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An On V Update to Old Ideas: Quotes, American Military Superiority and Orwellian language Edition

The “Have You Been There Argument” Hits Rosa Brooks

After writing a thoughtful article questioning who the military recruits, Rosa Brooks received quite a bit of a blowback. So she responded. The first point she rebutted is fairly familiar to us at On V, “You’ve never been in combat so you have no right to comment.” Yep, the “have you been there argument”. As we said then, every voting age American has the right, nee obligation, to comment on the military that fights in their name, whether or not they have served.

Fortunately, we don’t live in a Heinlein-esque dystopia where only the military votes quite yet.

Update to Quotes Behaving Badly

Through this post on Inkspots, we found this amazing website for researching “quotes behaving badly”, called Quote Investigator. He has one entry on the often misquoted Napoleon. We have sent a couple of quotes to him, so hopefully he can help debunk some of the more egregious military “quotes behaving badly”.

Someone Else Says, “Not the Greatest Fighting Force in History”

As Eric C wrote in “The Best Trained, Most Professional Military...Just Lost Two Wars?” our military may not live up to all its hype. Winslow Wheeler makes a similar case in his article for Foreign Policy, “Not All That It Can Be”. We’d put particular emphasis on how much America spends, and how little it gets back--in terms of superiority--for all that cash.
Orwellian Language Update

Since On Violence loves dissecting language (in this post, this post, or this post), we have to give a shout out to this Columbia Journalism Review article, “Fighting Words” by Judith Matloff. Militaries the world over have perfected the art of obfuscating the costs of war. It’s a shame journalists let them. Money quote:

“To soldiers and conflict-zone residents, war is bloody and devastating, and it’s hard for news consumers to realize this when the stories they read are stuffed with bloodless clichés.”

And no word obscures meaning like the word “hero”. A few weeks back, in a very controversial post, we described how “Our Politically Correct Communist Milblogs” label every soldier a hero no matter what. We didn’t have space in that post, but we wanted to mention that regular On V guest post-er Matty P wrote on a related topic, “Every Firefighter a Hero” a few years back. Also, we couldn’t fit in this very logical/analytical take on the entire debate, “Different Norms for Valorizing Soldiers”.

Update to Memoirs Behaving Badly

Apparently, deceptions in memoir writing (like Greg Mortenson, who we devoted an entire week to a year ago) are nothing new. This Economist profile of Ryszard Kapuscinski reveal a famous man who told fantastic stories, many of which might not be true.
Update to Senior Officers Avoiding Responsibility

In “We Can’t Handle the Truth”, Eric C wrote that “Our military punishes enlisted soldiers, and excuses officers.”

He’s absolutely right. To continue to prove him right, the military did not strip Colonel Johnson, former commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, of all his rank and privileges and send him to prison. Johnson was “convicted of fraud, bigamy, and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman” after he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Army didn’t even expel him. Instead, he has to pay a $300,000 fine and receive a reprimand.
The Navy did the same thing with Holly Graf, who was relieved of duty for abusing subordinates. The Navy let her retire with full rank and benefits and an honorable discharge. Both are reminiscent of Allen West’s retirement with full benefits after (allegedly?) torturing an Iraqi prisoner.

There might be some other generals in the news for misbehavior, but we haven’t really been following that story. Our favorite general in trouble is General Kip Ward, who lost a star but is still retiring with an honorable discharge.

four comments

On the subject of American military superiority, you guys should check out the report of how a Stryker unit did on an exercise in Germany. It is over at Best Defense. In addition to my civilian eyes seeing the report describe a unit that is more mob-like than military, the report itself is a pretty fair example of the violence the Army inflicts upon the English language.

Well Eric C 100% agrees on the violence of the English language done by the military. (We haven’t written enough on this…)

As to the report, I saw Tom’s write up and I definitely plan to respond. That report fits perfectly in my series, “Why I Got Out” with a dash of management behavior the Army needs to fix. Thanks for the head’s up.

@ Carl – We’ve had a draft for an article on “military language” kicking around for quite a while. I just need to finish it.

But yeah, based on the military reports I’ve read, the language is horrendous.

The violence done to the language seems to be everywhere, but especially in gov organizations. A guy at the NTSB, when commenting about an incident involving an airliner, wrote of “a distance challenged landing”. It took me some time before I figured out that he was talking about the airplane landing on a relatively short runway.