26 July 2008


Earlier this week, WaPo carried two articles on various aspects of military affairs that really pissed me off, for two entirely different reasons.

First up, we have Congressional hearings on gays in the military in which — as usual — the most strident voices opposing gays in the military never, themselves, served — and have agendas for which the military is merely a tool to greater power for themselves. Bluntly, the military has no business prohibiting consensual homosexual relations when it cannot manage to deal with nonconsensual heterosexual relations, ranging from mere discrimination to serious harassment to outright assault... and, to make it worse, these three links all involve officers. The military's failure to deal with nonconsensual (but otherwise legal) heterosexual relationships is far more harmful to morale, discipline, and effectiveness than are homosexuals in the military, or women in the military, or blacks in the military. And I say this with a few more years of command experience than most of the individuals who testified at that hearing.

And then there's yet another set of yammering — primarily by civilians and beancounters — claiming that the US military has too much tail for its teeth. Morons. No, not morons; morons are at least capable of learning from experience, even if it takes them more time and greater attention than most.

  • The historical evidence on the "tail v. teeth" argument is pretty conclusive... and it's not what civilians might think. In every declared symmetric conflict in the gunpowder era, the side with the higher tail-to-teeth ratio has won the conflict. Not every battle; not every asymmetric or undeclared conflict, although even there it's statistically significant in favor of the big-tail forces. But every "war" has been won by the tail, not the teeth.

    If one thinks about it for very long, this makes a great deal of sense. In the gunpowder era, victory has depended upon having working firearms, which means training soldiers, making the weapons and ammunition, feeding everyone involved, etc. Those are specialist tasks, and judging their level of success is not for civilians. Organic maintenance capability has become more and more important as weapons systems grew from individual soldiers to field artillery to tanks, submarines, and aircraft.

    The short version of this is "Brave soldiers win battles; brave REMFs win wars."

  • Leaving aside that, though, remember that we have, as a society, rejected the true cost of taking the king's shilling. We have an all-volunteer force, and that means a lot more than just paying them better (for some value of "better" — when I went on active duty, I was making about the same as a parochial-school teacher, but that was certainly "better" than the pay scale during 'nam!). Ultimately, the kind of failure described in the article represents not only a withholding of promises implicit in rejecting the king's shilling system, but an ignorant emphasis on starched parade uniforms over what it takes to be truly effective... and that rejection usually comes from people who have no fucking clue of what really happens in the military.

The problem that we have is not "teeth v. tail." It is the nature of the teeth that we're baring at the world. We need a lower proportion of armor, high-tech air superiority, and blue-water naval forces; we need to put some of the money, effort, and expertise we've poured into systems designed to counter nonexistent threats into the tail, like replacing our aging fleet of tanker aircraft. After all, those bloody tanks don't do a helluva lot of good if we can't get them, their crews, their fuel and ammo, and their spare parts onto whatever battlefield, and keep them in supply. Instead, though, the beancounters would just as soon bite the tail that supports the teeth.