Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Don't blame the military for the President's misuse of it.

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.


Lily said...

My rage has never been directed at those that serve, I point fingers at the leaders who use and exploit the lives of these young people for their own misguided agenda and lie to them,their families, and their communities.
I point fingers at those who test toxins and drugs on enlisted men and women, without their knowledge and without any responsibility for the future effects.
I point fingers at people that knowingly expose not only soldiers and civilians to depleted uranium, but lie about that. Or deny disability or help.
I point fingers at those that cover up the chromosomal abnormalities of babies born to vets from DU. I point fingers at those that CUT benefits to these men and women, lie about their exposures, send them to hazardous environemnts without adequate protection and downplay the risks of radiation.
I resent the recruiters that promise things to these kids that they cannot deliver, or without explaining the fine print or restrictions of some of the benefits.
I oppose using the blood of our kids unless all remedies have been exhausted, and even then... Last resort: thats honoring our troops.

Anonymous said...

Lily! You go, girl. That was a wonderful rant, and I'm with you on what you said.

Eli, supporting the military is easy for me. Supporting a c-i-c who misleads and mistreats our military is the big problem. I don't hold it against anyone who doesn't want to enlist with the poor conditions foisted on our troops these days, or because they don't want to die for a lie. They deserve so much more respect than what this government will give.

Our country would be much better protected if our military were HERE instead of being forced to fight an illegal war with an enemy that did not attack us. To those who would still enlist, I give my respect.

I'm glad you helped convince that young father about his priority, responsibility and accountability.

Too bad our government doesn't have those things.

Eli Blake said...


Nice rant, also.

And yes, I don't presume to IN ANY WAY excuse Mr. Bush. And one reason I'm a supporter of Bill Richardson and hope he becomes the next President is BECAUSE he is a man who genuinely believes in diplomacy.

I will say that sometimes wars are necessary (i.e. you can't do anything about someone like bin Laden except hunt them to the ends of the earth until they are either dead or in custody). That is why we need the military.

We are still paying the price for being lied into the war in Iraq, and then for the incompetent planning which accompanied it. And the whole thing about 'listening to the Generals on the ground' is hogwash, if that was true they would have listened to Shinseki.

To be honest, if I felt that we could still do some good in Iraq, I'd still be in favor of staying (regardless of how we got there). But right now, we are feeding the insurgency by our presence at least as much as we are harming it. Even a year or a year and a half ago, we could have really hurt it if, say, we had gotten Zarqawi. But it has now grown so much that even if we get him, it will be like getting Saddam. It won't make a bit of a difference anymore. And some of the actions we take (like bombing houses where we see men go into that might have been digging a hole) ultimately creates casualties beyond what we intend, and in the long run creates more insurgents.

But you still can't blame the troops for that, they are doing their job and they are doing it well. It's our inept leadership that makes us the best friend of the insurgents when it comes to recruiting more insurgents.

Eli Blake said...

Also, Lily:

You got your link.

Day by Day said...

Wonderfully said Lily!

I have friends who are serving this country proudly and do not think they are fighting in vain. I have lost 2 friends and my best friend is leaving in Feb to serve a nation that he loves.

I agree with you Eli. My views on this war change in some ways. I believe we went to war based on lies... but I have heard so many stories of what GOOD our soldiers are doing for the Iraqi people.

I support our troops... and will continue to do so... and I do beleive a shame on "Murtha" needs to be said... I have high respect for the man, but saying "no" wasn't a very smart or right thing to say...

shrimplate said...

Murtha was correct in espousing his opinion in a public forum.

I too commend the troops, and their efforts to protect one another are not in vain. That is all they are doing, though. The mission that placed them in such circumstances deserves no support.

Eli outlines three points of need for our servicepeople, and I suspect that when our leadership changes and we, as a nation, resume commitment to those points, then Murtha and others will resume their previous support for military volunteerism.

Tom said...

It is a shame that people don't support the troops regardless of whether they support the war or not. I have friends who are in the military that were sent to Iraq that completely oppose the war, but they have no choice.

Anonymous said...

Tom Zuzelo,

I do not know ONE Democrat who does NOT support our troops. I know of plenty in both parties who do not support a lying commander-in-chief who did not fulfil his own military commitment and forces our mility to risk their lives for his lies while cutting their benefits.

Anonymous said...

typo = s/b ...who did not FULFILL his own military commitment and forces our MILITARY to risk their lives... (whoops)

EAPrez said...

Eli the 54% quoted in the poll are 'career' folks. Not the enlisted grunt who is fighting in Iraq.
Have to disagree with your stance on this one. I did 10 years in the Air Force myself. My ex is still serving on active duty. I would not advocate ANYONE serving at this time under this president any more than I'd advocate anyone strapping a bomb to their body and blowing themselves up for their country. Why should you take the risk being deployed to an area where the war has not been executed properly from the onset? Like John Kerry said 'How do you ask a man to be the last man to die?" My own son was talking of joining the military and both his father and I are deadset opposed to it and would take the Murtha position not to join. I told my son to at least wait until the end of 2006 before making any decisions. We'll still have the same C-I-C BUT perhaps he will be severely weakend after the elections. Yeah, we do need a military...and if you want it to be a volunteer military then they'd better treat them right, use them when its absolutely necessary and give them what they need when you do use them. If they aren't going to do that (and they aren't) then don't ask for nor expect anyone to sacrifice.

Eli Blake said...


That is a shame. And whatever you think about the war, the men and women fighting it are Americans, and they are all sons, daughters, fathers, mothers and friends. If you are a parent, treat them the way you would want people to treat your child.

And as liberals the best way we can support the troops is to support 1) a consistent Iraq exit strategy which does give the Iraqi army a realistic deadline to take over from us (so they can dispense with the week off per month and other ways they've been dragging their heels), and 2) increased combat pay, immediate provision of uparmored vehicles and body armor (two years and $300 billion in, there is no excuse why this is even still an issue), full funding for the VA and schools for children of military families, and similar types of areas where Republicans have been up to their usual penny pinching tricks, and we can stand for what Liberals have always believed in--quality service provided by the government.