Toward the military of the future
As this column was being written, the annual Academy Awards were about to begin. But there was another choice on television. The History Channel was running a special presentation on the U.S. Special Forces and, following that, a special on the U.S. Navy SEALS.
Making a choice between watching a bunch of self-indulgent narcissists give little golden idols to other self-indulgent narcissists and celebrating the dedication and sacrifice of the Green Berets and the Navy SEALS, was a no-brainer.
But making choices is what America is all about. Many Green Berets and Navy SEALS have given their lives so people all over this planet are free to choose all kinds of things, from the ridiculous to the sublime.
After eight years of decline, our nation must now rebuild its shop-worn military establishment. Today, our armed forces have been cut in half from what it they were when they won the Gulf War. Yet, they have been deployed two and one-half times more often than when they were twice as large.
Back-to-back overseas deployments in pursuit of goofy missions have driven off an entire generation of Army and Air Force captains and Navy lieutenants. Eight years from now, the full impact of this talent gap will be manifest and there is no way that the gap can be closed.
But we can reexamine the enemy threat and we can fashion new forces to address new threats. The formal process of doing this is called the Quadrennial Defense Review. Every four years, the senior officials of our armed forces compete for scarce resources. In a way, it is a form of civilized combat. At its worst, it is called inter-service rivalry. At its best, it is enlightened patriotism.
The Bush Administration, however, is taking a new approach that is over and above the Quadrennial Defense Review. President George W. Bush has directed Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, to conduct a defense review that goes far beyond cutting up the defense appropriations pie between the armed services.
President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld say they are determined to create the military of the future rather than the military of the past. But there will be quiet protests from well-meaning and dedicated officers and non-commissioned officers who are, shall we say, set in their ways. This is nothing new and to be expected.
In 1934, then Captain Charles de Gaulle wrote Vers L’Armee de Metier or Toward the Army of the Future. Captain de Gaulle predicted the key to combat success was using highly mobile combinations of armor, infantry and close air support in lighting attacks designed to outflank the enemy and penetrate deeply into his homeland. The French High Command ignored the writings of Captain de Gaulle because it was deeply committed to the static defense represented by the Maginot Line. Besides, they thought, who does that tall captain think he is? A future President of France?
Meanwhile, the German High Command reached the same conclusions as Captain de Gaulle and acted on them. The Germans had a nifty name for it. They called it Blitzkrieg (Lightning) Warfare. In 1940, the German Blitzkrieg ran around the Maginot Line. Six weeks later, Paris fell.
Today, the challenge for the Bush Administration is to reconstruct a weakened and demoralized force and make it relevant to the threats we face now and tomorrow. Ironically, the privations and the “wag-the-dog” missions of the last eight years may serve us well. Sometimes, it is easier to build on a new foundation than to try to build a new structure on an old foundation that has been damaged.
While the numbers of aircraft, navy ships, missiles and troops we need and where they should be deployed are being reexamined, there is one constant need: We must strive to retain in service men and women who are willing to give their lives that others are free to choose -- even the Oscars.
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, is a retired military officer.
©2001. William Hamilton.