Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Pat Tillman: The Desire to be a Hero

 Ten years ago, Pat Tillman, a National Football League player, who joined the Army after 9/11, was shot to death by mistake, by his own compatriots in a friendly fire incident. 

This raises, for any American, the question of how can you best serve your country.  

Tillman wanted, it must be supposed, to be a hero. That is nothing to disparage. Men become doctors and surgeons and astronauts wanting to be heroes.  Wanting to be a hero is not a bad thing. 

Tillman made a genuine sacrifice, giving up a lucrative NFL career, a life of violence on the field but luxury off it. For many of his fellow Army recruits, the Army was the best job, financially and socially they could get. Not true for Tillman.

As most of us understood his decision, he was motivated by a desire to really make a difference in the effort to seek revenge or simply to prevent another terrorist attack. He wanted to take the fight to the enemy, not just go on living his safe, comfortable life.

But he was killed through the incompetence of the American military.
When you think about it, more American soldiers have likely been killed through the incompetence of their officers than through the effectiveness of their foes. How can anyone say something so outrageous?  But consider this: More Americans were killed during the Civil War, by a country mile, than in all other American wars combined. 

And for the most part, most of those Americans were killed because officers and generals were still sending waves of men running across fields at entrenched enemy riflemen who could shoot them down from 80 meters away.  The generals simply did not appreciate that the rifled gun barrel meant that heroic charges across a field or up a hill were a senseless waste of life,  once the technology of weaponry changed. Nobody would send a company of soldiers running across a field against machine gun fire today. That would be seen as gross incompetence. It was no less incompetent during the Civil War, just more widespread and  more widely accepted. 

So, yes. Mr. Tillman joined the masses of American soldiers killed through the incompetence of the American military.

Which is not to say the American military is, overall, incompetent.  Despite many sizable incompetent plans, execution of plans, the American military has often achieved its ultimate mission, by accruing overwhelming numbers and force against a smaller opponent.  Grant had more men and he used that advantage to grind down a more agile and more ably led opponent.  Maria Sharapova, in the tradition of Russian warfare compensates for a lack of elegance and finesse with grinding power and tenacity. The American Army can execute the occasional attack effectively.   Just ask the Iraqi soldiers who fought the American army  during  the first gulf war, or ask the soldiers who fought with Richard Winters in Easy Company of the 101st Airborne. 

But all too often the command simply does not ask enough questions, or play smart, and substitutes bravado for intelligence: consider the chaos of the Normandy air drop  and the entire game plan for the war in Vietnam. 

If you want to be effective, why would you put your life and your own decisions in the hands of American military officers? When the Vietnamese, or any other underdeveloped country facing the force and bluster of the American military looks at our Civil War, they must shake their heads in wonder. Why would you waste lives and military effectiveness in displays of senseless valor, when you can ambush, and then melt away and kill by a thousand cuts?

So how can you react to Al Qaeda terrorists blowing up buildings in your cities?  How does a citizen who wants to react take effective action in behalf of his nation find a way to do this,  if he cannot trust his leaders to provide an outlet?

Mad Dog does not have the answer. 

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