The murder of Afghan civilians by the American Army soldier was not only avoidable, but to some degree, predictable. In this age of immediately available information it is sad that the American public is so uninformed about its soldiers. I can tell you from personal experience that being a soldier is like no other a person can experience. It therefore is the responsibility of the government to inform and the American public to be informed. Both scenarios have failed.
The last time America fought a war like World War II was World War II. From that point on warfare has changed dramatically. Guerrilla warfare was developed by the Japanese during World War 2. It has been adopted as the preferable form of fighting by small fighting forces everywhere since. Vietnam was America’s introduction at a large-scale to that form of warfare. To its credit, during the Vietnam conflict the Department of Defense seldom required a soldier to serve more than a single one year tour of duty in Vietnam. It relied up rotating in new troops on their first tour to take the place of departing troops. A single unit, the 25th Infantry Division, for example, stayed involved in the war for much of its duration. But on a man-by-man basis, replacements were brought in as an individual soldier completed his one-year tour. That was a formula used at both office and enlisted levels. The U.S. seemed to have learned that battle fatigue was a real detriment to the effectiveness of a fighting unit. And anytime a man was returned to the war zone his thinking necessarily made him feel more vulnerable to a bullet with his name on it.
During that era there were always upwards to 1.5 million men on active duty so the ability to rotate men through the war zone without using them more than once was more easily accomplished than it is today. During Vietnam there were many men who asked to be sent for a second tour in Vietnam, and few who asked for a third. But in the individual soldiers mind was the knowledge that if he had already been to Vietnam once, he would not be required to go again. Such knowledge is absent from the soldier’s psyche today. Worse, those being required multiple trips to war zones are those who volunteered to be reserve troops. That only happens when the numbers of active forces are too low to meet requirements.
What makes this even worse is that since the government has taken the tack of base closures, it has also reduced the size of the military. In some instances the size of individual units have been reduced by as much as two-thirds while others have been totally disbanded. The reason given, as always, is the level of funding. The problem with such thinking is simple. It is foolishness in the extreme.
America for over twenty years now has been trying to enforce peace and guarantee the safety of Americans on the cheap. You cannot properly assess the strength and preparedness of the nation’s military in terms of dollars and cents alone. History shows clearly that a country’s budget for its military is necessarily large, at least as long as it desires to be fully prepared.
Today, America has 10 active Army Infantry and Armor Divisions and three reserve infantry divisions both of which are a part of the National Guard. In 1989 there were 19 active divisions and 10 reserve divisions. Why is it we could afford that level of preparedness then but not now? Simple math shows that we reduced that part of our defense by over 55%.
During those same years the size of the Air Force and Navy also have been reduced in both active and reserve numbers. It would seem that our politicians have lost sight of the fact that in the end it is people, not machines, that win wars. Technology serves a very important part of our readiness but technology is worthless without a sufficient human presence. But on the battlefield, the place where the ground soldier must operate, even the best technology has its limits. It should be painfully obvious to all but the most apathetic that the biggest deterrent to an enemy force is the number of men it faces, not their technology. The Taliban certain respects America’s technology but it does not fear it. Right now they know they have a superiority of number and are willing to play the game of attrition. They know they are not going anywhere and can simply wait out America and hope for its resolve to wane. But were they to face a very large increase in the number of men on the ground, their resolve would necessarily weaken. They know American does not have such resources, so they simply wait, pick their fights, continue the battle of attrition confident in their ability to wait things out.
This scenario is not going to change in the future even as our enemy does change. America must increase the size of its military, greatly, and become willing to pay for it. But the cost of such an increase will reap long-term rewards. Our military’s ability to keep fresh troops in the field will be enhanced. It is morally wrong to ask the same small group of men to put their lives in harm’s way over and over and not expect there to be both short and long-term negative effects. With enough men at its disposal the Army could have looked at SSG. Bales request, or requirement, to be deployed to a war zone for the fourth time in 11 years as the assumption of unnecessary risk and blocked his deployment. With the shortage of manpower, such as it has, the Army’s hand was forced, and now we have the results.