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Away Games

Recently I came across a reference to the U.S. military complaining that it never fights with a “home field” advantage. That the fight is always “away,” in sports speak, on the other guy’s field. And the gist of the comment was that the U.S. military must always be prepared to fight at a disadvantage. It seemingly never occurs to the decision makers that maybe, just maybe, the U.S. doesn’t have to fight on the other guy’s field. Maybe, just maybe, Vietnam was a bad idea. Iraq was a bad idea. Afghanistan was and remains a bad idea. China in the future would be a very, very, bad idea. And so on.

Or maybe, just maybe, the Pentagon and America’s generals are just too vainglorious in identifying the entire world as their home court?

Surprise! Joe Biden’s Pentagon budget is basically the same as Trump’s with a few extra billion thrown in for good measure. So much for reforming “defense” spending in any meaningful way.

Away Games

The U.S.. military continues to define exertion (and merit) mainly in physical terms. Consider this chart sent along by a friend:

As my friend amusingly put it, “If I read this chart correctly, humans reach their full potential only at the moment of death.”

I wrote back to him: Why is exertion in the military always physical? Maybe we should be thinking harder too? It’s fascinating this devotion to physical strength and fitness when modern weaponry is truly the great equalizer. If I can sit in an air-conditioned trailer in Nevada and smite evil-doers in Afghanistan via a drone strike, should I be kicked out if I fail to do 50 pushups or run the obstacle course?

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Mental fitness is rarely considered in the U.S. military except in the sense of weeding out the mentally ill or those who can’t conform to military discipline.

Even military promotion seems driven more by brawn than brains. If I run a sub-3 hour marathon, I bet the OPR (officer proficiency report) bullet would be far more favorable than if I wrote an article for Armed Forces Journal.

As another friend of mine, the distinguished military historian Dennis Showalter, said to me: Some flab around the waistline is preferable to flabby thought processes. Just think here of David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, both celebrated in the U.S. media as running and exercise enthusiasts.

To come back to the subject of “home field” advantage, it’s precisely because we never have that that U.S. troops have to wear heavy body armor and carry all kinds of gear with them. Whereas the “enemy,” whether in Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq, is at “home” and can wear street/farm clothes and carry a much lighter load, e.g. a rifle, some ammo, some rations.

The result is that U.S. troops often look like the imperial stormtroopers of “Star Wars” who are always bungling and losing to the lighter-armed rebel alliance.

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You do need to be in decent physical shape to carry so much armor and so much weaponry and gear into hostile and foreign lands. But, maybe instead of turning every soldier into Rambo, we should find smart ways to advance our policies without having to fight at all?

It certainly is smarter than a bunch of Army Rangers driving themselves to the brink of death in the cause of maximizing their “human potential.”

William J. Astore
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