Monday, June 27, 2005

Long Wars - Recruitment and False Concepts of Popularity

I read this story in the Washington Post regarding recruitment and the concerns with, not just the numbers, but lowering standards and offering incentives that don't seem to be working.

I suggest that you read it all, but I wanted to point out some issues that others have commented on and, as always, give my opinion.

Three questions arise:

· Can the all-volunteer force survive a sustained and unpopular war, regardless of who sits in the White House?

· Will quantity in recruiting become a silent substitute for quality, leading to what is often referred to as a "hollow army?"

· Were serious flaws built into the system more than three decades ago when the Gates Commission (named for its chairman, Thomas Gates) issued its report on creation of an all-volunteer armed forces?

A few comments. First, I've been reading diligently about past "long wars" and their "popularity" before war, in the beginning and several years in. I've also focused on finding letters to and from home in the same context.

One thing is obvious, no matter what war you look at, before the war begins, before the point of "no return" has been upon us, it seems that "popular support" was always split. In most cases there were determined debates about whether Americans should enter into armed conflict. Many efforts were made to avoid it. In hindsight, every war seemed like it could be avoided, but, similarly, at some point, you could always see that war was coming. Of course, I have the benefit of hindsight to say that it was inevitable.

Once war was inevitable, it seemed that great effort was always made to engage the people in support, to volunteer personal service, money or product to the cause. When I read the letters, it seemed as it must always be, those on the home front had trepiditions about sending soldiers to war and possibly to die. Where the soldiers, also showing some trepidition have almost always been ready to go, to fight and to defend, spending their time comforting the people at home that they were doing the right thing.

Within the first year, it always seems that the citizens are behind the effort, but, within a couple of years, if decisive victories were not seen that would point to the end of the war, the worry and trepidition on the home front would begin to show. I noted that the letters and comments from home seemed to change tone by the beginning of the third year.

Even WWII, the grind was telling at home and on the soldiers. At those times, it took the leadership of the country to keep the people rallied around the cause and remind them what was at stake if we lost.

It seems we always have a rosy view of those "glorious" days when people appeared to always rally and support the wars and there was no such thing as "unpopular" wars. Real history, straight from the horse's mouths, seems to say differently.

Before I go on to other salient points, I wanted to say "Viet Nam" one time to remind people that, in all reality, Viet Nam did not start out as an "unpopular" war. There were concerns about sending support forces there, but once it was accepted that the North Vietnamese were being supported by the two largest Communist countries of the time, fighting it was not exactly unpopular. It was only years later when the idea of the war against the spread of communism was lost to the idea that this was really an internal war by Vietnamese for control of Vietnam and the fact that casualties amounted without clear and decisive victories that the war became "unpopular".

Why did this happen? Unlike Roosevelt who kept the people informed about the cause, the problems, the sacrifices AND the victories, Johnson by far, allowed the definition of the struggle to be taken from his hands without any real fight for public support and a definition against the evils of communism.

This is one real problem we face today.

Recruitment and material support are other important issues.

If the nation isn't in an all-out war, the Army and Marines are. If more recruits are in the nation's interest, a new commission could examine options and make recommendations without significant political taint.

Such a commission could consider why recruiting incentives seem insufficient to attract today's youth. Should we consider a new approach based on a different set of inducements? If young Americans and their parents understood why a favorable outcome in Iraq is in our nation's vital interest (and is not just a do-good effort to deliver the Iraqis from oppression) perhaps some of the stigma of serving would disappear.

I can't remember the blogger, but I believe someone has mentioned this already. I will also comment on what I've seen so far. Most of the recruitment advertisement I've seen has been the "pumped up" peace time recruitment advertisement that generally talks about "personal development", "education possibilities" and "growth/job opportunities after military service".

The only advertisement that seems to operate slightly differently is the Marines where they often show the new recruit meeting challenges, changing from a "normal citizen" and becoming a "warrior". I recall one such advertisement that shows the recruit climbing to the top of a mountain, pulling out a sword and vanquishing "evil", wherein his knight's sword turns into a Marine dress sabre and he becomes a well dressed Marine in dress uniform, standing with his other "warriors" in the same.

I'd say, based on the numbers, that the army could learn a thing or two about advertising for recruitment from the Marines. Mind you, they should not lose focus on getting "motivated" and "qualified" personnel, but I think they would do better by focusing on "threats to America", duty, honor and country. Overcoming tyranny, defeating evil.

Let me say, this would not be "false advertisement" either. We are in a battle of good and evil and we definitely need people to understand, this isn't your basic insurgency where two sides of an internal conflict are simply battling for control of a country.

In Iraq, there are two basic forces: old regime/anti-occupation and foreign forces. Both of which are bent on taking Iraq back to darkness and tyranny. Iraq does not stand alone. In Afghanistan, while most major fighting is over, the old Taliban and remaining extremists terrorists, who have linked themselves to the fight in Iraq by establishing "Al Qaida in Iraq" are the same forces and of the same ideological bent. This is the group that attacked us on September 11, 2001.

Despite claims by many that this is not a related war, whether it was in the beginning or not, it is today, without a doubt. It is not "American propaganda" that says so, it is the people themselves in their websites, communications and press releases.

The old regime/anti-occupation forces can be largely resolved with political moves that are underway, but fighting the hard core ba'athists and the Islamic extremists will not be resolved by words or political moves.

This is what the American people have to face and what must be conveyed, continuously, not just by the president, but by the leadership in Congress and other important leaders.

In every war, there comes a time when people have to recognize that there will not be a quick victory, that there are forces arrayed against us that are not ready to give up their idea of spreading their tyrannical ideology where ever they can and these same people, should we withdraw before they are defeated, will not consider it an end to conflict, but our loss of a battle and a time to attack while we are weakest.

This is no hyperbole, but the truth of every force that has ever been arrayed against us and against all other forces of freedom.

Iraq and Afghanistan are battles in the greater war. Not because America or her leaders have said so, but because the enemy has insured that it is so and they proclaim it loud and clear every day with every suicide bomb, with every destruction, with every murder of citizens of those countries and with every attack against us.

If we lose Iraq, we let the enemy reform and refit in Iraq, send support and trained fighters to Afghanistan to take up more vigorous fight there and, without a doubt, we give them a place to plan, recruit and prosecute attacks on the US, US interests and other free countries and people around the world.

I'll let the professionals talk about numbers and books.

The writer goes on to say:

Those who see value in a preemptive approach to public affairs make the case that our commitment to Iraq should be explained clearly before growing disenchantment becomes more widespread. How hard is it to acknowledge the obvious -- that the war we have now in Iraq bears little resemblance to the war we began? Yet the war we have today against fanatics and insurgents is far more serious than the one we started. Ironically, our enemies don't seem to have a recruiting problem.

Another thing a new commission could assess is the impact of fighting prolonged and unpopular wars. Our country will be threatened in the future, and some of the challenges will be ambiguous. If our adversaries sense they can win by wearing us out, surely they will exploit this vulnerability. How can a democracy adjust the national psyche to accommodate different threats in a changing world?

One of the few things that I disagree on with this writer is whether we need a "new study" or "commission". Do we really need to take time to do this when the situation seems clear?

If you want volunteers to fight, you have to give them something to fight for. Money, training and personal development are nice, but they aren't good motivaters nor the only motivaters that should exist in a military and country at war.


Cigarette Smoking Man from the X-Files said...

Just do this: create combat robots, actuated by FPS video games played by teenaged boys who think they are making sweet cash as "game testers".

DaKruser said...

Being an "Army" guy myself, I am sad to say I agree with you, Kat. The Marine recruitment TV adds are, and have been, SO MUCH BETTER than the Army's. I think the Army adds are directed at the parents of prospective recruits. They stress stability, and education (as you point out), while the Marine adds are directed towards the more adventurous attitudes of young-adult males (males in particular that is....). The real question here, is....
Who exactly are we trying to get to enlist? Do PARENTS regularly suggest the Army to their kids? If not, (and I really doubt that in this day and age they do) then why direct advertisement at THEM?!?!?!?
Sad, but true, enlistment in ANY of the Armed Forces (including Nat'l Guard/Reserves) is pretty much an express ticket to SW Asia. I agree with your point. No one has really grabbed they whole...and I quake at the use of this term..."Crusader" concept beyond that Marine add you mentioned. Perhaps because they don't think it will sell? or perhaps they don't want the stigma that goes with the Shining Knight on a White Horse with sword and shield (with red cross emblazoned)?
I'm not sure, but I know *because I have close dealings with a Tradoc Post* that the quantity vs. quality thing is becoming very obvious, and the quality is rapidly losing out.

Anonymous said...


Being a Navy guy I agree. I think this country has lost the ability, in a large part, to think in those grandiose terms we need to. "What's in it for me?"