August 27, 2006

Sensitivity training

Rumsfeld is predictably quotable, as he tries very hard to be funny. He's not Santa Claus, no kidding, but he tries very hard to be Jerry Lewis. But in this case, a lot of the outrage was focused on the following:

“These people are all volunteers. They all signed up. They all are there doing what they’re doing because they want to do it. They’re proud of what they do. They do it very, very well.”

Some feel this makes US military personnel out to be mercenary, and that that is slanderous. But fighting for pay, benefits or an education technically does make them mercenaries, i.e. willing to fight for personal gain. No doubt some are in the military for purely idealistic reasons, but the majority took to the military because it was a job that was available to them, which offered many benefits and - for a long while - little actual danger (especially in the National Guard). It's a bonus that the job is seen as honorable in the US, despite the fact that it is all about killing other people, the large majority of whom are civilians (a necessary consequence of asymmetrical warfare).

But Rumsfeld didn't actually call them mercenaries, and even he is unlikely to make such a blunder. He merely pointed out that they had a choice when they signed their contracts, and that they were just being held to their words. That's not illegal, or even uncalled for. If one believes in the rule of law, one needs to accept this. The consequence of signing a contract is that you are bound by it...

Of course, this also means that some people in the military will not re-enlist, and that families of kids that want to go in the military will fight harder to stop them. But kids are kids, and the military can count on the impetuousness and sense of immortality of youth to get many of their new recruits. To keep up their enlistment numbers, they merely have to increase their signing bonuses, perhaps their pay and the benefits. This will slightly increase the cost of maintaining the military, reduce the experience levels in it, and further increase the (very large) fraction of the recruits that come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. But none of that is a big problem for any politician, Republican, Democrat or other.

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