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Thursday, May 27, 2004

Rewards in the deadly sandbox...

Though I am neither a hard-core militarist or pacifist (God knows that war is sometimes a very regrettable necessity), I am nominally a militia brat and still carry an interest in things military. Because of the types of military personnel I came in contact with (XXth Armoured Regiment, Moose Jaw; North Saskatchewan Regiment, Saskatoon; a few odds 'n sods from Sarcee Barracks in Calgary; one particularly distinguished gentleman - one of my bagpipe tutors - who was a Regimental Sergeant-Major in the Scots Guards in WWI; and one grandfather who also served in WWI) my interests and sympathies tend to rest with what Robert A. Heinlein called the PBI (Poor Bloody Infantry). As such, it pisses the hell out of me when I come across news items like this.

What pisses me off even more is that this is not a particularly new phenomenon (especially in the US military). The following is from James William Gibson's The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam (pp. 117-118):

Cincinnatus notes that by February 1971 (close to the end of the major U.S. ground war) the army had given out 1,273,987 awards for bravery. Around 800,000 of these awards were Air Medals, emblems previously given out only to those who served in an extraordinary way as a member of an aircraft crew. But in Vietnam Air Medals were distributed simply for flying a set number of missions in a "war zone." One chaplain described how officers manipulated criteria for receiving the award:

"Think of Air Medals. A guy goes up for a five-minute flight in a perfectly peaceful area, and that counted toward an Air Medal. He does everything he can so he can get up in the air and get another Air Medal. It was easy and it was cheap. It was the kind of war-type mentality in Vietnam where some acted as if it was a play war - but elsewhere people were dying."

Senior management fared better at such games. One colonel received a Silver Star - a very prestigious medal - for flying a helicopter full of frozen turkeys into a Special Forces camp for Thanksgiving. Other senior commanders were awarded medals for taking potshots at Vietnamese on the ground. In 1969 of fifty-seven generals returning from Vietnam, fifty received the Distinguished Service Medal, commonly known as the "general's good conduct ribbon." Twenty-six received either the Silver Star, the Distiguished Flying Cross, or the Bronze Star. Of the 345,000 enlisted men who returned to the United States that year, only about 30,000 received decorations. Only one of the citations the generals received was for ground combat, and apparently just being on the ground was what the citation was for: "It was from this vantage point that he felt he could best estimate and determine more fully the tactical situation....Regardless of the continuous and heavy volume of rockets, automatic weapons and mortar fire, he was on the ground inspiring and giving confidence...." The general got an award for being on the ground and getting shot at.

Citations usually had the same ending. Actions by the officers were "in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on himself, his unit, and the United States Army." One general even received a Silver Star for a totally fictitious incident. The Awards and Decorations office of his division created the citation to give the general a medal as his tour in command was over!

The profession of arms should be a noble one, but it's hard to consider it as such when one sees a consistent pattern of the senior ranks placing their career advancement ahead of their duty to their troops. If I had to serve in the military (not bloody likely!) I would rather serve under officers like Romeo D'Allaire or John McCain (or John Kerry) or Norman Schwarzkopf. They are the kind of officers who understand the obligations of military leadership and bring honour to the profession of arms. Far better to serve under them than under some REMF (the first three letters of which are Rear, Echelon, and Mother...) whose primary focus is on how good the contents of his personnel file look to a promotions board.

For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country," when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
But Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool - you bet that Tommy sees!
- Rudyard Kipling, "Tommy"