Once Upon A Time...Napoleon And Veterans Day 2016
Americans still fly their flag with pride.
And Americans still mourn with those who mourn.
But that doesn't mean there is nothing left to fix.
Once upon a time, many years ago, it used to be that any beastly person could go to a church and have sanctuary, that is he or she could stay there, without arrest or prosecution for any of their foul deeds, for as long as they stayed there. The presumption must have been that, if you stayed in a church long enough, you became filled with Christian love and no longer needed to be punished, especially if you stayed there.
In the interest of society, and perhaps because many beastly persons didn’t stay in church forever, the right of sanctuary in churches gradually disappeared. Unfortunately for all of us, the right of sanctuary in countries has not disappeared, and strange as it may seem that problem is at the heart of America’s military retention problems.
Napoleon Bonaparte learned early in his career that the fighting power of his troops, and his own popularity with them, increased when victory followed victory (and not coincidentally when they were adequately paid.) Today some American military families make ends meet with food stamps (hardly a proud reward for service!) And recent American leaders have left a “string of victories” which includes the still unfinished Korean War, the withdrawal from Vietnam and Iraq, the continued threats from ISIS and al- Qaeda.. These are not the things of which victory parades are made.
But you say: “What does all this have to do with sanctuary?”
Quite simply the answer is: “Everything!”
Korea remains unfinished because the Chinese were allowed a sanctuary behind the Yalu River. (Dispute over what to do about the sanctuary cost Gen. Douglas MacArthur his job, not to mention the lives of many American and other United Nations troops.) Certainly the fear was that many more would have died had MacArthur been allowed to eliminate the sanctuary. Gen. MacArthur believed that “There is no substitute for victory!” Napoleon would have agreed.
Vietnam was not a victory largely because North Vietnam and parts of Laos and Cambodia were allowed to become sanctuaries for the training , re-grouping, and resupplying of North Vietnamese and indigenous forces conducting the war against us and our ally South Vietnam.
The Gulf War against Iraq was not a victory, even though Kuwait was liberated, because those who raped, and murdered, and robbed the Kuwaiti people were among those who returned to the sanctuary of Iraq to rebuild and prepare for their next “adventure.”
Terrorists continue to plan blowing up more civilians, more embassies, more military facilities, (and more trains, planes, restaurants, airports, stadiums, shopping malls, etc.) from the sanctuary of Afghanistan protected by their Taliban hosts, as well as from areas they now control in other countries they use as sanctuaries.
While governments no longer hesitate to enter churches and arrest criminals, the American government for some time now has granted de facto sanctuaries to its enemies. That is not a tactic Napoleon would have endorsed, and it has given rise to America being falsely labeled as “a paper tiger” a country that is only a tiger on paper, but not in the ongoing contest our enemies wage for world power and dominance.
If Vietnam can give us one more insight into America’s military retention problems, it would be this: the American commitment of troops to the fighting in South Vietnam resulted in an attitude among many South Vietnamese to the effect that “If they are here to do the fighting and dying, why should I!” Today America tries to meet its military obligations with an all-volunteer force of increasingly part-time professionals who are admittedly underpaid for what is expected of them. The result is the same as in South Vietnam. Too many of America’s young men and women, who in the past would more readily have considered military careers, now seem to have the attitude “If they are ready to do the fighting and dying, why should I!”
The view from inside the armed services of this country is not a whole lot better than that! The Veterans Administration Hospitals, and other services for veterans, look as if they were patterned after the Bureau of Indian Affairs, such as it could have been, at the time of General Custer. Past administrations' electioneering promises were empty rhetoric , and old retirement promises made to the military have been steadily reduced as post exchanges (PXs) closed and other retirement benefits were curtailed. Even the proud heritage of wearing the military beret was cheapened as plans were finalized to issue berets to non-elite Army units throughout the Army.
The time-honored slogan of the United States Marines is “Semper Fidelis” It means “Always Faithful”. It is a slogan which works both ways. On the one hand it stands for a military which is always faithful to the government. On the other hand it should be answered by a government that is always faithful to its military men and women. (Napoleon would have endorsed that concept!) Government faithfulness means honoring commitments, and looking out for the interests of the military…. active and retired, voting season and every day.
In a recent election Vice President Gore repeated his own administration’s claim that the Armed Forces of the United States are the most powerful, best trained, best equipped military force in the world. Yet, in an interview with Yahoo Magazine editors during that campaign, the then Vice President said that his communications and computer equipment on Air Force Two was not up-to-date because “the military is behind the curve.”
The long delays in recognizing illnesses related to Agent Orange, Gulf War Syndrome, and the initial public denials concerning the possible battlefield effects of depleted uranium materials, PTSD, and resulting veteran suicides smack more of politics and money than of concern for our past and present military personnel. At our service academies cadets and midshipmen are still taught to admit to sometimes not knowing an answer and to promising to find out answers and solutions; not so the government they too serve.
Previous generations of Americans became accustomed to playing for a winning team. Americans will root for an underdog. But they won’t root long for an incompetent underdog! A wasteful military procurement system which spends thousands for a toilet seat and can’t account for other billions receives little sympathy when it tries to speak about “basic needs.”
No one really questions the waste which comes when 50 percent of America’s military officers do not reenlist at the end of their initial enlistment period. That waste is more stark when we see that 50 percent of those who do reenlist leave the services within their first ten years, years when they are at their prime!
With today's rapidly changing technology and electronics, retention has only grown in importance.
That loss is even more serious than spending thousands for a toilet seat! It means that within a few years the armed services of America will certainly not be the most powerful, the best trained, the best equipped military in the world. While the old Army slogan “Be all that you can be…” was discarded in favor of a new slogan which touted “An Army of One”, the seriously low retention rates depend far more on victories and faithfulness than they do on paying some bureaucrat to come up with new slogans.
In America we expect the military to stay out of politics. Perhaps it’s time for politics to stay out of the military, time for the military to stop doing all its own accounting (if they can’t do it well), and for orders to the military to simply say “no sanctuary, go fight the enemy, and win; we will see that your families are well-provided for, we will keep our promises, and we will sacrifice just as we expect you to keep your promises and continue to sacrifice.’
We would do well to add the reason why: “We are all in this together.”
© 2016 Demas W. Jasper
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