The Korean War by Max Hastings

hastings_korean.jpgThe Korean War is oft-dubbed the Forgotten War, as it has routinely been overshadowed in both academic and popular culture by the worldwide conflict that preceded it and the Vietnamese quagmire that followed. Mention the Korean War to most Americans and the only reference they'll have, if any, is probably M*A*S*H. Yet this was a brutal war between two major powers (U.S. and China) and their indigenous allies with casualties leading into the millions, the first major military engagement between the still nebulous spheres of Western and Communist hegemony, and the closest the world has come to seeing nuclear war aside from the Cuban Missile Crisis. In his 1987 book, The Korean War, Max Hastings also argues persuasively that Korea deserves attention not just for the costs and ramifications of the war itself, but for how portentous it was of America's future mishaps in Southeast Asia:

Above all, perhaps, Korea merits close consideration as a military rehearsal for the subsequent disaster in Vietnam. So many of the ingredients of the Indochina tragedy were already visible a decade or two earlier in Korea: the political difficulty of sustaining an unpopular and autocratic regime; the problems of creating a credible local army in a corrupt society; the fateful cost of underestimating the power of an Asian Communist army. For all the undoubted benefits of air superiority and close support, Korea vividly displayed the difficulties of using air power effectively against a primitive economy, a peasant army. The war also demonstrated the problem of deploying a highly mechanized Western army in broken country against a lightly equipped foe... Yet because it proved possible finally to stabilize the battle in Korea on terms which allowed the United Nations--or more realistically, the United States--to deploy its vast firepower from fixed positions, to defeat the advance of the massed Communist armies, many of the lessons of Korea were misunderstood, or not learned at all.

And in time, the entire conflict would lapse into the recesses of history. It was easier for most Americans to simply move on than to face some rather upsetting facts: that we had been caught by surprise by the invasion; that our military had been allowed to deteriorate and was thus ill-prepared for war; that our choice to make a stand in Korea was haphazardly made and lacking in strategic war aims; that the American soldier performed poorly in the early stages of the war; and that all the might of the American war machine could not push the combined Chinese and North Korean enemy much past the 38th parallel without incurring casualties that our political will could not endure.

Thus a story that has many of the makings of great history, from the justice in repelling an aggressive invader to the dramatic see-saw nature of the front lines to Douglas MacArthur's last gasp of genius at Inchon before his inglorious fall, has been largely underexamined by those unwilling to grapple with a war that defies easy understanding or categorization. Hastings sought to "make at least a modest contribution toward remedying the omission" with his book, which opens with the dramatic tragedy of Task Force Smith, the first Americans to engage with the marauding Communist forces, who found themselves outnumbered, outgunned, and outmaneuvered by the enemy:

The official figures show that Task Force Smith had suffered 155 casualties in the action at Osan. By the time they returned, they discovered that any shortcomings in their own unit's performance on July 5 had already been outstripped by far less honorable, indeed positively shameful, humilitations suffered by other elements of the American 24th Division in its first days of war, as the North Korean invaders swept all before them on their bloody procession south down the peninsula. And all this flowed, inexorably, from the sudden decision of the United States to commit itself to the least expected of wars, in the least predicted of places, under the most unfavorable possible military conditions. Had the men of Task Force Smith, on the road south of Suwon, known that they were striking the first armed flow for that new force in world order, the United Nations, it might have made their confused, unhappy, almost pathetic little battle on July 5 seem more dignified. On the other hand, it might have made it appear more incomprehensible than ever.

With the Soviet Union boycotting the U.N. so long as Chiang Kai-Shek controlled the Chinese seat, the U.S. and its allies were able to push through resolutions endorsing the use of force to repel the North Korean attack. With allied forces driven back and hanging on to a tiny corner of southeast Korea surrounding Pusan, the stage was set for the type of dramatic action that the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers was made for:

For all its undisputed Korean provenance, the name of Inchon possesses a wonderfully resonant American quality. It summons a vision of military genius undulled by time, undiminished by more recent memories of Asian defeat. Inchon remains a monument to "can do," to improvisation and risk-taking on a magnificent scale, above all to the spirit of Douglas MacArthur. So much must be said elsewhere in these pages about American misfortunes in Korea, about grievous command misjudgments and soldierly shortcomings, that there is little danger here of overblowing the trumpet. The amphibious landings of September 15, 1950, were MacArthur's masterstroke. In a world in which nursery justice decided military affairs, Operation Chromite would have won the war for the United States.

And yet the operation was almost too successful. With the Communist forces in disarray, MacArthur was not the only one who got wrapped up in delusions of grandeur. It seemed inevitable to continue the counteroffensive beyond the status quo ante bellum at the 38th parallel in an effort to utterly defeat the North Korean regime and re-unify the peninsula. Yet little thought was given to how the Chinese might feel about the massive American army that was soon approaching their country's borders, particularly after the U.S. had deployed the Seventh Fleet into the Taiwan Strait. Instead, American intelligence focused on the Soviet passivity, assuming the Chinese would never act alone. They were wrong:

Westerners, and Americans in particular, sometime made the mistake of allowing their scorn for propagandist rhetoric... to blind them to the very real Chinese fear of encirclement. Throughout the Korean War, Washington persistently sought the communist ideological logic behind Chinese actions. It might have been more profitable to consider instead historic Chinese nationalist logic. Korea had provided the springboard for the Japanese invasion of Manchuria only a generation before. As the Americans drove north after smashing Kim Il Sung's armies in September 1950, Peking was appalled by the imminent prospect of an American imperialist army on the Yalu.

And thus starting in November 1950, the U.N. forces found themselves driven from the cusps of victory by hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers, many of them hardened veterans of their recent civil war. By January 1951, the Chinese and North Koreans had again advanced south of the 38th parallel, recapturing Seoul along the way. Though General Matthew Ridgway would eventually lead allied forces back across the parallel, the entrance of the Chinese in such smashing fashion signaled the end of any possibility other than a negotiated settlement. That the war would last a further two years without any significant change, with thousands more dying while the diplomats postured and prevaricated, is one of the great tragedies of the war and is reminiscent of the utter wastefulness of the First World War:

From time to time the planners in Washington and Tokyo conceived grand initiatives for airborne drops or amphibious landings behind the enemy flank, designed dramatically to concentrate Peking's minds upon the negotiating table... The confidence of many American commanders in their ability to smash the Chinese line and reach the Yalu once more, if the leashes were slipped and the UN armies plunged all out for victory, remained a source of deep frustration. But the political realities ensured that their hopes were stillborn. The American public was weary of Korea. It was narrowly possible to sustain America's national will for the defense of a line across the peninsula until a compromise was reached, for avoiding the concession of defeat to the Communists. But the political consequences of any action involving many thousands of casualties--as an all-out offensive must--were intolerable.

The author's British perspective is both an asset and a handicap. He is able to provide insights to the international sense of the war that a U.S.-centric author might overlook, particularly regarding their fears of MacArthur and America's apparent nonchalance about the threatened use of nuclear weapons. The British contributions to the war effort also demonstrate how quickly that country stepped into the role of loyal U.S. ally, even as their domestic economy shuddered under the costs of rearmament. Devoting an entire chapter to the Imjin River battle, however, while of great interest to Hastings' countrymen, seems out of proportion to the single sentence mentions of Heartbreak Ridge and Bloody Ridge. For all his discussions of the British Commonwealth Division, one might be surprised to learn that the U.S. had twenty-five men on the peninsula for each Commonwealth soldier. And while much of his criticisms of the average American foot soldier are surely valid, Hastings' reliance on the condescending remembrances of British veterans to substantiate these criticisms is more parochial than persuasive (and not remedied by reference to the few anecdotal American sources he collected on the subject).

Through most of the text, Hastings employs a technique similar to Stephen Ambrose's volumes on World War II, relying largely on "oral interviews with participants in the Korean War and those familiar with its diplomatic and political aspects" to construct a narrative of the war. For those who love Ambrose's style, and there are legions, this will seem an ideal way to learn about the Korean War. But as much as I enjoyed the flavor provided by the first-hand accounts in Ambrose's books, particularly Band of Brothers, I can't say I find history by anecdote a particularly helpful way to understand military conflicts of this scope, let alone the geopolitical causes and consequences. Instead, the reliance on extended quotations tends to result in a disjointed narrative rather lacking in overall coherence and substantive analysis. To his credit, Hastings admits up front that he does not purport to write a comprehensive history. So this is not a bad place to start for those, like myself, wholly lacking in prior reading on the Korean War, but not satisfactory as a sole source for rescuing this conflict from its near-universal neglect.

Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson

mcpherson_battle.jpgNo historical event can rival the American Civil War for volume of inspired literature except, perhaps, the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Every year, every month even, sees the publication of further works on the causes, the consequences, the battles, the generals, and so on. For the Civil War-obsessed, and there are certainly plenty among us, this is delightful. But for those of us whose interest is at present more restrained, it is daunting.

Those seeking a single volume are often directed to James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom as the place to start (and perhaps finish) an exploration of America's bloodiest conflict. McPherson's effort, which is subtitled "The Civil War Era," opens with an overview of mid-19th century America, covering the social, religious and political realms of the antebellum era. It then turns to the Mexican-American War and the discovery of gold in California, and does not reach the fateful shots at Fort Sumter for nearly 300 pages. McPherson considers these events, and the resulting westward expansion of U.S. territory and settlement, as pivotal in forcing the issue of slavery back to the forefront after nearly three decades of cease-fire following the Missouri Compromise:

This triumph of Manifest Destiny may have reminded some Americans of Ralph Waldo Emerson's prophecy that "the United States will conquer Mexico, but it will be as the man swallows the arsenic, which brings him down in turn. Mexico will poison us." He was right. The poison was slavery. Jefferson's Empire for Liberty had become mostly an empire for slavery. Territorial acquisitions since the Revolution had added the slave states of Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Florida, and Texas to the republic, while only Iowa, just admitted in 1846, had increased the ranks of free states. Many northerners feared a similar future for this new southwestern empire. They condemned the war as part of a "slave power conspiracy" to expand the peculiar institution.

This fear provoked even non-abolitionists, like young Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln, who did not believe the federal government could interfere with slavery in the southern States but were adamant that it be kept out of the federal territories. It was, as they saw it, the Founding Fathers' intention to restrict slavery to its then-existing limits where it would die a gradual, natural death. This new effort at westward expansion threatened to extend the life of the peculiar institution. It wasn't the only effort, either, as some in the South saw the annexation of Cuba as a natural expansion that would further strengthen the slaveholders' position:

Their champion was a handsome, charismatic Cuban soldier of fortune named Narciso Lopez who had fled to New York in 1848 after Spanish officials foiled his attempt to foment an uprising of Cuban planters. Lopez recruited an army of several hundred adventurers, Mexican War veterans, and Cuban exiles for an invasion of the island. He asked Jefferson Davis to lead the expedition. The senator demurred and recommend his friend Robert E. Lee, who considered it but politely declined. Lopez thereupon took command himself, but the Taylor administration got wind of the enterprise and sent a naval force to seize Lopez's ships and block his departure in September 1849.

McPherson covers the expanding violence in Kansas, the fall of the Whigs and the rise of the Republicans, and the Lincoln-Douglas rivalry in Illinois. The election of Lincoln is itself enough to provoke secession by the most rebellious states in the Deep South, and the subsequent violence at Fort Sumter and mobilization of Northern troops sees Virginia leading the mid-South out of the Union as well. One of McPherson's best chapters is titled "Facing Both Ways: The Upper South's Dilemma" in which he discusses Virginia's secession and then looks at each of the four border states in turn:

In the four border states the proportion of slaves and slaveowners was less than half what it was in the eleven states that seceded. But the triumph of unionism in these states was not easy and the outcome (except in Delaware) by no means certain. Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri contained large and resolute secessionist minorities. A slight twist in the chain of events might have enabled this faction to prevail in any of these states. Much was at stake in this contest. The three states would have added 45 percent to the white population and military manpower of the Confederacy, 80 percent to its manufacturing capacity, and nearly 40 percent to its supply of horses and mules. Fort almost five hundred miles the Ohio river flows along the northern border of Kentucky, providing a defensive barrier or an avenue of invasion, depending on which side could control and fortify it. Two of the Ohio's navigable tributaries, the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers, penetrate through Kentucky into the heart of Tennessee and northern Alabama. Little wonder that Lincoln was reported to have said that while he hoped to have God on his side, he must have Kentucky.

Indeed, the North's early triumphs would all take place in the western theater, while the execrable George McClellan wasted a year and thousands of lives in his timid Virginia campaign. In his narrative of the war, McPherson touches on all the major military campaigns and battles, but never neglects to return his focus to the seats of power in Washington and Richmond. Of particular interest were the passages focus on Jefferson Davis' administration, such as the difficulties faced by the Confederacy in mobilizing a coherent, unified war effort after founding itself on a doctrine of state's rights:

Conscription dramatized a fundamental paradox in the Confederate war effort: the need for Hamiltonian means to achieve Jeffersonian ends. Pure Jeffersonians could not accept this. The most outspoken of them, Joseph Brown of Georgia, denounced the draft as a "dangerous usurpation by Congress of the reserved rights of the States... at war with all the principles for which Georgia entered into the revolution."

McPherson repeatedly demonstrates how the political sphere was often driven by failure or success in the field (e.g. the capture of Atlanta undermined the 1864 Democratic peace platform in the North), and yet on other occasions the efforts in the field were driven by political considerations (such as difficulty in removing a well-connected general). He also covers the evolution of Northern opinion on slavery, emancipation, and arming free blacks (unthinkable in 1861 but widely accepted by war's end) and the ongoing Southern efforts to gain recognition by Britain and France:

[I]ssues of ideology and sentiment played a secondary role in determining Britain's foreign policy. A veteran of a half-century in British politics, Palmerston was an exponent of Realpolitik. When pro-southern members of Parliament launched a drive in the summer of 1862 for British recognition of the Confederacy, Palmerston profess not to see the point. The South, he wrote, would not be "a bit more independent for our saying so unless we followed up our Declaration by taking Part with them in the war." Few in Britain were ready for that.

The book ends at the war's conclusion, prior to Reconstruction, the passage of the 14th Amendment, the readmission of the slave states, and so on. This was a conscious choice by McPherson and/or his editor, as Battle Cry of Freedom is but one entry in the gradually emerging Oxford History of the United States. McPherson explicitly leaves several issues for the subsequent volume in the series, which at this moment, twenty years later, is still neither published nor even announced.

As advertised, this is surely the essential one-volume history of the war and its causes, covering in sufficient detail both the political and military aspects of the conflict. But it is just one volume, and the 600 pages devoted to the war itself pale in comparison to, say, the 3000 or so in Shelby Foote's three-volume epic. The analysis of the causes of the war, while efficient, is relatively cursory when compared to a full volume like David Potter's The Impending Crisis. Those seeking a detailed operational history of the battles will have to look elsewhere, as even the epic battle at Gettysburg is allotted fewer than a dozen pages. Better yet, read this book first to get a fresh sense of the whole scope of the war, then seek out Foote or Stephen Sears for a closer look at military operations.

Eisenhower by Carlo D'Este

deste_eisenhower.jpgDwight Eisenhower's elevation to the peak of the Allied forces in World War II was absurdly rapid. The only contemporary rise that even compares is Harry Truman's 3-month ascent from Missouri's junior senate seat to the Oval Office. Eisenhower spent sixteen long years as a major in the inter-war Army before gaining promotion to lieutenant colonel in 1936. Then, in less than four years between 1941 and 1944, he rose from lieutenant colonel to five-star general.

Strange though it may seem, Carlo D'Este's Eisenhower, subtitled "A Soldier's Life," is actually more interesting in the 300 pages before the U.S. entry into World War II. Though the book ends with the close of the war in Europe in 1945, excluding his tenure as chief of staff, NATO commander, and his two-term presidency, the narrative begins with Eisenhower's first ancestor in America, Hans Nicholas Eisenhauer, "who emigrated from Germany's Rhineland to Pennsylvania in 1741." Raised in rather impoverished circumstances with his vivacious mother, emotionally detached father, and five brothers, Eisenhower managed to live a picturesque childhood:

Whenever he was not in school or working, young Eisenhower could be found sipping a sundae at Case's Department Store, riding precariously on the handlebars of a friend's bicycle, wading or fishing in nearby Mud Creek, shooting rabbits, general horseplay, engaging in fisticuffs, or competing in all manner of sports. There was little his boyhood in Abilene had to offer that Dwight Eisenhower did not take part in during an untroubled youth. The Eisenhowers could not afford toys, but with David's encouragement his sons became adept at manufacturing their own from whatever materials were handy. Camping and boating were all part of a life filled with activities, as were acrobatics and balancing acts in the family barn--often futile attempts to defy the laws of gravity that usually cost little more than numerous bumps, bruises, cuts, and scrapes.

Desirous of a college education (and an opportunity to continue playing football and baseball) but cognizant of his family's financial limitations, Eisenhower sought and received an appointment to West Point. A member of the class of 1915, Eisenhower would graduate into a world at war and an American army in disrepair. Despite a professed desire to lead troops in combat (like George Patton and Harry Truman), Eisenhower would spend World War I in staff and training positions, with a particular emphasis on the newly-established tank units:

Eisenhower's hopes were dashed when he was informed that instead of leading the 301st [Tank Battalion] to France, he was being reassigned to command a temporary military garrison adjacent to the Gettysburg battlefield: Camp Colt. Eisenhower's organizational abilities had convinced his superiors that he was more valuable training troops. The curse of being a successful troop trainer had struck again, and "My mood was black," he said. His new assignment was a perfect example of the military axiom "For the good of the service."

In the inter-war years, the Army would severely contract, cut salaries, and promote at a glacial pace (hence Eisenhower's sixteen years as a major). Yet Eisenhower endured. He would later be criticized by many as a bureaucrat who rose to power on his ability to play politics and gain the patronage of powerful men. Whatever the merits of this judgment, it is certainly true that Eisenhower's assignments brought him into close contact with a veritable who's who of Army heavyweights. After World War I he worked for General John Pershing on the American Battle Monuments Commission. Later, Eisenhower would spend most of the 1930s working for General Douglas MacArthur, as an aide to the Chief of Staff and then in the Philippines. Finally, and most importantly, he had been marked down for future success by General George C. Marshall; when the darkening clouds in Europe convinced the Army Chief of Staff he needed an officer with some specific skills, Eisenhower was his man:

In 1942 hardly anyone in the U.S. Army had in intimate knowledge, much less an understanding, of industrial mobilization. One of the few exceptions was Eisenhower, thanks to his extensive investigation of the subject during his service in the War Department a decade earlier. This experience would not only be of immense importance in the coming months but would greatly enhance his role as one of the most important figures on Marshall's staff.

The 400-odd pages that follow cover Eisenhower's role in the European war, from command of the operations in North Africa, the invasions of Sicily and Italy, to D-Day and the continental war. This is a decent operational history of the war, and I guess that's what passes for a biography of the Supreme Allied Commander. He was strikingly distant from any tactical decisions, let alone combat itself. Most of his days seem to have been filled by balancing the egos of the various commanders and politicians. Not to understate the skill and patience this required, when one considers the egos he was dealing with (Churchill, de Gaulle, Montgomery, Patton, Bradley, to name the most famous). But it does not make for great reading. Every so often a major strategic decision will be made, followed by a dozen iterations of ego-soothing while the troops are actually fighting; rinse and repeat:

In early August [1944], Eisenhower's unending "war" with Winston Churchill over the Riviera landings reached a crescendo. Although the date for the landings was barely more than a week off, Eisenhower still had a major fight on his hands with Churchill, who arrived at Shellburst for discussions on August 7. All was calm at lunch as the prime minister delighted in feeding milk to Eisenhower's resident pet, a black kitten named Shaef. But the discussion under the canvas tent turned serious when Churchill employed American battle tactics in an attempt to wear Eisenhower down. The arguments raged for some six hours. The more Churchill cajoled and pleaded, the more strongly Eisenhower resisted. Noted Butcher, "Ike said no, continued saying no all afternoon, and ended saying no in every form of the English language at his command... he was practically limp when the PM departed," with the last words on the subject yet to be heard. Exhausted but unbowed Eisenhower felt secure in the knowledge that he had the full backing of Marshall, King, and Arnold, and--most important of all--Roosevelt.

Perhaps Eisenhower's greatest accomplishment was maintaining the allied relationship with Britain, a proud empire in very rapid decline, while recognizing that by 1944 the former colonies had become undeniably supreme. Numerous military giants feature significantly in the narrative, particularly Patton, Montgomery, and Bradley. While D'Este is entitled to make known his opinions about which generals have been underrated (Montgomery) or overrated (Bradley), in so doing he is taking issue with the unstated judgments of past historians. For those not well-versed in the war's historiography, these passages may seem rather tangential or at least unnecessarily argumentative.

D'Este is not blind to Eisenhower's missteps. He fault the supreme commander for an inability to relieve commanders far after their incompetence or disloyalty has been made manifest. He does not dissuade one from the notion that Eisenhower's stature and survival had as much to do with being the common denominator acceptable to both the British and the U.S. rather than any brilliance in his own right (in fact, it may be the lack of individual military genius that made him more palatable than the eccentrics like Patton and Montgomery). And amongst other specific episodes of weakness, he highlights Eisenhower's decision to approve the execution of Eddie Slovik for desertion, the first such penalty since the Civil War:

When Eisenhower was interviewed in 1963 by historian Bruce Catton, his recollection of the event bore the hallmarks of a faulty memory. Claiming he had sent his judge advocate general to offer Slovik an olive branch if he would express remorse and return to his unit, Eisenhower described Slovik as "one of these guardhouse lawyers who refused to believe he'd ever be executed."

Slovik had actually written Eisenhower a hearfelt personal plea to spare his life, and would willingly have complied with an offer to return to duty. It has not been established if Eisenhower ever saw Slovik's letter, but what is clear is that no one from SHAEF was ever sent to the 28th Division before Slovik's execution on January 31, 1945, in the courtyard of a villa in the town of Ste-Marie-aux-Mines, deep in the Vosges Mountains of Alsace.

D'Este relies on a broad array of sources, and provides 100 pages worth of extensive endnotes. I was troubled, however, by an in-text citation to "controversial historian David Irving." By "controversial," one can only assume D'Este is referring to Irving's many years as the academic face of Holocaust denial. That Irving has so publicly and perversely derailed from historical reality does not necessarily invalidate the early work that D'Este cites, which suggested that "Allied brass were more interested in preserving their reputation than in defeating the Germans," but surely D'Este could find sources for this claim who have not been so widely discredited as historians.

Also troubling was D'Este's handling of the perpetual rumors surrounding Eisenhower's wartime relationship with his driver, Kay Summersby. Truth be told, I don't much care what the relationship was, and would not have missed the issue if D'Este had chosen to ignore it. But what he did instead was worse; he attempts to exonerate Ike, staying that the rumors were "unproved" and that an affair "could not possibly have been hidden." That is all well and good, but D'Este returns to these rumors at least a half-dozen times during the remainder of the book, noting the effect it had on Mamie, stating that Eisenhower was "oblivious to any all adverse reaction to her presence, however inappropriate it was at times," and admitting that "it was common knowledge among war correspondents that something was going on between them." By brushing aside the rumors, only to repeat them ad nauseam, D'Este does no favors to his subject or his text.

More annoying yet is D'Este's obsession with Eisenhower's cigarette smoking, which he mentions at least 8 or 9 times. D'Este suggests that this contributed to health problems later in life, which I have no reason to doubt. But it is a strange aspect to linger on considering that D'Este's text ends in 1945, almost a quarter-century before Eisenhower's death. It is perhaps a symptom of D'Este's inability or unwillingness to offer insights into Eisenhower's inner world that he harps so repeatedly on the man's visible habits.

The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan

kagan_peloponnesian.jpgThe ancient Greeks are much heralded for their groundbreaking efforts in poetry and philosophy, in drama and democracy. Accompanying these achievements was significant turbulence and turmoil in the constantly competing Greek city-states. The great rivalry, of course, was that between Athens and Sparta, and their greatest conflict came in the latter half of the 5th century B.C., known to us as the Peloponnesian War. Much of our knowledge about the conflict comes from an Athenian general named Thucydides, whose History of the Peloponnesian War has survived as a seminal work of military and political history.

Thucydides is revered as a historian, with his proclaimed focus on a factual account supported by first-hand evidence, omitting the sort of geographic and cultural tangents with which his predecessor, Herodotus, peppered his histories. Nevertheless, as Thucydides was himself personally involved in the historical events he purports to describe, there is good cause to question his objectivity. And as he died several years before the war concluded, there has always been a need to supplement his work for a full telling of the conflict. The most recent effort was conducted by Donald Kagan, a professor of history at Yale, whose four-volume analysis of the Peloponnesian War is highly regarded. In 2003, Kagan distilled his decades of study into a single volume appropriate for a more general audience, The Peloponnesian War. In the introduction to this text, Kagan explains the need for scholarship beyond what Thucydides left us:

The works of other ancient writers and contemporary inscriptions discovered and studied in the last two centuries have filled gaps and have sometimes raised questions about the story as Thucydides tells it... any satisfactory history of the war also demands a critical look at Thucydides himself. His was an extraordinary and original mind, and more than any other historian in antiquity he placed the highest value on accuracy and objectivity. We must not forget, however, that he was also a human being with human emotions and foibles. In the original Greek his style is often very compressed and difficult to understand, so that any translation is by necessity an interpretation. The very fact that he was a participant in the events, moreover, influenced his judgments in ways that must be prudently evaluated. Simply accepting his interpretations uncritically would be as limiting as accepting without question Winston Churchill's histories and his understanding of the two world wars in which he played so important a role.

With that, Kagan sets the tone of the book's necessary reliance on Thucydides' landmark text. It is treated with dignity but not deference, and where other texts conflict with Thucydides' account, or where the analysis simply does not seem right, Kagan is not afraid to disagree with the ancient master. Kagan is considered a leading neoconservative, his sons Robert and Frederick are very active in that movement, Thucydides' text is often trumpeted by neocons, and thus I approached this book with some trepidation. However, Kagan promises in the introduction that he has "avoided making comparisons between events in [the Peloponnesian War] and those in later history, although many leap to mind." Kagan makes good on that promise, a credit to his ability to bifurcate his politics from his scholarship.

The start of the Peloponnesian War is usually dated to 431 B.C., but tensions between Athens and Sparta had been building for some time. Kagan opens his book with a thorough discussion of the half-century preceding the war, including the nature of Spartan and Athenian politics and the rival "leagues" they led:

Pragmatism, not theory, provided the interpretive principle within the [Peloponnesian] alliance. The Sparts helped their allies when it was to their advantage or unavoidable, compelling others to join in a conflict whenever it was necessary and possible. The entire alliance met only when the Spartans chose, and we hear of few such gatherings. The rules that chiefly counted were imposed by military, political, or geographical circumstances, and they reveal three informal categories of allies. One consisted of states that were small enough and close enough to Sparta as to be easily controlled... States in the second category.. were stronger, or more remote, or both, but not so powerful and distant as to escape ultimate punishment if it was merited. Thebes and Corinth were the only states in the third group, states so far removed and mighty in their own right that their conduct of foreign policy was rarely subordinated to Spartan interests.

As this last group suggests, Sparta and Athens were not in complete control of the members of their alliances, and like Europe in 1914, it was conflict amongst the junior partners that eventually dragged their patrons into open war. Kagan offers a straight chronological narrative of the war, pausing occasionally to consider the backgrounds of the constantly changing military and political leaders, the diplomatic intrigues, the mood on the home front, and the war aims of the various belligerents.

Of particular note was the Spartan war claim that they were fighting to free the Greeks whose membership in Athens' Delian League has them subordinate and tributary. Yet when Athens proved more resistant than Sparta anticipated, and the war descended into stalemate, the Spartans cut a deal with an unlikely source, Persia. Operating under the notion that an "enemy of my enemy is my friend," the Spartans allied themselves with a foreign power that just decades before had been attempted to invade and conquer the Greek mainland. The terms of Persian assistance demanded Sparta sacrifice Greek cities in the eastern Mediterranean, the very Greeks whose liberation Sparta touted, to the rule of Persia's king:

The Spartan leaders, therefore, negotiated a new treaty with Tissaphernes at Caunus in February. Like the earlier agreements it contained a nonaggression clause, reference to Persian financial support, and a commitment to wage war and make peace in common, but the differences in this most recent version were crucial. It was to be a formal treaty requiring ratification by both home governments. King Darius himself must have approved the first clause that reads: "All the territory of the King that is in Asia shall belong to the King; and about his own territory the King may decide whatever he wishes." For all the grandiosity of the claim, it abandons all reference to the European lands included in the earlier agreements, a concession to the complaints made by Lichas. There can be no mistake, however, about Darius's' claim to sole domination of Asia.

Worthy of praise are the abundant maps scattered throughout the text at relevant points (29 maps in 37 chapters). These prove helpful in identifying the rotating cast of city-states and judging the wisdom or folly of Athenian or Spartan action in that area. The action shifts from fields as distant as Sicily and the Daradnelles, covering the breadth of Greek influence in the Mediterranean, and good maps are essential.

This was an extraordinarily long war, lasting upwards of three decades, and it becomes difficult to keep track of all the city-states and generals involved. Kagan does an admirable job providing clarity throughout this 500-page text, but eventually it does begin to feel repetitive, the battles begin to blend together, and it seems the end of the war will never come. When it does come it is rather anticlimactic. There is no dramatic sacking of Athens; rather the famed walls are torn down voluntarily after some diplomatic maneuverings saved the city from destruction. Before long Athens is back on its feet ("they had regained many of their former allies and restored their power to the point where it is possible to speak of a 'Second Athenian Empire'"), while it is Sparta that finds itself suffering from the hubris of empire:

To be sure, the Spartans had become the dominant force in Greece, but their victory brought no repose and much trouble. Within a few years they were compelled to abandon their empire and its tribute, but not before enough money had flowed into Sparta that its traditional discipline and institutions were undermined. Soon the Spartiates had to contend with internal conspiracies that threatened their constitution and their very existence. Abroad, they had to fight a major war against a coalition of former allies and former enemies that held them in check within the Peloponnesus, and from which they were able to emerge intact only through the intervention of Persia. For a short time they clung to a kind of hegemony over their fellow Greeks, but only so long as the Persian king wanted them to do so. Within three decades of their great victory the Spartans were defeated by the Thebans in a major land battle, and their power was destroyed.

A victorious hegemon that tries but fails to install its own form of government in conquered states? There are surely modern analogies that come to mind, but like Kagan I will restrain myself.

Standard Operating Procedure by Philip Gourevitch

gourevitch_standard.jpgThe devastation wrought upon America's rule of law by the Bush administration had tremendous consequences for all aspects of government policy. Many of the abuses in the domestic sphere were covered by Eric Lichtblau's book, Bush's Law, which I discussed last week. In that book, Lichtblau mentioned the role played by John Yoo and the Office of the Legal Counsel in crafting absurdly expansive legal opinions regarding the scope of executive power, the most infamous being the "Torture Memo." News of that memo, drafted in August 2002, broke just a few weeks after 60 Minutes ran a story reporting news of alleged detainee abuse at an Iraqi prison just west of Baghdad.

We now know, despite years of attempted obfuscation by the administration, that these two events were inextricably linked. In 2008, Philip Gourevitch published a book about the prison, Standard Operating Procedure, based in part on interviews done for Errol Morris' documentary of the same name. Early in the book, he efficiently laid out the trail of recklessness that connected the torture memo to Guantanamo Bay to Abu Ghraib, resulting in an utter absence of cognizable constraints on prison authorities:

In the course of a month five different versions of the interrogation rules--the three unsigned drafts, and the two official policies--had been put into circulation at Abu Ghraib. Some of the changes along the way were substantial, but they were never explicitly identified. You had to scrutinize the succeeding documents side by side to detect all their differences, and they all looked enough alike that you could easily assume you'd already read one when you'd actually read the other... [T]he confusion about the law among those who were laying it down for Abu Ghraib suggested that the interrogation rules were not really rules but a kind of guess work, and that they invited exceptions, which certainly fit with the fact that interrogators were being allowed--even encouraged--to do so much that wasn't in their handbook, so much that was even restricted at Gitmo, so much they were not trained to do.

After establishing the responsibility of those who set the stage for the Abu Ghraib disaster, Gourevitch spends most of the book recounting the events as experienced by the soldiers who participated in or witnessed the abuse. Rather than offer a straightforward historical or journalistic treatment, Gourevitch has paralleled Morris' film and drafted what might best be termed a literary documentary. The words of the participants' are given priority, with Gourevitch adding context from the bird's eye view:

Real or unreal, participant or bystander, degrader or degraded, overstimulated or numbed out--[Specialist Sabrina] Harman may have meant no harm, but she seemed to understand that in the malignant circumstances of the MI block that hardly made her benign. Unable or unwilling to reconcile her most disturbing and her most appealing actions and reactions, she sought her equilibrium in equivocation. When she wrote of "both sides of me," she said, "It was military and civilian--the tough side and the non-tough side. You battle out which one is stronger. You're trained to be tough. I was right out of basic, and you're just trained to do what you're told, and to not let things affect you. You're supposed to set all emotions aside, because this is war. I think it's almost impossible. It is emotional."

Gourevitch made an interesting choice not to include any of the photographs in the book, explaining that "much of what matters most about Abu Ghraib was never photographed" and the "photographs have a place in the story, but they are not the story, and in would be untruthful here to submit once again to their frame." Instead, Gourevitch repeatedly pauses the narrative to offer a contextual interpretation of the more infamous photographs, discussing what the photographs do and do not reveal, why they were taken, and the powers and limits of the medium itself. Consider the photos of Private First Class Lynndie England holding a tie-down strap looped around the neck of a prisoner (nicknamed Gus) crawling on his knees:

The composition of the third photograph is the same, but England is in motion, taking a step toward the camera, and making eye contact with it. Gus's face is finally visible, and his eyes are eerie--rolled back in his head, flashing white. On the plastic chair by the cell door, a previously unidentifiable object can be seen to be a megaphone of the sort used for yelling at prisoners to keep them awake. This is the best-lit and the least-staged-looking of the three pictures, and therefore the most disturbing; it creates the impression that England is taking Gus for a stroll on a leash and has just run into [Specialist Megan] Ambuhl on her way. But it was a crop of the second photograph, showing only England and Gus, that was first leaked to the press and seen around the world, becoming almost overnight one of the most recognizable images of our time, and making England an iconic figure of American disgrace: "leash girl."

The MPs assigned to Abu Ghraib come across as hopelessly out of their element, untrained, unprepared, and most perniciously, unled. There is no sign of leadership, that most heralded of Army values, amongst any of the officers or NCOs who had any involvement:

Do these soldiers sound like they're just making excuses? Didn't some of them take liberties, and go to extremes--didn't they treat suggestions as orders, and then interpret them as they pleased--when they might instead have shown compassion? Yes. But what happened to command responsibility? There would have been no liberties to be taken, and no extremes to go to, if anybody had wanted to keep the MPs in check. Nobody wanted to because at Abu Ghraib lawlessness was the law.

Of particular personal note is the absence of leadership by the Judge Advocates who served as legal advisers to the relevant commands, including COL Marc Warren, who was subsequently denied a promotion to Brigadier General when his nomination was blocked in a Senate committee. That was also notable because it was among the few tangible consequences for senior leadership:

[N]o soldier above the rank of sergeant ever served jail time. No civilian interrogators ever faced legal proceedings. Nobody was ever charged with torture, or war crimes, or any violation of the Geneva Conventions. Nobody ever faced charges for keeping prisoners naked or shackled. Nobody ever faced charges for holding prisoners as hostages. Nobody ever faced charges for incarcerating children who were accused of no crime and posed no known security threat.

And so on. If the photographs had not been taken, or then not been turned over, or then not been leaked, we might not even know as much as we do. As much attention as Gourevitch pays to telling the story of the photographs, it is disappointing that he does not follow them much beyond their initial public disclosure. In a short epilogue titled "After," he outlines the criminal investigation and the eventual administrative and criminal actions brought against various participants. But he fails to tell the enduring story of the photographs; how they were published, by whom, how they were understood or misunderstood, and what reactions they generated. A full account of Abu Ghraib must contend with this aftermath.

That said, Standard Operating Procedure is an unusual but worthwhile entry into the literature on the Iraq War and the administration that started it. It brings a great deal of context and consideration to the traumatic events that took place in Abu Ghraib, and may even induce sympathy for some of the soldiers who took part. No such sympathy arises, however, for the administration that put them there, and that consciously created the anything-goes atmosphere that had its starkest realization in Saddam Hussein's favorite prison.

Why I'm Tired

It took me 46 hours to get from Atlanta to Kuwait.

Summer in Kuwait

I was supposed to have been in Kuwait for 90 days this summer, roughly from the middle of June until the middle of September. Unfortunately, in early July we moved a court-martial from Kuwait to Atlanta to accommodate a number of witnesses who had already redeployed, so I was brought back from Kuwait just after Independence Day. The plan was to try the case the following week, with an immediate return to Kuwait thereafter.

That was the plan. Instead what happened was the trial kept being delayed two weeks at a time, finally going through during the last week of August. By then, the unit had a major training exercise going on in Kuwait, so my return was further delayed until that exercise ended in mid-September. I was only able to go back for three weeks, as my family and my wife's family had already made travel arrangements to come visit us in October and November, which was when I was scheduled to have rotated back.

The absurdity of the situation is hard to overstate. All told, I spent 43 days in theater this summer. Of those 43 days, 10 were spent in travel. So really I spent 33 working days in Kuwait. In that time, I tried zero cases. I took 11 flights, totaling nearly 30,000 miles. Since the 43 days spanned four calendar months (through no planning of my own), I received $900 of combat fire pay and four months of tax-free salary.

It is hard to describe just how ridiculous a process it was to leave Kuwait. The travel situation at Ali As Salem, described as the "theater gateway" because all troops coming or going from Iraq and Afghanistan, is particularly appalling when one considers we are now in the seventh year of this War on Terror. Soldiers arrive at Ali having survived the ordeal of leaving Iraq or Afghanistan, which often takes days because of sandstorms and/or equipment failures. Then they have to hope they are amongst the first 350 people to sign up for the single flight out of Kuwait. Occasionally they schedule a second daily flight, but just as often one of the flights (often the only flight) is canceled. Soldiers traveling home for R&R have priority on the flight, which is fair, but it means that Soldiers trying to redeploy are sometimes stuck for days and days because they go to the back of the line each day, no matter how long they have been waiting.

The only reason I got stuck for just one night is that I went on a Friday, knowing that if I didn't get on the R&R bird I was already manifested on the Saturday "Freedom Flight" which goes directly to Fort Benning. Of course, this wouldn't work well for anyone whose final destination was not Georgia. The flight is intended for reservists and civilians who deploy through the CRC at Fort Benning, but it is manifested first come, first serve. So I signed up last Tuesday and was able to get on the flight on Saturday. My warrant officer, who didn't sign up until the day before, got bumped from the flight. Three stops and three continents later, I was at Fort Benning, and a former colleague from my time there picked me up and generously shuttled me to Atlanta, a mere 60 hours after I had first arrived at Ali As Salem to go home.

Human Yo-Yo

gabe_ali.jpgBeing pulled back to the States after just three weeks in Kuwait definitely provoked mixed emotions. On the one hand, it is great to be home with my wife. That trumps everything else. On the other hand, I had just settled into a pretty decent routine, the work was interesting, and we were psychologically adapted (or resigned) to the twelve week separation.

The worst part though, without question, was the travel. Even in the best circumstances, sitting aboard a three-stop, fifteen hour flight spanning three continents is going to be pretty taxing. But when that travel originates at Ali Al Salem Air Base, it is that much worse. Normally we try and travel Space A on the R&R flights taking soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan back to the States through Atlanta. That week, however, there had been a number of sandstorms in Iraq which prevented a lot of the R&R soldiers from getting down to Ali until the end of the week. So when I showed up on Friday, the R&R bird was completely full.

Instead, I got manifested on the Freedom Flight which goes to Fort Benning (for contractors and reservists who mobilized through the CRC). Unfortunately, the Freedom Flight leaves only on Saturdays, so I had to spend the night at Ali. Fortunately, I ran into one of my squadmates from JAG OBC, who was on her way back from Baghdad, and we passed the time catching up. I only had my carry-on, since I thought I was only coming back for two weeks, so I was well-positioned to help her carry some of her bags (see picture).

The Army being the Army, we had to report for the flight more than seventeen hours before it was scheduled to depart. Yes, seventeen. Since I had no checked baggage, I flew through Navy Customs, which just meant I got to spend most of the seventeen hours in the vaguely air-conditioned tent rather than outside. By Sunday afternoon, nearly 60 hours after first arriving at Ali, I was home.

Road Race Arifjan, Part 2

After just three weeks of what was supposed to be a three month tour in Kuwait, just long enough to get settled in, I got yanked back stateside to handle a contested court-martial that was scheduled for 14-15 July. However, thanks to the CAAF decision in , the trial has been delayed while a new court-martial panel is chosen. So I'm in Atlanta for at least three more weeks.

I realized that I forgot to post a few photos I took of the Peachtree Road Race in Kuwait, which I ran/walked just before heading back to the States.


As expected, there was a very good turnout. There were definitely two groups: the runners who were pressed up against each other at the start line, and everyone else, who spread out behind the runners.


Since the race started at 0500, we got a nice view of the sunrise during our first lap (the course consisted of two almost identical laps, with a slight dogleg at the end).


After finishing, everyone was directed to the gym where we received our souvenir T-shirts, identical to the ones given in Atlanta except that the sleeve reads "Time Group 12: Kuwait."

It was a lot of fun, and worth getting up that early. I'll likely be in Kuwait next July as well, so perhaps I'll make the effort to run the whole thing then.

Road Race Arifjan

arifjan_peachtree.jpgThere is some definite irony to the fact that after living in Atlanta for three years, the first Peachtree Road Race I run will be in Kuwait. This is especially amusing when you consider that one of my main excuses for never running it before was Atlanta's oppressive summer heat.

Truth be told, I did not even know that they ran the race overseas until I got here. But people here love to run; there are 5k's seemingly every month. So it's little surprise that they are expecting a record turnout from overseas military this year:

A record number of American soldiers in the Middle East will run their own version of the Peachtree, Atlanta Track Club executive director Tracey Russell said Wednesday. Russell said 3,350 soldiers will earn a coveted Peachtree T-shirt in races planned in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait.

"I've heard so many wonderful testimonials [about the races overseas]," Russell said. "A lot of them are Atlantans stationed overseas."

The Peachtree first added races for soldiers in 2004.

Four races are scheduled, the biggest being at Camp Bagram in Afghanistan, where 1,200 runners will run the 6.2 miles. That race will begin at 5 a.m. Friday Afghanistan time (9 p.m. today in Atlanta).

Another 1,000 will run at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait (5 a.m. Friday in Kuwait; 10 p.m. today in Atlanta), 900 at Camp Victory, Baghdad, Iraq (6:20 a.m. Friday in Iraq; 11:20 p.m. today in Atlanta), and 150 at Al-Asad, Iraq (6 a.m. Friday in Iraq; 11 p.m. today in Atlanta).

I think that is pretty cool. Hopefully the sun will come out in time for me to take some pictures. By the way, the temperature here at 5 a.m.? ~95°F.

Clark's Comments

Now General Wesley Clark has sort of made a name for himself by saying stupid things in front of television cameras, so it is hard to have too much sympathy when his words get completely misinterpreted. But it is dispiriting to watch the media buy the McCain campaign's talking points so unquestioningly. Here's what General Clark said:

I don't think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president.

The McCain campaign, which has little argument for victory beyond "war hero = savior from terrorism," immediately jumped at this. While it is a direct attack on their theory for victory, it is not at all an attack on the Senator's war record. In fact, General Clark had just finished praising Senator McCain as a war hero.

Even worse than the media buffoonery is the Obama campaign's surrender:

"As he's said many times before, Senator Obama honors and respects Senator McCain's service, and of course he rejects yesterday's statement by General Clark," Obama spokesman Bill Burton says in a statement.

Here's what they should have said:

Senator Obama honors and respects Senator McCain's service, and of course rejects any attack on it. General Clark was not attacking Senator McCain's service, however, but simply pointing out that being a war hero is no more a qualification for Senator McCain being President than it was for George McGovern or Bob Dole.

Talk about tying Senator McCain to a couple of loser candidates for good. Alas, yet again the Obama campaign failed to clear their talking points with me.

Heat in Kuwait

Prevailing winds in the region have coated the Middle East with dust over the past several weeks. This includes, of course, Kuwait. The upside to all the sand in the air is that it keeps the temperature 5-10 degrees cooler during the day. I am not sure that will make much difference next week, though:


I think it is especially humorous that 120 degrees is the line between "sunny" and "hot." I suspect it will not feel much cooler than 121 degrees. At least next weekend offers some relief! Ha.


Greetings from the lovely Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. After more than 30 hours of travel, including two intercontinental flights, a couple bus rides, and some quality time on the Kuwaiti highways, I arrived here last night.

As you can tell, I've got internet access. The wireless works even in the open bay that I'm staying in. The bay is actually pretty nice. The mattress is old and soft, but other than that it's not bad. It's not crowded, so most of the bunks around me are unoccupied. I've got a wall locker, plus they have a bunch of "cages" in the middle of the room that you can lock stuff in. One of them was open, so I put all my extra stuff in there.

We didn't get back here until about 0130 Kuwait time. I unpacked as much as I could in the dark and without waking anyone, then took a shower and tried to sleep. It was hard at first, at the end of such a bizarre 30-hour travel day, and I probably only got about 3 hours total before people started being noisy around 0700. But I went back to sleep for another 90 minutes after that and then decided to start my day so that I'll be in sync with the time zone. The NCOs are going to come get me after lunch, so I spent the morning surveying the surrounding buildings. The PX is not too far, which is a good thing because even at 0900, it was almost 100 degrees and pretty windy. Apparently they've been having a lot of dust storms.

I bought hangers, Febreeze, and laundry detergent at the PX. There is a laundry room right next to the bay. The showers and stuff is also right next door. There are a couple big TV rooms, and I watched some soccer on the (several!) European sports channels we get here. Hopefully I'll have time to catch more of Euro 2008 while I'm here.

So that's my first morning in Kuwait. More to follow!

Military vs. Marriage

As a military attorney married to a civilian attorney, any newspaper column titled "The Military vs. Marriages" is sure to get my attention; this one has been making the rounds since it was published in The Washington Post on Monday:

The U.S. Army recently announced that it would pay captains up to $35,000 in retention bonuses to stem the tide of junior officers leaving the Army, in part because of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bonuses may temporarily retain a few captains, but the problem will continue well into the future unless policymakers address a more fundamental issue: A military lifestyle makes the pursuit of a career nearly untenable for military wives.

While there are a few lines in the column tinged with too much self-pity, the fundamentals are spot on. The military system, with frequent PCS moves and deployments, places serious obstacles on any military spouse who simply wants to work or go to school. As the column's author is an attorney, she also identifies the issues faced by military spouses, like mine, who are pursuing professional careers their own:

Professionally licensed wives such as teachers (yes, and lawyers) are hit hard. Most licensed professions are regulated by states. Therefore, wives must test for, and pay for, new licenses with each move. In many professions, spouses get no credit for experience in other states, yet they must continue to pay annual fees to each state in which they are licensed. The process gets prohibitively expensive, forcing spouses to either pay hundreds of dollars per year to maintain licenses in multiple states (which is desirable, since the family may eventually be assigned back to that state) or relinquish the licenses they worked so hard to obtain.

And this is just the licensing aspect. This does not even touch on the employability of a military spouse whose roots in a community are never older than two or three years and whose Frankenstein-like resume would scare off employers looking for more than temporary help. What sort of legal practice is possible under such circumstances?

Of course the lawyer/lawyer marriage is going to pose special challenges. But this column makes clear that the basic problems are endemic to any military marriage where the spouse wants more than a purely domestic life.

Saying Goodbye to Good Friends

One of the things I really love about the Army is that it can bring together people who would not have had much interaction with each other in other circumstances. This is particularly true for a Yankee like me. Despite the six teenage years I spent in Utah and law school in Virginia, my politics, my sports affiliations, etc. still mark me as a northern boy. As such, the South-centric military has surrounded me with guys from Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma, Florida, and the like. While this makes me a lonely liberal in my office, it sure makes the college football season more interesting. Though currently all the captains are white males, there is still quite a bit of diversity, and I've made some great friends.

Unfortunately, one of the things I really hate about the Army is that no matter how great the friendship is, you always know that within a year or two, somebody will be moving on, either to a new duty station or a new career. This mostly happens in the summer time, and today is the last day for a guy with whom I've spent the last year building a great friendship. He's staying in the Army, headed to Fort Hood for a very cool job, and it is the right move for him and his family. But it still hurts, both on a personal and a professional level. He is a good friend and a great mentor, and the office will definitely miss him.

Since I plan to stay here for another couple years, I have many farewells to look forward to. In fact, it is virtually certain that every military attorney who was here when I got here will leave before I do. Several alread have. The discontinuity can be great in some respects: there is always fresh blood for the office, and fresh challenges for the officer. But today it just makes me sad.

Military Guilty Pleas

As in most jurisdictions, criminal justice in the military rests heavily on guilty pleas. However, there are some quirks to the system which surprise many when they first encounter it. One quirk in particular, regarding sentencing, is unusually favorable to the accused and is probably one reason why we do so many guilty pleas.

Since the Commanding General is the source of disciplinary authority, a guilty plea in the military is an agreement between the accused and the CG that in exchange for a plea, the CG will not approve a sentence above a certain amount of incarceration or a certain level of discharge. For example, the agreement might bind the CG to approve no more than 180 days of confinement and a Bad Conduct Discharge. It might even have alternative clauses, such as no more than 60 days of confinement if a punitive discharge is adjudged, no more than 180 days if not.

In court, the accused gets another bite at the apple. After his guilty plea is accepted, the government and the defense present evidence and arguments regarding sentencing, and the judge renders a sentence without knowing the quantitative terms of the plea agreement. If the judge's sentence is harsher than the plea, then the accused gets the benefit of the deal, as the CG can not approve any sentence above that in the deal. If the judge is more lenient than the deal, then the accused gets the benefit of his leniency, as the CG can never approve a sentence higher than that adjudged in court.

This makes for a very interesting system, where both sides are trying to anticipate the judge's sentence when negotiating the deal, and then trying to sway the judge's sentence once the guilty plea is accepted. It is a great way, I think, of giving defendants the advantages of pleading guilty without forfeiting all rights to persuade a judge to be lenient.

World War I Project

Last fall I began a small project to get my head around the First World War of 1914-1918, to understand as best I could the reasons it began, continued, and ended in the way it did. I was inspired by a lingering interest from a course I took on the subject from Professor Charles Maier at Harvard, as well as a recognition that many modern conflicts, from Israel/Palestine to the Balkans to Iraq, have roots in the outcome of the Great War. I decided to focus my reading on military history, with a bit of fiction (such as Erich Maria Remarque's classic All Quiet on the Western Front and Pat Barker's recent Regeneration trilogy) sprinkled in to add some literary flavor amongst the scholarly tomes.

strachan_first.jpgThe first book I read was Hew Strachan's The First World War, and I can not deny being rather disappointed with it. I was drawn to Strachan because he is currently working on a three-volume history of the war commissioned by Oxford University Press, and I can think of no greater endorsement than that. Unfortunately, his one-volume work is not a distillation of the unfinished three-volume history, but an accompaniment to a ten-part BBC mini-series. As such, the book is divided into ten chapters, each of which tracks one of the episodes (e.g. "Blockade" and "Revolution"). The (literally) episodic nature of the book makes for quick and interesting reading, but only at the most superficial level. There is little sense of the connections between why the war began, how it was fought, who led the belligerents, and what the populace was thinking and doing. Major political and military leaders rapidly appear and disappear, and there is no sense of flow, either thematically or chronologically. It is barely adequate as a first exposure to major themes of the war, but the time spent reading it is better invested elsewhere.

keegan_first.jpgBy elsewhere, I mean John Keegan's equally well-titled The First World War, which I think is a much better general introduction to the war. Keegan's reputation as a military historian precedes him, although in recent years he may have become too prolific for his own good. His history of World War I is decently thorough, though Keegan's is most definitely a military history, and thus lacks an emphasis on political and cultural influences. Keegan is at his best when discussing military strategy and his battle narratives are the best of the books I've read. The people involved fare less well, whether it be the politicians and generals or the factory workers and foot soldiers. Keegan simply does not devote enough space on the pages to the motivations and perspectives of the individuals who made up the belligerent nations. Nor does he follow-up on the war's consequences, either in the short-term or the long-term. When the artillery stops, so does the book. Keegan's work is much stronger in its discussion of the Western Front than any other theater, a flaw I thought endemic to all British authors until I got to David Stevenson. Overall, however, at the close of the book the reader understands why the war started, how it was fought, and why the Allies won. For most readers, that is enough.

stevenson_cataclysm.jpgFor those who want more, Stevenson's Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy is undoubtedly the best book of the three, but the richness of detail also makes it dense and complex. The scope of the work is broad in theme, reaching political, military, social, and economic considerations, and time, starting well before August 1914 and devoting the last 100 pages to the legacy of the war. The book is also thick in detail, and I found the discussion of domestic political maneuvering within each country particularly well-done, as well as the diplomatic history of the alliances (especially that between Germany and Austria-Hungary). Stevenson does an excellent job covering all the belligerents, often taking each in turn while discussing a specific theme such as munition production or mobilization of female workers.

Stevenson divided his book into four parts: Outbreak, Escalation, Outcome, and Legacy. The initial chapters on the beginning of the war do not repeat the old grade-school theme that the war was an accidental consequence of reckless alliances, but instead make clear that the start of the war was the product of intentional choices by belligerents on both sides (but especially the aggression of Austria-Hungary) and the misperception that the war would end quickly. The second and thirt parts are the meat of the book, and Stevenson is at his best when discussing why the war did not end quickly, and why the belligerents chose to continue despite the catastrophic bloodshed. He does well to discuss the war aims of each belligerent, how they were initially formulated, influenced by domestic politics, evolved as the war progressed, remained utterly incompatible well into 1918, and materialised into a disastrous peace treaty that left an awful legacy.

It is that legacy which drew me to read about World War I in the first place, so I think Stevenson's emphasis on it makes his work all the more appealing. It also leaves me with at least one more history to read, Margaret MacMillan's Paris 1919, which focuses on the peace negotiations themselves. While Stevenson does an excellent job summarizing the conflicting interests that Wilson, Clemenceau, and Lloyd George brought to the table, and the ways they manipulated each other, I think a more full understanding of the negotiations and the treaties will be a nice finish to the project. I'm going to give myself a few weeks to read elsewhere (I'm about to start my U.S. history project), but I do want to return to World War I for at least one more book. I'm sure at some point I'll want to read histories to devoted to a single nation or a single battle, but for now I've been largely satisfied by these general histories.

Soldier Debt

One of the most common cases I see as a legal assistance attorney in the Army is a soldier in debt. More often than not, the soldier has purchased a car he can't afford, at a price the car is not worth, and at an interest rate at or near 25%. At some point, perhaps when the car breaks down on the side of the road, the soldier realizes what an awful deal he has signed. Now, when it is usually too late to do anything about it, the soldier might come to see me.

Unfortunately, many soldiers are either too obstinate or too ashamed even to admit they've gotten a raw deal, and they do not come to see me, or any of the other resources they have for legal or financial advice. Instead, they go back to the same (or another) shady dealer, and make the problem worse in one of two ways. If the dealer can arrange it, the soldier may be convinced to roll over the unpaid debt on the first car into a new loan for a second car, putting themselves outrageously upside down on a second car that will likely break down on the side of the road.

More often, however, the dealer will convince the soldier to allow a "voluntary repossesion," which is legally no different from involuntary repossesion except that the dealer does not have to pay a repo man to go get the car. The soldier brings the car back, stops making payments, and blissfully thinks that the nightmare is over.

Until, that is, several weeks or months later when the repossesion shows up on their credit, the lender sends notice of intent to sell the repossesed car, and the soldier receives a notice of their obligation to pay the deficiency (the difference between the amount owed on the loan and the price the repossesed car was sold for at auction). When the soldier refuses to pay this deficiency, the lender sues the soldier, who ignores the summons and thus loses via default judgment, and the lender sends a copy of the judgment to DFAS to begin garnishing the soldier's pay.

At any rate, this is a longwinded way to say that I am not at all surprised to see that the rising debt of soldiers has become an operational security risk:

Thousands of U.S. troops are being barred from overseas duty because they are so deep in debt they are considered security risks, according to an Associated Press review of military records.

The number of troops held back has climbed dramatically in the past few years. And while they appear to represent a very small percentage of all U.S. military personnel, the increase is occurring at a time when the armed forces are stretched thin by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We are seeing an alarming trend in degrading financial health," said Navy Capt. Mark D. Patton, commanding officer at San Diego's Naval Base Point Loma.

The Pentagon contends financial problems can distract personnel from their duties or make them vulnerable to bribery and treason. As a result, those who fall heavily into debt can be stripped of the security clearances they need to go overseas.

Hopefully, recognition of this problem will lead to more proactive measures to keep soldiers away from predatory lending and other unethical business practices that target soldiers. Unfortunately, the fact remains that many of these soldiers are young, financially naive, have money in their pocket for the first time, and live in an environment of competitive consumerism. That's a cultural issue that no law is going to change.

UPDATE: One of my more cynical colleagues had this response to the story:

Yes, it's clear that payday lenders are the enemy in the war on terror. Not, of course, a hopelessly outdated and stupid regulation on security clearances written before bankruptcy was cool.

Still, it is sad that so many soldiers might find themselves with a bizarre Scylla or Charybdis choice between bankruptcy or a revoked security clearance.

New Chairman of the Joint Chiefs

With the retirement of Air Force General Richard Myers, the military has a new leader, the first Marine to hold that job:

Marine General Peter Pace took over yesterday as the military's top leader, facing an unpopular war in Iraq, recruitment shortfalls at home, and the possibility of an expanded role in domestic disasters.

At Pace's swearing-in, several Marines who have served with the Vietnam veteran said he would give President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld honest counsel as the military tries to reshape itself to battle the war on terrorism.

But some critics said they were concerned that as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pace, 59, would march in the footsteps of his predecessor, General Richard Myers, and loyally tout the administration's defense strategy.

That seems a rather strange thing to be concerned about. Have we come to expect the Joint Chiefs to vocally question the strategy of the Commander in Chief? That's not their role. They should advise, certainly. They should bring their expertise to bear, certainly. But the military answers to civilian superiors.

In fact, the best examples I can recall of military chiefs resisting civilian policies are the gays in the military fiasco during Clinton's first term, Curtis Lemay wanting to nuke Korea and Cuba, and this:

July 26, 1948: President Truman signs Executive Order 9981, which states, "It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin." The order also establishes the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and opportunity in the Armed Services.

July 26, 1948: Army staff officers state anonymously to the press that Executive Order 9981 does not specifically forbid segregation in the Army.

July 27, 1948: Army Chief of Staff General Omar N. Bradley states that desegregation will come to the Army only when it becomes a fact in the rest of American society.

July 29, 1948: President Truman states in a press conference that the intent of Executive Order 9981 is to end segregation in the armed forces.

I'm not sure we want the military leaders being the ones challenging administration policies. It might seem good to some in the immediate situation, but in the long term I think it is rarely the right move.

Busy Times for the Military

Busy times continue for the United States military, with an increasing role for active duty forces in the wake of the natural disaster in the Gulf Coast. Though the role of the National Guard and the active duty forces are raising lots of questions about force structure and allocation, a more basic and uplifiting point should be made as well.

We have an amazing collection of adaptable talent at our disposal in the form of soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen. While the country debates whether the response was too slow, too little, too tepid and the like, there can be little doubt that we are lucky to have these folks on our side:

More active-duty troops are joining the Hurricane Katrina relief effort than originally planned, and a senior commander said Monday they likely will be needed for months, not weeks.

Although the Pentagon said Saturday that 2,500 soldiers from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division were being dispatched to the New Orleans area, a spokeswoman for the division said Monday that 4,700 would be there by Tuesday.

Also going are combat and support forces from the 1st Cavalry Division and 13th Corps Support Command at Fort Hood, Texas, plus about 2,000 Marines. The Pentagon originally said the 1st Cavalry was sending 2,700 soldiers, but division spokesman Capt. George Lewis said Monday that 1,700 were going, plus 100 support troops.

Thus the total for active-duty ground forces would be about 8,500, up from the 7,200 announced on Saturday.

Twenty-one Navy ships also are participating, including the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman off the coast of Mississippi.

The Air Force said Monday that its aircraft have flown more than 1,000 missions, including helicopter crews that have rescued more than 3,600 people and evacuation flights that have moved 2,600 medical patients.

Good luck and godspeed to them all.

Further Guidance on Military Blogging

The Army is preparing further guidance for military bloggers, a rather diverse group (of which I suppose I'm tacitly a member) that raises uniquely difficult questions about the propriety of personal web publishing:

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker circulated a memo to all Army personnel last week saying that "we must do a better job" at operational security -- "OPSEC" in military parlance.

"Some soldiers continue to post sensitive information" on the Internet and especially on their Web logs or online diaries, wrote Schoomaker, giving as examples "photos depicting weapon system vulnerabilities and tactics, techniques and procedures.

"Such OPSEC violations needlessly place lives at risk and degrade the effectiveness of our operations," he wrote.

Schoomaker promised that amendments to Army regulations would be promulgated within a month, and that officers would have access to new training materials on the issue by Sept. 2.

In the meantime, he ordered Army staff at the Pentagon to "tracks and report, on a quarterly basis, (such) OPSEC violations."

"Get the word out and focus on this issue now," Gen. Schoomaker concluded. "I expect to see immediate improvement."

Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Tracy O'Grady-Walsh told United Press International it was Department of Defense policy that military personnel, "while acting in a private capacity ... have the right to prepare information for public release through non-Department of Defense forums or media" so long as they did it in their own time and with their own equipment, and did not use "information generally not available to the public."

I tend to think that first-person accounts of soldiers are a great asset of any wartime experience. The letters of Civil War troops still amaze as a collection of brilliance and youth sacrificed in a bloody war, and the 20th-century has seen more of the same from Wilfred Owen to Philip Caputo. America has a long history of producing tremendous correspondence in wartime. Yet never before has the combination of immediacy and publicity been so complete. These military bloggers write posts with the timeliness and intimacy of private letters, but with the audience of a published work.

As such, they raise troubling questions about the safety and propriety of individual voices of wartime soldiers rising out of the theater. Troubling because it implicates the amount of frank discussion and/or dissent that a country should tolerate or encourage within the ranks, the proper venue for such discussion, and the free speech rights of those who put their lives on the line for the very freedoms at issue.

I am encouraged by what seems to be a slow, methodical, reasoned approach to this complex question. There appears to be a fundamental respect for the free expression of those who serve, restraining any reactionary instinct to shut the whole thing down. I hope that restraint is not unnecessarily tested.

Governors Fight Guard Base Cuts

Many of the contentious issues surrounding the current wave of base closures have survived the BRAC votes. Now the battle may shift to the courtroom as state politicians seek to fight cuts in the Air National Guards:

Governors and legislators from several U.S. states are vowing to fight proposed Pentagon cutbacks at Air National Guard bases after a military review commission approved stripping aircraft from dozens of units.

In one contentious move, the independent panel reviewing proposed military base cutbacks voted Friday to close the Willow Grove Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base near Philadelphia. That came despite a federal court ruling barring deactivation of a Guard unit at the base without Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell's consent.

The commission changed wording in its motion to leave the Pennsylvania Air National Guard 111th Fighter Wing intact but ordered it stripped of its A-10 attack jets.

It sounds like the BRAC Commission might have a lawyer or two on staff. Of course, this is just another round in the continuing tug-of-war between the state and federal governments over control of the national guard units. The increased mobilization of those units for military duties overseas has been a source of strife for months:

When summer wildfires burn out of control in the vast forests of the Rocky Mountains, the Montana National Guard has always been available to act as a fire force of last resort, sending its soldiers deep into the wilderness to help fire crews, protect evacuated property, and transport supplies to the front lines.

But as fire season approaches this year, the Montana Guard faces what its commander describes as an ''unprecedented" shortage of firefighters and helicopters, prompting the state's governor, Democrat Brian Schweitzer, to ask the Pentagon to return more of the state's troops from Iraq this summer for what he fears could be a particularly dangerous fire season.

This difficulty has been highlighted again in the wake of Hurricane Katrina:

"The juxtaposition of the mission to Iraq and the response to Katrina really demonstrates the new and changing character of the National Guard," Daniel Goure, a military analyst at the private Lexington Institute, said Monday.

The war has forced the Guard into becoming an operational force, a far cry from its historic role as a strategic reserve primarily available to governors for disasters and other duties in their home states.

At 1.2 million soldiers, the active duty military is simply too small to carry the load by itself when there is a large sustained deployment like Iraq. Nationally, 78,000 of the 437,000 members of the Guard force are serving overseas.

As part of the transformation during the war effort, the National Guard has promised governors that at least 50 percent of soldiers and airmen will be available for stateside duty at all times. In most cases, the rate is well above 50 percent.

Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said the Gulf states have adequate National Guard units to handle the hurricane needs, with at least 60 percent of the Guard available in each state.

In Louisiana, which took the brunt of Katrina, some 3,000 members of the 256th Combat Brigade are in Iraq, while 3,500 members of the Guard were deployed to help hurricane victims and another 3,000 were on standby.

In neighboring Mississippi, the Guard had 853 troops on hurricane duty - a small slice of the more than 7,000 Guard troops in the state's ground and air components. Some 3,000 National Guard troops from Mississippi are in Iraq, another 300 in Afghanistan.

The states in the hurricane's path have relatively large Guard forces. But some states with smaller Guard forces and a high percentage of soldiers in Iraq have expressed concern that they may be stretched too thin.

The continuing controversy about the proper role and control of the National Guard is really only a subset of the problems posed by a military structure designed during the Cold War, equipped to respond to an entirely different set of contingencies than those faced today. The BRAC process is one method of altering that structure, but I would not be surprised to see a major shift from our current Active/Reserve/Guard division of units. We are already seeing shifts within that structure, moving certain functions that were thought of as 'reserve' functions into the active force. But more macro changes loom as a possibility.

BRAC Independence

The base-closing commission considering the Pentagon's recommendations has been surprisingly independent this week, keeping open two of the Pentagon's biggest targets in the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and Naval Submarine Base New London. Today they also voted to spare Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, which has been the source of tremendous political fighting:

The surprise decision on Ellsworth was a setback for Pentagon leaders, a blessing for South Dakotans who feared losing about 4,000 jobs, and a victory for Sen. John Thune and the state's other politicians who lobbied vigorously to save the base. Thune, a freshman Republican, unseated then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle partly on the strength of his claim he could help save the base.

South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds called it "a great day for South Dakota."

Ellsworth is home to half the nation's fleet of B1-B bombers. The Pentagon had wanted to move all the bombers to their other location, Dyess Air Foce Base in Texas.

But the commission found that closing Ellsworth wouldn't save any money over 20 years, and that it actually would cost nearly $20 million to move the planes to the Texas base. The Pentagon had projected saving $1.8 billion over two decades with the closure.

I don't know the details, but it seems rather amazing that the Pentagon could project nearly $2 billion in savings, and have the commission find that there wouldn't have been any at all. That's some crazy math.

In my neck of the woods, former President Jimmy Carter is taking some heat for going to bat on behalf of Naval Submarine Base New London, where he served in his younger days as a submariner:

Former President Jimmy Carter was the target of scorn in his home state after he lobbied to save a Connecticut submarine base at the expense of thousands of jobs in Georgia.

One member of an independent panel said Carter was part of the reason it voted to reverse a Pentagon recommendation to close the Naval Submarine Base New London, which would have shifted six subs and 3,367 jobs to Georgia's Kings Bay base.

"What was he thinking?" Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue said Thursday.

The Pentagon estimated that shifting fast-attack submarines, a maintenance facility and the Naval Submarine School from Groton, Conn., to Georgia would grow the overall work force in St. Marys, a coastal town of 14,000, by 22 percent. That was the largest predicted percentage gain for any military community in the nation.

But Carter - a former Georgia governor and the only president ever to serve as a submariner - sent a letter to the Base Closure and Realignment Commission last week, pleading to keep open the Connecticut base where he had been stationed as a young engineer in the 1950s.

You have to love just how heated sectional politics can get when there are big bucks at stake. Representative government at its best? Worst? Who knows. Edmund Burke would probably be rather displeased with most of it, though Carter seems to have risen above the chains of his neighbor's (if no longer his constituent's) interests.

Besides, for those communities that do lose their military infrastructure, a new article from Time suggests that things will probably turn out just fine.

JAG Objections to Interrogation Tactics

I am not at all surprised to see that senior JAG officers raised serious objections to the Pentagon's interrogation policies when they were in development:

Three top military lawyers said yesterday that they lodged complaints about the Justice Department's definition of torture and how it would be applied to interrogations of enemy prisoners captured by U.S. forces, the first time they have publicly acknowledged that they objected to the policy as it was being developed in early 2003.

At a Senate hearing yesterday, the judge advocate generals (JAGs) for the Army, Air Force and Marines said they expressed their concerns as the policy was being hashed out at the Pentagon in March and April 2003. Though their letters to the Defense Department's general counsel are classified, sources familiar with them said the lawyers worried that broadly defined, tough interrogation tactics would not only contravene long-standing military doctrine � leaving too much room for interpretation by interrogators � but also would cause public outrage if the tactics became known.

The Army JAG Legal Center and School sits adjacent to the University of Virginia School of Law, from which I recently graduated. I distinctly remember a panel event focus on the interrogation policies, and either John Yoo or Jack Goldsmith (maybe both) were on the panel. They have become (in)famous as authors and architects of various terror-related policies. Anyhow, there were a number of JAG officers in attendance, and the discussion became quite heated. It was abundantly clear that the JAG folks felt a lot of disdain for the policies that were being handed down from DOJ and DOD. It was very interesting to see, especially since it occurred at a time when civilians were being labelled unpatriotic or charged with giving aid and comfort to the enemy for raising the same objections.

More on an American Hero

By now, most people are familiar with the heroics of Spc. Pat Tillman, who left a professional football career to join the US Army and was killed in Afghanistan. Even months after his death, the depth of heroism is still being revealed:

In December 2003, when Tillman was back home from his initial tour overseas, in Iraq, his agent had begun fielding calls from teams suddenly interested in acquiring his client for the 2004 season.

"And they all said the same thing: 'Frank, this kid can get out of it. He's already served in a war. Just file his discharge papers,"' the agent, Frank Bauer, told The Arizona Republic.

He urged Tillman to consider seeking a discharge.

"He said 'No, I'm going to stay. I owe them three years. I'll do one more tour,"' Bauer said. "And that's the last I ever heard from Pat."

It is so refreshing to find an example to follow, actions of excellence worth celebrating and emulating.

Shorter Combat Tours

This is an interesting development, highlighting the tension between meeting current needs and ensuring future retention levels:

The U.S. Army is considering slashing the length of combat tours for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan because it fears declines in recruiting and troop retention, The New York Times reported Monday.

Officials say the Army's ability to recruit and retain soldiers will erode unless tours are shortened from 12 months to between six and nine months -- the rough equivalent of the tours found in the U.S. Marine Corps, said the Times, citing top Army personnel officers and Army Reserve and National Guard officials.

It's a question I don't know the answer to, nor have anything intelligent to add. I honestly wonder whether the average soldier would prefer going to Iraq once for one year, or twice for six months with six months in between (the latter would seem to be the likeliest way to maintain current troop levels). I think I'd prefer just the once, but what do I know?

Unfinished Business, Pt. II

Maybe Medecins Sans Frontieres is getting out just in time:

A British parliamentary committee has warned that Afghanistan is likely to "implode, with terrible consequences" unless more troops and resources are sent to calm the country.

The all-party Foreign Affairs Select Committee, in a report released Thursday, said warlord violence and the struggle between U.S.-led troops and insurgents continues to be a threat to security in Afghanistan.

Yeah, it sure would be nice if we could, you know, actually defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda elements still operating at large. And if that somehow doesn't meet your policy desires, there's always the war on drugs to inspire the need for an increased presence and new strategy:

The wide-ranging report on the war against terrorism also said raised concerns over the failure of the UK government and its allies to limit the production of opium in Afghanistan.

"We conclude that there is little, if any, sign of the war on drugs being won, and every indication that the situation is likely to deteriorate, at least in the short term," the report says.

Drugs bad.

"There is a real danger if these resources are not provided soon that Afghanistan -- a fragile state in one of the most sensitive and volatile regions of the world -- could implode, with terrible consequences," the committee says in its report.

Imposion bad. Finishing what we started good.

Back in Danang

I am not particularly well-versed in the modern political and economic climate in Vietnam, but this story seems positive:

An American warship docked in Vietnam's central port city of Danang on Wednesday, nearly four decades after U.S. Marines splashed ashore here heralding the unofficial start of the Vietnam War.

The arrival of the USS Curtis Wilbur, a guided missile destroyer in the U.S. Seventh Fleet based in Yokosuka, Japan, is only the second American vessel to make a port call in Vietnam since the end of the war.

With four Vietnamese patrol boats acting as guides, the destroyer pulled into Tien Sa port with its flags flying and white-uniformed sailors lining the deck.

And for those looking for less symbolic measures of success:

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1995, bilateral ties between the former wartime foes have steadily expanded. A landmark trade agreement in 2001 has led to an explosion in two-way trade, with the United States becoming Vietnam's largest trading partner.

There's a lot of people who, twenty or thirty years ago, would not have been prepared or pleased to see "Made in Vietnam" on any of their possessions. I'm sure there are still some today, but I suspect the more common reaction would be mild surprise or total indifference.

Unfinished Business

Remember Afghanistan? Not all peaches and cream yet:

Aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres says it will pull out from Afghanistan because of the killing of five of its staff and the risk of further attacks.

The group said in a statement it was also unhappy with a government inquiry into the 2 June deaths.

The statement accused US-led forces in Afghanistan of using humanitarian aid for "military and political motives".

The Nobel prize-winning agency has continued to operate through the country's upheavals for 24 years.

This is bad news for all involved. It demonstrates the inability (or perhaps the unwillingness) of the current regime to provide even minimal levels of physical security in the country, and the escalation of random violence in an environment that was never particularly safe.

We're not talking about some small Latin American country pulling out troops, or the French or Germans having another attack of consicence. This is an apolitical relief organization that has done phenomenal work in the world's most dangerous places, and is announcing that under the current conditions in Afghanistan, it can do no more. That is serious.

Here's their official statement.

First-Class Goodwill

I think this is the sort of random kindness we can all appreciate:

Eight soldiers flying home from Iraq for two weeks of R&R flew in style instead of coach after first-class passengers offered to swap seats with them.

"The soldiers were very, very happy, and the whole aircraft had a different feeling," flight attendant Lorrie Gammon told The Dallas Morning News in Thursday's editions.

The June 29 seat-swap on American Airlines Flight 866 from Atlanta to Chicago started before boarding, when a businessman approached one of the soldiers and traded his seat.

When the swapping was done, "the other two first-class passengers wanted to give up their seats, too, but they couldn't find any more soldiers," Gammon said.

Well done.

Rumsfeld's Departure

Is Secretary Rumsfeld being eased out?

Burdened by the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal and constrained by the presidential election campaign, the Pentagon chief who spearheaded the Afghanistan and Iraq wars has been relegated to a less visible role.

Once seemingly in danger of being fired over the prisoner abuse, Rumsfeld appears to have survived. Yet some wonder whether the White House might still conclude he is a political liability and prefer he leave this summer.

You might think his job security would have more to do with his job performance, but that doesn't seem to be so.

William Nash, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a retired two-star Army general who commanded American peacekeeping forces in Bosnia, said the White House's political calculations will determine Rumsfeld's fate.

"Right now everything in this administration is being measured against whether or not it contributes to the re-election of the president in November," he said. "Obviously he's been a lightning rod and oh, by the way, he's also been wrong and that's never good" for Bush.

There's so much speculation floating about, it is hard to make sense of. I will say this: I cannot fathom Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Powell all serving in a second-term Bush administration. Powell seems the likeliest to leave, and that's been true for many months, even years. Yet it appears that Rumsfeld is the liability. And the rumors about Cheney are endless.

Drug-Induced Cowardice?

The Army wanted to call it cowardice, but changed its mind:

The U.S. Army Thursday dropped its case against a soldier who was initially accused of cowardice after he suffered a panic attack when he saw the bloody corpse of an Iraqi on his second day in the war zone.

Why the about-face? Turns out Sgt. Pogany's nervous breakdown was probably a result of Army medication rather than cowardice:

The decision to drop the case against Sgt. Georg-Andreas Pogany came after a Navy doctor last month diagnosed him as suffering from damage to his balance system, most likely caused by Lariam, an anti-malaria drug issued to some troops serving in Iraq.

Hallucinations and panic attacks are among the possible side effects listed by Lariam's manufacturer, Roche Pharmaceuticals.

How about that? Poor guy.

Stretched Thin

Republican lawmakers are becoming concerned that our military is being stretched too thin. So am I:

Amid worries the high level of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan could discourage potential new service members, Rep. John McHugh, R-New York, said it was not reassuring that most reserve components were falling below their recruiting goals for the year.

As of May 31, the Army National Guard was reported at 88 percent, the Air National Guard at 93 percent and the Air Force Reserve at 91 percent of their goals.

The article does a good job of summarizing all of the various indicators which by themselves might not be cause for alarm, but taken together paint a more bleak picture.

Unbelievable: IRR to Iraq

In my mind, this is the most disturbing piece of military manpower news yet:

A group of Army Reserve soldiers rarely tapped for duty could soon be heading to Iraq, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.

The troops, part of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), could be called to fill holes in units deploying to Iraq as part of the upcoming rotation of troops later this year.

I do not know how IRR works for enlisted personnel. Officers commissioned through ROTC with scholarships and assigned to active duty are obligated to spend four years on active duty, which everyone knows. That's why whenever someone asks me how long my military obligation is, I say four years.

But that is not really true, and the reality is hitting home with a vengeance for some IRR personnel right now. You see, in reality every Army ROTC scholarship contract is actually for eight years of service: four years of active duty, and four years in the IRR.

So when you hear that the Army is going to call up IRR troops, this is what the Army is saying: our manpower is so threatened that we are reactivating soldiers who already served their contracted active duty time, and who have effectively left the military behind and begun new lives. These are not members of the Army Reserve, training with their units every month. These are men and women who have become completely detached from military service, except for the fact that their name remains on the IRR rolls. And now we are going to call them back.

If it sounds like this is just one step short of the draft, I can understand why. It's not quite at that pitch, but it's one step closer. Combined with our redeployments from South Korea and various training centers, I am frankly quite concerned.

Reciprocal Torture is Not the Problem

One of the points Senator Biden made in his questioning of the Attorney General yesterday was that using torture puts our troops in danger of being tortured themselves. This is quite right, but there are other pragmatic reasons as well. I made this point during the early days of the war in Iraq, but unfortunately it is still fully applicable.

The best reason for abiding by the Geneva Convention (and other prohibitions on torture) is NOT the prevention of reciprocal violations. Even if the Iraqis began torturing our troops, there is a very good strategic reason for treating our prisoners properly: We want those still at large to surrender.

If an Iraqi militiaman thinks he is going to be mistreated by the coalition, or shipped off without rights to a Caribbean island for indefinite detainment, he is much less likely to surrender. Why not simply fight to the death?

The best historical example is the final assault on Germany. German POWs were treated well by American and British forces, and our forces received relatively good treatment in return. But even more importantly for present purposes, as the German regime began to crumble, Germans were willing to surrender to American and British forces. By the end of the war we had over 400,000 POWs in America (German and Italian), not to mention thousands of prisoners still in Europe.

Not so on the Eastern front. Years of brutality and summary execution of prisoners on both sides convinced Germans (probably correctly) that they would be mistreated or killed if they surrendered to the Russians. Thus they fought to the last man, inflicting significant Russian casualties in the process. That, or they fled west in hopes of surrendering to British or American forces.

So I think the real question is, not whether our treatment of the Guantanamo detainees (and now, the Abu Ghraib prisoners) makes America hypocritical or risks retribution, but whether fear of that fate might discourage Iraqi militiamen and their leaders from surrendering.

Now that we are at least partially into an occupation/nation-building mode, this same effect might also discourage sympathetic Iraqis from cooperating with us. If they thought their neighbor or cousin would be dealt with properly, perhaps they might tip off coalition forces. If they think he is going to be tortured, they are probably less likely to turn him in.

UPDATE: Perhaps I should add that like Another Rice Grad, I think principle alone should suffice to rule out the use of torture. I offer the pragmatic argument merely for those who see the issue of principle in more shades of gray.

The Joint Strike Fighter has all the details on one of the most exciting and ambitious military engineering projects of recent years, Lockheed Martin's Joint Strike Fighter. Imagine trying to design an aircraft to meet these demands:

1. The Air Force needed an aircraft to replace the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the F-16 Falcon in the role of ground attack operations, as well as complement the advanced capabilities of the F-22 air superiority fighter. In addition, the new aircraft's performance had to be significantly better than the F-16C fighters in the current Air Force inventory.

2. The Navy was looking for a multi-role stealthy attack platform to complement its existing fleet of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, optimized for carrier operations. Essential features included good low-speed handling, the ability to handle the stress of catapault launches, and enough fuel to give it twice the range of the F-18C Hornet.

3. The Marine Corps/UK variant presented the greatest engineering challenge: To replace the current Marine Corps A/V-8 Harriers and F/A-18C/Ds (as well as the British Sea Harrier), the JSF would have to be capable of not only vertical takeoffs and landings, but supersonic flight as well.

Suffice it to say that if Lockheed pulls this off (a big if), it will be a marvelous feat. Check out their F-35 homepage for more details.

Force Relocation

I thought the deployment away from Korea was shocking. Well the hits just keep on coming:

The Pentagon has proposed a plan to withdraw its two Army divisions from Germany and undertake an array of other changes in its European-based forces, in the most significant rearrangement of the American military around the world since the beginning of the cold war, according to American and allied officials.

Phil Carter has a detailed analysis. Suffice it to say that these are truly momentous changes being suggested.


I have finished the first couple chapters (~100 pages) of Karnow's Vietnam and can already heartily recommend it to anyone with an interest in that conflict, our present military engagements, and the future of our foreign policy. I will not begin making much comment until I have gotten further into the book, but one thing has already been made abundantly clear: I know too little about Iraq.

So does just about everyone I hear commenting on the war there, and probably most of the people at the Pentagon (and maybe even Foggy Bottom). Karnow's history of the Vietnam conflict starts in the 14th-century, and I have no doubt even a basic understanding of the history of that country would require reading several books that do not get to the 20th-century at all.

The same must be true of Iraq, and the unbridled ignorance of the American people (myself included) and most of our leaders regarding the social, political, and religious motivations of the various factions in Iraq may doom us to failure there just as it (arguably) did in Vietnam.

Early in Karnow's account he frames the Vietnam experience with a clear dichotomy between those who think the war was winnable if the military had not been handicapped by politicians, and those who think it was simply an unwinnable war. This reminds me quite a bit of Kevin Drum's objections to Dan Drezner's argument that the Iraq war is (or at least was) winnable, but President Bush screwed it up. This seems like such a threshold question: is the war winnable? Yet even once this question is answered (a huge and perhaps impossible project that has divided analysts since the Persian Gulf War), so many questions remain. If it is not winnable now, was it ever? If it is winnable, are we winning? That these questions were never really resolved in more than a decade of combat in Vietnam gives me pause about expecting to know the answer about Iraq after 15 months.

It is abundant food for thought and I will have some more on this as I progress through Karnow's book (and the other Vietnam texts I've been acquiring). It has become quite obvious to me that it is that conflict, and no other, which has the most to tell us about Iraq.

Weekend in DC

It was a very good weekend to be in DC. Because of the World War II Memorial dedication on Saturday, there were lots of veterans in town, giving this Memorial Day weekend a particularly direct poignance. On more than one occasion I found myself brimming with pride at the sight of these older men who served our country so well, served the world so well. That kind of pride has been a bit lacking for me after weeks of bad news coming out of Iraq, bolstering my doubts about the righteousness and efficacy of our endeavors in that desert land. It was a welcome and much needed reminder that America has been a force for good in the world, that light does come from the darkness, that strength endures.

On that note, I visited the World War II Memorial the weekend before its dedication, knowing it would be less crowded. I thought it represented the perfect blend of respect and honor. It shows respect for the sacrifices that were made and the lives lost, yet has an atmosphere not so somber as the Vietnam Memorial. As such, the memorial also does honor to the splendid freedom for which the sacrifices were made. It is a place where three or four generations can come together, where one can pay solemn homage to those who died for a righteous cause while at the same time children laugh and play in the water, perfectly epitomizing the joy and independence America stands for. I think it is a wonderful place.

Phil Carter has some excellent thoughts on the holiday weekend.

Books For Soldiers

I do not know how I went so long without knowing about this program. It fits so perfectly into two of my main interests, reading and the military. Over at Books For Soldiers, there is a forum where you can get the addresses of soldiers abroad along with requests for various types of books and magazines. Just go into your home library (or your basement, if you are less organized), pull down a few relevant volumes, and ship them off to a much appreciated home overseas. Even better, if you have the time, money, and inclination, consider heading to used book sales (libraries and goodwill stores are great for this) or even used bookstores and pick up some books for those serving abroad who no longer share our much taken for granted access to abundant reading material.

I like this program so much, I am going to add a button in the sidebar.

Married Couples Serving Together?

Along with an increasingly equal role for women in the military comes an increasing share of the risk. The tragic number of deaths in Iraq includes more than a dozen women (though I have to say I think that still sounds pretty low considering how many non-combat soldiers are over their right now). That's the point of this story, but it was something else in the story which stood out to me:

Staff Sgt. Voelz died in the arms of her husband, Max Voelz, also a staff sergeant on the 17-person ordnance disposal team on which Voelz was the lone woman.

Setting aside for a moment the sad and poignant picture painted by this event, I have to confess tremendous surprise at the fact that husband and wife were serving in the same small unit like this. I'd have thought the fears and concerns about unit cohesion, equal treatment of unit members, etc., would have cautioned against allowing married couples to be members of the same small unit. Apparently I was wrong, but I am not entirely sure why.

Army Retraining

Since the day the Cold War ended, the Army's allocation of resources between its internal branches has been outdated. Now, the Army Reserves are getting a massive re-training and re-organization:

Strapped to fill critical jobs in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Army is retraining thousands of tank operators, artillerymen and others who were essential in the cold war to take jobs in long-term stability operations: military police officers, civil affairs experts and intelligence analysts.

The aim is to redesign the Army to be faster to the fight, to relieve the stress on a relatively small number of U.S. Army National Guard and Reserve soldiers who have been called up repeatedly in recent years, and to tap 500,000 reservists who have not been activated at all in the past decade. Since 1990, according to the Defense Department, only 7 percent of the 876,000 reserves assigned to specific units have been involuntarily mobilized more than once.

And despite recent news suggesting that Air Force retention was going well, the Army appears to be having more difficulty:

We have too few guard and reserve forces with certain skill sets that are in high demand and too many guard and reserve with skills that are in little or no demand, Rumsfeld told Congress in late February.

Getting this balance right is critical for the Army's war- fighting abilities and the long-term health of its recruiting and retention efforts. Army officials said this week that retention rates for active-duty and reserve soldiers were lagging despite re- enlistment bonuses of at least $5,000.

If we continue to stress these very high-use units, we risk losing them, said Thomas Hall, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs.

I am not qualified to pass judgment on whether this is the best re-organization strategy, but it has been clear for some time that change was much needed to meet the challenges of our current international situation, and it is a relief to see the Army making large-scale efforts in that direction.

Soldiers' Nonmonetary Incentives

Some anecdotal evidence suggests that the Army's policy of trying to buy re-enlistment through increased bonuses may not be as effective as some think. It is an interesting question, isn't it? What is the price point for agreeing to stay in Iraq? On the one hand, money is probably at least some part of every soldier's re-enlistment calculations. The young soldier who says he wouldn't re-enlist for "even a million dollars" is probably mispredicting his own behavior, but it is a rather unlikely scenario so his hyperbole is well-taken.

But just how much weight does the money have? I think our intuition (if not our idealism) thinks of soldiers as being motivated more by camaraderie and patriotism than a paycheck:

First Lieutenant Colin Crow, from Louisiana, said the extra cash might be an incentive for some troops, but for most soldiers "it's not the money, it's the guys you're serving with and the job you're doing."

And yet when the Army wants these soldiers to re-enlist, they go straight to the wallet. And maybe they have good reason:

Private First Class David Quintero, from Texas, said he believed the bonus might encourage "soldiers who are sitting on the fence over to reenlist."

"But if I had something better lined up in the private sector I probably wouldn't," he said as he sat in his Humvee vehicle on the Army base here in the palace compound of the ousted Iraqi leader.

Particularly when a bad economy is one of the Army's best recruiting tools, increased monetary benefits ought to be especially useful. It increases the economic contrast between re-enlistment and private sector opportunities, and if that is the deciding factor than the Army is on the right path. That said, however, money is clearly only a piece of the puzzle in each soldier's calculations. Continue to increase the costs of service, the length of separation from family, the risk of death in foreign lands, and the benefits will have to rise pretty high to encourage re-enlistment.

So high, perhaps, that service can no longer be fully voluntary. We've seen the beginnings of that with various stop-loss initiatives, and murmurs about a new draft just won't seem to go away. I do not think it will be necessary or desirable, but it not inconceivable that at some point the compensation required to keep soldiers re-enlisting may outweigh the benefits of an all-volunteer force.

Comanche Scrapped

comanche.gifIt looks like those of us who cut our computer gaming teeth on Novalogic's Comanche series got a lot closer to flying the helicopter than the Army's real pilots will. Less than 2 years after cancelling the Crusader artillery project, the Army has scrapped the Comanche:

With about $8 billion already invested in the program, and the production line not yet started, the cancellation is one of the largest in the history of the Army. It follows the Pentagon's decision in 2002 to cancel the Crusader artillery program -- against the wishes of Army leaders.

"The Bush administration has now killed the two biggest Army weapons programs it inherited from the Clinton administration," Thompson said, referring to the Crusader and Comanche.

The program for the Comanche was begun in 1983, but even preliminary production was not slated to begin for another couple years. Sad to see so much time and money come to naught, but any program started that deep in the Cold War ought to raise a lot of questions about its suitability as a tool in modern conflicts. The helicopter continues to be both the lynchpin and the Achilles' Heel of Army operations. Excellent for recon and quick insertions, but vulnerable to shoulder-fired missiles and RPGs, as well as the wide array of inherent dangers in rotor wing aircraft flight.

Backwards Flag?

flagright.gifI get asked this question a lot, and so apparently do other members of the military: "Why does the Army wear the flag backwards?"

As with many things in the Army, there is a simple, but arcane answer:

When worn on the right sleeve, it is considered proper to reverse the design so that the union is at the observer�s right to suggest that the flag is flying in the breeze as the wearer moves forward.

Thus, observers from the soldier's right, looking at his right shoulder, see the canton to the right with the stripes streaming leftward. Having it the other way would give the image of a flag moving away from battle, retreating, and we certainly can't have that. And unlike in previous years, when only deployed soldiers wore the flag, it is now a universal requirement.

The Case of Captain Yee

yee.gifBack when the various Gitmo espionage cases first hit the news, I confessed to a rather shameful reaction: extrapolating the actions of a few soldiers onto all members of their faith. I was able to learn from and move past that reaction, but have been subsequently ashamed of myself for even assuming the guilt of the soldiers in question. As has become pretty clear, whatever Captain Yee did wrong, it's not what early rumors suggested:

James Yee, a Muslim chaplain in the Army, spent 76 days in a prison cell while authorities tried to build a capital espionage case against him. Now he is free, the most serious allegations replaced by lesser ones like adultery and possession of pornography, and the military justice system itself is on trial.

"Is this guy Jack the Ripper or is he not?" asked Gary Solis, a former Marine Corps judge advocate and current adjunct law professor at Georgetown University. "You have to appreciate that at the outset they thought they were onto something very serious, but they don't seem to be able to accept the evidence that in fact this was just a garden-variety screw-up."

Of course, even if that were true, it'd be nothing unusual about the military investigators and prosecutors. They are, in a real sense, simply fulfilling their duty to pursue law violators and see them punished. Is it possible they fell into a sort of tunnel-vision that left them pre-disposed toward seeing criminality even when they were left without good evidence? Yes, absolutely. It seems like a pretty likely occurrence, actually. That's a danger that faces all members of our justice system who are cast in adversarial roles, yet are also expected to serve justice and truth above all else:

"It's easy to look back on it and say, 'Why did you do this, that and the other thing?'" Costello said. "The commander takes the steps he does at the moment in time they're occurring. When you have a military chaplain who is apprehended in Jacksonville carrying documents you believe to be classified, the government would be derelict if it didn't fully investigate what's going on."

I think that is right. And as a result of that investigation, the government has apparently realized it can't make a case for the more serious charges. So the difficult question that remains is, do you still charge him with the lesser crimes, even though he likely would never have been investigated or prosecuted for those alone?

Some will see it as simple vindictiveness, or bruised egos needing to show that Yee is a criminal and their suspicions were justified. It may also be that some of the investigators and prosecutors continue to believe that Yee is guilty of higher crimes, even if they cannot prosecute him for them. As such, they feel fully justified in sending him to jail for whatever they've got him on.

There is, I think a third possibility. And that is this: though Captain Yee would never have been investigated just for the crimes he is actually being charged with, in this case he was investigated. The evidence was gathered, and illegalities have apparently been shown. With so much attention, both from the media and from superior officers, it might have been very difficult for the investigators and prosecutors to simply overlook crimes of which they had clear and convincing evidence. That sort of discretion goes on every day, I'm sure. But not under the spotlight that this case brought. As such, perhaps the discretion of the prosecutors was severely narrowed here, or at least they felt it was, and as such saw no other choice but to charge Captain Yee with the crimes they think it clear they can prove he committed.

Is that wrong? I don't think there is a clear answer. There is always something discomfiting about seeing someone punished for crimes that we overlook most of the time. Perhaps it clashes with our intuitions about notice and the rule of law. Perhaps it raises our suspicions that some ulterior motives are at work, and certainly Captain Yee's religion makes that a real possibility. And yet I take it we have these laws on the books for a reason. They are, at least in some cases, supposed to be enforced. Perhaps the best we can say is that Captain Yee was in the wrong place at the wrong time. That doesn't seem very satisfying.

Good Re-enlistment Numbers

airforce.gifQuite a few bloggers, including myself, have subscribed to the theory that one of the biggest dangers of a prolonged engagement in Iraq is the possibility that it will discourage enlistment and re-enlistment in the armed forces. It just makes sense, that as the cost of being in the military (especially the reserves) rises, for some number the benefits will not be enough to keep the military option attractive. Well I think we can take this as a legitimate sign that re-enlistment is much healthier than some of us feared. Let's hope it stays that way:

Beginning March 5, active-duty airmen will have only a three-month window during which they'll be eligible to re-enlist, instead of the current 12 months, Air Force officials announced this week.

Historically, the Air Force has expanded and contracted its re-enlistment window to match the force's retention situation, Cornelia said.

The new window may change back to 12 months "if retention is very, very poor," Cornelia said. "But right now, retention is healthy."

She's not kidding. Check out these numbers:

In fact, the Air Force is in the middle of something of a retention bonanza, with 67 percent of its first-term enlisted force re-enlisting in the first quarter of fiscal 2004, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Stephens.

That's even higher than the fiscal 2003 first-termer retention rates, which were 61 percent, Stephens said Thursday. The service's retention goal was 55 percent.

In fiscal 1999, just 49 percent of first-term airmen re-enlisted, followed by 53 percent in fiscal 2000 and 56 percent in fiscal 2001, Stephens said. (All three years had the same 55 percent goal.)

Sure, some chunk of that can be credited to a bad economy that provides fewer alternatives for young soldiers, sailors, and in this case, airmen. But we wouldn't be seeing anything near these numbers, no matter how bad the economy was, if my worst fears were realized. So this is a very good sign. It indicates either that the Iraq engagement is actually having a positive effect (excitement about deployment, chance to make a difference) or that any costs are being offset by some combination of factors (increased patriotism, a desire to be involved in the War on Terrorism generally, the economy, etc.)

The Solomon Amendment

rumsfeld.gifThe UVa Law Veterans group has been debating whether or not to get involved, potentially by joining an amicus brief, in the lawsuit challenging the Solomon Amendment. For those who aren't aware, the Solomon Amendment is a federal statute that witholds federal funds from any university if they exclude military recruiters from campus. The flashpoint of contention is the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which many universities see as conflicting with their policies prohibiting employers who engage in discriminatory hiring practices. From what I understand, all of the top law schools have acquiesced in allowing JAG recruiters to interview at their law schools, but several have responded by filing suit challenging the Solomon Amendment as interfering with First Amendment rights of association and speech.

I'm not particularly interested nor qualified to express any opinion on the legal merits of either side of the case (though I find David Bernstein's charge of duplicity very persuasive). I would, however, like to register my continued discontent with the hypocritical policy of these schools that desire to take the federal government's money but refuse to allow its military recruiters on campus. If a university wants to take a principled stand and refuse these recruiters, let them bear the consequences of the action. But to want it both ways, to be able to exclude the recruiters, put up roadblocks preventing students from seeking military service, all while taking money from the same Congress responsible for "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"? That I cannot accept.

I am not an advocate for exclusion of gays. Were I a congressman, I would vote for full inclusion. If I were a general on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I would urge the same. But I cannot support the policies of universities that place the entire cost of the policy on the students who are interested in serving their country by becoming officers in the military.

JAG Press Conference

Another law student/future JAG (that's at least two of us!) has started a new blog called Law from the Center and has a very interesting post up analyzing the very unusual press conference given by the US military lawyer representing an Australian detained at Gitmo. As Pete says:

[O]ur civilian intuition tells us that the defendant should be able to speak publicly through his attorney, and when the only one available is military, he should be able to speak freely to the public in order to defend his client in the court of public opinion. No such right exists, though. "The Judge Advocate General has issued a policy letter instructing that the public affairs office will normally answer news media inquiries. Judge Advocates assigned to the US Army Trial Defense Service (USATDS) are reminded to refer media to the installation public affairs officer.

It's highly unlikely that anyone in this Marine's chain of command authorized that kind of high profile, extremely critical statement. Usually, all a TDS lawyer can do is say the client's name, the nature of charges, and a general claim of innocence. This goes far beyond that.

Very interesting stuff. I've always been vaguely aware of the general restrictions on First Amendment rights of military personnel, and made myself a bit more knowledgeable before I began blogging. But this is the first I've ever learned about restrictions on the speech of military defense lawyers, and Pete is right, my intuitions would have led me to a different conclusion.

Stretched Thin

James Joyner points to this analysis by Brookings fellow Michael O'Hanlon addressing the criticism that the Iraq campaign has measurably detracted from the war on al-Qaeda. While O'Hanlon concludes that overall there has not been much effect on those efforts, he concedes a point that has long loomed large in my mind:

[T]he mission in Iraq, which promises to last for years, risks breaking the U.S. military. Combined with operations in Afghanistan and the Balkans, and vigilance in Korea, the United States is severely straining its combat forces. That will potentially make military service of far less appeal to those men and women in active and Reserve units who are needed for an all-volunteer armed forces.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is therefore wrong to oppose the bipartisan congressional push to temporarily add several tens of thousands of troops to the U.S. military force structure. The strain on the military has not yet weakened the fight against terror, but it could weaken the national security quite dramatically in the future if it puts at risk the magnificent quality of today's professional armed forces.

Like James, I too "thought our troops were overburdened during the Clinton era." So this is not a matter of blaming this administration. In fact, one thing I had looked forward to with a Republican administration was either 1) reduced deployments overseas or 2) genuine rebuilding of our military force to levels that could support our overseas committments. Of course, 9/11 threw a lot of our old calculations out the window. But of all the things it should have taught us, high on the list ought to have been that America can ill-afford to act like the end of the Cold War means the end of American military engagement. The Afghanistan campaign could probably have been fought adequately with our current force structure, but not the war in Iraq.

But unlike James, I'm not so skeptical of the "push to temporarily add several tens of thousands of troops to the U.S. military force structure." I'll admit up front that I'm not familiar with the details of the plan, so the facts might not support my inferences. But "temporary" could mean "five years" or "ten years," couldn't it? We could organize, fund, and up recruitment goals with the design of adding an eleventh or twelfth active duty division for at least the duration of the Iraqi occupation.

James is correct that force structure is not a "short term" solution. But it is not really a "short term" problem, either. The concern is not that the military will suddenly collapse or fail, but that bit by bit lower retention and recruitment may eat at us from within, or force us to eliminate or reduce military committments that we would otherwise want or need to keep.

From Law School to Iraq

I'm sure he's not the only one, but Michael Moebes has quite a story:

Two months shy of his law school graduation, Michael R. Moebes sat in a Decatur, Ga., coffee shop working on a paper about retirement planning. Then his cell phone rang.

It was Mike Nave, Moebes' colleague from the Tennessee Air National Guard.

"I've got some bad news," Nave said.

"You're the last person I want to hear those words from," Moebes responded.

I have a classmate who was pulled out of law school early this year, as well as a friend from Harvard who got pulled out of his senior year. Anyhow, check out the story, it's got a collection of e-mail messages that Moebes sent from Iraq.

Base Closures

I seem to remember this being a problem that produced quite a bit of hostility towards President Clinton. Now Secretary Rumsfeld is getting ready to close more bases:

The Pentagon will take a creative approach to shrinking its military base structure, but it has not yet set targets for the number of bases to be closed, a senior official said Tuesday.

Larry Di Rita, chief spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said the secretary has not instructed his staff to reduce the base structure by any specific percentage, although Rumsfeld often has said studies show a 20 percent to 25 percent surplus of base capacity.

What I'm curious about is the connection between these potential domestic shifts, and the widely reported changes proposed for our foreign bases. If we stopped having permanent deployments in Germany or S. Korea, instead basing units in the U.S. and rotating them out of country for 6 months at a time, it seems we'd need a lot more real estate state-side. Let's hope the higher-ups are considering these questions together.

Paranoia or Prudence?

Looks like the military is being even moresecretive than normal about the Gitmo spy cases:

Court staff refused to give out copies of the ruling, relying on Air Force officials to do so. The copies the Air Force released have signatures of court officials and telephone numbers of al-Halabi's defense lawyers blacked out.

The recommendations of the officer who presided over that hearing, Col. Anne Burman, also are classified. Reporters traveling to the prison camp in Cuba this week were required to sign a pledge not to ask questions about the investigation.

At this point it's hard not to be skeptical every time the government tells us that things need to be kept secret. It's a symptom of being too secretive in areas that don't require it... a crying wolf effect if you will. It makes it much harder for people to assume good intentions in cases like this.

Where Sodomy Is Still Punished has a UPI report on the potential application of Lawrence v. Texas in military courts:

The military is expected to argue that it needs to be able to prosecute for sodomy -- oral and anal sex -- between any two partners whether same sex or even married -- to maintain order.

Spinner and the team of military lawyers defending Marcum will argue Tuesday at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in Washington that military regulations and laws prohibiting fraternization -- inherently coercive sex between members of different ranks in the same chain of command -- or adulterous sex, as well as conduct unbecoming of an officer, give adequate coverage.

The Supreme Court opinion was so broad, I'll be pretty surprised if the military courts try to find a way to protect these sodomy laws. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will be a whole separate ballgame, but I'm confident these sodomy laws will be struck down.

UPDATE: Phil Carter seems to agree.

Credit Where Due

Though this particular post is about broader issues in Iraq, I want to stop and give Matthew Yglesias credit for continuing to point out that "we can't keep up what we're doing for years and years without... doing incredible harm to the Army Reserves and National Guard."

It's an issue he's been bringing up for months, and it looks like the mainstream media is finally starting to pick up on it. In my mind this is the single biggest issue facing the United States military today.

UPDATE: In comments, PG suggests that this problem might pre-date the current conflict. She's quite right, we saw hints of this both in the Balkans and the no-fly zones in Northern and Southern Iraq. I think a perverse twist of a history is largely, though not wholly, to blame. During the Cold War, and especially the 1980s, we had huge defense spending and a huge military fully prepared to fight two wars at once. Yet because of the Cold War tensions and the Vietnam experience, we hadn't had a real military conflict since Vietnam (Grenada and Panama don't really count in my book). When the Cold War ends, so does support for the huge military. Especially after the Persian Gulf war, we saw huge cuts in manpower, whole Army divisions disappearing. Yet the end of the Cold War also allow for a decade of smaller operations (Haiti, the Balkans, Somalia, no-fly zones) which in a way actually increased our manpower needs from what they actually were during the Cold War. The large and extended committments we now have in Afghanistan and Iraq (as well as our continuing committments in Korea and the Balkans) may be the straw that breaks the camels back and forces America to decide. A larger military or a cut in foreign involvement?

What Was Israel After?

Excellent analysis by Greg at Begging to Differ responding to claims that the bombing was just a diversion and will not have much effect:

It seems to me that the way one views Israel's attack on Syria correlates roughly with one's opinion of the Bush Doctrine. People who accept this as a legitimate way to fight terrorist threats will probably be less bothered by Israel's willingness to go beyond its borders to attack suspected sights. But members of the Bush Lied crew will probably also suspect that Israel acted rashly and without a factual basis.

It's an interesting argument. Reversing the history, I wonder how people compare the Israeli raid on Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981 to the Bush Doctrine/invasion of Iraq and to the recent attack on Syrian soil.

The Espionage Cases and Muslims in America

Phil Carter has good and continuing coverage of the espionage arrests in connection to the detainees in Guantanamo Bay. FoxNews is reporting that there may be a nefarious connection to Syria. I'll confess to both shock and sadness at the news of these arrests. I probably shouldn't feel that way, as espionage is nearly as old as warfare itself. I also briefly felt a shameful emotion that I suspect resonates more strongly with some of my fellow Americans: distrust for Muslim soldiers. It didn't last for long, and I think I've recovered completely from the reflex, but I don't want to ignore it or pretend it didn't happen. Take a look at the comments at Little Green Footballs to see what this reflex can lead to:

The U.S Military has been infiltrated with a Wahhabi Islamic Fifth Column...

A Muslim chaplain? "Let us prey.... on Jews and other infidels."

Islam itself is the enemy. It is time to wake up to this goddam fact.

Etc. etc. etc.

I don't know what to make of all this. It seems relevant to most that Jonathan Pollard was a Jew spying for Israel, and yet I would reject the notion that most American Jews have greater loyalty to Israel than to America. Intellectually I know the same ought to apply to American Muslims, but enough incidents (these espionage cases, the Akbar case in Iraq) will make it more and more difficult more many Americans (and I'm very fearful I may be included) to disassociate the religion of the accused from the crimes they are accused of.

I write this as a confession and a request for help. How are others dealing with this dilemma?

UPDATE: I should also note that I have not seen an explicit statement that the Air Force airman is Muslim, only that he is Syrian-born. So there's another inductive leap that I made, rightly or wrongly. And of course, these individuals are innocent until proven guilty, so we should all wait and see where the evidence leads.

How to End "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Professor Yin had the opportunity to speak with General Wesley Clark during his visit to the University of Iowa, and has posted his thoughts. I'm still reserving judgment (and may do so throughout the primary season), but there were a couple things Clark said which I found particularly interesting:

On gays in the military, he believed at the time that the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy was okay, but he also pointed out that back in the days of the draft, being gay would not get you excused. He now believes that the policy should be reevaluated because it does not seem to be working well. He favors the British policy, which is "Don't ask, don't misbehave."

That seems pretty sensible, and probably a realistic step in the right direction. What I wonder is whether Clark (or any other candidate who opposes the current policy) will try to go through Congress (a la "Don't Ask, Don't Tell") or attempt to act by executive order (a la Truman's desegregation order). The former seems like a dead end considering the current Republican control.

For difficulties inherent in the latter path, one need look no further than the institutional resistance exhibited by the military in the face of Truman's order. A hostile Congress could prevent this path as well, as I think the President's executive powers are strongly handicapped so long as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is statutory law.

On the Other Hand

On the one hand, my last post posits a relatively bleak view of the treatment our reservist and National Guard soldiers are receiving. On the other hand, having just read John Keegan's chapter on Alexander the Great in The Mask of Command, I do think we should keep in mind the scope of our Iraqi involvement. Whether it has been a mistake or not, it has hardly been the massive undertaking that one finds littered throughout the history of superpowers. If we move from Iraq to Iran or Syria, then we will be getting a bit closer. As it stands now, I think the Iraqi campaign stands most evocatively as a contrast with present American expectations and ideals.

Consider the army of Alexander... it was as close to a national army as one could find in those days, composed primarily of Macedonians and Greeks. Those that began the march to Persia were not the conscripts or slaves we find elsewhere in history, yet by-and-large they follow Alexander to the limits of the known world, the Indian subcontinent. On the way, their experiences in edged-weapon and siege warfare result in casualties in the tens of thousands, primarily deaths considering the primitive medicine then available on the battlefield.

What does this have to do with Iraq?

Continue reading On the Other Hand.

Asking Too Much

The Times has a pretty thorough article on the burden being place on our Reserve and National Guard forces.

"It's just like being on active duty," he said in a telephone interview from Karbala, where 125 members of his company are stationed. "And there's a reason you get out of active duty. At the same time, you want to stay because of patriotism, so you join the National Guard or the reserves. All the guys are prepared for one deployment, especially in the wake of Sept. 11. But we've basically returned to active duty, and that's not what we're in for. It's too much to ask."

It is attitudes like Mr. Gorski's that have military officials deeply worried about an exodus from the state-based National Guards and the reserves of the nation's armed forces. Since 9/11, hundreds of thousands of citizen soldiers have been mobilized at a level thought to be the highest since World War II.

Those concerns grew last week when the Army announced that about 20,000 reservists and National Guard troops stationed in Iraq and Kuwait would likely have to serve a full year from the time they landed in those countries, extending their tours by several months.

This phenomenon has been getting a good bit of attention from lefty-bloggers, but it may end up one of the biggest costs of this war. What many forget is that it is not simply a matter of feeling overburdened because they expected to just do "one weekend a month." They were SOLD that line, and thus arranged their lives accordingly. They have car payments and mortgages that conform to their normal income, not the severe reductions in pay that most suffer in the shift to full-time military service.

Continue reading Asking Too Much.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell on Trial

It looks like we might soon have a strong challenge to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy of the military:

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday reinstated a lawsuit by a former Air Force doctor ordered to pay back his medical school expenses after revealing he is gay...

...After completing medical training and one month before he was to report for active duty, Hensala notified the military that he intended to live with his boyfriend while stationed at Scott Air Force Base in Kansas. Though Hensala maintained that he wished to fulfill his obligations, the military ruled that he came out to avoid service and ordered him to repay more than $70,000 in educational fees.

He sued in 2000, but was prevented from challenging the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy itself. The 9th Circuit upheld it in Holmes v. California Army National Guard, 124 F.3d 1126, saying it had to defer to military policy on matters of national security.

However, Friday's panel said the question of whether the military violates the rights of gays and lesbians when it asks for recoupment -- rather than simply discharging them -- is a different question.

I've got really mixed feelings on this one. On the one hand, I think we're suffering a real cost on several levels by excluding gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. On the other hand, so long as that IS the law, I'm a little hesitant to endorse free-riding off the military's educational scholarships. I'm not sure about the details of Hensala's case, but when I joined ROTC I had to explicitly acknowledge my understanding of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" rule. If Hensala had to do the same, I too am a bit suspicious that he "came out to avoid service."

Service and Sacrifice

While I was in the duldrums of the first week of law school, Phil Carter had a post up regarding the reported increase in ROTC enrollments in America's colleges. Like Phil, I'm very excited to hear this, and would certainly endorse these thoughts he shared:

In particular, our military depends on young citizens graduating from college to make this choice -- forgoing possible riches in the private sector for a few years while they serve their nation. Unfortunately, the burden of service (as officers and enlisted personnel) has mostly been borne by America's working and middle class. This article didn't discuss the equitable issues of military service, and the current distribution of ROTC students by socioeconomic class. But this is certainly a concern of mine, and something I hope to see reported in the future.

Indeed, I had some of these same things in mind when I joined. I don't know if I shared this story on this blog yet, but I've cut and pasted it from an old website since it ties in with Phil's comments (I've edited it to fix some verb tenses, but keep in mind it's several years old).

Why I Joined

During the spring of 1999, in my freshman year at Harvard, I was interning in the Boston office of Senator Kerry. I was answering phones, and at the time many of the calls were concerning the aerial bombardment of Kosovo which had just begun. One call in particular was very moving for me. It was from the mother of a young Marine who had just been shipped to the Balkans. She demanded to know what right politicians, sitting in their fancy suits in their fancy offices, had to send her son off to war for people we were not allied with against people who posed no threat to us. While I did not necessarily agree with her analysis of the situation in the Balkans (I think our interests were at risk and that humanitarian interventions are often self-justified), it did raise a question in my mind. At that time, neither the President (Clinton), the Secretary of State (Albright), the Secretary of Defense (Cohen) nor the National Security Adviser (Berger) had ever served in the military. I don't believe that military experience is necessary for civilian leadership, but I was surprised.

The question that was raised in my mind was this: is it moral to ask others to die fighting in a war if I am not willing to fight alongside them? In other words, is it moral to let those who normally enlist in the military (a high percentage of whom are from the lower class, as the military presents a stable job and educational opportunities) fight wars to protect the economic and political interests of the ruling class?

For me, the answer was no... let me make clear that I find no fault with those who have an incredible aversion to warfare (we all should) or a military lifestyle, and thus choose not to serve, or even those who simply see the issue differently.

But for me, at that time, I could not get past the fact that I did not feel morally justified in supporting a military action (such as that in Kosovo) without being willing to contribute some level of sacrifice of my own. So I called around the various military recruiters, decided ROTC was the best route for me (since I could stay in college) and took the 3-year Army scholarship when it was offered.

Why I Stayed

Though I joined ROTC out of a sense of moral duty, I'm not certain that sense alone would have kept me in the program, particulary when I became serious about Zen Buddhism (an issue I address below).

Instead, what kept me in the program was the feeling of community, the opportunities for personal growth, and the hope to contribute a unique perspective to the internal Army discourse.

The feeling of community is two-fold. I felt a bond both with my unit and with the larger Army community. Within my unit, I enjoyed the opportunity to work side by side with some brilliant and dedicated people. This included both my fellow cadets and the Army officers who ran the program, our cadre. I considered many of the cadets personal friends and look forward to keeping in touch as our Army careers unfold.

The Army as a whole also provides a certain bond, a piece of personal identification that can provide a friendly link between two people who share it. I always enjoy meeting other members of the military and hearing their stories, their experiences, what the service has done for them.

Which brings up the point of what the service has done for me. Before I joined, I was not a bad person, or a weak person, or a lazy person. But I did have significant room for improvement (still do), in areas that I did not think a normal Harvard education could provide. I saw the Army ROTC experience as providing three main opportunities for growth in my own life: leadership, discipline, and physical fitness.

Both the leadership and discipline benefits stem from the opportunity to hold a position in a chain of command, a hierarchy. If done well, each individual in the chain is given commands from above, well-balanced with discretionary power of their own. Thus they are given a framework to operate in, but left to make important choices of their own, choices that will effect others.

The physical fitness component should be self-evident. Much of the Army's operational duties involve moderate to strenuous physical activity, and the ROTC emphasis on infantry tactics certainly follows suit. After joining the program, I added 20 lbs., primarily lean body mass, and even more importantly, I learned how to enjoy exercise and healthy eating (though I still hate running).

Zen and the Army

The greatest internal challenge I faced with regards to my Army committment was not the 5:30 wake-ups for physical training or the need to follow orders even though I had my own idea how to run things.

The greatest challenge came during the spring of my sophomore year when I grew further and further interested in the spiritual path of Zen Buddhism. I'm not going to attempt to trace the outlines of Buddhism (I'm not qualified to make even the most elementary analysis), but I want to relate my views on why that spiritual path seemed to clash with my Army commitment, and how I resolved the internal conflict.

The basic philosophical difference I saw was in the Zen emphasis on compassion as the motivation for all action. In my early understanding of this concept, it seemed to be that this emphasis would prevent me from taking part in many of the Army's activities, since governments (and most people) tend to act in their own self-interest, a natural tendency but one that a Zen Buddhist endeavours to overcome. Being even more specific (though possibly over-simplifying in the process), is it ever possible to shoot or kill another human being out of compassion? It is a difficult question, one that I have not yet resolved (a debate I've been having ever since my freshman year course on ethics and international relations). It seems unlikely at first, but consider the kidnapper about to execute a hostage... could the police sniper not shoot the kidnapper out of compassion for the hostage? I believe that was Augustine's position, that killing was acceptable in defense of others, though not in defense of yourself. Another perspective might say that it is acceptable to shoot the kidnapper out of compassion for him, since you'd be preventing him from committing murder. Unorthodox, yes. Morally logical? Well I honestly don't know, I just can't resolve that right now...

What I did resolve was this: there will be continue to be wars in this world whether I am in the Army or not. There will still be an Army whether I'm in it or not. The question is whether I can individually act out of compassion within the military, possibly lessening any suffering that might take place. Put in other words, if all those who had strong moral qualms about war refused to serve in the military, what are we left with? A military filled with people who have no moral qualms about war. A more violent and more dangerous military. A military capable of atrocities, of war crimes. See, in my current worldview, even in war there are different levels of moral action. It DOES make a difference whether you take the villagers prisoner or shoot them in their beds. And the people who make those choices need to have moral qualms about violence.

As Thich Nhat Hanh said in his commentary on the First Precept:

Anyone can practice some nonviolence, even army generals. They may, for example, conduct their operations in ways that avoid killing innocent people. To help soldiers move in the nonviolent direction, we have to be in touch with them. If we divide reality into two camps -- the violent and the nonviolent -- and stand in one camp while attacking the other, the world will never have peace. We will always blame and condemn those we feel are responsible for wars and social injustice, without recognizing the degree of violence in ourselves. We must work on ourselves and also work with those we condemn if we want to have a real impact.

Thus, while I'm unable to predict whether I would have joined the military in the first place if I had been a Zen Buddhist at the time, I can say that now I think I have the opportunity to fulfill an important individual purpose.


I can't claim any special insight or knowledge regarding the dropping of the atomic bombs, but Nicholas Kristof has expressed my general sentiment regarding the event:

While American scholarship has undercut the U.S. moral position, Japanese historical research has bolstered it. The Japanese scholarship, by historians like Sadao Asada of Doshisha University in Kyoto, notes that Japanese wartime leaders who favored surrender saw their salvation in the atomic bombing. The Japanese military was steadfastly refusing to give up, so the peace faction seized upon the bombing as a new argument to force surrender...

It feels unseemly to defend the vaporizing of two cities, events that are regarded in some quarters as among the most monstrous acts of the 20th century. But we owe it to history to appreciate that the greatest tragedy of Hiroshima was not that so many people were incinerated in an instant, but that in a complex and brutal world, the alternatives were worse.

I've no doubt there's a lot of room for debate and counter-factuals, but that remains my position.

Yellowcake With Frosting

I have to admit, I've not gotten particularly worked up over this whole uraniam/Niger issue. Perhaps it is because I'm already naturally skeptical every time we send troops anywhere, and even more skeptical about the veracity of all politicians. Maybe it's because I'm getting all my stress out by shooting textbooks and have no anxiety to focus anywhere. I don't know.

There are two things which do interest me:

1) The media seem to have really turned a corner in their critical approach to this administration. I think there's been a real lifting of what seemed, to me, to be a lot of deference to a modern administration.

2) It's interesting to me that so much can be made out of something which most people probably don't understand. I for one have no idea what it is that Saddam was supposed to have been seeking from Niger, what he would have done with it had he had it, or what he couldn't do without it. Yet the story seems to have really sprouted legs with the somewhat simplistic notion that it has something to do with nuclear weapons. I'm not saying that's not enough, it obviously is. But whenever a big news story breaks about a topic that I'm ignorant of, I instinctively seek to cure that ignorance. So could anyone give me, a non-science type, a straightforward explanation of what this "yellowcake" stuff is used for?

Punishing Speech in the Military

Ezra Klein thinks it is un-American to be punishing the soldier(s) who called for Rumsfeld's resignation on TV:

Is there ANYTHING more un-American, less Democratic, or more contradictory to the idea of freedom than that? When did we start adopting Saddam Hussein's methods for dealing with troops? It's fucking disgusting.

Well Ezra is a bright guy, but I think he's 100% wrong on this point (and shouldn't it be a little 'd' democratic?)

I sympathize with the soldiers, but I also think they were way out of line. They should know better and/or their NCO and officer leadership should be doing a better job keeping them from making these comments.

Despite Ezra's attempts to analogize this to Saddam's brutality, the truth is he would probably have these boys killed. Instead they'll get warnings or administrative punishment, likely based on Article 88 (10 U.S.C. 888):

�Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.�

Though facially inapplicable to enlisted personnel, it has been extended to them by DOD Directive 1344.10 (see pg. 12, E3.3.11: "Use contemptuous words against the officeholders described in U.S.C. 888")

So they broke a regulation that's been on the books since 1956. Punishing them might not be the best solution, but I don't think it's either disgusting or un-American.

Remember also that this is not a Republican/Bush administration thing. See here, here.

Shinseki for Senate

Phil Carter has a good post reflecting on outgoing Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki's admirable career and parting words. The AP is reporting that politics may be in his future:

Some Washington pundits speculated this week that Shinseki could run for the Senate from Hawaii either as a Democrat or a Republican, and a former Pentagon official in the first Bush administration has said Shinseki �may be feathering his Hawaiian political nest already.�

Though it's not clear what Shinseki's political affiliation is, he's apparently close to current HI Senator Daniel Inouye.

As Bob Novak noted, it would be fun to see Shinseki taking on Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz from the Senate, wouldn't it?

Baghdad PD

Phil Carter has some well-informed (he was an active-duty MP officer) criticism of the new rules of engagement in Baghdad, which allow American soldiers to shoot on sight of a crime in progress (e.g. looting):

As a matter of law enforcement, I think this is the wrong solution. It's a band-aid measure to cover up the fact that we simply don't have enough soldiers in Iraq to do the job. A strong show of force -- soldiers on dismounted patrol; mounted patrols by armed HMMWVs and Bradley fighting vehicles, quick response to any breach of the peace -- could impose law and order on the chaotic streets of Iraq. But such a show of force takes a lot of manpower -- more manpower than the U.S. has in theater. It would have been wise to mobilize 3-5 National Guard divisions 6 months ago, when we committed to the Iraq mission, so they could be ready to perform this kind of mission today.

This is the sort of thing the Army Chief of Staff, General Shinseki, was talking about a few months ago, for which he was heavily criticized within the administration.

Women in Combat Redux

Dean Esmay is asking a simple question:

Do you think women belong in direct combat duty roles in the armed forces? Should there be any limits at all?

Dean's twist is that he's asked only women to respond. There are some very interesting comments:

Women should be in direct combat roles if they qualify for them, period. All of the social arguments against women in combat have been used before whenever women enter a hitherto forbidden field or activity, and have proven to be groundless.

There's a lot of good stuff, check it out.

Women in Combat

I think this Slate discussion on women in combat raises a lot of interesting issues, but here's a couple that jump out at me (from Stephanie Gutmann):

The only people who truly want to see women in combat are some TV producers who think it's a "sexy" issue and approximately 500 cranks assembled on college campuses and in NGOs around the Beltway.

Maybe she qualifies as a crank, but my criminal law professor (also my boss this summer) has been leading discussions on this topic here all year. I'm not sure whether she wants ANYONE in combat, but if we do go to war, it seems clear to me that she wants to do away with the exclusion of women from Infantry/Armor/Artillery.

These women never came very close to combat themselves and have found second careers haunting congressional hearing rooms, trying to extract maximum drama from military tours that were largely bureaucratic.

Maybe I didn't read closely enough, but when was the last time Gutmann took up arms in her country's defense?

And of course, the best question: if women are so undermining the military, why didn't we see that in Iraq? It seems we fought at least as effectively as we did in the first Gulf War, before most of the changes Gutmann objects to.

Hello Soldier

Donald Sensing has a nice photo post on the good deeds of American GI's and the welcome they often receive in foreign lands.

Close to Home

Phil Carter has a post up about the importance of supporting troops and recognizing their sacrifice, well-written as usual. What is unusual is that the WSJ article he references, written by the mother of a Harvard Army ROTC graduate, is about a man I know and trained with: 1LT Alex Herzlinger.

Herz is a great guy and was a stellar ROTC cadet, so I have no doubts that he is now an exemplary infantry leader. Two years ahead of me in school, he was a senior when I entered the program. He was one of the larger-than-life cadets who put fear and inspiration in the rest of us, and helped us understand the committment we were making and the reasons we were making it.

I have known abstractly that many of the cadets I trained with are likely in Iraq (1LT Daniel Hegg went Ranger Infantry and was in Afghanistan, I don't know where he is now), but this is the first confirmation I've had of it. It's a cliche of course, but your views really can change when world events hit close to home. This is another reminder of that.

Phil Carter's comments on the story also have resonance with me:

I wish more Americans would serve in uniform, especially in the elite parts of American society. That way, more Americans would appreciate the way this Ivy League mother feels about her son, the infantry lieutenant, and the sacrifices they make on our behalf.

What is particularly paradoxical to me is that I see positions on both the left and right which suffer from the same disconnect with soldiers and the realities of military operations. As I've noted before, the leaders of both the current and prior administration have a notable lack of military experience, and I think we've seen as a result a notable lack of restraint in using the military to solve global issues. The same goes for most of the speakers at the various sit-ins and protests, who are unable to recognize the humanity of the American soldier and his desire to serve his country proudly and justly. Why this disconnect? Because both groups are drawn from the elite part of society, which as Phil notes, no longer contribute significant numbers to our military ranks. They don't serve in the military, and they don't have friends or family who do. I've long thought of taking a more academic look at this phenomenon, and may still do so. It is a topic that needs addressing, for the good of our military and thus our country.

Military Negotiations

CNN is reporting that:

Fox News Channel executives and the Pentagon reached a deal Monday in which correspondent Geraldo Rivera, who raised the military's ire when he reported operational details, will leave Iraq voluntarily rather than be expelled, Pentagon officials told CNN.

[A]s the day went on, Fox News executives pleaded with Pentagon officials to not expel Rivera. Pentagon officials stood their ground and insisted that Rivera go, and a deal was eventually reached, the Pentagon sources said.

First off, I think it very unfortunate that the military need be spending any time negotiating over this issue. Fox News should have pulled him immediately after his contested report.

Second, bravo to the military. They get rid of Geraldo and make it seem like they compromised. I'm not sure exactly how this deal is really different than Geraldo being expelled, but just so long as he can pose no further risk to operational security, I'm satisfied.

Rickety Old Tanks

Flit takes a close look at the M1 Abrams and its troubling performance in the Iraqi campaign. In particular, the costs of a tank-centered force seem to be outweighing the expected benefits:

Does this mean the day of the Main Battle Tank is over? Hardly. The presence of M1s is, in large part, what makes the Americans' position around Najaf, which would otherwise seem rather precarious, almost completely invulnerable. They have at least a few good days yet. But this war is almost certain to give impetus to people's search for another basket to split the army's eggs between. For instance, some people have been saying that the regular army's five heavy divisions in the States and Germany should be reduced to four, in a tradeoff with the army reserve for some of the essential non-combat specialist trades the reserves supply, to disentangle foreign deployments from their heavy reservist reliance. This will be certainly seen to have more merit now, with tanks in the States that can't be shipped and large numbers of disgruntled reservists. The planned "Stryker" brigades, which propose to replace the M1 with a 105mm wheeled direct-fire support vehicle, air-portable, amphibious, and interchangeable with the Marines' new vehicles, should also get a boost from the experience of M1s in Iraq. If America truly seeks the kind of global "constabulary power" role Wolfowitz and Perle, et al seek for it, then it's clear now, more than 2 weeks ago, that the M1 can only ever be part of the answer.

Though I love the M1 and think battle tanks have a tremendous 'romantic' appeal, there can be no doubt that the tank is on its way out. Many thought the first Gulf war was the last stand, and they were probably only wrong because they didn't anticipated heading back to the Iraqi desert.

It should be said, though, that this is one area where the current administration's plans were legitimately forward-looking, though slow and plagued by Army branch territorialism and Congressional pork-barrel spending. Eliminating the Crusader, for example, was a good step. Further movements toward the Objective Force, if supported and successful, ought to answer many of the questions raised by the M1 in this war.


NY Times has a really long article on military demographics:

Today's servicemen and women may not be Ivy Leaguers, but in fact they are better educated than the population at large: reading scores are a full grade higher for enlisted personnel than for their civilian counterparts of the same age. While whites account for three of five soldiers, the military has become a powerful magnet for blacks, and black women in particular, who now outnumber white women in the Army.

But if the military has become the most successfully integrated institution in society, there is also a kind of voluntary segregation: while whites and blacks seek out careers in communications, intelligence, the medical corps and other specialties in roughly equal numbers, blacks are two and a half times as likely to fill support or administrative roles, while whites are 50 percent more likely to serve in the infantry, gun crews or their naval equivalent.

This part hit close to home, and was the subject of many dorm room and classroom discussions for me (and an impetus for my joining ROTC):

The disparity created by the Vietnam draft can be seen on the walls of Memorial Hall and Memorial Church at Harvard University, where the names of Harvard students and alumni who died for their country are inscribed. There were 200 Harvard students killed in the Civil War and 697 in World War II, but only 22 in Vietnam.

I was always a little skeptical about race being the most significant disparity between the military and the civilian world, and I think this article bears that out (particularly as it relates to the myths about the 'racist' Vietnam War). Instead, the article makes quite clear that the great statistical disparities are class and geography. Not surprisingly, the military is disproportionately lower and middle class and Southern.

Is it an indictment of this administration (or the one before) to say that the people who are making the wars don't understand the people who are fighting them? I don't really know. My instincts tell me that someone who has never served in the military, never fought with, led, nor cared for soldiers or sailors or marines, is not in the ideal position to make military decisions. I don't think that means non-veterans are incapable of being great leaders or that veterans are incapable of being bad ones. It's just an instinctual feeling that a politician has to have been there to really understand the consequences of his decisions.

Soldier Bloggers

CNN has a story on warblogs, citing Blogs of War, Team Stryker (w/ screenshot!), and LT Smash:

"Blogs of War" and other sites sometimes beat traditional sources with the latest war news.

No kidding! And here's another link to The Agonist. I've been very impressed and proud of the performance of the blogosphere thus far, particularly when compared to the mainstream media.

Why Treating POWs Properly is Important

The Paper Chase has a couple human rights groups arguing that our treatment of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay makes it hypocritical for us to criticize Iraq for Geneva Convention violations.

I'm not going to touch that assertion, but I do want to point out something that seems lost in the shuffle. The best reason for abiding by the Geneva Convention is NOT the prevention of reciprocal violations. Even if the Iraqis begin torturing our POWs, there is a very good strategic (and probably a moral) reason for treating their POWs properly: We want them to surrender.

If an Iraqi soldier or general thinks he is going to be mistreated by the coalition, or shipped off without rights to a Caribbean island for indefinite detainment, he is much less likely to surrender.

The best historical example is the final assault on Germany. German POWs were treated well by American and British forces, and our forces received relatively good treatment in return. Even more importantly, as the German regime began to crumble, Germans were willing to surrender to American and British forces. By the end of the war we had over 400,000 POWs in America (German and Italian), not to mention thousands of prisoners still in Europe.

Not so on the Eastern front. Years of brutality and summary execution of prisoners on both sides convinced Germans (probably correctly) that they would be mistreated or killed if they surrendered to the Russians. Thus they fought to the last man, inflicting significant Russian casualties in the process.

So I think the real question is, not whether our treatment of the Guantanamo detainees makes America hypocritical, but whether fear of that fate is keeping Iraqis soldiers and their leaders from surrendering.

Another Casualty

A sad ending to a sad story:

An Army Special Forces soldier charged with killing his wife after returning from Afghanistan nine months ago hanged himself in a jail cell Sunday, officials said.

Soldiers and the Press

Matthew Yglesias posed a question about the rules regarding soldiers talking to the press. This is particularly salient now with the embedding of journalists, and Matthew points to a NY Times story in which young soldiers are questioning the various motives for war.

I feel pretty comfortable suggesting that for the most part the rules will vary from unit to unit and conflict to conflict. One of the risks the Pentagon knew they were running with the embedded journalist program was exactly this sort of thing.

There is a legal restriction titled Contempt Toward Officials (UCMJ Art. 88), which forbids the use of "contemptuous words" against the president, vice president, members of Congress and other officials. This restriction only explicitly applies to commissioned officers though, and hasn't actually been used for prosecution since Vietnam (though several high-ranking officers have been forced out for ill-chosen remarks about sitting presidents).

Beyond that, individual unit commanders can try to set certain rules and procedures for their own troops and offer tips on how to deal with journalists. PAO (public affair officers) are also probably keeping an eye on the journalists.

On a non-legal basis, I agree that this sort of discussion ought to be done away from the microphone.

I'm also reminded of DOD Directive 1344.10, which might cover this. It's primarily about political activity, but it does extend Article 88 to enlisted soldiers.

Here's a good summary of the rules.

The other relevant provision may be that active duty soldiers can:

Register, vote and express his or her personal opinion on political candidates and issues, but not as a representative of the Armed Forces.

I'm not entirely sure this particular situation falls under the 1344.10 rubric, but if so they are probably ok.

First Mad Cow Disease, Now This...

UPI reports on more trouble with British cattle:

Plans for a dramatic new role for Britain's Royal Air Force on Day One of the war against Iraq are in question because a Welsh farmer worried about his cows has forced cancellation of a test of the new Storm Shadow bunker-busting cruise missile.

Protecting Our Veterans

A law librarian at the University of Arizona (former AF JAG too!) left a comment below pointing us to a great resource she has set up regarding the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). This is the law that protects our military personnel from losing their jobs, benefits, or seniority as a result of their military service. If you or anyone you know has had problems in this area, check out this resource and then contact a JAG officer.

Microwave Weapons

IHT has a story on the potential dangers of first use of microwave weapons:

[C]ritics say rolling out the weapon for the first time could trigger an arms race not seen since the dawn of the nuclear age. By showing other nations that this highly secretive program has produced a viable and effective weapon, politicians from other countries could be convinced to beef up their own development of such devices.

The article also notes that, ironically, these weapons pose the greatest danger to countries that rely most heavily on electronics like computer chips, e.g. the United States.

Not All Like Sears

After hearing about all the employers who have been so supportive of their military reservists, it's shame to read a headline like this: Tucson reservist loses job when Navy calls. Looks like Pep Boys might not be familiar with federal law, let alone the ethics of supporting those who serve the country. The story quotes the federal law:

A person who is a member of, applies to be a member of, performs, has performed, applies to perform or has an obligation to perform in a uniformed service shall not be denied initial employment, re-employment, retention in employment, promotion or any benefit of employment by an employer on the basis of that membership, application for membership, performance of service, application for service or obligation.

Non-Lethal Military Ethics

The Christian Science Monitor gives a brief look at non-lethal weapons and the ethics of their use:

A war with Iraq, in fact, may prove the biggest test to date of the effectiveness of many of the US military's fancy new weapons. For the first time since the Panama invasion in 1989, the US may be fighting a largely urban war. Thus the tactics and technology it uses will be crucial in determining the level of casualties and perhaps the length of the war itself.

One possible genre of weapons that could be used, for instance, is riot-control agents - nonlethal chemicals such as tear gas and pepper spray - to flush out enemy fighters or put down POW revolts.

Yet some argue that these nonlethal are banned:

The international Chemical Weapons Convention allows police forces, but not military units, to use such weapons. But military use in situations more akin to law enforcement is a gray area under international law, US officials say, and tear gas was used against hostile Serb crowds in Bosnia. Marine Corps units in the Gulf area reportedly have tear gas and pepper spray in their arsenal.

"The question is whether we stick to the ban and kill people, or use them as a method to save lives," says Army Col. John Alexander (USA, ret.), former head of nonlethal defense programs at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. This is essentially the argument made by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in recent congressional testimony.

JAGs On Their Way

Great story about the role JAG officers will play in the coming conflict:

In a war with Iraq, U.S. commanders could often have an agonizing choice: strike a target and run the risk of killing civilians, and being accused by the rest of the world of committing a war crime, or hold fire and run the risk that Saddam Hussein will still have deadly weapons he can use against American and British troops or neighboring countries.

To help weigh those issues, the Pentagon has dispatched dozens of attorneys to command posts in the region. Their job: help keep America legal if President Bush unleashes its fury against Saddam�s forces.

Military commanders have long had legal advisers. But more than ever, attorneys are in the teams that choose the strategies, the targets and even the weapons to be used. Lawyers from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines will be working around-the-clock to be on hand when targets appear and fast decisions are needed.

This is the kind of work I hope to be doing in a few years. Don't let anyone say the United States is not very careful in targeting (see General Clark's book on Kosovo for more on this). This is exactly the sort of diligent work that separates the United States from our enemies, both present and historical. Many who are adamantly opposed to the war go the extreme lengths of accusing the United States of indiscriminate bombing and willful killing of civilians (see my post on 'shock and awe' below.)

This is a position disconnected from reality, and does a real disservice to the men and women in uniform who devote considerable effort to limiting collateral damage and often do so in ways that make things more dangerous for American troops (refusing to allow bombing of certain targets or with sufficient firepower to ensure the target is destroyed).

The story also addresses a most interesting question:

One of the hottest legal topics that would be decided only at the highest levels is whether to target Saddam himself. Legally, it could depend on timing:

� Lawyers say that before a war, he would not be considered a valid military target. U.S. policy also prohibits assassinations of leaders.

� If there was a war and Saddam was commanding the Iraqi army, he would be considered a combatant and could be targeted.

� If he no longer had that role and allied forces caught him fleeing, the target status might be revoked. Instead, he might be given exile or arrested and charged with war crimes.

I'll be an Army JAG officer, but this Air Force page has a good summary of the overall duties of JAG lawyers, for those who are curious.

Thanks to James' comment, I found this article in the London Review of Books that suggests Rumsfeld may be interested in undoing much of the progress made since WWII.

Radios to Avoid Fratricide

More on the latest military tech: Jane's Defense has this on the new 'radios' (these are the ones onboard the Stryker that I mentioned below):

The US Army is widely distributing its premier tactical communications system - the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) system - to US ground units and allied forces to share information on the battlefield and help avoid fratricide in a war with Iraq, according to industry and army officials.

The US 3rd Infantry Division and all other US army units likely to be involved in combat will receive the system, an army spokeswoman said. The USMC is buying a limited number of FBCB2 systems, primarily to enable the army to be able to identify the marines, a programme official said. The USMC's Data Automated Communications Terminals can identify USMC and army units, the official added.

Friendly-fire incidents were responsible for 24% of US casualties in the 1990-91 Gulf conflict, as well as most of UK ground casualties. Of the US fratricide incidents, 61% involved ground-to-ground incidents, according to US government figures. These accidents, as well as the bombing of a Canadian infantry unit by a US F-16 in April 2002 in Afghanistan, have led officials to highlight the blue-force tracking capabilities of FBCB2. has more on these 'radios':

Situation awareness is provided by collecting, integrating and displaying a common picture of the battlefield that is consistent in both time and space at each user display. Software being developed for FBCB2 situation awareness allows the geographical location of individual soldiers, weapons/platforms, command posts, and other operational facilities to be collectively presented on a display. Because the Army Tactical Internet is a true, seamless internet based on the world-wide Internet model, it is possible to communicate each individual geolocation to every FBCB2-equipped user within the Tactical Internet. Addressing mechanisms allow geolocations to be flexibly and selectively communicated, and situation awareness software functionality will contain the necessary filters and roll-up mechanisms for each user to be able to selectively display only the locations of units of interest.

Naval Instant Messaging

StrategyPage (really a great resource) also has a story about instant messaging in the Navy:

Noting that sailors have increasingly been using shipboard email and instant messaging to form groups of like minded sailors across the fleet, the U.S. Navy has introduced it's own instant messaging system, as part of the Navy Knowledge Online (NKO) portal. This system has better security than public chat and instant messaging systems and allows active duty, reserve, and retired sailors share their collective knowledge and experience.

[T]he navy is also working on a classified instant messaging system, which will be operating by June. This will allow the use of instant messaging for communication between ships during combat operations. The British Royal Navy has pioneered this technique. Also in the works is an increase in the Internet capacity for ships at sea, so that sailors can use instant messaging to communicate with their family and friends ashore.

Here's a February story from with more details. This is neat stuff.

In my ROTC unit we did several tri-service wargames using basic AOL instant messaging to communicate between forces. If secure and more fully-featured, this could be quite promising (reminds me just a bit of the Army's Stryker IAV and its onboard digital communications).

UPDATE: Boy do I feel dumb! Thanks to Phil Carter for pointing me toward Army Knowledge Online, which he says has been "running for a few years now. It's the model that NKO is based on, and it includes a fully functional IM site as well as e-mail, FTP, and other online resources."

Predator Drones

StrategyPage is reporting that Predator drone production has been increased, with new models on the way:

The B model has a max weight of five tons, can carry a 3,000 pound payload, fly as high as 62,000 feet and stay in the air for up to 32 hours. Five more are being built, and one of these may see action in Iraq. There is also a new ground controller workstation being developed. This will feature a 120 degree wrap around display for the ground controller, as well as a HUD (Head Up Display) from the F-16.

Four Predators are being produced a month, with an increase to six before the end of the year. In addition, the form makes spare parts and ground stations. Plans are underway to equip the Predator B with larger air-to-air missiles (Sidewinder and AMRAAM).


Via Defense Tech we have this story from Global Security Newswire:

The Bush administration today told Congress it would like a repeal a 9-year-old ban on research and development of low-yield nuclear weapons, provoking tough criticism from House Democrats.

The Pentagon included the request in its fiscal 2004 defense budget request. Within the request is a provision to repeal a 1994 law banning research and development of nuclear weapons with yields below five kilotons.

Good Work!

Looks like we got two of Bin Laden's sons:

Two of Osama bin Laden�s sons have been arrested in southeastern Afghanistan, a Pakistani provincial official said Friday. The arrests were reported as Pakistani and U.S. forces were conducting military operations near the mountainous borders with Afghanistan and Iran amid persistent reports that the fugitive al-Qaida leader is hiding out in the area.

UPDATE: FoxNews reports that U.S. officials are disputing these reports. That may be because we don't have them, or because they see a strategic purpose in keeping the issue muddled for now.

Where is CNN on this story? Nothing posted.... ah wait, here it is.

It looks like all three are reporting skeptical U.S. officials. Guess I should have taken a closer look at the source of the original story: 'a Pakistani provincial official'. I've still got my fingers crossed.

Regardless of whether this story turns out to be true, I do hope we're scouring this area with everything we've got. I hope we can simultaneously muster 300,000 troops to sit on Iraq's doorsteps and mobilize enough troops to track down the true source of the 9/11 pain that Bush played on in his press conference last night.

General Franks = Warlord?

Strange headline from the Australian Herald Sun on a story about the President's meeting with General Franks:

Bush plans with warlord

Is that a common Australian way of describing military officers of democratic nations? Strikes me as a rather loaded term, but only because it is usually used in American media to describe undemocratic military rulers.

UPDATE: Here's Matthew Yglesias' take.


Global Security Newswire has an analysis of Bush's nonproliferation policy, his defenders, and his critics. Here's are the key points:

As the role of military solutions is enhanced, traditional U.S. nonproliferation strategies have been downgraded, including arms control agreements, and application of the concepts of strategic containment and mutually assured destruction. The Bush administration over the past year has controversially sought to remove, weaken, or prevent arms control pacts that might compromise U.S. counterproliferation capabilities. The United States, for example, withdrew from the ABM Treaty in June and refuses to ratify the nuclear test ban treaty.

Critics have charged the strategy�s various components may transform the international security system in many negative ways. The strategy could, they say, loosen international standards for using force, undermine the authority of the United Nations in deciding when force is acceptable, weaken the international taboo against renouncing international treaty commitments, and undermine norms prohibiting the development and use of nuclear weapons.

Advocates of the Bush strategy contend changes in the international system since the Cold War have brought new types of security challenges that warrant a new approach to international security. Administration officials have made a key assertion that unlike the former Soviet Union, some countries � particularly Iran, Iraq and North Korea � cannot be deterred by the massive U.S. nuclear and conventional superiority from attempting, or perhaps from cooperating with terrorists, to destroy the United States.


The Boston Globe has an article on the chemical/biological protection gear being carried by our troops in the Gulf:

Largely because of those upgrades in the last dozen years, military planners say US forces gathering in the Persian Gulf region are well-prepared to protect themselves against any attacks with chemical or biological weapons, which the Bush administration and Britain insist Iraq retains, despite Baghdad's denials.

Still, some military specialists and members of Congress remain concerned that troops who would fight a war against Iraq are not adequately prepared, mainly because of a history of poor training until recent months. An Army audit completed last July found that most units selected at random were not well-trained in using the protective gear, while a string of congressional studies have reached similar conclusions.

My very limited experience with this stuff was with the older equipment, and all I can say is it was hell to get into, hell to get out of, and hell to wear. The article notes that the new suits are lighter and more durable, but the real question I have is, are they cooler? I wore the old-style suits this last summer in Fort Lewis, WA, and it got real hot, real quick. Seems to me it could get even warmer in the desert of Iraq.

Afghan Detainees Deaths Ruled Homicides

Here's a CNN story that will probably pass under most radars, but shouldn't:

Military coroners have determined that the deaths of two detainees while in U.S. custody in Afghanistan were homicides, CNN has confirmed.

The men died shortly after arriving at Bagram air base north of the Afghan capital, Kabul. The first man died December 3 of a pulmonary embolism and the second one December 10 of a heart attack.

Autopsies found that "blunt force trauma" was a contributing factor in both cases, military sources said.

I'll be keeping my eyes on this one. Interrogation is one thing, blunt force trauma is another.

Update: Talkleft agrees.

Jumped the Gun?

Counterspin is reporting that the story about teachers in Maine harassing their students may have been blown out of proportion.

My very first post addressed this, and I have no problem retracting my comments if the sources I relied upon were incorrect.

The Open Sea

Via InstaPundit, here's a Financial Times analysis of our decreasing reliance on Europe as we shift back towards being a maritime power:

Sea powers behave in predictable ways. Strategically, they try to dominate the oceans (and now the skies). They abhor large and fixed land deployments, preferring to use local auxiliaries. They like to control or at least to neutralise the opposite shores of contiguous seas and oceans.

Diplomatically, they have no fixed alliances but only fixed interests. They can make commitments, but they want to feel free to leave. And they always like to have long strings of bases around the world. Britain sought all these things in its heyday and America wants to return to them now. That is the true meaning of the phrase "coalition of the willing".

Too Many Viewings of Top Gun

It's official, the North Koreans have lost their minds. CNN reports that:

A U.S. Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft was intercepted over the Sea of Japan on Sunday by four armed North Korean MiG fighter jets, one of which locked its weapons-targeting radar onto the U.S. plane, U.S. military sources said.

U.S. military sources said Monday that the Air Force plane was in international airspace about 150 miles [240 kilometers] off the Korean peninsula when the MiGs approached and flew alongside for 20 minutes, at some points coming within less than 400 feet of the U.S. plane.

Amazing. If Hussein did this, it would start a war. LGF has a link to Stanley Kurtz' article on North Korea and quotes this passage:

Up to now, hawks have had an answer to the charge that they apply a double standard to Iraq and North Korea. The hawks point out that we are attacking Saddam Hussein, but not North Korea, precisely because Saddam does not yet have nuclear arms, while North Korea does. We are trying to prevent Saddam from putting us into the same sort of impossible situation that the North Koreans already have. That is a fine answer. Yet it does not go far enough. The sad truth is that we do still face a terrible choice in North Korea, quite like the one we face with Saddam. And as the North Koreans begin to produce plutonium, that choice will be forced. Either we allow ourselves to lose the war on terror by subjecting ourselves to a nuclear-armed al Qaeda, or we place our faith in bogus international guarantees and inspections regimes, or we go to war with North Korea. That war, with a power capable of killing hundreds of thousands of South Koreans � and Americans � may force us to use tactical nuclear weapons.

Our choice will likely grow more acute with an invasion of Iraq. North Korea will probably choose the moment of invasion, when we are least able to launch a war, to begin its plutonium processing.

What a world.

Three Cheers for Sears

Via Instapundit, here's a blog noting that several companies (Sears is mentioned) are paying their reserve soldiers the difference between their regular salaries and their military salary (which is quite meager; go here to see just how meager). We're talking about young NCO's making less than $2000 a month.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias points out that the underlying sadness to this story of good will is that private companies have to step in to compensate for the government's unwillingness to pay our troops what they deserve.

Blood Donations & the Military

Both Glenn Reynolds and Matthew Yglesias have had recent posts about blood donation. I'd like to add that donating blood is a direct and significant way to contribute to the health and protection of the soldiers in our military. America's Blood Centers, responsible for nearly half the donation supply, has entered into an agreement with the Department of Defense to supplement the military's blood supply during wartime. Go here to find out how to donate to one of their centers.

UPDATE: If you can (I'm not sure what the eligibility requirements are), you might consider donating directly to the military. This site has a list of military donation centers.

Soldiers' Children Mistreated and the Ban on ROTC

As someone with strongly conflicted feelings on the coming conflict with Iraq, I have respect for all on both sides of the issue who are conducting this dialogue with thoughtfulness and intelligence.

For these people, I have no respect. Winds of Change has very comprehensive coverage of a story about teachers in Maine taunting the children of soldiers deployed overseas.

Unfortunately, I cannot say I am surprised by these incidents. They likely stem from the same misguided anti-military prejudice that some people cannot separate from their feelings about war, the Bush Administration, or Vietnam. I never experienced first-hand attacks like those felt by the young children in Maine, but I have crossed paths with institutional anti-military prejudice.

As a Harvard student, I had to come to terms with the fact that my university forbade my Army ROTC program from openly recruiting or organizing on school property. September 11, 2001, was fall registration day at Harvard. I first heard the day's terrible news at the activities fair, where I was representing an umbrella organization set up to allow informational distribution about the ROTC programs at MIT. I was not allowed to wear my uniform. No active-duty officers were allowed to represent the organization.

In December, as our troops were doing battle in Afghanistan, I joined several fellow cadets in setting up a table with Christmas cards to the troops which Harvard students could sign, and which we would mail. An admirable number of students signed the cards. An unfortunate number laughed, scoffed, mocked, or made disrespectful comments.

I was 21 at the time, well-educated, and able to recognize this anti-military prejudice for what it was. I doubt the young children in Maine are able to do the same, and it makes their teachers' behavior even less forgivable.