Thursday, November 10, 2011

Veteran's Day Thoughts

I like discounts and free stuff like anyone else but I felt like things got out of hand when I noticed recently on some US flights that airlines were allowing military personnel to board the aircraft first. In some cases it was for military in uniform, in other cases it was a general boarding priority to all US military personnel regardless if they were on official travel. Just to make this clear, military people were being given priority over families, elderly, disabled, and first class ticket-holders. While this policy was obviously well-intentioned it struck me as wrong and antithetical to the relationship between the military and society.

The soldier in uniform has responsibilities and duties in relation to the civilian-citizen and vice versa. Each has their role in defending the country and its interests. The civilian should pay his taxes, stay informed and vote for representatives who will act prudently with regards to resourcing and employing our military. The soldier, airmen, sailor and marine should be excellent stewards of the money and personnel of which they find themselves in charge and should execute to the best of their ability the directed war tasking. Our authorities are our politicians and ultimately our citizens. To place servants ahead of the master is to put the cart before the horse.

In February 2010, Army Colonel Paul Yingling penned a great article "The Founders' wisdom" in the Armed Forces Journal. It is rather long-ish but well worth the time and can definitely serve as a yearly civics lesson for all American citizens, military or civilian. He describes how our war-making decisions are supposed to be made as proscribed by the US Constitution and yet how Congress has steadily abdicated its responsibility over time. A quote:

"Moral exhortations for citizens to care more deeply about national defense are insufficient. Unless the public and its elected representatives have some personal stake in decisions of war and peace, they can not and will not provide adequate oversight in these profound choices. Madison understood that “if men were angels, no government would be necessary.” It is precisely because men are not angels that the Founders placed the terrible power to choose and make war with those who would feel its burdens most directly. In Federalist 51, Madison argues that the “policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public.” Rather than hope for better motives in either the executive or the legislature, the American people would be best served by returning to the system of checks and balances in war powers that has served us so well for so long. Given America’s global responsibilities, the U.S. can no longer rely for its security on a small and relatively cheap standing military supported by a large 18th-century style militia. However, we can return to the principle that America’s citizens and our elected representatives must be engaged in the defense of our country."

Col Yingling goes on to argue against an all-volunteer force and for conscription as the only remedy to make our citizens and elected leaders assume their responsibilities per the Constitution and to chose war wisely.

The article obviously generated a lot of disagreement:

Pentagon director for accession policy Curtis Gilroy takes a swing at Yingling's arguments here:

Yingling response to Gilroy here:

My response here contesting the idea that a conscripted force is cheaper, fairer, or more efficient than a volunteer force.

Former undersecretary of the Army Nelson M. Ford's reply to Yingling's reply to Gilroy here:

Yingling's reply to Ford here which includes my second critique for the use of only two carefully chosen examples (WWII and Iraq 2003) as sample selection bias.

(Colonel if you read this I'm still waiting for a full analysis of US military engagements vis a vis Congressional votes.....I know you're retiring so I hope we see an expansion of your article into a book.)

In the nearly two years since "The Founder's wisdom" was published I've softened my position from vehement opposition and belief that Col Yingling is wrong to merely hoping that he is wrong. I pray that "Moral exhortations" can push civilians into haranguing their now and future Congressmen and Senators to care about national defense and that the country will never have to return to a draft to force our citizenry and political class to think diligently about war. 

Having traveled the globe I am especially thankful to be a US citizen and to serve in a military that still commands the respect of its country. However, there is no need for military personnel to receive deference or be exalted through preferential treatment. This does not show them the proper respect they earned as servants and guardians and is disrespectful to civilians who do their duty. In my opinion, the best way to honor our veterans is to a) make sure our country takes care of our wounded warriors and the families of those who sacrificed their lives and b) be an informed citizen on national security who votes for responsible and serious politicians.

To those of you who do both, thank you for your service!

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