Wednesday, February 07, 2007

1LT Watada and Military Discipline

1LT Ehren Watada's court martial ended in a mistrial

A judge declared a mistrial Wednesday in the court-martial of an Army lieutenant who refused to deploy to Iraq, saying the soldier did not fully understand a document he signed in which he admitted to elements of the charges.

Military judge Lt. Col. John Head set a March 19 date for a new trial and dismissed the jurors.

Much has been written in recent days about the state of the military, and, coupled with the state of affairs in Iraq, these writings could likely lead to some dubious presumptions. 1LT Watada's travails occured within a week of an article highly critical of the military establishment itself by Washington Post bloggerWilliam Arkin. Arkin wrote:

Through every Abu Ghraib and Haditha, through every rape and murder, the American public has indulged those in uniform, accepting that the incidents were the product of bad apples or even of some administration or command order. . .We don't see very many "baby killer" epithets being thrown around these days, no one in uniform is being spit upon.
While this article elicited an uproar on the internet, it was not exactly virgin territory. In a similar vein, last year L.A. Times columnist Joel Stein opined:

The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they're following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying. . .I'm not advocating that we spit on returning veterans like they did after the Vietnam War, but we shouldn't be celebrating people for doing something we don't think was a good idea.
All of this may cause one to question the overall morale and level of discipline of the military, which is operating at a tempo far greater than at any time since the end of the Cold War. Indeed, a commenter on one blog suggested, when referring to the aforementioned mistrial of 1LT Watada:

this will be a test case to see how "lost" our military (establishment) has become.

So just how "lost" is the United States military at this point? The answer to that question, in this blogger's opinion, is "not at all, thank you very much." In fact, the military is arguably more "on azimuth" than at any point in the last 15 years.

It is stretched thin, certainly. Its units and equipment have suffered the stress of multiple deployments, of course. And there is fatigue in the ranks due to the rigors of combat and unceasing, back to back tours, arguably.

But ask one question: How many Watadas are there in a force that has been rotating in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan for over five years now? Not very many. And what about the rampant drug, suicide, and crime problems suffered at numerous posts due to the stress of so many deployments? Well, that is not really much of a problem, either.

Most importantly, to see for oneself whether the military has truly "lost its way", show up around the unit area of a brigade combat team or special forces battalion a few weeks prior to a deployment and see how many people are walking around with their heads down, or looking like a sorry bunch of criminals. There will be a plethora of activity, and folks moving to and fro, and with a purpose, but you'll be hard pressed to find weakness, malaise, or indiscipline.

The Army and Marines are arguably better equipped and trained at this point to deal with geopolitical problems the U.S. will likely face in the next quarter century than they ever were prior to 9/11. Army and Marine officers and NCOs possess more cumulative combat experience than at any time since the Vietnam War. The young lieutenants and captains who will plan the campaigns of the future will do so with the benefit of years of seasoning on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Whether the military is currently effective in Iraq at the operational and strategic levels of war is something worthy of debate. But for those who fret that the military has lost its soul and become hollowed out due to high operational tempo and the war in Iraq, well, I suggest your fears are not grounded in anything of substance.


2164th said...

I agree there is no desertion or AWOL problem. certainly none that is unique to the US at this time.

As long as there has been a military, there have been free agents that come and go as the mood strikes them.

Miltary service, at best, is suitable for a minority of any population. Most young people go into the military with no concept as to what they are getting involved with. It is really not that different from someone standing in front of their community and expressing lifelong fidelity to a chosen mate. We all know how that works.

Here is an article from Harper written in 2005.

AWOL in America

When desertion is the only option

Posted on Wednesday, April 27, 2005. Originally from March 2005. By Kathy Dobie.
An AWOL Navy man was arrested . . . as he brought his pregnant wife to the hospital . . . . Roberto Carlos Navarro, 20, of Polk City [Florida] was charged as a deserter from the U.S. Navy . . . . Navarro became disenchanted with the constant painting and scraping of ships after two years in the Navy.
—The Ledger, April 2, 2004

A 17-year-old was turned over to the Department of Defense last week after Bellingham police discovered the teenager, involved in a traffic accident, was allegedly a deserter from Army basic training.
—The Boston Globe, August 12, 2004

I am seriously considering becoming a deserter. I am sorry if there are other military moms . . . that look poorly on me for thinking this way but . . . I WILL NOT LEAVE MY LITTLE BABY.
—Online post to, November 21, 2004

Bob W. said...


Thanks for the link to the article. Good commentary as well.
I tried to illustrate two things with my post. I believe the military is neither stretched to the point where its institutuion or character are at risk, nor do I believe that the Soldiers, sailors or airmen are needlessly lavished with services or coddled, as Mr. Arkin suggested.

Hopefully this generates some discussion on the boards!

Tiger said...

Bob W;

I come at this from an "old Army" perspective. "Old" from my viewpoint.

Over the years the military establishment has gone from teaching it's officers hard-learned lessons of leadership to training them more like business leaders. We set up separate Mosques for Muslims on Marine Bases, purposely place women in harms way, and GOD forbid if somebody says the wrong thing or the PC machine will eat 'um alive. We have run Chaplains out of the Service for praying in Christ's name.

Many examples can be dredged up; Abu "Grab" for instance. Are you telling me no officer knew about that? They finally got around to punishing an Officer, didn't they? Remember the Psyops guys in Afghanistan burning a dead body to entice the fight - a good tool to use, in my way of thinking - but Rummy wanted to punish those guys. Remember Capt. Allen West being punished for firing a .45 close to a guys head (to find out about an attack and save his men)? Hell, that technique was taught as a tool when I was in!

Our military/political leadership can't even seem to come up with "reasonable" ROE's to actually fight the W.O.T.

So, you may see my point. I'm not saying our wonderful troops are headed wrong, but our leadership is! Let's see how soft and "lost" our leaders will be concerning Watada. Will he get the 4 years? I think it should be more like 10 years, dishonorable discharge, loss of voting privileges, inability to ever run for public office, etc.

The ruling WILL be an indication of the resolve of the American Army (leadership)!

Tiger said...

Oh! And BTW, Bob, nobody said the military had "lost their soul". You said that, not me. "Lost" was used as in; "lost their way" So, please, don't put words on my mouth.

Bob W. said...


THanks for reading my blog, and I enjoy perusing Observanda several times per day.

I certainly did not mean to infer that you stated the Army was losing its soul, and I included a link to the comments section from where I cut and pasted the quote off of your blog.

The "losing its soul" comment is derived from story arcs along these lines, though. There have been many writers, both in the blogs, on TV news and radio, and in mainstream periodicals who continually cite examples of AWOLS, post traumatic stress syndrome, and cross the border desertion to indicate that Soldiers in the military (especially the Army and Marines), have begun to lose the cohesion, discipline, and dedication that makes them such a professional, lethal force (and one worthy of the respect of the American people at large as well). 2164th actually provided a link to one in his above comments, by the way.

If those in the ranks lost these aforementione qualities in ranks, then it could truly be said that the services have begun to lost that which defines them as organization (ie their souls), and the nation would truly be in peril.

Whatever one says about the state of foreign policy affairs for the United States and the world, I would strongly argue that the military, as busy as they are, is in good shape.

I agree somewhat about your comments about the ROE and the reflexive instinct to over-investigate everything that Soldiers do on the battlefield, but this war is being fought by both sides in the infosphere as much as it is in the slums of Baghdad or villages of Helmand province, and actions on the battlefield echo poisitively and negatively both ways; it is a tough fight, and for every example of Soldiers being hamstrung by indecisive leadership, I can probably throw one back at you of military leaders thinking on their feet and having a positive impact in the battlespace (of course, you don't see many of them in the media, though).

Thanks again for reading Tiger, and please keep doing so; I did not put "words in your mouth" though I apologise if my writing was not strong enough to back my thoughts. I meant no offense, and I appreciate you taking your time to respond to what I write here.

Bob W.

Tiger said...

Well, of course there are excellent leaders within the ranks.

The Trial/Mistrail... Trial and punishment of Watada the Deserter (I refuse to call him "Lt.") is really a test of policy and the "upper" echelon.

I'm arguing that something is amiss in the upper ranks. They have become too political.

It's too bad really that so many good Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines have such bone-heads in the upper ranks. And of course, not all those are "bad".

But with all thats happened, policy-wise, there is an obvious problem "at the top", in my opinion.

Tiger said...

Bob, I've added the "Wilsonizer" to my Blog List.

Bob W. said...


Thanks for adding me to the blogroll, I appreciate it. I will do the same here, and please don't worry, the added traffic from posting wilsonizer on your blogroll will not overload the servers where Observanda now hangs, ha ha!

I strongly share your desire to demand the most of both the elected and the military leadership, and that is one of the great things about blogs; people discuss things, opinions, observations, and ideas resonate across diverse groups of people, and sooner or later people are compelled to address shortcomings or reinforce success.

Cheers, my friend!

2164th said...

by the way Bob, blackheath posted your dating dilemma over at real clear politics gust posts. you got some votes.