Military Might

Article excerpt

The U.S. armed services clearly are dominant in the world today, but politically correct policies threaten to undermine their strength in a rapidly changing world.

May 20: the 50th anniversary of the first Armed Forces Day, instituted in 1950 by President Harry Truman as a symbolic way to unify the branches of the U.S. armed services, each of which previously had enjoyed their own day of national recognition. While the distinctive roles and traditions of each branch have endured to this day, the fullest possible integration of their different strengths where it really counts, on the battlefield, remains a Pentagon preoccupation five decades after Truman ordered that the services march shoulder to shoulder on the parade route at least this one day each year.

In the five decades since its inception, Armed Forces Day has taken on many themes, each in keeping with the tenor of the times, including "Arsenal of Freedom and Democracy," "Deter if Possible, Fight if Necessary," "Power for Peace" and "Teamed for Defense." This year's theme -- "Saluting the Best" -- comes at a time when the U.S. services take pride in their status as the preeminent fighting forces in the world. Yet it also comes during a time of uncertainty, when the Pentagon is groping like others for sure footholds in a radically changing world. Though there are reasons to be confident, with Cold War, Gulf War and Kosovo "victories" under their belt, diminishing budgets, humanitarian-mission creep and sagging readiness and morale are casting shadows on this year's festivities.

Also there is grave concern about a "new world disorder" that may result in the continued and growing role for the military in peacekeeping, counterterrorism operations, fighting international crime and responding surgically to the possible use of weapons of mass destruction.

Domestically, the nation's ability to respond to this plethora of emerging threats will be contingent on budget politics and the availability of resources, the strengths or weaknesses of our defense infrastructure and industrial base and on the ever-shifting winds of popular opinion and political demagoguery. Without continued public support, understanding and direct participation, the training, morale and readiness of U.S. armed forces will be undermined, reducing America's ability to influence events abroad and making any but the most instantaneous and bloodless military actions impossible.

And American popular opinion has proved fickle in recent times regarding the propriety of military action, driven by a growing aversion to risking potential consequences, especially casualties. "In developing defense policy for the 21st century, [military] leaders must deal with two related aspects of post-Vietnam and post-Gulf War America," Charles J. Dunlap Jr. wrote last fall in the military magazine Parameters. "The first is the growing aversion in both the electorate and in the uniformed ranks toward incurring virtually any friendly casualties in many military operations. The second requires wars to be won with `a minimum number of casualties inflicted on the enemy.' The rapid end to the Gulf War after pictures of the so-called `Highway of Death' were televised illustrates the new ethical and political perceptions that can influence policymakers."

Military futurists speak in terms of the "digital" battlefield, "dominant battlespace knowledge," "rapid joint-force projection" and the possibility of achieving "rapid dominance" through the use of "shock and awe" tactics. But about all anyone can know for sure is that the future will bring conflict, and conflict may mean war. Because it is highly doubtful that the United States, even with all its gadgetry and technical bravado, ever fully will remove human risk or human involvement from combat, future wars will continue to need soldiers. And they will continue to need courage, discipline and the other martial virtues -- which some believe have been bled from the soft, relativistic, largely undisciplined society from which the pool of future military talent flows. …