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Two long-time U.S. Army officers, now retired, have written a paper for the Strategic Studies Institute at the Army War College titled Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession.
In it, Professors Leonard Wong and Stephen J. Gerras lament that the Officer Corps of the Army has become “ethically numb” and that there is “rampant duplicity” in a “deleterious culture.”
Sounds bad, doesn’t it? After all, we like to think of our military as being the most conservative of all large government institutions and therefore run to a higher standard. Each of the Service Academies stress ethics at their core: “Duty. Honor. Country.”, “Courage. Honor. Commitment.”, ” Integrity. Service. Excellence.”
Still, there are other traditions that are not so noteworthy. In letters to Congress their earliest leader, George Washington, complained of his fellow officer’s “unaccountable kind of stupidity.” And these are institutions that have also given the world such acronyms as FUBAR and SNAFU, the commonality of which is the letter “F.”
If one delves beyond the report’s summary page and the media articles, one finds that the deceit and dishonesty is found, not in John Kerry-esque tales of made-up valor or selling supplies on the black market, but in the paperwork.
The civilian leadership has placed huge, non-performance related demands on the military and the officer corps has chosen to fudge it. And they do it because there aren’t enough hours in a day to comply with the demands of the political class and still prepare and fight real battles.
Since Senators like Kirsten Gillibrand (D–N.Y.) and Claire McCaskill (D–Mo.) imagine that our soldiers spend more time raping each other than fighting terrorism, the Department of Defense has initiated SHARP, the mandatory Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program.* All DOD uniformed personnel must receive this training, not just once a year, but every three months!
Said one officer, “We needed to get SHARP training done and reported to higher headquarters, so we called the platoons and told them to gather the boys around the radio and we said, ‘Don’t touch girls.’ That was our quarterly SHARP training.”
Some of the greatest wounds are also self-inflicted. If the wonder of the modern age is the computer then the bane of it is PowerPoint. Every contact with the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan required “a storyboard.” Not just a simple after-action report, but a full series of slides with pictures.
Complained one captain, “Now I’m doing this storyboard because there’s an IED, because a donkey fell off the mountain, because some dude’s dog came in and I had to shoot it on the COP (Combat Outpost) and now this dude is mad. It became an absolute burden… But when I only had 4 hours between this mission and the next, what’s better – spending 15 minutes to make this beautiful storyboard or planning my next operation?”
Most of the time officers chose not to report anything at all. The biggest complaint therefore is that war is not being adequately quantified. Every argument these days must be predicated on some statistical analysis. Most government figures are nonsense and we’re reduced to worrying whether or not the figures are an incomplete or complete nonsense.
The authors of the report conclude that the widespread acceptance of these practices, of “checking the box” and giving the DOD “what it wants” is evidence of “ethical fading.” In a profession where the primary goals are supposed to be to kill the enemy, break his things and get as many of your guys home to their families as possible this is, in reality, not a poor reflection of the men and women in uniform, but of the civilian population they serve.
*The DOD can’t even seem to do acronyms correctly these days. Who gets SHARP out of SAPRP?