Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Revolting versus revolution

The inimitable Strategypage has an interesting piece on "information warfare." It begins, briefly, with a discussion of the six retired generals who have called for Donald Rumsfeld's retirement over his handling of the Iraq phase of the war.

Let me first say that I'm sure these generals are men of courage. What I don't understand is why that portion of their courage that falls on the political spectrum apparently failed to make an appearance until after their next star was no longer on the line. As my dad points out, they're still "vulnerable," if you'd care to call it that, even in retirement, in that Congress could vote down their pensions, or something like that - but again, if mishandling of Iraq is a matter of conscience, and these men are men of courage and conviction, shouldn't their retirement packages be a secondary concern?

Nonetheless. They've been outtalked not only by the great mass of other retired generals and their active-duty brethren and sistern (as Anything Goes has it), but by the troops themselves, as Strategypage points out:

The mass media ran with the six generals, but got shot down by the troops and their blogs, message board postings and emails. It wasn't just a matter of the "troop media" being more powerful. No, what the troops had going for them was a more convincing reality. Unlike the six generals, many of the Internet troops were in Iraq, or had recently been there. Their opinions were not as eloquent as those of the generals, but they were also more convincing. Added to that was the complaint from many of the troops that, according to the American constitution, it's the civilians (in the person of the Secretary of Defense) that can dismiss soldiers from service, not the other way around.

Emphasis mine, and please note it well. The troops appear to have a better grasp of their place in American society than these few retired generals do - which, given the temperament that goes along with becoming a general, is perhaps not so surprising. A general, like a tenured professor or a CEO, has to have thick skin, unshakeable confidence, and a certain amount of arrogant belief in his or her own superiority, or he (or she) is not general-officer material. However, the framers of the Constitution, aware of this tendency (in spite of their close relationship with General Washington, whose innate arrogance he himself kept in iron check, at least where his civilian bosses were concerned), made it abundantly clear that the civvies were in charge.

All right then. So much for the revolting generals. Strategypage then goes on to the more interesting part - in which we learn that the Internet once again changes everything:

The troops got on line, found each other and have been sharing opinions and experiences, getting to know each other, and doing it all very quickly. The most striking example of this is how it has changed the speed with which new weapons and equipment get into service. Troops have always bought superior commercial equipment, usually from camping and hunting suppliers. And a lot more of that gear has been available in the last decade. Because the word now gets around so quickly via the net, useful new gear is quickly purchased by thousands of troops. After September 11, 2001, with a war on, having the best gear was seen by more troops as a matter of life and death. This quickly got back to politicians, journalists and the military bureaucrats responsible for buying gear for the troops. The quality of the "official issue" gear skyrocketed like never before because of the Internet pressure.

And more than just gear: Strategypage notes that milbloggers, early on, began to share "tactics and techniques" openly on their (publicly viewable) blogs. The DoD necessarily called a halt to this too-open information sharing - but in contrast to an earlier day, in which the DoD might have tried to hold back the tide and forbid the guys from trying to pass on what may have saved their lives in their last engagement:

The military got into the act by establishing official message boards, for military personnel only, where useful information could be discussed and exchanged. All this rapid information sharing has had an enormous impact on the effectiveness of the troops, something that has largely gone unnoticed by the mass media.

The brass have not tried to discourage all this communication, because the officers use it as well, for the same reasons as the troops.

This is a revolution - in a good way, so far. Strategypage points out that there may be negative consequences to all this connectivity, but that so far the benefits are clear. The military lives in tension: freedom versus imposed discipline (the imposition of discipline, which occurs nearly always without the threat of violence or legal consequences, is only possible because members of the military are themselves disciplined, by temperament or training); openness versus secrecy (which is another self-discipline issue); internal hierarchy versus civilian control (an even larger self-discipline issue, but because the concept is ingrained in our soldiers from the get-go, you won't be seeing a military coup anytime soon in this country). When the ignorant talk about GIs as if they're unlettered adolescents, zipped into inferior armor and sent out with inadequate training to perform an undefined mission, I want to take them by the ear and show them the inside of a Bradley. Your average nineteen- or twenty-year-old GI (who is not your average American soldier in Iraq, by the way) may or may not have read Jane Eyre, but he or she is highly trained, drilled, and disciplined in the mission, knows why he or she is performing that mission, and will perform it to the best of his or her ability out of a sense of pride and duty with which the ignorant critic may be completely unfamiliar.



Anonymous said...

The generals did not speak while on active duty because it violates the rules of military conduct. Something I would assume a bush supporter such as yourself would not care about.
Secondly, congress vote down there pensions for calling b.s. on bush! The Republican congress may be corrupt but they aren't retarded.

Jamie said...

Not getting it, anonymous... I wouldn't care about the rules of military conduct? As a Republican? As a Bush supporter? Hmm. As a former military dependent myself?

They were constrained not to speak publicly while on active duty. On the other hand, they had a positive duty to speak privately, to take their concerns up the chain of command, if they believed that the course we were on was wrong. However, in the end the US military is outranked by its civilian leadership, and it's duty-bound and Constitutionally required to obey the orders of that leadership - the CiC - and to do its best to carry out those orders, not to frag the lieutenant, so to speak. What they did - waiting until retirement and then going to the press, for heaven's sake, rather than using their still-warm connection to the administration and current military hierarchy, plus their newfound gravitas as Old Men, to voice their concerns - is not illegal, but it's still far from copacetic when the troops are enthusiastically traveling to the theater, fighting, winning, and reupping.

Cobra said...

Everybody should watch "Bahgdad ER" tonight on HBO. I've been told it isn't nearly as graphic as it COULD've been, but it should be a wake up call to a nation that has been asked to sacrifice ABSOLUTELY NOTHING for this neo-con scheme.


Jamie said...

Is it preferable that... let's see...

1. Everyone be asked to sacrifice greatly for this neo-con scheme, whether or not they agree with it, versus the predominant sacrifice's coming from an all-volunteer military that overwhelmingly supports it?

2. The neo-con scheme never have gotten traction, in which case Iraqis would still be dying by the silent tens of thousands every year, CNN would still be whoring itself to "cover" Baghdad from the judicious perspective of whatever Saddam Hussein would let them write, France, Russia, and Germany would still be pumping billions into Saddam's coffers in exchange for their blind eyes and complicity as he continued to violate both the constraints he'd agreed to and the will of the so-called world community, plus the usuals - Syria in Lebanon, Qaddafi talking to Khan, Khan fostering nuclear proliferation everywhere, Egypt's pro-democracy movement unpublicized and hopeless, Iran's pro-democracy movement imprisoned or dead, etc., etc.?

3. Neither of the above, which leaves... what?

Jamie said...

Whew, I let my grammar get away from me in that last comment. Sorry!