Monday, May 09, 2011

Misunderstandings about the military

Led by the United States, the English-speaking countries seem to be almost continuously at war -- fighting for their own long-term safety and trying to rescue others from tyranny. In the USA, the wars are mostly initiated by Democrat administrations -- WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Serbia and now Libya -- but usually start out with widespread support among Americans generally.

There has however been no mass mobilization since WWII. The wars these days tend to be fought as just another budget item with only the professional military involved. The population generally have no experience of war and little acquaintance with military men. The countries concerned just live on in peace and prosperity. This has produced something of a paradox. The people at large of the world's most "warlike" countries know little of war or of military matters.

In the circumstances, there seems to have developed -- particularly on the political Left -- a quite warped view of the military and often a real contempt for the military. In a patriotic country like America, that contempt has to be mostly veiled but observers of the Left will be familiar with such attitudes anyway. Because of the British tradition of emotional restraint, however, overt expressions of patriotism are rare in Britain and Australia so the Left there are more vocal in making known their attitude to the military.

So the combination of no experience with the military and Leftist contempt for military men does seem to have led to a fairly widespread lack of understanding of what military men are like and how the military functions. And as a former army psychologist, I think I might be in a position to make a few points that may dispel some of those misunderstandings.

* A very common misunderstanding is that military men are dumb. That is far from the case. The military handle some very dangerous gear so a dummy would be more of a danger to his buddies than to the enemy. For that reason all Western armies select on intellectual grounds: You have to have an above average IQ to be a soldier. And in the more specialist jobs (officers generally, special forces, etc.), the intellectual requirement is quite high. So it is quite right to refer to the "profession" of arms. It needs training, knowledge, dedication and ability comparable to many other professions.

* Another incomprehension that seems particularly common on the left is why on earth would anybody take a job where he might get shot at? That seems like a very bad deal to most Leftists and may be part of the reason why military men are overwhelmingly conservative. Guerilla war where they can shoot others from cover (as in various "revolutions" -- such as Castro's) seems OK to Leftists but they generally haven't got the stomach for regular military service.

So why DO military men put themselves in harm's way? The answer quite simply is that they are real men. They have inherited a strong dose of the characteristics that enabled men to survive in "caveman" times. Life was a very risky business for us for most of our evolutionary past and men who did not enjoy risks and challenges just did not survive. Military men actually ENJOY putting themselves to the test. They LIKE doing difficult and dangerous things. Sadly, the army often disappoints them. Even if there is a war on, most of your time is spent waiting around. But the army does a lot of training and sport and there is always the prospect of action. So in every army, the men are always keen to get to "the front" -- where the action is and where they might get shot at! I was one of them many years ago. The Vietnam war was on at the time and I volunteered for a posting there.

A little story might help illustrate all that. During the Vietnam war, Australia had conscription and it was largely conscripts who were sent to the front. What is not generally known however is that conscripts were not usually sent to the front unwillingly. Anybody who did not want to go was discharged as "medically" unfit or was given the chance of volunteering for work in (say) a BOD (Base Ordnance Depot -- a military warehouse). But given the option of spending two boring years in a BOD back in Australia and going to Vietnam, close to 100% of the conscripts chose Vietnam. Men like excitement and Vietnam offered that, even if it was dangerous.

* Another myth much beloved of Leftist psychologists is that army men are some sort of "robot". They are all the same and just obey orders like machines. The old Prussian expression that a soldier should be "Kadaver gehorsam" (show corpselike obedience) helped establish that myth. And it does have a germ of truth. Take a look at the picture below. It is easy to see a march of robots there, is it not?

It is in fact a parade of cadets at Sandhurst, Britain's equivalent of West Point. So all the men there are in fact highly skilled soldiers with the equivalent of a university degree who will go on to positions of leadershiop throughout the British army and later on lead in British life generally. Far from being robots they are an elite.

So learning to work together and take orders is certainly a part of military life but it says nothing about the character of the men involved. The fact that the army has to train its men very heavily in order to get them to that state of readiness should speak for itself. It does not come naturally. Military men are very much individuals. And when you are in the army, you get to know what individuals your fellow unit members are and come to value them accordingly. For that reason, military men feel great grief at the loss of anyone in their unit -- as you will hear any time you ask them about their wartime experiences -- and in later life you never walk past a member of your old army unit in the street without stopping to chat. Fellow members of your unit become very special friends. You don't of course get on equally well with them all but you usually respect them all.

So I hope that goes a little way towards showing how wrong are simplistic judgments of the military and of military men.

Perhaps I should close on a rather provocative note: You could think that women would not be attracted to military men. The men are often away on deployment and may come home in a body bag. What sort of a deal is that for a woman? Yet as you always see, when the men come home from deployment, most have wives and girlfriends waiting eagerly to see their men again. How come? Easy: As I have pointed out above, military men are real men and real women like real men.

Take as an example the Australian soldier below. He is clearly a family man and may look undistinguished to some. But Ben Roberts-Smith is a man of exceptional intelligence, daring and courage. For his actions in Afghanistan he was recently awarded the Victoria Cross, which is as high an award for valour as there is. It is very rarely awarded. You can read his story here and here. He could join the officer corps any time he applied but he chooses to serve as a corporal leading a small detachment of Special Forces. Why? Because that is where the action is. We can be proud that the English-speaking nations still produce men like him -- JR


What the GOP Can Learn From Canada's Conservatives

Some years ago, the columnist and editor Michael Kinsley sponsored a contest to come up with the most boring headline. The winner was, "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative."

Well, Canada held an election last Monday, and the result was anything but boring. It amounts to something like a revolution in Canadian politics and has lessons, I think, for those of us south of the border.

The headline story is that the Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has headed minority governments since 2006, won an absolute majority of seats, 167 of 308, in the House of Commons. It was a result practically no Canadian pundit or psephologist predicted.

Going into this election, center-right parties in the four major Anglosphere democracies were at the brink of but not quite fully in power. The British Conservatives formed a government with the leftish Liberal Democrats in May 2010, the Australian Liberals are in opposition by virtue of the votes of a couple of Outback independents, and American Republicans won the House of Representatives in November 2010 and are now forcing significant cuts in public spending.

In Canada, Harper's Conservatives have already cut taxes and modified spending programs, but always with the tacit consent of the separatist Bloc Quebecois, or the left-wing New Democrats, or the long-dominant Liberal Party. Now they're on their own, and we'll see the results.

But the installation of a majority government by itself is not a political revolution. The biggest changes in Canada were indicated by the devastating defeats of two of the opposition parties.

The Bloc Quebecois was reduced from 50 seats to only four. Formerly it represented most of Canada's second largest province. Now it represents a tiny rump.

French Canadian separatism has been a major force in Canada since Charles de Gaulle came to Montreal in 1967 and spoke the deliberately provocative words, "Vive le Quebec libre!" There have been two referenda in which the voters of Quebec rejected separatism by only narrow majorities.

Now it looks like separatism is as dead as de Gaulle. The vast majority of Quebec's ridings (the Canadian word for districts) elected New Democrats, some of whom didn't campaign and don't speak much French.

Quebec's Francophone voters seem to have decided to vote for a party that favors a European-style welfare state rather than one that favors a separate Quebec. The New Democrats won 58 seats in Quebec, enough to give them 102 seats in Parliament, enough to make them the official opposition party.

The third huge development is the humiliating third-place finish of the Liberal Party, the pre-eminent party in Canada since its first election in 1867. Liberals headed governments for 70 years in the 20th century and have provided most of Canada's well known prime ministers -- Wilfrid Laurier, William Lyon Mackenzie King, Lester Pearson and Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

They have been more of a nationalist, opportunistic party than a left-wing one. Public spending ballooned during Trudeau's nearly 20 years in power, but the Liberals cut back spending sharply in the 1990s, when Canada faced a fiscal crisis very much like the one the United States faces today.

Liberals long boasted that they were the only party with backing in both English- and French-speaking Canada. Now they have little backing in either one.

They elected only 34 members of Parliament, and their leader, Michael Ignatieff, lost his own seat. Liberals hold sway now only in central Toronto, where Canadian media are concentrated, in Anglophone Montreal and in the economically lagging Atlantic provinces.

The Conservatives' triumph offers a couple of lessons that may be relevant to U.S. Republicans. One is that smaller government policies, far from being political poison, are actually vote-winners.

The second is that a center-right party can win immigrant votes. Conservatives won 35 of 54 seats in metro Toronto, many heavy with immigrants. One tactic that seems to have worked was to circulate videos of Indian- and Chinese-Canadian Conservative candidates appealing for votes in their native tongues.

The simple message is that this is a party that likes and respects you. Republicans could do something similar, with Sen. Marco Rubio, Govs. Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval, and Reps. Allen West, Tim Scott and Quico Canseco, all elected in 2010.

So Canada has moved from a four-party politics rooted in its own special history to a two-party politics more similar to ours. Nothing boring about that.



$200,000 Lifeguards to Receive Millions in Retirement

Public outrage over lavish government employee compensation and pensions is becoming more heated as new revelations about excesses seem to crop up every week. The latest: Newport Beach, California, where some lifeguards have compensation packages that exceed $200,000 and where these "civil servants" can retire with lucrative government pensions at age 50.

Newport Beach has two groups of lifeguards. Seasonal tower lifeguards cover Newport’s seven miles of beach during the busy summer months. Part-time seasonal guards make $16 to $22 per hour with no benefits. They are the young people who man the towers and do the lion’s share of the rescues. Another group of highly compensated full-time staff work year-round and seldom, if ever, climb into a tower. According to the City Manager, the typical Daily Deployment Model in the winter for these lifeguards is 10 hours per day for four days each week, mainly spent driving trucks around, painting towers, ordering uniforms and doing basic office work—none are actually manning lifeguard towers.

Like many communities across California, the city of Newport Beach is facing the harsh realities of budgeting with less revenue after housing values and the stock market plummeted. Now the city’s full-time lifeguard force has finally come under scrutiny. Next week the city council will decide if cuts are needed to the full-time lifeguard force where last year the top earner received $211,000 in pay and benefits, including a $400 sun protection allowance. In 2010 all but one of the city’s full-time lifeguard staff had annual compensation packages worth over $120,000.

Not bad pay for a lifeguard - but what makes these jobs most attractive is the generous retirements. These lifeguards can retire at age 50 with full medical benefits for life. One recently retired lifeguard, age 51, receives a government retirement of over $108,000 per year—for the rest of his life. He will make well over $3 million in retirement if he lives to age 80. According to the City Manager, a new full-time guard costs less to hire than what is spent on this one retiree. The city now spends more taxpayer dollars on retired lifeguards than it does on those who are working.

Reports of excessive pay and generous pensions have fueled a debate across the nation over union influence on government spending. Government unions were able to take full advantage of the good old days when surpluses were plentiful and the economic future was bright. They effectively demanded politicians agree to contracts for higher union wages and benefits. Creating a situation that was simply not sustainable over the long-term.




Libya: Bombing of Gaddafi won’t let up, Clinton warns: "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meeting with allies, kept up pressure on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi Thursday, demanding that he 'cease attacks and the threat of attacks' against rebels who oppose his rule. Gadhafi must withdraw all forces from rebel cities they have entered, restore services to those cities, and allow humanitarian aid in, Clinton insisted."

Pakistan’s complicity: "That Osama bin Laden chose as a refuge a scenic summer resort in Pakistan, a country where he knew the United States had pretty much a free hand against al-Qaeda, says it all. We need not question the Pentagon or any other Western military establishment when they tell us that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate is in cahoots with terrorism: All we need to do is understand that the most wanted man in the world trusted Pakistan enough to stay there in a highly visible compound, near a military academy, 35 miles from Islamabad."

Schumer proposes “no-ride list” for Amtrak trains: "A senator on Sunday called for a 'no-ride list' for Amtrak trains after intelligence gleaned from the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound pointed to potential attacks on the nation's train system. Sen. Charles Schumer said he would push as well for added funding for rail security and commuter and passenger train track inspections and more monitoring of stations nationwide." [Will you soon need to get groped to get on a train?]

There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.


List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)


The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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