing to say that they approve of the way the President is handling Iraq (according to the latest military times poll (link credit to ea Prez). He was right to call for us to get out of what appears to be an endless war in Iraq. However, I disagree with his premise in his statement Friday.
I will say this. I was in High School ROTC for four years (and learned a great deal there, from first aid to how to find my way out of the woods if I get lost). I applied to go to school on a Naval ROTC scholarship (I failed the physical due to flat feet, but I did make an honest effort to serve this country). I admire the men and women who are willing to give three or four years of their lives to serve the rest of us, and that includes both friends and family of mine. So I am not at all anti-military.
I also did help (I won't say I was the only one involved) convince a young man I know last year not to join the Marines. The reason why was this: he had a two year old son over whom he had custody (his son's mother is somewhere drunk out in the hills). The point I made was very straightforward: his son needs him now, will need him to be around later in life, and has no other parent who deserves the name. Under the circumstances, it would have been irresponsible for him to join the military, and after thinking it through he agreed with those of us who made that point to him. And I fully support those who educate young people about the dangers involved in going to Iraq, so that they know when they join 1) that the chances are pretty good that they will go there, and 2) what the risks are if they do.
All that said, Congressman Murtha is wrong in suggesting that the answer should be, 'no' for every young person who is contemplating joining the military (regardless of their situation). We need the U.S. military for 1) defense (our country is blessed with an abundance of natural and industrial resources, and there are certainly plenty on this earth who are jealous enough to want to kill Americans in America if we let them-- Sept. 11 was proof of that), 2) to deter aggressive acts by regional powers, against us or our allies, and 3) to prosecute wars where they are justified-- we may or may not have committed enough troops to hunt for Mr. bin Laden, but hunt for him we must, and we need an effective, well funded and fully manned military to do that.
What we see today is a military that is strained, because it has been misused and in some cases outright abused. Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki advised Bush and Donald Rumsfeld that 400,000 troops would be necessary to prevent an insurgency from establishing itself during the occupation period in Iraq. They wanted to do it with 100,000 to save a few bucks (Gen. Casey managed to talk them up to 150,000) and Shinseki was drummed out of the army. Then they became aware of the inadequate armor that our soldiers were provided with, and still were skinflints on sending the armor that was needed. They tried to cut combat pay, did cut the VA, and when my brother in law's Colorado national guard unit got to come home for a couple of weeks, the military dumped them off on the east coast and they had to buy commercial flights home and back (after their families were already struggling since they left their jobs behind). Well, that is what happens when you trust Republicans to fund a war. Say what you will about Johnson and the many political mistakes that he made, but underfunding for the 500,000 troops we had there wasn't one of them. The soldiers in Iraq and elsewhere have done everything-- and more-- than has been asked of them. It is their leadership, especially in the White House, that has failed them.
Even in situations like Abu Graib, too much of the blame has been placed on the nineteen year old national guardmsen involved. Not that they don't deserve the sentences that they got, but ultimately it comes down to a lack of supervision and a lack of leadership (as it did all those years ago with another batch of nineteen year old guardsmen at Kent State). It is also what makes the Senate anti-torture bill (which Bush resisted until he couldn't any longer) so important. Even if we accept the administration at its word that torture was not being practiced and that it was wanting to reserve the option for extraordinary circumstances, without a clear statement against it, nineteen year olds left to try and figure out the rules of war on their own will sooner or later make the wrong call.
So let's remember to point the finger where it belongs. At the muffed opportunities and planning by the White House. Not at the soldiers in the field (who continue do do an extraordinary job). And if you are considering becoming one of them, then think about it very carefully. Learn the facts. Think through what the impact could be on those whose lives depend on you, especially children. Be aware that you may be sent to battle under a leader that has failed to lead. But also be aware that your country needs a lot more good people in the military, and if you believe that you can be one of them, then do what you believe is right.