Our New-Millennium Military

By Cucullu, Gordon | The American Enterprise, September 2005 | Go to article overview

Our New-Millennium Military


Cucullu, Gordon, The American Enterprise


Somewhere, a True Believer is planning to kill you. He is training with minimum food or water, in austere conditions, day and night. The only thing clean on him is his weapon. He doesn't worry about what workout to do. His rucksack weighs what it weighs, and he runs until the enemy stops chasing him.

The True Believer doesn't care "how hard it is"; he knows he either wins or he dies. He doesn't go home at 1700 hours; he is home. He knows only the Cause.

Now, who wants to quit?

--From the indoctrination lecture at the U.S. Army Special Forces School

The fanatical true believers who used to constitute the peculiar enemies of our Special Forces operators are now the main enemy faced by everyday American soldiers and Marines on the front lines of today's war on terror. To cope with these dangerous and dogged foes, our military has had to adapt. Nimbleness, discriminating intelligence, flexibility, and speed are now at a premium.

It's only a slight exaggeration to say that since 9/11, America has had to build a new military to battle a new foe. So how are we doing?

My answer: surprisingly well.

One reason for this: Our fighting forces have been transforming themselves in dramatic ways for more than a generation now.

Leaving behind Vietnam

Our military is discussed in very different--and more positive--ways than it was a generation ago when I entered the Army. We still hear plenty of old criticisms and disparagement in some quarters--lumping servicemembers into a category of misfits, fugitives from the law, and anti-social losers. But there is also much support for the military today. Yellow ribbons urging fellow citizens to "support our troops" have sprouted on bumpers everywhere. A commercial applauding soldiers even ran during the Super Bowl. That never happened during the Vietnam War.

Do the math and you'll discover something interesting: We are now further from the end of the Vietnam War (April 1975) than 1975-era Americans were from the end of World War II (August 1945). For most younger Americans today, Vietnam is a fuzzy abstraction distant in history. For a lot of them, even the first Gulf War seems ancient.

Unfortunately, the media and our college faculty continue to be obsessed with Vietnam. The carefully constructed and deliberately promulgated myths of American futility and cruelty (and the despicable character assassination of the veterans who fought there) continue to be the accepted reality among many elites. Partly as a result, any current conflict involving U.S. forces inevitably ends up referred to as "another Vietnam." All it takes sometimes is a flat tire on a supply truck, a sandstorm, or an ugly terrorist attack, and many Baby Boomers ritualistically start crying "quagmire." The ability to draw appropriate lessons from today's very different experiences seems to have been lost on this narcissistic generation.

While the Vietnam vets were demonized, the men who fought in World War II have been lionized as "the greatest generation." But that legend is not a complete reality either. Americans like to think of their country's experience during this war as one of total national commitment, valor, honor, and sacrifice, with every American doing his or her part. The dark side of the experience--the draft dodging, the profiteering, military mistakes, the appalling casualties because of poor leadership, bad equipment, and misguided political decisions--are now forgotten in rosy hindsight, or mentally papered over.

Of course we should hold the WWII generation in the highest esteem. But it is an historical error to put their war experiences in a different category than the war experiences of other fighting Americans. We must look at all of our wars as they really were, not as we wish they had been. To do otherwise is to make a cartoon of history--and to set up unrealistic expectations of how soldiers should operate and wars should proceed today in our own time. …

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