Archive for October, 2012

Historically speaking, the U.S. Army has been one of the most monumental figures in international relations over the past 300 years. Dictators were deposed across Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, and democracy was defended amidst the onslaught of communism in the far East, all thanks to the efforts of young men and women who selflessly served this country and its ideals. As new threats emerge which question our Army’s effectiveness to meet and overcome 21st century challenges, critics are claiming that the tools utilized for the last 300 years are quickly becoming obsolete. Brooks’ claim that the U.S. Army’s cache of young, male soldiers (ages 18-24) no longer present the kind of militaristic advantage that they once projected worldwide raises some interesting social and national security questions. I have 3 poignant observations when it comes Brooks’ skepticism of the fitness of young men serving in the U.S. Army: 1) women are less suited to serve as intermediaries in conservative cultures, 2) there is no need to alter the U.S. Army and its historic niche in U.S. foreign policy, and 3) if young men are as immature, misguided, and at-risk as the author states they are, then why isn’t more being done to help them before they fail?

As the U.S. winds down its involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, new conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Iran, and the horn of Africa loom on the horizon. Though I’ll admit that not all of these countries are as restrictive and unwelcoming to women as western media may portray them, there still exist enclaves of religiously conservative (not to be confused with religiously radical) populations who are less inclined to cooperate with female negotiators due to preexisting cultural aversions. Rather than rule out young men as inherently incapable of developing the cultural sensitivity and language skills necessary to effectively understand indigenous populations, the Army should invest in developing the diplomatic skills (if this is the only option, see the next paragraph for alternatives) of the soldiers more likely to be respected, considered equals, and able to penetrate the folds of conservative cultures. This argument doesn’t begin to take into consideration the different ways that our enemies may perceive and treat women in combat. Women serving on the front lines stand to face significantly less humane treatment as POWs, and sexual misconduct as a result of inhumane treatment of female POWs raises several ethical dilemmas and social quagmires that need not be elaborated on here.

I find it interesting that Brooks seeks to dramatically change the Army’s character, image, and capabilities. The U.S. Army is a finely tuned killing, defending, and securing machine that should be treated as such. Certainly today’s security threats call for more adaptive tactics, flexibility, and increased soft power, yet we should not alter the effectiveness and strengths of one of our greatest institutional assets in order to achieve these. The U.S. State Department, Intelligence Community, and legislative CoDels should be the primary implementers of our diplomatic efforts abroad, and these entities should therefore have greater compatibility and commingling with U.S. troops on the ground. The Army does not ask U.S. diplomats and civilian officials to perform security sweeps, kick down doors, and secure perimeters because those are not the types of maneuvers their skill sets permit them to do effectively. Similarly, our soldiers should not be asked to be cultural experts, linguists, and negotiators because their training and talents are not conducive to such tasks.

The claim that young men, ages 18-24, are grossly immature, unsophisticated, scientifically-impaired, and lacking good judgement is as offensive as it is concerning. Frankly, I don’t know how mature, sophisticated or anthropologically-oriented any 18year old recruit would be, man or woman, especially when it comes to sending them overseas and in harm’s way. If it’s true that young men are neurologically hindered and organically prone to violent crime, substance abuse, and suicide, then why isn’t more being done to address this tragedy? The media today is flooded with advocacy groups who promote the outreach and assistance of oppressed minorities of all kinds (women, gays, ethnic groups, etc.), yet America’s truly troubled people, if the author’s conclusions are true, remain neglected, abandoned, and now unfit for duty. Unfortunately, a dramatic decrease in young men’s enrollment in the Army would subsequently cast these violent, abusive, and troubled people back into a society where their stereotypes and psychological shortcomings are likely to be perpetuated.

Brooks puts a disproportionate amount of blame on Army recruiters, rather than the fact that young women and older men are simply less interested in serving on the front lines of battle as she may think. I’m sure that official statistics show that women and older men are less likely to regard the Army as a fitting career and thus voluntarily visit recruiters less. Given the tactical strengths and weaknesses of the demographics that visit them, Army recruiters simply make the best of the recruits that offer themselves to them. Blame should therefore not rest on a presumptively resistant and ignorant recruiting policy, but rather on critics who fail to realize that young men continue to be essential parts of our Army’s strategic calculation.