December 24, 1993

They Were Expendable

The spirit of this country is totally adverse to a large military force.

Thomas Jefferson, 1807

For people who are free, and who mean to remain so, a well organized and armed militia is their best security.

Thomas Jefferson, 1808

The attitudes of the press and the public seems to have undergone a complete reversal since Viet Nam. I have watched the fuss made, over a dozen or so American soldiers who were killed in Somalia, in amazement. You would think that the helicopter pilot who was captured was the one person without whom the U.S. Army couldn't function; that he was indispensable, or, as the army would say, "not expendable."

If this attitude persists, there will be no reason to maintain an armed force of any size, because their purpose would be decorative instead of functional. Soldiers would be used to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and to decorate the fronts of certain public buildings. They would also be used to raise the flag in the morning and lower it in the evening. Taken to its logical conclusion, soldiers would be selected for their uniformity in height and weight and ability to march in unison. Those drill automatons, trumpet players and a few cooks would be all that we would need. We could reduce the Pentagon to the Unigon, or the Hemisemidemigon. All weapons would be plugged to avoid an accident that might conceivably cost the life of a member of the military.

When I was in the Army, a soldier, or a regiment, or a division were expendable. In other words, for any objective that the top brass thought necessary, wiping out so many soldiers, lower grade officers, and so on, was the way that the game was played. Death of soldiers, or any officer below the rank of general, was of no more consequence than sacrificing a few minor pieces on a chess board.

Nowadays, you would expect that the loss of a pawn in that military chess game would stop the game because everyone on one side would be mourning the demise of that pawn. A trapped knight would be reason enough for a player to tie a yellow ribbon to his chair.

I find this attitude, that the loss of a single soldier is lamentable, to be very laudable --it is almost civilized. What I object to is the spending of megabucks to maintain an armed force whose only function seems to be to play war games and march in parades.

Each soldier is told that he will be expected to lay down his/her life for his/her country; but that it will never happen because the American public can't stand the sight of American blood. Blood loss frompeople of other nationalites seems to be okay.

Congresspeople favor or oppose the killing of soldiers depending on what party they are a member of and what party the president is a member of. We should all expect it to be a matter of course that Republicans will support a Republican president and Democrats will support a Democratic president. Changing to a president of another party means a complete reversal in the members of the cheering and booing sections.

Since Viet Nam we have had several military incursions: the bombing of Tripoli, the invasion of Grenada, the invasion of Panama, the war with Iraq over Kuwait, the incursion into Somalia to save the starving children. I suppose that there might have been others that I have forgotten. In each case, the president was supported by the members of his own party and opposed by some members of the opposing party who thought that it might gain them a few votes. It all depended on whether he had a doveish or hawkish constituency. One of the extraordinarily difficult things about politics is that it is not always possible to predict how voters will react to a particular stance by a legislator. Even an extreme hawk may look at things differently if it is his son who is on the firing line, or who is killed.

With the demise of the USSR, our country has become the major military power in the world. It has the most massive military machine that has ever been created --and we are extremely reluctant to use it. I think that is great. The only question that I have is: why do we have it if it's not supposed to be used? You might answer that it is a deterrent against aggression. Unfortunately, if the world knows that we will not use our military force, it is no deterrent at all.

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