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Just Say No

12:25 pm in War by dakine01

I have been struggling these last few days and weeks to come up with something to say about the possible US engagement/bombing of Syria. Usually when I write a blog post, it comes together quickly and the words just flow but this is different. Part of it is knowing that some people I respect seem to think bombing Syria is a good idea for some reason. Another part is a lot of people I do not respect are now sounding like the dirtiest of ef’fin’ anti-war hippies that ever came down the protest road.

A 500lb bomb ready to drop...

A 500lb bomb ready to drop…

I am a veteran even though I am and have been staunchly anti-war since my college days in the early ’70s. There is a small amount of irony in this as I attended a military high school in the late ’60s and at one point thought I wanted to be a career infantry officer. My draft lottery number was six and if I had not had an ROTC deferment, I would have been in the US Army during Vietnam. As it was, I avoided Vietnam but wound up enlisting in the Air Force and serving from 10 December 1976 to 9 September 1982.

We have the most technologically powerful military in the world. I almost said “the most powerful” military in general but a lot of the military has been broken through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet we have people in Washington today calling for the US to intervene militarily in Syria in a civil war.

The DeeCee “conventional wisdom” seems to be that the Syrian government gassed their own people so we have to bomb them. Yet, there are credible allegations that any gassing may have been done accidentally by the rebels using chemicals provided by the Saudis and mishandled by the rebels. Secretary of State John Kerry says there is evidence to support attacking the Syrian government but that it is secret. I would like to believe him, I really would. But the US government, headed by presidents from both major political parties has long forfeited its right to be believed and trusted. There has been way too much adventurism based on incomplete or cherry-picked evidence for the US Executive or Legislative branches to be trusted.

This lack of trust in the government goes much further back than just the ten years ago run up to invading Iraq based on lies and half truths. It goes back beyond the Gulf of Tonkin “incident.” It goes back beyond the recent admission by the CIA that they helped over throw an elected Iranian government in 1952, installing the Shah; eventually leading to his overthrow, the attack on the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and the stand-off between the US and Iran that exists today. I am not a tin-foil wearing conspiracy theorist but these items I have mentioned are not conspiracies, they are facts, albeit often not admitted for decades.

I don’t know for sure which side is which in Syria. I have a strong sense of “a plague on all of your houses” may be the best response. I keep hearing that we will only support the “moderate” rebels, as if there can ever be such a beast. The saber-rattlers in Washington seem to think we need to drop bombs, even if some of them admit that it won’t do much good and won’t end well.

I seem to recollect learning in school that if you were a larger person, more powerful, you had an obligation to walk away when provoked. The theory being that because of the power, the individual had a responsibility to do all in their power to avoid conflict, not seek it out. It was only the bullies who sought out and provoked conflict. Nowadays, it seems the prevailing thoughts are that we must bomb other countries to “save face.” I seem to recall another set of lessons from my school days where the idea of having to “save face” confused many of us as it seemed to lead to such awful outcomes such as many of the wars we studied.

I would like to close with a question that has been floating in my mind these last few days. Do the dead really care how they were killed, by chemical weapons or by bombs? Or do they just recognize that either way, they are dead? It is too bad we can’t ask them, isn’t it?

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy by Richard Taylor
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General Protection Racket

1:20 pm in Uncategorized by dakine01

Rank creep is almost more pernicious than mission creep.

What am I talking about? Glad you asked. Friday’s New York Times had an article titled:

Generals Wary of Move to Cut Their Ranks

I did some searching for a bit between some other tasks to see if I could find the total number of flag officers (Generals and Admirals) in the US military during World War Two. I was finally able to find this article from Armed Force Journal of June 2008 discussing General Officers being removed from command for cause (incompetence) and finally found this:

We should, to place this period in context, run the numbers. In World War II, 16 million men served in uniform. Of those, roughly 70 percent were in the Army (a force that, at the time, included what we now call the Air Force.) The U.S. had a population of 131 million people, and we lost in combat some 407,000 of the men who were in uniform.

Now, about the generals. During World War II, there were roughly 1,100 generals in the Army….

Sixteen million men in the military and 1,100 generals. Now compare this information with the following from the Times article linked above:

According to the Pentagon, there are now 963 generals and admirals leading the armed forces, about 100 more than on Sept. 11, 2001. Meanwhile, the overall number of active duty personnel has declined to some 1.5 million from 2.2 million in 1985, even though the Army and Marine Corps have grown since the Sept. 11 attacks, to carry out the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I just ran some quick math on those figures. In WWII, there was roughly one general officer for every 14,545 troops. Today there is roughly one general officer for every 1,557 troops. According to the Times article

The salary cap for generals is about $180,000, up from $130,000 a decade ago, according to Todd Harrison at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a private research group in Washington. Like all officers and enlisted personnel, generals have the benefit of the military pension system, which gives everybody who serves 40 years a pension equal to their full pay.

…snip…

Salaries and benefits, however, are the least of it. The biggest costs are created by the generals’ staffs — including security details, senior advisers, communications teams, schedulers and personal aides. Mr. Harrison said that the annual cost of salary, benefits and staff for each of the military’s highest-ranking generals and admirals — 40 four-star and 146 three-star — easily exceeded $1 million.

I know from personal experience from my days in the Accounting Office at Hickam AFB, HI about some of those general office benefits. I was responsible for a quarterly report to higher headquarters for CINCPACAF’s (Commander In Chief, Pacific Air Forces) "Major Force Program 09" accounting which was basically the Commander’s expense account. At the time, in the early ’80s the CINCPACAF account ran approximatley $20K per annum. It was used to purchase gifts for visiting foreign generals or gifts for CINCPACAF to give to counterparts when he traveled throughout the Pacific. It was also allowable for CINCPACAF to take his wife and generals visiting from the mainland out to dinner and charge it back. Dinner for four at a top restaurant in Honolulu at the time could run $500 easily.

One of my proudest moments when I was doing this accounting was when CINCPAC (Commander In Chief, Pacific) was forced to pay back a few hundred dollars to the accounts for CINCPACAF. One of the allowed charges was that a commanding general (or admiral) could charge lunch and some entertainment back to the hosting general’s account "incidental to a staff assistance visit." What CINCPAC was doing was driving down the mountain from his headquarters a couple of times a month, having lunch at the Hickam Officer’s Club then playing a round of golf and charging it all to CINCPACAF’s accounts. I complained loudly and finally someone listened.

The Times article quotes mostly retired generals. But we’ve already seen the levels of entitlement in many general officers, just in the last few months (see McChrystal, Stanley and Chambers, James E.).

Yes, fewer general officers would mean more people retiring at lower ranks. More retiring at Major (O4) rather than at Lt Col (O5) or Col. (O6) or as general officers. In many organizations when I was on active duty, positions that had formerly been held by commissioned officers had been transitioned to senior enlisted, many of whom had worked and gotten a Bachelor’s degree or even a Masters. Fill some of the officer positions with Chief Master Sergeants (USAF)/Master Chief Petty Officers (USN)/Sergeant Majors (USA and USMC). These individuals know their jobs, know how to lead, usually have the respect of those both above them in rank as well as those below them. The United States military does not need to have nearly as many general officers today as in WWII for an army today that is not even a tenth as large as the WWII military.

And because I can:

[Ed. note: bumped from Aug 27, 2010 @ 13:56]