Another important story about our army nearing the breaking point

Judging from the many previous chapters in this series, this post will have relatively few hits — and feature critical (often abusive) comments from pro-war folks who have read neither the DoD report nor the news articles, but know they’re wrong.  The anti-war folks will have little or nothing to say.  The combo raises the question:  does America love its men and women in uniform only so long as they need not think about them?  How does this differ from not giving a damn?

These problem will only grow worse as we maintain the same number of troops in Iraq through early 2010 (at least, per these reports) and substantially increase our forces in Afghanistan.  This endless high activity level will continue to erode away the edge of our military.  On the other hand, our trashed economy has made  recruitment and retention easier for the military.

For more about this topic, see the many previous posts in this series (links at the end).

The new report about the latest series of problems:

A series of articles by the Colorado Springs Gazette about the events at Fort Carson

  1. Killings allegedly committed by Fort Carson soldiers“, 15 July 2009
  2. Fort Carson report: Combat stress contributed to soldiers’ crimes back home“, 16 July 2009
  3. EDITOR’S NOTE: A note of caution about the Lethal Warriors package“, 25 July 2009
  4. Casualties of War, Part I: The hell of war comes home“, 26 July 2009
  5. Casualties of War, Part II: Warning signs“, 27 July 2009

Excerpt from #2, the Gazette article about the US Army report:

Most Fort Carson soldiers who came home from war to commit murder had lives that were broken by combat stress, mental illness and drug and alcohol problems, a report released by the Army today says.

The report, commissioned by commanders last year after six 4th Brigade Combat Team soldiers were charged in murders in a 12-month period, says combat stress, and mental health issues found in the bulk of soldiers-turned-killers combined with a cocktail of substance abuse issues, including drug and alcohol abuse, that wasn’t consistently addressed.

It will result in increased screening for soldiers who show signs of trouble, policy changes and a series of Army studies at Fort Carson and elsewhere to better determine what eight years of war have done to troops. But the study reached no conclusions that showed a direct cause-and-effect relationship that led to the killings.

Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, the Army’s surgeon general, said while no one factor accounts for the violence, several causes contributed to the cluster, including substance abuse, mental illness and failures of leadership. “Those three in combination are a really toxic mix,” he said at a Fort Carson news conference.

The toxic mix left a death toll in Colorado.

  • Judilianna Lawrence, 19, was raped and killed by a soldier last October, prosecutors charge.
  • In June 2008, Cesar Ramirez Ibanez, 21, and Amairany Cervantes, 18, were mowed down with an AK-47. A soldier is charged.
  • In December, 2007, Spc. Kevin Shields was shot to death on the city’s west side. Three soldiers are in prison for that.
  • A few months earlier, Pfc. Robert James was shot to death in a robbery. Two soldiers are doing time for it.
  • Before that, a taxi driver in Pueblo was gunned down by a Fort Carson GI who has since been convicted.
  • Another soldier is doing 30 years behind bars for gunning down an alleged drug dealer in a botched robbery.
  • One killed his infant.
  • One killed a friend with a fire poker.
  • Another killed his wife and then himself.

Would you like to support our men and women in uniform?

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Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

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For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest are:

Posts about America’s men and women in uniform:

  1. An effective way to support our Troops: help the Blue Star Mothers of America, 8 June 2008
  2. Time: “America’s Medicated Army”, 12 June 2008
  3. Stratfor: “The U.S. Air Force and the Next War”, 13 June 2008
  4. “VA testing drugs on war veterans” – The Washington Times and ABC News, 18 June 2008
  5. Support the USO – more effective than a bumper sticker, 5 July 2008 — Another way to support our troops, more effective than a bumper sticker.
  6. Is post-traumatic stress disorder more common now than in past wars?, 17 July 2008
  7. One of the best geopolitical posts of the year, IMO, 12 August 2008 — “War is the great auditor of institutions”
  8. A lesson for America – and an inspiration, 13 March 2009
  9. “VA testing drugs on war veterans” – The Washington Times and ABC News, 18 June 2008
  10. Is post-traumatic stress disorder more common now than in past wars?, 17 July 2008
  11. Suicides skyrocket among US soliders, 26 March 2009
  12. Background info to the “U.S. Soldier Opens Fire on Comrades” incident, 12 May 2009
  13. Did exposure to “burn pits” in Iraq and Afghanistan harm our troops?, 1 July 2009

32 thoughts on “Another important story about our army nearing the breaking point”

  1. Update: See senecal’s explanation of this in comment #16.}

    Glad to see you back. I thought comments were off until the 29th.

    I want to be one anti-war person who responds to this report, though I disagree with the title that “the military is near the breaking point.” The point of this report is an unmentioned human cost of war, and one taking place right before our eyes. Numerically, it’s far less significant than the deaths of innocent Iraquis, or the deaths of US soldiers in Iraq, but symbolically it’s important for us to recognize that war continues to kill our children and neighbors even after they’re home.

    To me, this is only part of a larger issue, that war makes all of us stupid, insensitive, prone to accepting violent behavior and indifferent to traditonal ethical norms. I don’t care if the military is broken — though your remark that the recession is making recruiting easier contradicts that claim. Let it be broken faster!
    Fabius Maximus replies: I find this comment confusing and the ending disgusting.

    “though I disagree with the title that ‘the military is near the breaking point.'”

    I find it difficult to imagine that anyone can say such a thing after looking at the series of articles shown on the FM reference page “An Army near the Breaking Point – studies & reports.” These go back to 2000, and show an increasingly serious pattern of problems.

    “though your remark that the recession is making recruiting easier contradicts that claim”

    No, it does not. During recessions people accept dangerous jobs that they would consider during better days. During the Great Depression men worked to build Hoover Dam despite the criminally-negligent safety conditions (e.g., use of gasoline engines in tunnels).

    ” I don’t care if the military is broken … Let it be broken faster!”

    That is one of the most repellent comments I’ve seen on this site, an example of what I meant by anti-war Americans who don’t give a damn about our troops. Policy on the FM site prevents me from adequately expressing my feelings about anyone who writes such a thing.

  2. I’m so sorry if you’re upset with senecal, but what is the point of your post, FM? Use drug addiction as an analogy. Do we just keep on going – enabling the crackup? Or do we intervene? If we are going to intervene, that would require some plain talk and frank language.

    As for “love of troops,” that has been used as a proxy for far too many disturbing, frankly sometimes fascist, policies recently for me to feel comfortable with it. And, in a democracy, the military, including its troops, occupies a secondary and supportive position.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I am depressed to find it necessary to explain this. Wars are terrible things, and should be waged only when serious national interests are at stake. As I have explained in so many posts, our current wars do not qualify on any rational basis since…
    * the cost in foreign lives is high, probably with little benefit to thise people,
    * the cost to our men and women in uniform is high, with little benefit to America.
    Since these things remain unknown to most Americans (as seen in the comments on this site), I provide specific examples as evidence.

    “I’m so sorry if you’re upset with senecal”

    Anyone who says “Let it be broken faster!” — “it” meaning men and women doing the jobs that we (collectively through our institutions) have assigned them — IMO deserves strong censure.

    “as for “love of troops,” that has been used as a proxy for far too many disturbing, frankly sometimes fascist, policies recently for me to feel comfortable with it.”

    And “I love you” has been used by too many scheming men and women. Ditto for love of nation. Your point is what?

  3. It is the people of the army that are near the breaking point. I prefer to say ‘care of troops’ instead of ‘love of troops’. We care for them like prisoners. The VA is sometimes akin to prison heath care, the food, clothing and living conditions too. On top of that, bad pay and people trying to kill you. And nowhere near your home and loved ones. Any rational person would be near the breaking point. I have read studies that claim murders by servicemen (and women) were less than the civilian population, and others refuting those studies. I am not an expert, but basic mental and heath care might not be enough under these conditions. “The anti-war folks will have little or nothing to say.” You nailed that one. I don’t think it is smart to be anti-war or pro-war because it is situational. Some are worth fighting for, some are not.

  4. FM;
    this is a topic near and dear to my heart. i love soldiers. always have. they are the best. however, the army has a climate that makes serving difficult even in peace. add war to the mix, and that is the toxic effect. i personally have seen leaders abuse soldiers with any sort of mental problems. under that kind of pressure, many people snap. we pay lip service to leadership because the army is obsessed with measurable success. if you can measure it, you can’t take credit for it. leadership is not a hard science and doesn’t lend itself to accurate measures. we can generalize by taking a “command climate survey” but that just measures the commander. what about the team leader or squad leaders that are toxic to their troops? most officers i know are too busy to sit down with their joes and get to know them and find out what makes them tick or if anything is wrong. this “leadership by exception” environment promotes abuses because leaders are too busy to monitor what is going on. on top of that, many leaders lack the personality or skills to be good leaders. leaders that do well in the military by showing a high level of organizational skills, tend also to be resistant to change and hard on themselves and others. they have very narrow vision and self righteous. it isn’t any wonder that unit morale is bad if your chain of command fits these characteristics.

    the military won’t get “fixed” until we address the lack of leadership that is plaguing us. it won’t matter whether we are at war or peace.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Sad but true, as documented by DoD reports on the FM reference page An Army near the Breaking Point – studies & reports. Look at this quote from the first article in section II: Chief of Staff of the Army’s Leadership Survey 2000 (before our current round of wars):

    Top-down loyalty – DOES NOT EXIST. Senior leaders will throw subordinates under the bus in a heartbeat to protect or advance their career. There is no trust of senior leaders in terms of loyalty because the record is clear. At the highest level, as example, 4 stars will watch our health care erode without taking a stand.

    Any ideas about solutions? Will the necessary reforms come from within, or await external political pressure?

  5. Fascinating that the Army’s report carefully avoided mentioning the primary causes of soldiers’ mental collapse and drug addiction, alocholism and broken marriages: namely, the savagely relentless stop-loss orders which force repeated rotations into combat extending into 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 or more sequential tours of duty. From the dishonest and thoroughly cowardly blame-shifting of the Army report, we can see the true attitude of the Pentagon and the average American toward our soldiers…total contempt.

    Americans disdain our soldiers for several reasons. First, with the advent of an all-volunteer army, recruitment has shifted geographically and educationally. Once upon a time, during the high point of conscription in the Vietnam war, a white grad student might find himself serving next to a black inner city youth. But today, volunteer recruit come predominately from the poorest rural areas of the midwest and the deep south, and almost entirely among the lowest-educated and poorest quartile of the American population.

    Beware the lying reports of the Heritage Foundation and the army-spun propaganda disputing these facts. The Army’s failed effort to debunk the drastic decline in educational quality of the American soldier claimed that “there is nothing new” in the fact that most recruits come from rural areas. That’s an inept effort to deflect attention from the documented fact that “30 percent of the armed forces are black, African-American; 12 percent of the comparable pool of the work force is black. …Even at this low pay, the Army is now saying it’s going to lower its standards even further in order to get people in the military.” (Debating the Draft, 1999)

    “…Rural areas and the South produced more soldiers than their percentage of the population would suggest in 2003. Indeed, four rural states — Montana, Alaska, Wyoming and Maine — ranki 1-2-3-4 in their proportion of their 18-24 pouplations enlisted in the military.” (dishonest op-ed piece that tries to lie with statistics, 2005)

    When we investigate the median income in Montana, Alaska and Wyoming, we discover that while the national median household income is $43,531, the per capita income in Montana is $22,937. The per capita income in Alaska is $30,977, and the per capita income in Wyoming is $28,807. All far below the national average. Wyoming and Alaska and Montana have among the largest rural populations of any U.S. state, so clearly (despite the lying op-eds and propaganda spin by the U.S. army PR flacks) the poorest and most rural states provide the most recruits.

    Add to this headlines like More entering army with criminal records: more recruits have criminal records, no high school diploma and Army lowers its recruiting standards (despite lying articles by the Heritage foundation and the Army PR flacks which claim the contrary), and you can see why Americans have such contempt for their troops.

    We must recognize that we really have two U.S. Armies. One, the elite brass, consists of people whose families know a U.S. congressman personally — that’s what it takes to get an appointment to West Point. The other, much larger group, consists of rural poor kids, inner city gang members and people who couldn’t graduate from high school, and who see the Army as an alternative to working as midnight shift stockboy at the local supermarket.

    The elite well-connected Annapolis-educated and West-Point-graduate Pentagon brass also have total contempt for today’s enlisted man, as amply evidenced by articles like The Army’s other crisis: why the best and brightest are leaving.

    Indeed, what do the mid-level Army officers (captains, majors) themselves say about the top Pentagon brass?

    Top-down loyalty – DOES NOT EXIST. Senior leaders will throw subordinates under the bus in a heartbeat to protect or advance their career. There is no trust of senior leaders in terms of loyalty because the record is clear.

    Lastly, we have the attitude of civilian political leaders, whose mindset toward the average enlisted man was made quite clear by Henry Kissinger’s famous statement, “Military men are dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns for foreign policy.” [Henry Kissinger, quoted by Bob Woodward in The Final Days, 1976]

    When Pentagon brass and civilian political leaders have such acid contempt for the typical American soldier, why should we expect to the American people to feel any differently?

    A reasonable person may deplore Senecal’s assertion that “I don’t care if the military is broken — let it be broken faster!” Translation: let’s have more rapes and murders by tormented ex-G.I.s, let’s pile up the corpses of their wives and children even faster. Repulsive indeed.

    Yet a reasonable person can also empathize with the frustration behind Senecal’s ill-advised outburst. The military-industrial juggernaut continues to chew up lives, destroy people in foreign countries, gobble up our national savings, and turn America into a proto-fascist garrison state, all to no purpose. Presumably Senecal hopes that if the U.S. Army breaks entirely, the military-industrial bubble will pop. But history shows that’s not what happens, for as we see, the top civilian and military leaders have so far entirely succeeded at evading any responsibility for their heinous continued extensions of duty that drive ordinary soldiers to divorce, alcoholism, drug abuse, and eventually suicide, mental illness and murder. Instead, the more badly the Army breaks, if history proves any guide, the more savagely the average recruit will get blamed and the more contempt the American people will be encouraged to have for him.

    We need to end the ever-escalating, never-ending cycle of pointless losing foreign wars and military buildup, but it won’t happen simply because the Army breaks. We have to end the madness at its source, the American people’s apparent infinite willingness to support crazy counterproductive foreign adventurism and a military-industrial complex that gobbles up ever more of their tax receipts without providing anything of value.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Most of these are sad but true, well-documented by articles (most from the Dept of Defense) listed on the FM reference page An Army near the Breaking Point – studies & reports.

  6. @McLaren
    I think if you hit the nail on the head, but to deal with the issue at the source would take a dramatic and fundamental shift in public awareness and engagement with politics, leading to action being demanded by ordinary Americans. To expect the change to happen from the “political” class is simply a waste of time. Like FM has said in other thread, “may as well wait for the Magic Blue Fairy(tm) to come along and sort it out for you”

    The sad thing is, that your military is engaged in a region that my country (UK) was involved in for well over 100 years. Our involvement with Afghanistan goes back that far as well. We lost 2 wars in that region, drew a third, wasted a jaw breaking amount of money fighting a fourth. Tried old methods of paying for tribal levies and air campaigns bombing isolated villages and for what? We left the region in 1947 with our tails tucked firmly between our legs, with nothing to show for it, and financially broke. Our military completely spent and busted. Remember that we had national conscription back then, but that stopped in 1960 largely because it was becoming too expensive to maintain.

    Fast forward to today and we trying once again to compel a people we still don’t understand to yield on bended knee to us, when history shows that it has never worked. My government has declared “panthers claw” a success but this was probably announced to avoid any more scrutiny about severe shortages in equipment and men. We are pushing our army to breaking point as well, and just to throw salt into the wounds, those same politicians who profess love of country and support for “our troops” are doing their damnedest to cheat crippled soldiers out of compensation to pay for their care costs in civilian life.

    Your own government is pushing your army to utter ruin, with little to show for it but a generation of broken men and women, returning to a society that blissfully unaware of what is being done in their name, and a political class who think “support for the troops” is nothing more than a convenient sound bite.
    Fabius Maximus replies: How is the British army doing? They’ve also operated at a high tempo for the past 7 years. Any signs of stress? If not, why not?

  7. Indian Investor

    They became barbarians because they were free to rape, slaughter and loot innocent foreigners without being suject to any laws. They’re now so addicted to rape, drugs and murder that their own mother is scared of being near them. Let’s have a circus on the front steps of Capitol Hill and feed them to the lions.

  8. FM: “How is the British army doing? They’ve also operated at a high tempo for the past 7 years. Any signs of stress? If not, why not?

    It is showing signs of stress, but there is a tendency to downplay it…you can put that down to typical British “stiff upper lip” syndrome. You just have trawl the news to gather nuggets of information that help build up the picture of events.

    Back in late June 2008 Sir Jock Stirrup (Chief of defence Staff) warned the conflicts were stretching UK military capabilities to near breaking point. This year we hear Stirrup going against the Government line about equipment, claiming that he had “Bust a gut” to procure more Helicopters. We also have the extraordinary intervention of Sir Richard Dannatt (current Chief of the General Staff) concerning his having to use a US Blackhawk Helicopter as a taxi to visit troops and his “shopping list” for vital equipment.

    It seems that the army was trying to keep in line with the Government that they had everything they needed, but these two new interventions changed the debate: a recognition that the military could no longer convincingly maintain they had sufficient resources; and a genuine fear that the battle in Helmand could be lost. Combine this with a sharp increase in casualties and suddenly the electorate (whose support for this engagement is not that high) are demanding answers to awkward questions. We even had your VP Joe Biden writing a piece praising the British Army, the vital role they were playing and the need to prevail, adding finally a warning that casualties would happen. This was something that our own Government was loathe to do it seems. This sort of thing gets noticed in the UK media and with the general public at large.

    So imagine the scene, you’re on the back foot, being grilled endlessly about defence spending, and the lack of helicopters. Plans leak about trying to quickly refurbish outdated Puma and Sea King helicopters for operations in “Panthers Claw” So suddenly…Panthers Claw is declared a Success! Hurrah for our side and god bless the Queen! And all you have to do watch (without feeling a sicking sense of Deja-vu) David Miliband talking about reaching out to “moderate” elements of the Taliban, as part of the Clear, hold and build strategy…but not the ones we’ve just been fighting, as they have chosen the path of violence. Odd…isn’t that exactly the ones we need to be talking to?

    Taken in combination with other news stories concerning the Armed forces involvement with current operations in Afghanistan, (which started back in 2007) you start to get a rough outline of the strains the system is being put under. A decision to raise the upper limit on recruitment age from 26 to 33. (Number of recruits to the army at that time was 12.5k, but they had lost around 15k personnel) So there is a serious shortfall in manpower which is continuing to this day. Retention is a serious problem but politicians of all parties shy away from any system similar to the current US system which is putting considerable strain on the US military.

    In May of this year we had a report that the M.O.D was failing to meet half of the demands to send essential equipment to UK armed forces in Afghanistan. Commanders on the ground lost all faith in the new Vector vehicle going back to Snatch Land Rovers The suspension and hub wheels on the Vector (brought in to originally replace the lightly-armoured Snatch Land Rovers that are more susceptible to roadside bombs), were poor, spare parts limited and its underside provided limited blast protection! This forced the government to rush through up armoured versions of the Snatch. (you can’t make this up, honestly)

    The Mastiff..intended to be used for road patrols was switched to off-road and was soon found to be incapable of handling the conditions. Because of the ridiculous situation of running an army at an intense war time tempo but handling its resupply at a peace time tempo, has led to procuring parts for these vehicles being far too slow. This Resulted in 30% of the vehicles being out of action while “contractual” difficulties were resolved.

    So the signs of stress are there, but sadly there is a “I’m alright Jack” mentality in the UK armed forces which is sadly exploited by ministers in government and praised in Jingoistic terms in certain pages of the tabloid press.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thank you for this comment!

  9. There is something definitely broke. When I was an officer it was drilled into us “soldiers first” but now it seems that’s been forgotten. The relentless rotations of the active forces plus the continued activation of reserve and guard units is slowly bringing things to a head.

    This was one of the primary reasons I saw no reason to go into Iraq. We just didn’t have the manpower to sustain long term deployments without long term negative impacts. But the Brass said “can do” so they would cover their careers. It’s frustrating. But we know the soldiers see’s. Excerpt from Kiplings “Tommy”

    “You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
    We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
    Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
    The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
    For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an` Chuck him out, the brute! ”
    But it’s ” Saviour of ‘is country ” when the guns begin to shoot;
    An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
    An ‘Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool – you bet that Tommy sees!”

  10. Re solutions.
    we have to fix our broken promotion system. that’s it. very simple. the officers i work with are most comfortable giving orders with little bottom up feedback. their attitudes are “make it happen”. we had an open revolt in the company grade officers against these types during the war. for a time, things changed but they are rapidly returning to the old way because we didn’t clear out any of the old dead wood. the company grades that survived this experience are getting out and we are losing the lessons and experiences learned.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I suggest reading Don Vandergriif’s works for more about this. See The Essential 4GW reading list: Donald Vandergriff.

  11. FxConde:

    Actually, I was thinking of posting about “Tommy” myself, but to the effect that in Britain, people could and did directly critize its troops. In the face of which both Britain and its army somehow muddled through. Unlike the frankly PC attitude toward them so common today – as evidenced by FM’s histrionics.

    Only last night, Billy Kristol on Jon Stewart actually said that ordinary Americans did not deserve the healthcare the soldiers get, that ordinary citizens are not worthy.

    And that is sick.

  12. Lots of heat here, not much light. Yes, our Army is under tremendous stress.

    Small unit leadership is crucial to the success of soldiers under stress. The Ft. Carson brigade had poor leadership (tolerated lax discipline, drug abuse, and abuse of the civilian population) and we see the poisonous results in these murders.
    You can draw a lot of grandiose conclusions about foreign intervention and recruiting policies, but the fact of the matter is that for most of the soldiers in these units, their leaders failed them and failed the Army. The rest were criminals who should have been shut down while still in-country by those same “leaders.”

    Being a small unit leader is hugely challenging, and it takes tremendous courage and persistence (often challenging your bosses) to shut down drug abuse and undisciplined behavior, and denude your unit of critically needed manpower in order to relieve unsuitable or mentally ill soldiers. Some will invariably fail. But it must be done for the good of the unit–otherwise, these are the results.

    The Army is a big organization and the culture varies from unit to unit — there will be breakdowns. Yet I suspect that the homicide rates for the Army are still lower than those of the same demographic (18-24 year-old males) in the population at large (26.4 per 100K, source). The reason I say “suspect” is that hard data on the soldier and vet murder rate is difficult to come by, but a study looking at 1995-99 data said that Army service was negatively correlated and 38% lower (source “A Cross-National Analysis of Military Participation and Crime Rates“, Ivan Y Sun, Journal of Political and Military Sociology, Winter 2006), and a blogger early last year took the NY Times to task for bogus reporting on this subject and did a reasonable “back-of-the-envelope” calculation on the returning soldier-offender murder rate (Powerline, 13 January 2008).

    This is not in any way to dismiss the problem but to put it in perspective.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I disagree with all of this. First, small unit leadership is not a primary factor, but rather an end result of the organization’s culture — officer recruitment, training, promotion, and doctrine.

    Second, I suspect your perspective is incorrect. What is significant is not the rate in the past but the trend. Soldiers had lower suicide rates than their civilian peers, but this has changed in the past year or so. As you note, we don’t have accurate comparative crime data — but there are indications that those rates for soldiers and recent vets are also rapidly increasing.

  13. I only read the papers but little snipets begin to come from soldiers asking what is their flippin mission supposed to be ? Which echoes the public perception . ( No polls to ‘ prove ‘, I’m afraid ). It was Osama. ( Why wasnt he tried in absentia , in Cout of Law ? We beleive in Fair Play . ) It was terrorism . ( What about Saudi ? Ourselves ? The US ? ) Then it was Freedom and Democracy ( Yeah , Karzai and the warlords ? ) Then it was Women’s Rights and Education ( so why in heavens name did we help kick out the Communists ? We dont have this Reds under the Bed thing the US does ) . Then it was Pipelines ( anyone know where the pipes are ? ). Then it was Opium ( Which we grow legally in Oxfordshire on prime wheat growing land . )Now its terrorism again . ( So we chase the Taliban from Helmand into Baluchistan so they can sneak up behind the Pakistan army . Or come to Britain stowed away in trucks . )
    Finally , there are serious questions to be asked about the official 7/7 London bombing story .

  14. “Does America love its men and women in uniform only so long as they need not think about them?”

    It is quite different to respect a soldier and to respect an Army. (I have intentionally used the word respect instead of the word love.) A person can respect one without similarly respecting the other.

    Soldiers – They are a cross section of our society even though they may come from segments that are not deemed most desirable or not distributed in a representative manner. Those segments may change depending on times and situations, resulting in a perceived or actual change of societal respect. Soldiers are certainly motivated by their Service’s cultures, capabilities and activities, both positively and negatively (as they should be).

    Armies – Each Service has a unique culture and different capabilities. Just think about the variations in the pointy end of their spears and the composition of those spears. Respect is highly dependant on Service behavior and use. Control of their behavior is possible. Control of their use is only partially self-contained. Excessive or inappropriate use can cause many stress fractures and we seem to be experiencing displays of some of those stress fractures (read: unintended consequences).

    An anecdote about Service leadership: While attending a joint school near Washington DC, I listened to many retired and active-duty military leaders say things they should have and could have said publicly, but didn’t (non-attribution was promised to them). Such actions affect both behavior and use.

    My answer to the above question is: probably.

    As for solutions, only a deep crisis will cause significant beneficial changes because only a deep crisis will significantly modify societal desires. The system perpetuates itself. That belief is skeptical but not cynical. It is based on many experiences and some knowledge of history. I know FM likes published references. That is one reason I enjoy visiting this site – but my references are contained in brain cells and cell connections. My wife and kids tell me I am wired strangely.

  15. Re: FM reply to comment #1:

    Of course I don’t mean by that let Americans soldiers be more harmed. I mean let the institution of the military — the leadership, it Congressional supporters, its industrial providers, and the corporate interests which benefit from it — be broken faster. I also mean let the cult of the military — the popular belief that our high-tech, massive destructive machine proves our superiority as a nation, and that service in it is some kind of selfless gift to society — be broken too.

    I feel that individual soldiers are victims of a corrupt, self-serving, bloated system, and I feel the same sympathy for them as I do for anyone in prison, unable to find a job, or feed his family. You badly mis-read my original comment if you think otherwise.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thank you for the explanation. I’ve added a link to this on your original comment.

  16. Recently, I made this picture concerning the topic at hand. I concur with those that say the repeat deployments are the root of the problem. In my own post combat (vietnam) anxiety, I had recurrent dreams through decades later where I would find myself in some other foreign land with a rifle in hand and absolutely no clue as to why I was there. Its hard to imagine todays soldiers that manage to survive a war zone/occupation tour to only be sent back again and again, and never see any progress being made. These people are serving in a kind of purgatory where like sisyphus, they are made to repeat the same dangerous tasks that that bear no fruit at there expense. I would imagine that this state of affairs also produces a dangerous mental subtext culture that in an endlessly revolving death lottery, its best to take as little chance as possible – which means removing oneself or eschewing oneself from anything resembling trust in the native population, or better yet eliminate any potential threat within that the culture before it can express itself. Shoot first ask questions later, then becomes not only a psychological crutch based on survival, but a self fulfilling prophecy that is perpetually generating anew the expected threat that justifies the initial overreaction. I think this is called a vicious circle, for good reason and is probably one of the larger underlying reason the occupation forces have never generated an iota of tolerance or respect in all these years.

  17. annamissed,
    why do you assume progress isn’t being made in iraq. i’m in iraq. the progress in the past two years has been startling. Once the joke of the police corps, the iraqi federal police (once national police) is a highly professional unit and they are motivated and proud. i work here as a police trainer and i see the iraqis taking charge, being proactive, and learning from there mistakes. there are days that i wonder if we might have tipped the balance of power in the middle east by instilling a real sense of professionalism in the officer corps. it is too early to tell, but great things are happening here. the US military has taken a back seat to everything here. we don’t patrol the cities, we have to be escorted every where our convoys go by iraqi police and things are brighter than they have ever been. turn off cnn and bbc, get to know some people in the military and open your eyes and mind.
    Fabius Maximus replies: These things are largely matters of perspective. Compared with January 2003 or January 2004 things in Iraq (i.e., not including Kurdistan) conditions in Iraq are far worse by most metrics. Compared with almost any other nation in the world, conditions in Iraq remain horrific.

    As I started writing back in 2007, conditions in Iraq would improve — largely irrespective of US actions, or inaction — as their ancient and deeply-rooted society rebuilt itself. And so it has.

  18. In comment #4 Mj Scarlet wrote: “this is a topic near and dear to my heart. i love soldiers. always have. they are the best.”

    These kinds of comments are what makes it difficult to have a rational discussion with supporters of the military. No, soldiers are not the best, soldiers are people and there are a mix of good and bad, good guys and scum bags, law abiders and criminals, just as with other people.

    I am former military (pvt) my father holds is a sgm and my younger brother is currently doing his cpt training at the academy. I am mentioning this to put it in context that I am not talking out of my ass here, I have experience to back this claim. Also knowing my father and brother intimately I know that they have their good and bad points and me also. I would never make a statement to say that any of us are the BEST people.

    To make a blanket statement that military personel are the BEST people makes me tend to disregard everything else you say with regards to soldiers and the military as suspect because you quite obvioulsy look at the issue with blinders. Regardless of what salient points you actually may present.

    That being said, I also have to agree on the leadership issue, both in my national army and what I have seen of yours working with the US-army in Bosnia. I must say though, that my impression is that you have more problems in this regard than the Royal Danish Army has. I cannot say why this is but speculate that it has to do with the fact that we still have national service and thus a better cross section of all socio-economic classes amongst our NCOs and quite possibly a lot of officers who would never have considered a military career had it not been for the service. This of course os pure speculation.

  19. Rune,
    I’m a 22 year veteran, former battalion commander, and currently serving in iraq. when i say they are the best, i mean that of all the people in the army, i like serving with soldiers (not officers or nco’s). they are funny, witty, and energetic. most of the times. i understand soldiers have a bad side. i’ve sent one to jail and i separated one from the military. i’ve seen soldiers do some bad things but i’ve also seen them do some great things. regardless. i still love them. serving on staff in the military is awful. serving with soldiers is great (good with the bad). honestly, the fact that you even brought it up is childish and immature. your knee jerk assumptions are laughable and speak more your lack of judgment than mine.

    perhaps, instead of attacking someone a losing your credibility, you should first seek to understand, then be understood. it will give you more credibility {snip}
    Fabius Maximus replies: I understand the impluse to make personal comments (God knows I’m often sorely tempted, and sometimes too weak to resist). Esp on matters like this, where my sympathy is with you. But that’s not how this site operates, hence the snip to your last sentence.

  20. when i say they are the best, i mean that of all the people in the army, i like serving with soldiers (not officers or nco’s). they are funny, witty, and energetic. most of the times. i understand soldiers have a bad side.

    Given this explanation of what you ment with that statement, I will gladly retract my critique and apologise the offence it quite clearly generated.

  21. As a veteran long out of the service (an NCO), I will tell you that leadership is the single most important skill in the military and the absolute hardest to train and develop in an individual.

    The military can and does train its officers and senior NCOs in the care and feeding of soldiers and lower level enlisted personnel–a necessary matter. The military also trains is upper and middle management how to measure results. The problem that you find is that this is often called leadership training and it is not.

    Leadership is much more complicated than that. I think part of the problem stems from the notion that somehow the American military has confused technical knowledge and skill with the concept of leadership and I do not believe it has served the military well.

    At a time when the operation tempo has ratched ever upward, the importance of leadership takes on a much more vital role. But leadership has become treated as a science in the military, rather than an art.

    The mess at Ft. Carson is just that a mess. It is clearly a failure of leadership complicated by other matters. Alcohol abuse (and to a lesser extent drug abuse) is nothing new in the military.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I am not sure about your point here. There is probably something systemic at work, not just individual failures of leadership (inevitable in any large organization).

    As for leadership, I strongly recommend reading the work of one who has written extensively about this: The Essential 4GW reading list: Donald Vandergriff.

  22. Major Scarlet, I’m quite sure what you say is true – as defined by the metrics you and the government are so fond of measuring these things by. The problem is that the entire context that these metrics are being used is severely distorted. You still have millions (much of the professional class) living in exile, cities walled into cantons, would be resistance fighters being payed off, a state government structure deemed one of the most corrupt on the planet, that after years in office still doesn’t have a properly outfitted military capable of national defense. So sure, you can build a delicate house of cards (your metrics of progress) in a hurricane (the context), within the confines of a concrete bunker (the general Iraq policy directives). I think what is really going on is the U.S. is trying to create a multi-level dependency that will eventually, “if successful” render Iraq as a dependable client state along the lines of an Egypt.

  23. rune,
    it is obvious to anyone that the quote “they are the best” begs the question “what metric are you using to make that statement?” anyone that values critical thought, seeks to understand, then to be understood. everyone has biases but that doesn’t mean you have to BE biased. i’m going to respect FM’s comment section and attempt to keep the subject on topic and not draw out my defense of what i said because at the end of the day, i don’t care what you think of me.

    re: the “multi-level dependency”: i believe you are under the assumption that america has a coherent strategy and one that would survive a transfer from a republican to democratic administration. if so, you give our State Department too much credit. i’ve commented in other threads about the problems iraq faces and they are many, but the successes are much more than are being reported in the media. i see them every day. our motto here is “baby steps”. i think because you don’t have any experience at building a nation, you can’t respect just how difficult that task is.

    also,so what if the military isn’t properly outfitted? have you ever tried to outfit a military during a civil war much less build a country? you act like this stuff just happens because you want it to. we’ve only had a couple years of relative stability. the early years here were a mess until we solved the insurgency issue. it is going to take more time. success here will be measured in years or decades. it is much too early to be as critical as you are. you are simply expecting too much. historically, we have been here a short time.

    i get paid to make proper assessments of the police i train. i don’t sugar coat anything and i push back against officers that do. we do not, however, measure them to the standards we measure our military. it is a different culture and we have to adapt to what right looks like to them.

    for the record, i’m worried about what will happen when the combat forces leave but it is their country and they make the rules now. i wouldn’t make assumptions just yet about the future of iraq. it could go either way but i’m starting to finally see positive developments that will help in the future. we’ll see.
    Fabius Maximus replies: America does have a consistent strategy (as such things go in the real world), and it has remained so during both Republican and Democratic Administrations (Congress, too — not that they matter much). Note the similarities between the Clinton and Bush administrations on either side — and how Obama has continued most of the Bush Jr. policies (despite the wishes of his core supporters).

    ” if so, you give our State Department too much credit.”

    Absurd. The State Department has not been a policy-setter since the Kennedy Administration. Some Secretaries of State have had influence (e.g., Kissinger), but that resulted from their personal strength, and did not reflect any institutional power of the Department. It was weakened by loss of talent during WWII. Marshall attempted to rebuild it, but the commie-hunts during “who lost China” madness trashed the instution (perhaps beyond repair).

  24. Apology to FM (re comment # 1, 16)

    I wouldn’t come to this site except for your unusual and broad intelligence about issues I’m interested in. On reflection, I’m pretty sure my views on the military and yours overlap in many areas. I misinterpreted the title of your post as meaning, “we must take more care about the psychological harm inflicted on our soldiers by war”, whereas you really meant “the pyschological effects exhibited by our returning soldiers are proof that there is something fundamenally wrong about our military missions, or the way they are carried out.”

    I mistook the drift of your post for something akin to the political mantra “protect our troops” — a false issue IMO used mainly to distract and cover up more fundamental wrongs of our current wars.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Certainly no apology needed! Your clarification was precise and well-expressed. Misinterpretation of meaning on the Internet is inevitable. The FM site is littered with my mine.

  25. FM: “does America love its men and women in uniform only so long as they need not think about them?

    It is easy for the middle class to not think about them. The all-volunteer recruiting system largely isolates the military from the middle class. And this worked tremendously to the advantage of George W. Bush. Had he sent an army of middle-class conscripts into Iraq on a wild goose chase in 2003 he would have been a one-term president.

  26. senor tomas: See “Who Serves in the U.S. Military? The Demographics of Enlisted Troops and Officers“, Shanea Watkins, Ph.D. and James Sherk, Heritage Foundation, 21 August 2008, a report about the economic background of our military personnel. This report finds that:

    1. U.S. military service disproportionately attracts enlisted personnel and officerswho do not come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Previous Her­itage Foundation research demonstrated that the quality of enlisted troops has increased since the start of the Iraq war. This report demon­strates that the same is true of the officer corps.
    2. Members of the all-volunteer military are sig­nificantly more likely to come from high-income neighborhoods than from low-income neighborhoods. Only 11 percent of enlisted recruits in 2007 came from the poorest one-fifth (quintile) of neighborhoods, while 25 per­cent came from the wealthiest quintile. These trends are even more pronounced in the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) pro­gram, in which 40 percent of enrollees come from the wealthiest neighborhoods—a number that has increased substantially over the past four years.
    3. American soldiers are more educated than their peers. A little more than 1 percent of enlisted per­sonnel lack a high school degree, compared to 21 percent of men 18–24 years old, and 95 percent of officer accessions have at least a bachelor’s degree.
    4. Contrary to conventional wisdom, minorities are not overrepresented in military service. Enlisted troops are somewhat more likely to be white or black than their non-military peers. Whites are proportionately represented in the officer corps, and blacks are overrepresented, but their rate of over representation has declined each year from 2004 to 2007. New recruits are also disproportionately likely to come from the South, which is in line with the history of South­ern military tradition.

    my dad is a retired labor relations lawyer. i was enlisted for 6.5 years before i got my commission. my experience with military personnel confirms this report.
    Fabius Maximus replies: The actual divide between the broader US society and the US military (rather than the myths debunked by this Heritage Foundation Report) is the community origin of US troops. As the report says, 40% come from the South. The authors do not follow that up, but other studies show US troops come largely from rural and small-town backgrounds. Esp note the work by the late Charles Moskos (1934-2008, Prof at Northwestern U, pre-eminent expert on sociology of the US military — archive here). For more on this see:

    (1) White Small-Town America Pays Price in Iraq“, Financial Times, 6 January 2007 — Excerpt:

    The Pentagon does not disclose the socio-economic background of the 25,000 US soldiers who have been killed or wounded in Iraq. But a breakdown of their ethnicity and states of origins shows they are overwhelmingly white and from small towns in the interior states of mid-America and the South.

    (2) All together now, US troops stand firm“, Brian M Downing, Asia Times, 10 January 2008 — Excerpt:

    The rank and file of the US military come disproportionately if not mainly from small towns and rural areas, culturally distinctive parts of the country that instill beliefs and outlooks conducive to vigorous community life and also to ties among soldiers. While people in many urban and suburban areas over the last few decades have become highly individualistic, those in small towns and rural areas have maintained traditions of interdependence. Respect for authority in almost all forms took a beating during Vietnam, but regained strength away from the cities, especially during the Reagan years. Further, people in these communities view themselves as composing a redoubt of morality and tradition in a country that has become far too secular and hedonistic. Pride in military service is an integral part of community life in small towns and rural areas, though it has faded if not disappeared elsewhere.

    This article speculates about the cultural roots and implications of this.

    (3) US Military Casualty Statistics: Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom“, Congressional Research Service, 25 March 2009 —

  27. FM: “Esp note the work by the late Charles Moskos

    I have read some of the writngs of Charles C. Moskos. Dr. Moskos was no fan of the United States Armed Forces’ all-volunteer recruiting system – for the very reason that it creates a serious disconnect between the military and the mainstream of American society. Dr. Moskos advocated restoring the military draft.

  28. Dr. Moskos’ opinion and the results of the Heritage study tend to differ greatly then. Regardless, less than 1% of Americans are in the military. regardless… it isn’t completely necessary to have a Benetton style make up of our force for it to be effective. i merely posted the heritage report to add context to the folks here making uninformed claims about the class structure of soldiers.

  29. The Heritage Foundation report quoted by the eponymous “Major Scarlet” is a pack of lies, as explained above. Beware of these lying white papers by the Heritage Foundation and the Army. They distort and manipulate statistics in order to* lie, lie, lie.

    It would take too much time to debunk the many lies of the Heritage Foundation and Army reports, but let’s briefly cover the basics:

    [1] These lying reports claim that the educational level of the average soldier has increased over the past 40 years. That’s a lie by implication. The educational level of all A*mericans has increased over the last 40 years. We need to compare not today’s soldier with 2 years of college with the soldier of 1965 when it was significantly less common to go to college; instead, we need to compare the education level of the average Army recruit today with the education level of the rest of the population today. See how they lie?

    [2] The Heritage Foundation and Army reports *claim that there’s a negative correlation between army service and violent crime. Once again, a lie by implication. The general population includes predicate felons with multiple prior convictions for violent crime, whereas the Army still doesn’t allow recruits who’ve been convicted of violent crimes. (They’ve lowered their standards to allow convicted felons into the Army, but not those convicted of violent crimes.) Since statistics show that only 6% of the superviolent predicate felons account for 80% of all violent crime, naturally this will reduce the overall rate of crime of army vets — the army pre-sieved out the most violent criminals by not allowing them in. The real statistic to measure is not the overall violent felonies committed by army vets compared to the general population, but the violetn felonies per capita committed by army vets over the past 6 years compared to the population of Americans with no predicate violent felony convictions. That ratio is off the charts and skyrocketing rapidly. Once again, see how they lie?

    [3] The lying Heritage Foundation and Army white papers claim that the Army is a good balanced representation of the general population, and they use average income as the measure. That’s a clearly obvious and pathetic lie, because the army knows that only a few very high-income recruits will skew the average income much higher than it actually is. When you look at the per capita income of the states from which most of the recruiting comes, you see the truth. And when you look at the percentage of the top 10% of income groups in America whose kids serve in the military, which is essentially zero, you really see the truth. Out of all the members of congress, 535 of them, how many have children serving in the Army? Two. See how the Heritage Foundation and the Army white paper lie and lie and lie?

    [4] Sometimes the lies are so outrageous, you just have to laugh out loud. “Previous Her­itage Foundation research demonstrated that the quality of enlisted troops has increased since the start of the Iraq war.” If that’s true, why did the Pentagon have to consistently lower its recruiting standards over the last 6 years? Why is the Army now accepting gang members and convicted felons? What, are gang members part of MENSA? Instead of being beaten into the Crips, you have to pass an IQ test that only the top 2% qualify for? Do convicted felons sit around reading scientific journals and doing high-end research?

    Please. This is to stupid it’s insulting. See how they not only lie, but lie stupidly and incompetently and transparently?
    Fabius Maxmius replies: All great points, most of which I did not see! Some of these are discussed in articles posted at the FM reference page An Army near the Breaking Point – studies & reports.

    (1) “The Dumbing-Down of the U.S. Army“, Fred Kaplan, Slate, 4 October 2005

    (2) “GI Schmo — How low can Army recruiters go?“, Fred Kaplan, Slate, 9 January 2006

    (3) “Military Recruiting 2007: Army Misses Benchmarks by Greater Margin“, National Priorities Project, 22 January 2008

    Note the that past surveys by this group have proven unreliable, and the Army disagrees with some of the conclusions in this report — mostly over the magnitude of the deterioration. The following excerpt describes DoD numbers, which DoD has not contested.

    All recruits also take the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) which is normalized for the youth population. The test score indicates trainability. Those in Categories I and II tend to be above average in trainability; those in Category IIIA and IIIB are average; those in IV are below average; those in Category V are markedly below average.

    Until 2006, the DoD had a goal of at least 67% of recruits testing at least in the 50th percentile of the AFQT, in terms of the categories, I – IIIA. Since 2005, the percentage of active-duty Army recruits scoring in the top half of the AFQT has fallen. In 2007, it was 60.8% . The DoD attempted to cap Category IV recruits to less than 2%, but recently raised the cap to 4%. Historically, this has not been a problem, but since 2005, the percentage of Category IV recruits has been at least 4%. In 2007, it was 4.1%.

  30. mclaren,
    perhaps you are missing the context of the report:
    1. it would appear that you created a strawman in your first rebuttal about education. the report clearly says “more educated than their peers” (by peers they mean the civilian workforce and not other soldiers). I don’t know where you came up with the comparison of soldiers from 1965. i didn’t see anything about that in the report.
    2. the report mentions nothing about “negative correlations between army service and violent crime”. i’m just guessing but you probably cut and pasted this from a website you read and didn’t bother to read the actual report. shame on you.
    3. because the military doesn’t report family incomes of their soliders (and why should they?) the report chose to make an educated guess. it is probably a flawed assumption on their part.
    4. the iraq war started in 2003. we did have a surge of overqualified people joining to serve their country because of the 9/11 attacks so that probably accounts for the momentary increase in overall quality of soldiers and officers. later in the war, we had to try and grow the army by 64,000 troops. that is a huge requirement for any recruiter to fill so standards had to be lowered momentarily. we have since given up on 64k and gone to 32k and a more restrictive standard. your comment was half truth wrapped in BS. proper context of the issues is needed if you want to make a valid point.

    is there bias and fluffery on the part of heritage? yes, but not by much. but what do i know, i just serve with soldiers.
    Fabius Maximus replies: This discussion (great comments on all sides!) illustrates why I gave up my post on this subject (from which my references came from). Too little public data or analysis, despite the importance of the subject.

  31. I read the Heritage Foundation report. I would not call it an outright pack of lies like mclaren does. However, it contains lapses in logic. I found two contradictions and one apple-and-oranges comparison. Not that bad by the standards of propaganda, but it is definitely not an objective document. The writers had an ax to grind.

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