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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Support Our Troops--But Don't Worship Them

James Fallows the "Atlantic" reporter and longtime observer of things military, posts this lengthy but worthwhile article on why we need to be less reverent, and more critical, about our military and military affairs: the-tragedy-of-the-american-military  Fallows argues that lack of public attention and engagement with our military just conditions us to endorse wasteful spending and futile wars.  It should be a huge scandal about how costly the flawed F-35 fighter has been, but hardly anyone even knows about it. 

He thinks we have a "chickenhawk" culture that encourages people to say "thank you for your service" to the troops, but would never dream of making such a sacrifice themselves.

Lots of points in his essay are debatable, and some are just wrong.  For one, he thinks General Shinseki was some kind of whistleblower when, as Chief of Staff, he said he thought the Iraq war would take hundreds of thousands of troops.  Shinseki wasn't involved in the planning, which he wouldn't have been, and he admitted that.  And he hardly was sidelined; he retired at the end of his term in 2003.  As for another: SecDef Rumsfeld, in fact, fought the Pentagon to cut a lot of wasteful programs, like the Crusader.  Also generals have been relieved for cause:  General Casey pretty much was in Iraq, as was McKiernan in Afghanistan.  Others less knowns have too:  see Robert Gates's memoir for examples.

Likewise, the public attitude toward the military now is a heck of a lot healthier than it was after Vietnam.  We treat our veterans with much more respect, as they deserve. 

Also, Mr. Fallows, the military did not lose the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  It achieved what it could achieve with the political constraints on it.  It won all the battles.  Unfortunately the goals were always vague and open-ended, if not outright utopian.

Nevertheless, it is a piece worth reading and debating.  Anyone who has served in the military as I have knows that there is a lot of waste and timeserving officers.  He's right that we should pay more attention to bloated programs like the F-35.  And his point about the "political engineering" used to keep these programs going is right on the mark.
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