Tags: Military | Discipline | Public | Relations

Military Discipline as Public Relations

Tuesday, 10 May 2005 12:00 AM

These years, senior military commanders, liberal opponents of the war and conservative defenders of it all appeal to legal inanities, such as how many itemized details are on the Geneva Convention's checklist for the treatment of prisoners of war. Lacking either a sound strategy or the ability to criticize an unsound one, they attempt to manipulate the citizenry's perceptions of the troops' actions.

Thus the following recent travesties of military discipline.

Lt. Gen. James Helmly, commanding the U.S. Army Reserve Command, personally administered non-judicial punishment to six soldiers of the 160th Military Police Battalion who participated in the Camp Bucca Mud Wrestling Invitational. Very junior officers should have chastised them sharply, then patted them on the back and told them, Never do this again.

On March 31 2005, Captain Rogelio Maynulet was convicted of assault with intent to commit voluntary manslaughter; although he will serve no prison time, he has been discharged from the Army. On May 21, 2004, he had shot to death at close range Karim Hassan, an insurgent. Part of Hassan's skull had already been blown away and he was beyond medical help. Call what Maynulet did consistent with his character: He had already risked his life under fire to rescue a wounded Iraqi woman from a car. We all hope our GIs kill their enemies quickly and mercifully, but most of us don't want to know that this may mean ending someone's mortal agony with two rounds.

On Nov. 13, 2004, during yet another round of fighting in Fallujah, an unnamed Marine shot and killed with a single round one wounded insurgent inside a mosque full of wounded insurgents. Given his extreme discretion, it may be harsh to even wonder if that was a mistake made by a Marine who had been previously wounded, for this incident occurred in a battle with insurgents who had adopted the charming tactics of fighting from mosques and feigning surrender, which makes the enemy extremely wary of accepting any further surrenders. How do they know those surrenders are in good faith?

Yet it required Maj. Gen. Richard Natonski, commander of the First Marine Division, to decide on May 4, 2005, that the shooting was an act of self-defense.

Why is this happening? Very simple. The U.S. Army and Marine Corps are mired in an insurgency in Iraq, and they know from previous insurgencies just how ugly this war can become. But in an age where war has been reduced to public relations, they are loath to tell us the terrible truths.

In combat, the only barrier between honorable conduct and atrocities is discipline. And the more confused the combat, the more stringent the discipline must be. Nothing is more confusing than trying to fight an enemy who hides among civilians in an alien culture. Frustrated troops, who cannot hide their uniforms, have been known to resort to the burning of villages, the slaughter of livestock, murder, torture and rape in an attempt to break insurgencies, while widespread and indiscriminate use of firepower is another customary response.

But in the military, discipline is not a matter of not violating this or that regulation. Regulations, never sufficient to cover every contingency, can be undermined, loopholes found and exploited. Rather, in the military, good discipline is a matter of shame and honor.

It is an ethos of troops doing or allowing nothing to make their family and friends, their comrades, their service, and their nation ashamed of them and their troops. It is an ethos of behaving courageously in the face of the enemy, showing mercy to conquered civilians and enemy prisoners, and treating each other with respect and dignity.

It is also an ethos immune to the excuses of military necessity, superior orders, and "My buddies were doing it."

We want our troops to kill the enemy – who that enemy is is a matter for us as citizens to decide after deliberating with each other – to behave aggressively in combat. But we should never forget that most of them have volunteered to spare us the burden of combat. It is our responsibility, in turn, to demand that the military leadership impose upon them a discipline capable of protecting their virtue as men and women and their honor as troops, not something that makes us feel good about our troops.

In sum, The military faces a very difficult balancing act and we must be careful not to jump to quick and simplistic judgments.

Robert J. Cihak, M.D., is a Senior Fellow and Board Member of the Discovery Institute and a past president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., is a multiple-award-winning writer who comments on medical-legal issues.


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These years, senior military commanders, liberal opponents of the war and conservative defenders of it all appeal to legal inanities, such as how many itemized details are on the Geneva Convention's checklist for the treatment of prisoners of war.Lacking either a...
Tuesday, 10 May 2005 12:00 AM
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