I’m a veteran. I don’t discuss it much, because – at least in this sector – I take my grandmother’s sage advice of saying nothing if I can’t say anything nice. Let’s just leave that lie for now.
As a veteran, and a current Department of Defense (DoD) civilian employee, I continue to watch the goings on of the uniformed contingent with great interest. And of late, this flurry of very public Military Justice proceedings has captured my attention.
First, we have SPC Bradley Manning. Accused of – and admitted to – leaking thousands of pages of classified documents to WikiLeaks. As a defense, he has wrapped himself in the flag and said he was driven to do what he did because he is a “true patriot.” Sounds good, but – as someone who has had a security clearance and access for years – I can assure you the official military position on this type of behavior is “Damn Patriotism. Do not divulge. And if you are considering it, let us share with you how painful it may be for you.” So Manning’s characterization of himself as a being driven by a “Higher Power” and “Patriotic Altruism” just don’t wash with me. You see, one thing that has become abundantly clear to me over the past 25+ years is that the military is black and white. They don’t do well with gray. You either did it or you didn’t, and if you admit (or they decide) you did it, no one is really interested in the “but…” of the matter. So Manning is looking at 35 years on quasi-active duty (minus pay and benefits) with the possibility of reprieve sometime around the 7 to 10 year mark, depending on which source you believe.
Then we have SSG Robert Bales. After a bit of prodding, he admitted to massacring 16 Afghanis for no apparent reason. In the name of expediency, we’ll overlook the part about him disobeying a lawful order by leaving the base and going into the village in the middle of the night to commit the dastardly deed. In exchange for an admission of guilt, he was awarded a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Needless to say, the Afghanis are not pleased. But, hey: it’s not like he killed Americans or anything, right?
Which brings us to – in my mind – the most puzzling case: Major Nidal Hasan. On Friday, MAJ Hasan – after four years of senseless reindeer games – was found guilty of the murder of 13 American soldiers and the injuring of more than 30 in his shooting rampage at Fort Hood, TX in 2009. The guilty verdict came as no surprise, as Hasan admitted he committed the acts (like he had to with all the witnesses and video footage), followed by the rather weak “but…” of it was his intention to prevent American soldiers from killing the designated enemy du jour. Very soon we will know whether he, too, will receive a sentence of life without the possibility of parole or the ultimate penalty: death. I am anxious to see how this one plays out: essentially, MAJ Hasan, too, freely admitted guilt. Will his killing of 13 Americans warrant a tougher sentence than Bales’ killing of 13 Afghanis? If so, how will this be received in the international arena?
As disturbing as all of this is, I find something much more disturbing. I was on active duty from 1986 through 1999, and the one thing that has puzzled me above all else is how much the military has changed. When I enlisted, if a Chief Petty Officer said it, it was law. End of discussion. By the time I made Chief — a mere 10 years later – I had E3’s asking me “Why?”
As a civilian, I’ve sat in General Officer Staff Calls where the GO asked the same question week after week and never got an answer. There was no colorful language, nothing was thrown. Somewhere along the way, our military had evolved into an all volunteer force, all the time. Good order and discipline have become outdated concepts.
The Post 9/11 military is sadder still. In an effort to feed the ever-hungry faux war machine, quality control in recruiting and retention went the way of the dodo. I saw people promoted and assigned to positions of leadership they wouldn’t have come within a country mile of during peace-time. I have witnessed recalcitrant, undisciplined, and unruly enlisted troops given chance after chance: folks who – under other circumstances – would never had made it through MEPS, much less into the active force. So when I look at the likes of Manning, Bales, and Hasan, I can only lay so much blame at their feet: I hold much more responsible a system that was so intent on feeding the Faux Wars with an virtual endless supply of bullet-catchers, and Do-People it lost sight of the bigger picture.
Clearly, Bradley/Chelsea Manning should have been screened out prior to ever raising his/her right hand to take the enlistment oath.
Robert Bales had a rather unstable history prior to his enlistment, including involvement in some dubious real estate dealings and accusations of parting unassuming senior citizens from their hard-earned nest eggs. He continued to have troubles after he enlisted. And as for Hasan: regardless of a number of adverse evaluations and personnel record entries, he was retained on active duty – and even promoted – because “at least he could help with some of the patient load.” Here we have a deeply troubled man, surrounded every day by mental health professionals and not one of them connected any of the dots. Why? Because they were all too busy feeding the Faux War Machine.
Luckily, President Obama finally put his foot down and called a halt to this on-going exercise in futility. Unfortunately, the damage has been done, and I’m not sure how long it will take the military to dig itself out of this very deep hole.
But as these cases play themselves out, I will be watching. Watching to see how much of the responsibility the military establishment so drills into its members it will be willing to take onto itself. Will the cases of Manning, Bales, and Hasan be adjudicated fairly and logically? Will the DoD stand up, take responsibility for it’s role in this and take positive steps to rectify the situation? Will these be viewed as individual, isolated incidents so that we free ourselves to delve into the quagmire that Syria is destined to become?
We shall see.