"Which is worse? The wolf who cries before eating the lamb or the wolf who does not."— Leo Tolstoy

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cultural Sensitivity and the Sissification of the American Military: Part I

This is an otherwise silly story except for what it reveals about the way concerns over cultural sensitivity threaten to sissify the U.S. Military and harm unit cohesion and fighting effectiveness. According to the Military Times' Marine Corps blog Battle Rattle, Marines in combat units who work alongside Afghan soldiers have been instructed not to fart for fear of offending their hosts.

Many of the comments to the post on Battle Rattle are from both active duty and former Marines who have served in Afghanistan.  The impact that these type of policies have had on their moral is clear. The no farting policy is the latest in a long line of directives designed to make soldiers mindful  of the cultural faux pas' that should be avoided as they  fight for their lives against an insurgent force that could give a "rat's ass" about offending anyone.

What immediately struck me is the hypocrisy of ordering marines not to fart in the presence of Afghan soldiers while giving the green light to integrating gay soldiers in combat units as quickly as possible. I was in favor of the repeal of the don't ask don't tell policy and am in favor of the integration of gays into all military units. A person should be judged by the content of their character and their individual actions, not by their race, gender or sexual orientation.

The question remains whether the Obama Administration thinks that a traditional Afghan soldier will be more offended by being forced to serve under an openly flatulent American soldier, an openly homosexual American soldier, or a female American soldier?  Is the military planning on re-instituting a don't ask don't tell policy with respect to openly gay soldiers that are serving in combat units with Afghan soldiers?  If the U.S. military does restrict female and gay soldiers to missions that don't involve contact with Afghan soldiers, or instructs gay soldiers to hide their sexual orientation, what does that say about our commitment to American principles of equality? Are our principles less important than cultural sensitivity to a belief system that is an anathema to those principles?

Photo by Nick Hentoff

Policy planners in the State Department and academic think tanks - who are exerting more and more influence over the military and the military academies - fail to understand that the principal role of a combat soldier is to kill people in battle, protect his fellow soldiers, and protect innocent civilians when possible. The role of a combat soldier is not to serve as a tool of some long term neo-liberal diplomatic strategy to remake America's image in the Middle East.

A good example of this fundamental misunderstanding of the proper role of the U.S. Military can be found in the writings of Georgetown University Professor Christine Fair, who was offered and turned down the job of  Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs in the Obama Administration. A former military analyst for the Rand Corporation (who has no military experience or training), a former political officer with the UN mission in Afghanistan, a senior researcher at the U.S. Institute for Peace and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Professor Fair is also a fellow with the Counter Terrorism Center at West Point Military Academy.

Professor Fair recently expressed her outrage that the Navy Seal who killed Osama Bin Laden was reported to have said "For G-d and Country!" before killing him. She was horrified that the Navy Seal put G-d before country, and worried with the hand-wringing intensity of an overwrought schoolmarm at the implications that the invocation of a Judeo-Christian G-d would have on American foreign policy in the region. In truth, any adverse reaction in the Muslim world would come from the killing of Bin Laden and not from what was said before the bullet was fired. Muslim fighters respect soldiers who fight with a religious devotion, even if the religion is not their own, although that respect does not translate into mercy when an opposing soldier is captured.  I have seen Islamists chide fellow Muslims who denigrate Jesus Christ on English language forums noting that Jesus is a revered prophet in their faith. Where Americans and other Westerners get into trouble is by proselytizing Christianity and disrespecting the Islamic faith.

Professor Fair clearly does not understand the nature of special forces combat, or the operators who serve this country, if she is outraged by a Navy Seal  invoking G-d in the heat of battle.  There are plenty of things that the special forces teams have done that are worthy of criticism and even prosecution, such as torturing detainees to death during interrogations and  trying to cover-up the accidental murder of civilians by cutting bullets out of the bodies of Pregnant Afghan women as their family members look on in horror.  Such actions go beyond cultural insensitivity and violate the inalienable right to human dignity and respect. 

 Americans love the freedom the Marines and special forces teams protect, but they don't necessarily want to know what is being done in their name in order to protect that freedom.  Former Senator Bob Kerrey was forced to abandon his quest to become President of the United States after it was revealed that as a Navy Seal he killed civilians in order to make sure his team's position wasn't given away during a special forces mission in Vietnam.  Marcus Luttrell and his fellow operators were faced with the same choice in Afghanistan, but decided to let the civilians live.  Their position was given away to the Taliban and they were all killed except for Lutrell.

Special forces operators and Marines are highly trained to kill, survive and accomplish their mission with better skill and efficiency than any other soldier on earth.  They are required to make dozens of life and death decisions during the course of an operation. When soldiers are distracted from mission critical decision making, by confusing cultural sensitivity considerations, their combat effectiveness is compromised and soldiers die.

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