Speaking of war, here are some recent news leads to ponder:
“Nearly 20 percent of the more than 2 million troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from mental health conditions, according to a new report.”
“The Navy is considering lengthening the standard deployment of attack submarines beyond six months as it faces rising demands with a fleet that has been shrinking since the end of the Cold War, the commander of American submarine forces told The Associated Press in an interview.”
Ten years and counting into the longest military conflict in American history, a new poll by the Pew Research Center has produced two national surveys , one of military veterans and one of civilians, and they have produced very disturbing results:
- Veterans, by 84%, said the American public had little or no understanding of the problems that those in the military face, and 71% of the public agreed. This is a “startling disconnect”.
- Only fifty percent of veterans said Afghanistan was worth fighting and 41% of civilians agreed.
Like the rest of my generation, I grew up with the reality of the Cold War. The USSR was a genuine and imminent menace.
We came extremely close to a global nuclear holocaust with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Children practiced diving under their desks in case of a nuclear attack. People bought fall-out shelters for their backyards. Government went into emergency mode and financed an all-out Defense development that has never really waned since then. The U.S. designed and built a military industrial complex second to none, one that produced strategic bombers, fighters, ICBM’s, cruise missiles, nuclear submarines, the GPS system, and on and on.
Several significant and evolutionary events happened along the way. One of the things the U.S. Navy did was to institute previously-unheard-of 6-month deployments of ships to the 6th and 7th Fleets in the Mediterranean and the Western Pacific. (This was different from WWII in which troops and sailors served “for the duration”.) Another was the abandonment of the draft and the design of the all-volunteer military, one which was significantly more effective and better paid. Powered and justified by public fear, the Defense system took on a life of its own. Recognized by President Eisenhower as a financial danger to our society, the Military Industrial Complex still retains its momentum after all these years.
I am raising this question then, is this level of stress on our military and their families still justified? What military threats does the nation now face? The so-called War on Terror is not really a war, as I previously posted in “On War”. While the government has killed or captured several hundred “terrorists”, they are for the most part a pitiful bunch of rag-tag underlings, typified by the shoe-bomber and the underwear bomber. The Iraq and the Afghan wars, it can be argued, were unnecessary wars, but once engaged in such things it is politically inexpedient not to finish them. To its credit the Obama administration has committed to end the Afghan War and to continue the Bush administration’s initiative to draw down our forces in Iraq.
The USSR is of course, no more, and although nuclear-tipped missiles still exist in Russia, China and elsewhere, their threat appears to be well contained, most significantly deterred by our nuclear Trident missile submarines, a crowning technological achievement that the public now takes for granted. Russian submarines once presented a credible threat to these, but that fleet has now gone mostly to the scrap yard, and truth be known, they never were a match for the stealth, sensors and weapons of our Submarine Force, one which remains as strong as ever in its quality and powerful enough to completely destroy any other nation or bloc of nations on Earth.
The answer to the stress for ground combat forces must rely on the troop draw-downs now in progress. But what is driving the Navy to these lengths? One need is apparent, and that is the traditional advantage afforded by a floating force that is independent of foreign soil and political complications, a base from which attacks can be launched, thanks primarily to missile technology, anywhere in the world it is needed.
But this not an imminent need, it is a strategic need that should afford the time to plan it with reasonable consideration for affordability, both in cost and stress on people. The need to increase deployment time for attack submarines in particular is questionable. Attack subs, which by their nature must carry some torpedoes for self defense, can carry many fewer missiles than can surface ships. Their principal missions are intelligence, reconnaissance, support of small groups of special forces, and protection of our large surface ships. Without a major naval foe to defend against, all these are much smaller than the former major mission of ASW in the Cold War.
Based on my own career knowledge of submarines then, I can only conclude that this initiative to lengthen the times at sea is motivated by a competitive instinct to carry the same burdens and get the same budget attention as the other branches of the armed forces. Inter-service rivalry has always been a force both good and bad, unavoidable in any bureaucracy.
Our Armed Forces are being unnecessarily abused by time, circumstance and politics. I come to this sad conclusion reluctantly, and I hope someone can prove me wrong. But if veterans like myself don’t speak out, who else will? Certainly not the 71% of the public who freely admit that military life is strange to their experience, and certainly not Congress, less than 25% of whom ever served in any capacity, including in the Reserves.
- Red October no more: Russia scraps Cold War-era Typhoon submarine (telegraph.co.uk)
- If nuclear war breaks out how many ICBMs can US missile defense shoot down as of today (wiki.answers.com)
- ??????????! Russia’s New ICBM Flops on Launch (wired.com)