America needs a smaller and more lethal Army for the 21st century

Summary: The failures of our military in Vietnam and our occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have sparked discussion about how the US Army can best meet the wide range of threats facing us in the 21st century. Here Robert Prescott reviews the Army’s planning for this new century of war. There are no easy answers. All we see for certain is the need for change.

Military spending

We see the massive power of the US military at work in our media, as not a week has gone by since WWII by without slickly produced articles clamoring for more money for DoD. Such as “America Needs a Larger, More Modern, More Lethal Army” by Daniel Goure at the National Interest, 4 May 2016. Goure (bio here) is one of the military-industrial-complex’s apparatchiks, rotating between positions in DoD and its supporting civilian ngos — now at the Lexington Institute, a right-wing “think-tank” apty described as the “defense industry’s pay-to-play ad agency“. But amidst the propaganda there are more sensible voices, such as this …

Should America Build a Smaller, More Lethal U.S. Army?

By Robert Prescott
From The National Interest, 22 April 2016
Reposted with the author’s generous permission

In the Old Testament book of Judges, the Almighty tasks Gideon with leading the Israelites against their oppressor, the Midianites. In assembling an Israelite army, the Almighty commands Gideon to reduce his numbers. Gideon obeys and ultimately triumphs with the remaining force of three hundred men employing an elaborate ruse. Reducing the size of an armed force seems counterintuitive, but, as the story illustrates, organizational design, and not end strength, is critical to military effectiveness.

In the present day, headlines are replete with American Army leadership warning of risks arising from the reduction in the service’s end strength. Unfortunately, Army leadership indicated the risks could only be addressed by providing the service with more resources, namely appropriation dollars to afford additional personnel and new equipment.

Given the Department of the Army’s record in managing prior manpower increases and modernization programs, Congress is right to be skeptical as to whether simply providing more of both would best minimize the risks raised by the service’s leadership.

The Commission on the Future of the Army, tasked by Congress with an examination of these matters, concluded “in general terms, the Army is appropriately sized, shaped, and ready to meet the strategic guidance it has been given… but only just so.” [Emphasis added].

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How to become a one man (or a one woman) army … or something even better

Our quote for the day: 

In short, this is what you need to become a one person company and be routinely successful. … this recipe is also a route to become a one man/woman army.

— From “I’m Young and Need Advice“, by John Robb, posted at his website Global Guerrillas, 26 October 2009

Robb’s a brilliant writer, and I am insufficiently familiar with his work to evaluate this in context.  But it’s a fascinating thought, and so prevalent today, to deserve consideration on its own.

  • An Army of One was the US Army’s recruiting slogan from 2001 to 2006.
  • It’s the theme of a thousand movies, from Batman to Death Wish to Buffy.
  • We’ve heard it a thousand times from movie heroines.  A horde of bad guys approaches, and she says “I can take care of myself.”   We seldom see an epilogue at the abortion clinic, as she decides whether to carry or abort the fetus.

This is a pernicious concept, an attractive poison to our society, IMO.  A one man or one woman army is a contradiction in terms, a misunderstanding of the essential element of an army:  collective action.  As is society.  As one of the West’s greatest philosophers wrote:

This makes it obvious that for as long as men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in the condition known as ‘war’; and it is a war of every man against every man. For WAR doesn’t consist just in battle or the act of fighting, but in a period of time during which it is well enough known that people are willing to join in battle.

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