Filling the ranks | AspenTimes.com

Filling the ranks

Paul Andersen

It seems like a lifetime ago that Bush proclaimed “mission accomplished” on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. In fact, it has been many lifetimes – tens of thousands – since that hubristic cheer went up at the onset to the deadly mess in Iraq.The “cakewalk” of the Iraq invasion has turned into devil’s food. Is it any wonder then that candidates for soldiering are having second thoughts about joining up? When you hear daily about the mayhem in Iraq, donning a uniform for Uncle Sam may seem like a fool’s errand, no matter how patriotic the intentions.In addition to the initial blunder of the war, the Pentagon has compounded problems for U.S. soldiers, first by cutting, then shamefully reinstating, troop payments for imminent danger and family separation. This was a slap in the face to those taking the greatest risks.The Pentagon added injury to insult when it failed to equip troops and military vehicles with protection for front-line combat. Add to this the lengthening deployment for “citizen soldiers” in the National Guard, an involuntary draft for battle-worn troops, and we’ve got a recipe for morale failure.With a fundamental ignorance of the situation on the ground from our political leaders and military commanders, U.S. troops have been ambushed by their own government, often at the peril of life, limb and psychic wounds that will carry on through generations. Veteran hospitals hold the grim proof.That’s why recruiters have had to re-evaluate strategies for roping in young, impressionable youth with the lure of a college education. This prompted the recent John Kerry gaffe, when he told a group of students: “You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”Upon hearing this, my 13-year-old son remarked, “Dad, how many people do you have to kill to get into a good college?”When the education prod fails, then recruitment standards are lowered with lax background checks and by upping the maximum age limit. This invites criminal elements to infiltrate the ranks. For older recruits it means more families are torn apart as spouses reach for a last opportunity for higher education by getting into harm’s way.To bolster the military ranks further, naturalization requirements have been waived to introduce motivated new immigrants to military service during war time. These “green card soldiers” fight for their adopted country much like past waves of immigrants who served as cannon fodder during the Civil War.To qualify for active duty, our hapless warrior candidates must recite the following pledge: “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the president of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”The meaning of this oath is complicity in whatever orders are issued – no questions asked, no conscience weighed. The role of a soldier is to follow the commands of his or her superiors – even when that means torturing prisoners at the behest of Donald Rumsfeld.Now that the neocons who urged Bush into action at the start of the war are distancing themselves from the fiasco, our volunteer soldiers are left shouldering the weight of a war launched on spurious grounds and at great human cost.Appealing to young men and women to join the military has become a PR challenge for recruiters. That challenge grows with every reported casualty, every strategic setback, every duplicitous rationale for why our troops are there in the first place.The only hope is one day no one signs up. Only when troops on both sides of a conflict refuse to fight will we have a ray of hope for lasting peace.Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.