Saturday, April 13, 2013

In the Army Now: Gangs, Nazis & the Mentally ill

Since the Vietnam War, America’s more successful interventions have been brief. That war engendered a legitimacy crisis in the United States military. Domestically, large numbers of young men resisted the draft or took advantage of deferments, but conscription still kept the armed forces supplied with men. In Vietnam, the military was riven by drug use, racial strife, and “fragging”—the assassination of unpopular officers by their troops. Operation Desert Storm in 1991 may be a model for a successful large-scale intervention post-Vietnam: the coalition allied with the United States dropped some bombs and sent an overwhelming ground force; Saddam capitulated while Lee Greenwood provided the soundtrack. If one ignores pesky issues such as the fate of Iraqi Kurds who were encouraged to rebel and the blowback from stationing U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, the first Gulf War was a big success.

The United States fares worse when our goals are more ambitious and the enemy doesn’t quickly fold. When a volunteer army becomes bogged down in an unpopular war, protesters don’t fill the streets the way they did in 1969, and soldiers don’t “frag” their officers—people simply stop joining the military. The quest to fill that enlistment gap is where the investigative work of English journalist Matt Kennard comes in. In Irregular Army, Kennard documents a series of disturbing trends in the military: lowered standards, inadequately treated mental-health and substance-abuse problems, and the enlistment and retention of white supremacists, Nazis, and gang members.


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