Saturday :: Mar 5, 2005

Fight For Me, And I'll Set You Free!

by pessimist

There have been numerous stories published of late indicating that the US Military isn't the occupation of choice for America's young people anymore. The reasons are numerous, and the fact that this nation abandons its veterans when they can no longer bear arms has to be a factor in this.

In our own history, this situation once happened during a war - our own Civil War. Certainly, some of the specifics differ from that situation when compared to today's. Unlike the manpower shortage problems of the South, whose forces were decimated by years of fighting a larger population of military-aged men, today's America has created a society of video street warriors, whose bravery and valor is displayed on their computer monitors. There isn't today a population of captives from which to draw upon for troops who will respond to a call to arms through the agency of a false promise of freedom.

Or is there?

Rather than risk the wrath of the American people with a draft - thus awakening them from the intellectual slumber which allows the American neo-cons to subvert the country which created them and turn it into a fascist aggressor - these 'wiser-than-the-rest-of-us' types have a solution which they believe will work and allow them to further advance their goal of dominating the entire planet:

U.S. should look beyond border to recruit troops
Recruit foreigners to serve with promise of citizenship

It is hard to pick up a newspaper these days without reading about Army and Marine Corps recruiting and retention woes. Nonstop deployments and the danger faced by troops in Iraq are making it hard for both services to fill their ranks. The same goes for the National Guard and Reserves. (The Navy and Air Force, which are much less in harm's way, have no such difficulty.)

In this regard, I note that there is a pretty big pool of manpower that's not being tapped: everyone on the planet who is not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. There's no reason we couldn't recruit a fresh batch of foreigners today. It would be easier than trying to sweet-talk more troops out of recalcitrant allies or, these days, recruit at U.S. high schools.

Rise, foreigner, and serve your Caesar! Conquer for him the nation that spawned you!

During the Civil War, at least 20 percent of Union soldiers were immigrants, and many of them had just stepped off the boat before donning a blue uniform. There were even entire units, such as the 15th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry (the Scandinavian Regiment) and Gen. Louis Blenker's German Division, where English was hardly spoken.

Some experts are already starting to wonder whether the war on terrorism might break the all-volunteer military. But because reinstating the draft isn't a serious option (the House defeated a symbolic draft bill last year, 402 to 2), some outside-the-box thinking is needed to fill up the ranks. Just to stay at their present sizes, the Army and Marines are shoveling money into more advertising, extra recruiters and bigger enlistment bonuses.

And yet it's clear to everyone (except, that is, President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld) that the U.S. military is far too small to handle all the missions thrown its way. We need to not only maintain the current ranks but also to expand them in order to recover from a 1990s downsizing in which the Army lost 300,000 soldiers.

The military would do well today to open its ranks not only to legal immigrants but also to illegal ones and, as important, to untold numbers of young men and women who are not here now but would like to come. No doubt many would be willing to serve for some set period in return for one of the world's most precious commodities — U.S. citizenship. Open up recruiting stations from Budapest to Bangkok, Cape Town to Cairo, Montreal to Mexico City. Some might deride those who sign up as mercenaries, but these troops would have significantly different motives than the usual soldier of fortune.

The simplest thing to do would be to sign up foreigners for the regular U.S. military, but it would also make sense to create a unit whose enlisted ranks would be composed entirely of non-Americans, led by U.S. officers and NCOs. Call it the Freedom Legion. As its name implies, this unit would be modeled on the French Foreign Legion, except, again, U.S. citizenship would be part of the "pay." And rather than fighting for U.S. security writ small — the way the Foreign Legion fights for the glory of France — it would have as its mission defending and advancing freedom across the world. It would be, in effect, a multinational force under U.S. command — but one that wouldn't require the permission of France, Germany or the United Nations to deploy.

This plan is whacked - and I have history on my side to prove it:

Legionaries, auxiliaries, and mercenaries

Somewhere in an alternate universe, the man in the White House is addressing the nation: "My fellow Americans, during my Administration, the United States twice committed enough of its armed forces to swiftly, bravely, and effectively overthrow a despotic regime that was our enemy. In one case, the threat had already terribly, tragically hurt us. In the other case, the danger had not yet bitten us, but the White House and Congress decided it was not wise to wait. In both cases, we did not, however, commit enough troops to win the peace. We shattered two societies, then lacked the strength to help put them back again. Here is my plan to ensure that this never happens again…"


The Roman army consisted of three types of troops: legionaries, strictly "Roman" units, the core of the legion; the auxiliaries, drawn from conquered or allied people, often performing the duties as cavalry or archers at which the Romans were less adroit; and mercenaries, occasionally hired to fill a temporary manpower shortage on campaign, or to handle a highly specialized task. This system worked very well, as centuries of Roman conquests can attest.

Why am I talking about the Roman army under the banner, "IN THE NEWS"? Because the United States now has a military that is moving toward the Roman model. Perhaps all great powers reach this point where the army needs to depend on auxiliaries sepoys, call them what you will. If so, it's time to start discussing it. If not, and we want to remain a nation of citizen soldiers, it's time to start reversing some trends.

I don't think many Americans see or understand this transformation. Daily evidence—"contractors" killed in Fallujah, the use of hastily-trained Afghan troops to encircle the Tora Bora stronghold in Afghanistan—don't fit into any larger picture. Not every service is moving in this direction, but the Army certainly is. Meanwhile, the average American is convinced that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are being fought by American soldiers, when in reality many traditional military functions are now in the hands of the modern equivalents of auxiliaries and mercenaries.

Most Americans would be surprised to hear that the people who guided remotely-piloted vehicles in Afghanistan, or who flew a helicopter that rescued American troops from a rooftop firefight in Iraq, were private contractors—in other words, mercenaries. Since this part of the Bush Administration's aggressive military transformation is new, kept quiet, and a bit hard to justify, even when direct evidence of it stares us in the face, it's often hard to bring it into focus.

But the evidence is there. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld insisted on making both the Afghanistan and Iraq operations a laboratory for his updated version of the Roman model of warfare. Rumsfeld's minimalist approach to theater and operational strategy depended on recruiting private firms and local forces to fulfill many critical military tasks.

The pressure to privatize, of course, increases if you wage wars without having a draft. Once you've committed the Guard and the Reserves, and you still need warm bodies for some jobs, what do you do? Find someone else to do the job. In other words, the Rumsfeldian approach ensures that, if the United States is going to stay in Iraq and Afghanistan, the federal government will either (1) maintain, and perhaps expand, its dependence on mercenaries, or (2) revive the draft. Legionaries or mercenaries? The government--and by extension, the American public--has to decide.

Since the Bush Administration has failed to convince many allies to stay in Iraq, let alone expand their support, the only other source of help are the local forces whom we can help fund, equip, and train--the auxiliaries. So far, these efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq have met with little success. The repeated suicide bombings of police recruits is certainly going to discourage other Iraqis from enlisting in the police and army. (Here's a question for the presidential debates: Why do these attacks keep succeeding?) The Fallujah Brigade failed to hold together. In many cases, American-trained Iraqi military units have retreated, or worse, joined the insurgents.

Perhaps Rumsfeld and his supporters are right: the United States has to build a "new model army" consisting of legionaries, auxiliaries, and mercenaries. (The jury is definitely still out on that question.) However, like so many other Bush Administration decisions, this grand experiment was hastily planned, with unclear objectives, then sloppily executed, with too few resources to carry out the strategy as designed, and no contingency plan if the strategy didn't work. In typical Bushesque fashion, the Administration has been anything but frank about this policy.

Honesty is a very necessary component for a nation facing great change in a short period. Such was needed when Rome entered its final days, with no one willing to face up to the truth that Rome was finished:

The Twilight of Rome

THE text-books of ancient History give the date 476 as the year in which Rome fell, because in that year the last emperor was driven off his throne. But Rome, which was not built in a day, took a long time falling. The process was so slow and so gradual that most Romans did not realize how their old world was coming to an end. They complained about the unrest of the times, they grumbled about the high prices of food and about the low wages of the workmen, they cursed the profiteers who had a monopoly of the grain and the wool and the gold coin.

Is this situation starting to sound familiar yet? There's more!

The majority of the people during the first four centuries of our era ate and drank (whatever their purse allowed them to buy) and hated or loved (according to their nature) and went to the theatre (whenever there was a free show of fighting gladiators) or starved in the slums of the big cities, utterly ignorant of the fact that their empire had outlived its usefulness and was doomed to perish.

How could they realize the threatened danger?

Rome made a fine showing of outward glory. Well-paved roads connected the different provinces, the imperial police were active and showed little tenderness for highwaymen. The frontier was closely guarded against the savage tribes who seemed to be occupying the waste lands of northern Europe. The whole world was paying tribute to the mighty city of Rome, and a score of able men were working day and night to undo the mistakes of the past and bring about a return to the happier conditions of the early Republic. But the underlying causes of the decay of the State had not been removed and reform therefore was impossible.

Rome as the ruler of the entire civilized world was a political impossibility and could not endure. Her young men were killed in her endless wars. Her farmers were ruined by long military service and by taxation. The Empire, the State, had become everything. The common citizen had dwindled down to less than nothing.

As for the slaves, they had heard the words that were spoken by Paul. They had accepted the message of the humble carpenter of Nazareth. They did not rebel against their masters. On the contrary, they had been taught to be meek and they obeyed their superiors. But they had lost all interest in the affairs of this world which had proved such a miserable place of abode. They were willing to fight the good fight that they might enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. But they were not willing to engage in warfare for the benefit of an ambitious emperor who aspired to glory by way of a foreign campaign in the land of the Parthians or the Numidians or the Scots. And so conditions grew worse as the centuries went by.

Meanwhile the barbarians were hammering at the gates of the northern frontier. As there were no longer any native Roman armies to stop their progress, foreign mercenaries had to be hired to fight the invader. As the foreign soldier happened to be of the same blood as his supposed enemy, he was apt to be quite lenient when he engaged in battle.

Then came the fourth century and the terrible visitation of the Huns, those mysterious Asiatic horsemen who for more than two centuries maintained themselves in Northern Europe and continued their career of bloodshed until they were defeated near Chalons-sur-Marne in France in the year 451. As soon as the Huns had reached the Danube they had begun to press hard upon the Goths.

The Goths, in order to save themselves, were thereupon obliged to invade Rome. The Emperor Valens tried to stop them, but was killed near Adrianople in the year 378. Twenty-two years later, under their king, Alaric, these same West Goths marched westward and attacked Rome. They did not plunder, and destroyed only a few palaces.

Next came the Vandals, and showed less respect for the venerable traditions of the city.

Then the Burgundians. Then the East Goths. Then the Alemanni. Then the Franks.

There was no end to the invasions. Rome at last was at the mercy of every ambitious highway robber who could gather a few followers. The imperial city sank into a state of utter neglect and despair, left to the mercies of the Barbarians. For twelve generations, murder, war, arson, plundering were the order of the day. The ancient palaces had been plundered time and again. The schools had been burned down. The teachers had been starved to death. The rich people had been thrown out of their villas which were now inhabited by evil-smelling and hairy barbarians. The roads had fallen into decay. The old bridges were gone and commerce had come to a standstill. Civilisation--the product of thousands of years of patient labor on the part of Egyptians and Babylonians and Greeks and Romans, which had lifted man high above the most daring dreams of his earliest ancestors, threatened to perish from the western continent.

Rome was defeated by the Goths through the agency of cutting off delivery of a vital fluid - water - by the destruction of the aqueducts which delivered it. Can the US be equally at risk? Certainly, only our vital fluid is petroleum.

During WWII, Japan was severely crippled by US submarine attacks upon its merchant fleet, with tankers being a primary target. Anyone who wants to see just how large a role this strategy played in the defeat of Japan can check out this study:

Michel Thomas Poirier
Commander, USN

Among the most extraordinary accomplishments of American submariners is the impressive victory of U.S. World War II Fleet Boats over the Japanese Navy and Merchant Marine. While many books have been written describing this victory, few understand to what degree the U.S. Submarine Force gutted Japanese industrial and military strength during the Second World War.

We will review the effects of the U.S. submarine campaign on Japan including the effects on the four military pillars of Japanese power: her merchant marine, Navy, Army and air power. The implication for today's military, heavily dependent on logistics for power projection should not be forgotten.

The U.S. Pacific Submarine campaign had three major accomplishments. First, Japanese merchant marine losses crippled the ability of Japanese industry to generate military power. Second, destruction of Japanese merchant marine and naval forces significantly reduced the Japanese ability to project power throughout the vast Pacific. Third, use of the submarine enabled the U.S. Navy to take the offensive in Japanese controlled waters and inflict disproportionate losses relative to the U.S. investment in submarines.

I pause here to reflect on the lesson of the attack upon the USS Cole - that a small vessel was capable of inflicting great damage to a warship. Let's ignore the fact that the Cole was in a 'friendly' port at the time, and that otherwise the crew would have been unlikely to allow the suicide boat to approach unchallenged. The Cole is built to withstand a certain amount of damage expected to be sustained in warfare. Are merchant ships? No. The Cole is armed. Are merchant ships? No.

There is almost nothing a merchant vessel could do to avoid or defend against a Cole-type attack.

I reiterate the first lesson of Cmdr Poirier's study of US submarines warfare: Japanese merchant marine losses crippled the ability of Japanese industry to generate military power. Thus, in their war against the Great Satan, merchant vessels have to be considered a primary target. The US Navy is already on this:

Maritime Terror Concerns Prompt New Initiatives in SE Asia
March 02, 2005

As experts from the U.S. and across Asia meet Wednesday to discuss maritime security concerns, Singapore's government has launched new initiatives aimed at protecting passenger and cargo vessels that may be vulnerable to terrorists.

Supported by the U.S., the steps are the latest by the governments on either side of one of the world's busiest waterways to secure shipping from attacks that could severely disrupt global trade.

"Given the high volume of traffic transiting through Singapore's waters, it is particularly concerned about a small boat attack - the tactic used in the attack on the USS Cole and the Limburg," Catherine Zara Raymond, an associate research fellow at Singapore's Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, said Tuesday.

The U.S. was targeted in October 2000 when terrorists steered an explosive-laden dinghy into the USS Cole in Aden port, killing 17 of the Navy destroyer's sailors. Two years on, terrorists in a small boat rammed the French oil tanker, Limburg, in Yemeni waters, killing a Bulgarian crew member and wounding 12 others. Post war-Iraq has also seen terrorists in explosives-rigged boats targeting oil terminals in the northern Persian Gulf, resulting in the deaths of U.S. personnel.

Because of its importance as a conduit for oil and other goods, the vulnerability of the Malacca Strait has set off alarm bells. The 600 kilometer-long Malacca Strait between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore is plied by 50,000 ships a year. They carry half of the world's sea-borne oil supply and one-third of the world's trade.

Last year 93 incidents of piracy were reported in Indonesian waters, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB)'s Piracy Reporting Center in Kuala Lumpur. Although the figure was down from 121 the previous year, it still accounted for more than one-quarter of the 325 pirate attacks reported worldwide during 2004.

The IMB's annual report, released last month, said hijackings of tugs and barges and kidnappings of crew members were on the rise, especially in Indonesian waters and the northern Malacca Strait. "While in the past these attacks had been thought to be the work of Aceh [separatist] rebels, there were now increasing signs that crime syndicates are using fishing boats for such attacks."

Security analysts say a major concern is that terrorists could exploit the piracy problem, adopting similar tactics or teaming up with the criminals to board ships. Once seized, terrorists could blow up the vessel or use it to ram into another ship or into a port or other facility.

Certainly, this sort of activity could be easily defeated if kept contained in a small area. But as large as the US Navy is, it can't cover everything everywhere. As this post points out when it began, there aren't enough US service personnel and not enough equipment available to do so. Thus, the security of the American Empire must either adapt to new realities of scale, or resort to the use of mercenaries and foreigners - who may or may not have a vested interest in our national security. The neo-conmen aren't going to take the first choice while they have a bullet left for a gun anywhere in the world.

A much wiser course of action would be to convert the nation from oil to other energy sources everywhere possible. Such efforts had been underway, only to be squelched almost completely during the First Corporatist President Ronald Reagan. We are now seeing the results of heeding his follies, including demonstrating to the neocons that deficits are survivable. But even the damage to the nation that he caused, exacerbated by the actions of every president since then - including Clinton - hasn't put the country beyond the pale, provided we have a leadership which has a realistic view of the current conditions and the possibilities of the future.

There is great promise in leading the world into the Post-Petroleum Age. There are also great profits to be had for those economic adventurers who are willing to abandon the dinosaur past and face the future with open eyes.

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pessimist :: 3:02 PM :: Comments (14) :: Digg It!