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June 28, 2005

Why Are We Ruled by These Fools? (Duty, Honor, Country Edition)

Lucian Trucott points out that the Bush administration has not been loyal to the army:

The Not-So-Long Gray Line - New York Times: My class, that of 1969, set a record with more than 50 percent resigning within a few years of completing the service commitment.... And now, from what I've heard from friends still in the military and during the two years I spent reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan, it seems we may be on the verge of a similar exodus of officers.... The Los Angeles Times reported on "an undercurrent of discontent within the Army's young officer corps that the Pentagon's statistics do not yet capture."

I'm not surprised.... [M]y classmates were disillusioned with more than being sent to fight an unpopular war.... [W]e were taught that the academy's honor code was what separated West Point from a mere college.... We were taught that in combat, lies could kill.... [S]oldiers are given few rights, grave responsibilities, and lots and lots of power. The honor code serves as the Bill of Rights of the Army, protecting soldiers from betraying one another and the rest of us from their terrifying power to destroy....

[T]he honor code broke down before our eyes as staff and faculty jobs at West Point began filling with officers returning from Vietnam... bogus medals... inflating body counts... drug abuse... racial discrimination, and worst of all, telling everyone above them in the chain of command that we were winning a war they knew we were losing. The lies became embedded in the curriculum of the academy, and finally in its moral DNA.... The mistake the Army made then is the same mistake it is making now: how can you educate a group of handpicked students at one of the best universities in the world and then treat them as if they are too stupid to know when they have been told a lie?...

In the fall of 2003 I was embedded with the 101st Airborne Division in northern Iraq, and its West Point lieutenants were among the most gung-ho soldiers I have ever encountered, yet most were already talking about getting out of the Army. I talked late into one night.... "I feel like politicians have created a difficult situation for us," he told me. "I know I'm going to be coming back here about a year from now. I want to get married. I want to have a life. But I feel like if I get out when my commitment is up, who's going to be coming here in my place? I feel this obligation to see it through, but everybody over here knows we're just targets. Sooner or later, your luck's going to run out."

At the time, he was commanding three vehicle convoys a day down a treacherous road to pick up hot food for his troops from the civilian contractors who never left their company's "dining facility" about five miles away. He walked daily patrols through the old city of Mosul.... The Army will need this lieutenant 20 years from now when he could be a colonel, or 30 years from now when he could have four stars on his collar. But I doubt he will be in uniform long enough to make captain....

A couple of weeks ago, I got an e-mail message from another West Point lieutenant.... "I'm getting out as soon as I can," he wrote. "Everyone I know plans on getting out, with a few exceptions. What have you got to look forward to? If you come back from a tour of getting the job done in war, it's to a battalion commander who cares more about the shine on your boots and how your trucks are parked."...

If you keep faith with soldiers and tell them the truth even when it threatens their beliefs, you run the risk of losing them. But if you peddle cleverly manipulated talking points to people who trust you not to lie, you won't merely lose them, you'll break their hearts.

Posted by DeLong at June 28, 2005 05:22 PM