Tuesday, May 31, 2005

While we're pointing fingers here...

Babble on.

The New York Times has highlighted the recruiting crunch currently being faced by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. Predictably, it is blaming Donald Rumsfeld and the Bush Administration for screwing up by the numbers:

Why this is happening is no mystery. Two years of hearing about too few troops on the ground, inadequate armor, extended tours of duty and accelerated rotations back into combat have taken their toll, discouraging potential enlistees and their parents. The citizen-soldiers of the Guard and Reserves have suddenly become full-time warriors. Nor has it helped that when abuse scandals have erupted, the Pentagon has seemed quicker to punish lower-ranking soldiers than top commanders and policy makers. This negative cycle now threatens to feed on itself. Fewer recruits will mean more stress on those now in uniform and more grim reports reaching hometowns across America.

The NYT editorial board makes some interesting assertions, tying the recruiting drought to troop level decisions in Iraq, and the failure of the Bush Administration to adequately prepare the American populace for the true costs of the war on terror.

While their arguments might have some merit, it's worthwhile remembering that Monday-morning quarterbacks always throw a perfect spiral, never get sacked, and never get intercepted. More troops might have gotten in each other's way, and provided a higher concentration of targets for the insurgents. The truth is that low-intensity warfare and garrison duty both wear on the professional soldier more than just about any other task. Likewise, asking a government to sell public policy to the electorate on the basis of a worst-case scenario just isn't going to happen. Even if the White House had offered a more grounded assessment of the duration and intensity of the Iraqi conflict, there's no guarantee this would have positively affected recruitment numbers - in fact, it's more likely that would have hampered recruiting efforts even earlier.

But let's get beyond the audacity of a handful of rumpled New York journalists telling the foremost military strategists in the world how they should have run the war. Even if these editorialists - whose experience of battle injuries seems to be limited to spraining a typing finger during a lunchtime squash game at a posh Manhatten club - even if they were 100% right on all other points, they've completely ignored the effect of their own reporting on the American public. If perception of military life is what entices prospects to sign up, can the foremost newspaper in the country honestly take absolutely zero responsiblity for shaping that perception?

Frank Schaeffer certainly doesn't think so:

As a military parent, why do I read the most positive stories about our troops in a sort of military-family samizdat e-mail underground network and not on Page One? And how many times does the same type of editorial about the same handful of abused prisoners have to be repeated before an inaccurate impression of our military is given?

Maybe reporters and editorial writers think that reporting too often on the many selfless acts our troops undertake will reflect well on an undeserving president who likes to grandstand with our troops in photo ops. But is the truth about the character of our military being accurately, or should I say proportionately, reported? Does the public, which has woefully little personal contact with our military, know that most men and women in our services are not torturers but people like them trying to do the best they can with compassion and honor? Does the public know that acts of kindness are routine and acts of abuse are rare?

The truth is that America is fighting a war on many fronts right now, and that that means hardship for the men and women in uniform. Nobody wants to sign up for hardship. But the other part of that truth is that U.S. Soldiers and Marines are performing their duties with honour, with courage, and with fierce tenacity. Recruits will sign up for that sort of a job.

The trick is to make sure they hear the other side of the story. In this, the American main-stream media mavens like those at the New York Times have failed in spectacular fashion. While they have quite rightly resised the urge to become unalloyed cheerleaders for the U.S. military and its political masters, they have resisted so strongly as to become lopsided in their portrayal of the war and the soldiers fighting it.

The NYT isn't solely responsible for the dearth of recruits for the U.S. armed services. But it isn't without blame either.

Babble off.


At 5:24 p.m., Blogger John of Argghhh! said...

Oh, I wouldn't say *no one wants to sign up for hardship* Damian. Some of us did exactly that - we wanted to serve, and we wanted a challenge... but other than that, no arguments!

At 8:59 p.m., Blogger bob said...

Thank you, Damian. A bow to you from south of the border. Never turn the babble off.

At 2:56 a.m., Blogger AwaWiYe said...

Economy, as in economy of effort, is still a principle of war.

Had the US committed more troops at any juncture it would simply have eroded their capability further down the road. Surge is the enemy of sustain.

There seems to be an implied assumption that the US public could have somehow been whipped into a more warlike mood. That assumption does not seem particularly reasonable.


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