Monday, July 10, 2006

Bob Herbert grinds his ax on the armed forces

This op-ed by Bob Herbert of the New York Times is appalling:

The biggest lesson we failed to learn from Vietnam was how utterly tragic it was to pull the trigger on an unnecessary war. Now once again we are condemned to suffer the consequences, and those consequences are not always self-evident.

For example, the U.S. military — its capabilities and its reputation so painstakingly rebuilt in the decades since Vietnam — is again falling victim to lowered standards, breakdowns in discipline and a series of atrocities that are nothing less than a betrayal of the many honorable men and women in uniform and the country they serve.

The Army has had to lower its standards because most young Americans want no part of George W. Bush's war in Iraq. Recruiters, desperate to meet their quotas, are sifting for warm bodies among those who are less talented, less disciplined and, in some cases, repellent.

John Kifner reported in The Times last week about a study by a watchdog group that showed that recruiting shortfalls caused by the war in Iraq have allowed "large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists" to infiltrate the military.

The study, by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist groups, was titled "A Few Bad Men." It said that recruiters and base commanders, under intense pressure to fill the thinning ranks, "often look the other way" as militant white supremacists and anti-Semites make their way into the armed forces.

The center quoted a Defense Department investigator as saying: "We've got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad. That's a problem."

This comes 10 years after a Pentagon crackdown on extremist activity in the armed forces. The crackdown followed the Oklahoma City bombing, which was carried out by Timothy McVeigh, a gulf war veteran, and the murder of a black couple by skinheads in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division.

This is the sort of thing that happens when the military is run by power-hungry amateurs who lack the maturity and the sense of history to temper their arrogance.
So I read through the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) report that Herbert references and its supporting documents. While the report describes some troubling individual cases, it also alleges that there are "thousands" of neo-Nazis serving in the armed forces, yet I didn't see much offered in proof that the actual numbers were as high as SPLC claims. After all, it is hard to imagine active neo-Nazis thriving in an institution that includes Americans of all races and ethnicities and that functions as admirably as our military.

That does not imply that there are not racial bigots in the ranks of the armed forces; in an institution that large, it is all but guaranteed that there are some. That issue is solved by merely informing commanders of the powers granted to them under the UCMJ to police their ranks. And thus it is here that Herbert’s outrageous charge that commanders are “power-hungry amateurs who lack the maturity and the sense of history” utterly breaks down. For that statement to hold true, Herbert would have to offer evidence that commanders are explicitly using racial bigots to achieve their misbegotten ends.

Instead, there is no proof offered in either Herbert’s article or SPLC report that evidences that commanders are failing to expel bigots due to manpower pressures from above. From the examples offered, at worst, commanders are merely unaware of the latitude they have under Article 134 of the UCMJ to evict bigots from the military, and not participants of any conspiracy to turn a blind eye to those whose beliefs are antithetical to the military’s basic tenets.

Given Herbert’s obvious hostile and accusatory tone, I’d argue that his article does much to dispel the myth that the anti-war left hates the war, but nevertheless respects the military. To toss around unsubstantiated and unjustified charges as Herbert’s does, in my estimate, reveals an animus against the military that runs far deeper than the current controversy in Iraq could ever legitimately engender.

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