Thursday, July 15, 2004

Hurry up and Wait

I said in my last post that it would be my last post for a few months.  I forgot one of the oldest adages of military life.  I left my home station 11 Jul and reported to Fort Bliss Texas for what was suppose to be a couple days processing and then a flight to Iraq. 
Nothing in the military really ever goes the way one plans.  My two days turned into a full week of much waiting around.  My flight has been delayed, once again, until Tuesday of next week.  I am left miles from home with little to do as I “patiently” await my flight date.
This assignment is unique in that I am deploying as an individual.  I am just one more body among a sea of faceless souls moving from one point to another in a constant rotation of people.  There are many downfalls to such a circumstance.  Being a faceless body you have little control over your destiny.  You are in fact subject to the whims of a gigantic machine.
I have enjoyed the opportunity to be exposed to people and things I have almost forgotten in the last two years.  I have spent my recent assignments primarily with only Army people, in combat formations.  I have had almost no interaction with reserve and national guard soldiers.  I have had very little interaction with members of the other services.  You tend to forget a lot of things.
I have forgotten just how “civilian” reserve and national guard soldiers are.  I have worked closely with those folks before and have over the years developed a rather low opinion of their real capability as soldiers.  Nothing against them, this is just a profession that demands more than part-time attention to hone the skills necessary to really perform at the level required. 
I have been reminded over the last few days during my conversations with several of these folks of the tremendous sacrifice that being a part-time soldier can entail.  I left my family in the diligent care of my unit back home.  There they have access to the same medical and other services they are accustomed to.  The family support group is fully capable of assisting with any problem than may arise in my absence.  For my family the only hardship my deployment entails is just my absence.  My pay remains the same, their life remains unchanged and they have a support system.
The reservist does not have these luxuries.  Many leave behind jobs that support their current lifestyle.  Many lose their health benefits or have to pay out of pocket to remain their normal coverage.  Sure they are enrolled in TRICARE, Military socialized medicine, upon entry on active duty but this is wholly inadequate for folks wishing to utilize their regular doctors in their cities and towns. 
I could list many more difficulties these folks experience. There is no point.  The simple fact is that the reserve system is inadequate to one meet the needs of the individual and two provide fully trained and competent soldiers.
Don’t get me wrong, these folks are very much required.  That is they are required if as a matter of foreign policy the United States is intent on building a neo-empire on the “nation building” model first embraced so firmly in the early 1990’s. The Army and Marine Corps simply do not have the manpower to engage and sustain such operations long term without additional manpower.
I wonder what will become of the reserve system in the next few years.  Employers will certainly become reluctant to hire reservist for fear that they will deploy and leave the company without key assets.  Reservist will themselves eventually decide that they did not join up to deploy for months on end in operations that do not directly threaten the security of their homes.  Changes will come because necessity will require change.  It will be interesting to see what form that change takes.
I have also met several of the IRR (individual ready reservist) recalled to active duty involuntarily.  News reports depict these individuals as holders of “key” skills that knew full well that they were subject to recall.  This is false.  My estimation is that the only “key” skills these people have is the ability to breathe and walk.  A man that hung up or threw away his uniform two or three years ago simply does not remember enough about his particular job to be immediately useful.   The stories of these folks are actually sad.  All that I have talked to have gone on with their lives, they served honorably, were honorably discharged and got out to get on with the business of their lives. This is in effect conscription of folks that previously volunteered.
I understand full well the original intent of the IRR program.  It is a hold over from the cold war.  Back then the idea of being able to quickly put new bodies in boots was necessary.  Back then a real draft of ordinary citizens would have also followed.  The IRR program was never meant to take civilians straight from the street and send them essentially straight to combat, at least not without also demanding sacrifices from the rest of the citizenry. This entire episode is a travesty of the highest form.  It is unfair to force these poor folks to serve against their will while the rest of the nation goes on about their business untouched.
Don’t take me wrong; I am not for a return to the draft.  I am just pointing out that it is unfair to draft some because they decided to volunteer to serve some years ago while others that never volunteered go completely unhindered by the troubles of the empire’s wars.
I am reading an interesting book entitled “Peace Kills: Fun with America’s new imperialism”. A interesting concept from the book is a theory of why Arab culture has ceased to create things or grow and develop.  The author’s theory is that the tendency toward centralized government combined with an early written language led to stagnation.
This is at odds with many that view the conflict and differences between Western and Arab culture and one of religion.  Taken at a purely face value there is not much difference in Christianity and Islam.  Sure, theologically we disagree on several key points.  From the standpoint of “right and wrong” I certainly believe as a Christian that Muslims have it wrong on these points.
My point is really about the underlying morality of Islam and Christianity, specifically as it relates to things like commerce.  If one reads the Koran (I have) you see that on points of economics the basics of the religion are very free market. 
How then do we explain the apparent departure from the teachings of their religion and the actions of their governments?  I think to really understand the differences between Western and Arab culture we have to look at religion but we also have to look deeper at history.
In the West the notion of private property took hold fairly early.  To be certain the concept was limited originally to nobles and landed gentry but the idea was there.  When a man in Europe was granted title to land he knew that unless he committed some grave act against his lord he would retain that land and pass it on to his son. The land became a source of the family’s current and future wealth. The land was this treated as a sort of investment.  Farming for maximum short-term effect was counter-productive.  Instead the trend was to nurture and develop one’s small hold for continued production.
The idea of private property never really developed in Arab lands.  Land grants were given to men for specific times for specific service.  The sultans, pashas and other lords used the land as a continual source of patronage. The temporary landholders used the land to reap the greatest benefit in the time they controlled the land. This invariably led to reduced production.
Historical estimates demonstrate that the fertile plains in Egypt and Iraq diminished in their agricultural yields with almost each generation for the last 1400 years.  The rape and pillage land patronage system has much of the blame in this.
The development and dissemination of a written language that the masses could grab on to combined with the centralized nature of governments in Arab lands led inevitably to the creation of bureaucracies. Centralized governments with highly developed bureaucracies and codes of law do not lead to cultural development.
I think that the germ of an idea contained in the book I am reading combined with a lot of additional thought and research will eventually provide the meat of an interesting essay.  I will endeavor to write this in time. 
I think these are thoughts worth pondering and concepts worth investigating.  If the West is truly involved in a cultural war with Arabia then there is a lesson here.  In Arabia we have a system of government that has turned from the concepts that allow freedom of development.  This is a culture that has produced nothing of note for over 1000 years.  If we are indeed in a clash of cultures conflict then we should do well to remember what tends and events have made theirs such a decrepit and stagnant civilization.
We cannot win such a conflict if we become the very thing we are fighting.  This is really the notion that makes the righteous quest for Southern independence so relevant.  Our desire to retain and build a civilization that respects the freedoms from an oppressive central government are the very keys to success of civilization in general.  
Recedite, plebes! Gero rem imperialem
El Cid 

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