Understanding what sets a good military apart

Jon Henke, in The Grim Truth about (Civilized) Warfare (Q and O, 05ma31), discusses what makes the military special. The function of the military is often described as being ‘to kill people and break things’ but a good military must do so in a controlled and disciplined fashion. If it has no control, then it is not a military and becomes a mob of gangsters.

whatever they get, it’s better than they deserve … This is precisely the type of thing that eats into a units discipline, and changes them from soldiers into a very, very lethal armed mob. It eats into the core of what being a soldier, rather than a simple killer is all about.

If you’ve never been in the military, the purpose of a lot of this stuff is probably hard to understand. The flat little hat has to be worn tilted over to the side, with the brim two fingers above the eyebrow. You have to wear a tie with the long-sleeved shirt, but it’s optional with the short sleeved shirt? The ribbons have to be centered above the left breast pocket, touching but not overlapping the top of the pocket flap. You will routinely say, ‘Sir,’ three times in a sentence to a man who’s 5 years younger than you. You will participate in ceremonies with saluting and flags, and marching, and all kinds of tedious stuff.

Why? I mean, what’s the point? How does all that stuff help you kill bad guys?

It doesn’t. It isn’t designed to. It’s designed to instill into you some important ideas like discipline, attention to detail, and a sense of belonging to an honorable profession that allow you to stop killing bad guys. It’s designed to inculcate obedience to a very specific code of conduct that prevents you from becoming nothing more than an armed mob that plunders your enemies’ cities, takes their women in the streets, and leaves piles of skulls behind them as a grim warning.

It is this type of discipline that people, such as those in Amnesty International, do not seem to understand. They impugn and ridicule the pomp and ceremony but do not seem to understand the underlying human intangibles that are behind it all. This can be seen in their interpretations of the Geneva Conventions. They make no distinction between those who maintain their identity and those who don’t. They make no distinction between those who use civilians as shields or targets and those who do not. The treat war as a criminal matter and dismiss the ideas of ‘rules’ in warfare.

In many respects, the same considerations apply to the civilian police except that the stakes are not so high. Without the underlying discipline, corruption would be the norm and the police would become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

This is what faces Iraq today: to build to discipline in all government structures so that they will function effectively in protecting the lives, freedoms, and security of its citizens. When the discipline is there, the citizens can turn to making life worth living and put their efforts into growth and prosperity. They have a model and mentor working with them in this effort thanks to the US military.

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