Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Wrong Stuff

The headline: “Top General: Americans Are Increasingly Lacking The Smarts And Fitness Needed To Join The US Army.” Here's the story:

What we're seeing here is a statement of frustration on the part of the guy whose job it is to recruit cannon fodder... oops, I mean... a crack fighting force to defend the American way of life against “terrorists” and other assorted baddies. Now, to begin with, there is nothing new about this problem; we've had it at least since the end of the draft and the beginning of the all-volunteer Army. And even prior to that we had the problem that a lot of the draftees simply weren't smart enough to successfully occupy positions in the Army, even that of the iconic infantryman, AKA “grunt”. One Vietnam-era answer for this dilemma was something called Project 100,000:

As it turned out, soldiers brought in under that program, AKA “Cat IV's”, numbered way more than 100,000 – more like well over 300,000. Why such a high number? One reason was that the military was morphing into a social program – give people a job, get them out of the ghetto, and so on. Good for the economy and all that. And was that program a success (aside from the negative racial overtones)? Most people at the time, and since, have said “no”.

So lowering standards didn't work, and when the Army became all-volunteer the recruiters really started to feel the pain, only alleviated in times of economic distress. (Desperation vs. patriotism as a recruiting tool – we still haven't quite decided which we prefer.) Add to this the fact that even the “simplest” Army jobs have become increasingly high-tech, with digitization adding another level of complexity to jobs across the board. The typical soldier trudging along with his backpack and gun in our time is carrying an array of computers and gadgets that make conditions in the Vietnam era and earlier seem downright primitive. And they have to know how to operate all that stuff. Add to this an increasing emphasis on small-unit operations, anti-terrorism, and operations in urban terrain, and cognitive and decision-making demands become even more severe.

So what's a recruiter to do? It's no wonder they feel helpless at times. But what this story reflects is not so much an immediate problem of how to fill the ranks as a societal phenomenon. According to MG Batschelet, the main issues are that too many of our youth are either fat or stupid (or both). Not that he, or anyone else in the Army, publicly expresses it that way, of course; that would be too insensitive. And even the obesity problem is described as something that the Army can deal with if need be. (It's amazing how much weight you can lose in basic training at a Southern post in the summertime.)

Then we have the problem described, euphemistically, as “moral disqualifications over an increasing range of criminalized behaviors”. Reading between the lines, my guess is that drug convictions constitute the bulk of these disqualifications. But note the expression “increasing range of criminalized behaviors”. Why is it increasing? Could it possibly have anything to do with the “War on Drugs”, which has, effectively, criminalized large segments of the population, mostly in the interests of the “corrections” racket (which I've discussed at length previously). When you create a nation of criminals in order to satisfy a political/economic agenda, you can hardly complain when so many people who might otherwise qualify for the military turn out to have “moral” issues. (And no, I don't think it has anything to do with sex. In our time? Please.) Even if we're not always talking about drug convictions per se, we would still be talking about ancillary convictions related to the drug trade, like petty theft.

And who was most complicit in creating this nation of criminals? Legislatures at the national, state, and local level... over-zealous police... fanatical prosecutors... Puritanical judges... the usual cast of characters, in other words. To confirm this, look no further than today's headlines.

But wait, there's more. We also have “erosion in academic qualification” and “declining high school graduation rates”. To sum up, “slipping educational standards of Americans is the most worrying trend for the future of the US Army”. Well, OK... so, whose fault is that? One has to remember that our public education establishment is entirely a creation of liberal politics – of a liberal, “humanistic”, “non-judgmental” attitude toward education, where just showing up is enough, everyone gets a prize, and no one is allowed to fail. (So many of our public schools are, in fact, little more than free day-care centers.) We've already seen the impact of these policies in the private sector, with the problems many firms have hiring qualified people. We've created, in effect, an educated elite (mostly in the “technology” sector) and allowed the rest to descend to the level of the “lumpen proletariat” -- few skills, low motivation, no hope, no change. And this has all been in service of a political agenda – maximize the number of people in the “dependent class”, thus maximizing the “mission” of government, thus aiding and abetting collectivization and totalitarianism, AKA the “welfare state” or the “nanny state”. And, bottom line, maximizing the power and influence (and wealth) of politicians and bureaucrats, and of their cronies in the “private” sector.

And this is all perfectly jolly – or so our politicians seem to believe – until it comes down to the military, where there's not as much room as there is in the private sector for inadequacy, incompetence, and failure. And then it suddenly becomes a big deal. Apparently, in order to protect the mass of civilian serfs, wage slaves, and tax receivers, we have to have a highly-skilled and “professional” military... composed of the same people. How is this supposed to happen? At what point do we find this parting of the ways between heroes and zeros?

Another way of putting this is that what the military needs – military “values” -- was, for many generations, compatible with what the larger society had to offer. But this is, apparently, no longer the case – and as I said, the situation has been building since at least the 1960s, the time when (coincidentally – ahem!) liberal ideas of “education” gained the upper hand.

So what's the answer? Well, on the side of manpower requirements it might help to re-think the idea of “perpetual war”, which is the basis for much of our foreign policy. It might help to get our troops out of every nook and cranny on the planet, and assign them to real defense rather than empire-building. That's on the “demand” side. On the “supply” side, it might help to reinstate standards in public education, including standards of competence for teachers – but that would involve waging another kind of war, namely on the teachers' unions, and who has the appetite for that? (One answer would be to draft them into the military. But then we'd only wind up with the same problem, or worse.)

And I guess we could make Army jobs simpler again – you know, go back to the Korean War era or something. Problem is, other countries wouldn't cooperate, to say nothing of non-governmental militarized entities like rebels and “terrorists”. Or – we could convert over to robots and drones at a faster pace, but we're already hearing murmurings that only “boots on the ground” can guarantee that we can hold a given piece of territory (to say nothing of taking it in the first place). (Or as one wag put it, how do you bomb people back to the Stone Age when they're already in the Stone Age?)

Yes, it is truly a dilemma – but it is one of our own making. A nation or empire that is hard on the outside (“force projection”) but soft on the inside (a vast leisure/underclass) is bound to fall; this has been the case since ancient times, and there is no reason why we should expect to escape this “iron law of history”.

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