Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Military Desertion Rates Hit 25 Year High

Right on the heels of much needed good news, the apparent improved death rate of American soldiers in Iraq, comes this horrible news about the US Army desertion rate.

”Soldiers strained by six years at war are deserting their posts at the highest rate since 1980, with the number of Army deserters this year showing an 80 percent increase since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.
While the totals are still far lower than they were during the Vietnam war, when the draft was in effect, they show a steady increase over the past four years and a 42 percent jump since last year.”

This really should come as no surprise. Shorter leave, as well as longer and more frequent deployments, and an ever declining clarity regarding the mission and the signs that it has concluded, will sap the will of even the best fighting men and women. 1980, you will recall, was when the era of Reagan replaced the era of Carter, the Iran hostage crisis, and our botched rescue attempts, which sullied American resolve. That is how far morale in our great military has fallen.

This should be a sobering fact for all Americans. One of the reasons, whatever its flaws may be, the military deserves more respect than many people are willing to give it, is because it performs a fundamental function in society, and there are few willing to do it. It requires that one put ones self willingly in harm’s way for the sake of others. That breed, be it borne of ignorance, valiance, desperation, or duty, is a rare one, and not to be taken for granted. And now we are being told, or rather they are telling us, by abandoning their posts, that they have had enough.

I was reminded of this watching a replay of “300”, a film about a desperate battle of the Spartans against the massive army of Persia. There several points in the movie where the superiority of voluntary career soldiers over amateurs or conscripted ones was emphasized. Oh sure, we could reinstitute the draft, and increase our army, granting for the sake of argument that our horrible funding problem were solved. But we cannot conscript a sense of duty, dedication to training, or the willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for one’s society. A larger army is certainly not necessarily a better one. Just ask mid 20th century Chinese.

It has come down to basic facts about our society. We are not a society built for sustained war, as Viet Nam should have made clear. If not, the sustained conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have reminded us. In a way, this is as it should be: America, at least in its philosophical incarnation, is a nation about freedom, not imperialism. Given freedom, most people will always choose not to fight. That is why those who do, when the time makes it necessary, have been so revered throughout history. They volunteer to bell the cat, and we have run out of them.

So, it boils down to this for America: we cannot start another war, at least not until we finish the ones we are in. The War on Terror, if it is to be understood as armed conflict in Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, is beyond our ability to win by unilateral military force, and our brave men and women deserve better than to be given an assignment beyond their physical and psychological abilities. It doesn’t matter what the perceived threats are, any more than it would matter what the threat is to your house from a cannonball. The answer is still not to jump in front of it. We do not have the resources, be it measured in valor or money. At this point, the politicians need to lead America in being honest about what the War on Terror is costing us, by refusing to run budget deficits to wage it. Pay for these wars, within our budget, and then we’ll talk about where we are going to get the people to fight more. Otherwise, the ones on the front lines are going to continue to walk away, or worse, in even greater numbers, to our collective disgrace.

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