Balkinization  

Thursday, February 22, 2007

An apology

Sandy Levinson

In an earlier post on the President as commander-in-chief, I made remarks that could be interpreted as disparaging John McCain's (and other Air Force pilots') service. I received a letter from a reader, which included the following:

As a granddaughter of a man who observed "wars from 15,000-30,000 feet over the terrain" during World War II, I found your remarks disparaging the brave men and women of Navy and Air Force despicable. Beyond the safety of academia, many men have faced the psychological horrors of being trapped in a tin can thousands of miles in the air with bullets and flak endangering their safety. Unfortunately, you have fallen into that naive view that the Army and Marine Corp have the more arduous and dangerous job by fighting on the ground. While I do not mean to minimize what they do, beyond the apparent luxury that the Air Force and Navy live in, is an equal difficult and dangerous job.

Note a few statistics:



(1) In World War II, the Army Air Corp had 54,700 deaths. While this pure number pales in comparison to the over 250,000 Army deaths, it is nearly double the deaths the Marine Corps faced. Furthermore, the Army Air Corp lost 16% of its force during the war, among the highest casualty rates of the war. This hardly suggests their role (thousands of miles above Germany) was safe.

(2) During Vietnam, the Air Force had more officer deaths than the Navy and Marines COMBINED (1,676 officers lost). Many of these deaths are the result of combat missions. Keep in mind that many of the Vietnam POWs were downed Navy and Air Force pilots.

Please, before you write critical marks regarding an individual’s military service and the nature of a particular position in the Armed Forces, educate yourself on the actual nature of the topic. Your comments are not only ignorant, but are offensive to the members of the military and their loved ones.


I think this objection is well taken. As someone who (like many other members of my generation, including, of course, most of the architects of the Iraq War) did not enter the military and instead enjoyed the benefits of graduate school, I have, over the years, gained only respect for men and women who indeed are willing to put their lives at risk for what leaders of the US believe are important national interests (whether I agree with them or not). I cannot imagine actually being in such a situation, whether on the ground, a ship, or flying a plane that is being shot at (and, in many cases, hit) by enemies.

I do believe that what one sees depends on where one sits (or stands), and that there are undoubted differences in perspective depending on whether one was on the ground, the sea, or in the air, but it requires admirable courage to do any of those. And, with reference to the initial posting, it is a troublesome question (to me at least) whether there is indeed something desirable in having Commanders-in-Chief who have experienced the kind of military service that John McCain, Chuck Hagel, John Kerry, Bob Kerry, and even Al Gore, in a far less dramatic way, shared, and George W. Bush and Dick Chency (and Bill Clinton) most definitely did not. If there are aspersions to be cast, though, it should be with regard to those who dodged military service (as I did) and not at anyone who did in fact serve, in any branch of the armed forces. (Incidentally, I exempt from these "aspersions" principled draft resisters, who paid real prices for their principles, unlike those of us, whatever our politics, who gladly took advantage of quite indefensible student exemptions to remain on the sidelines.)

Comments:

Even John McCain has declined the status of "war hero". In McCain's day, and before, the U.S. military did not always enjoy full theater air superiorty. Today our advanced technology affords us total air supremacy against all but a few nations. In most cases that means total theater air dominance with no threat to our aircraft from ground based AAA, (once they have been neutralized), or other aircraft.

Your initial criticism is still valid and quite correct. At least Col. Lang would agree with it. Most experts would and point to the total tactical, strategic and political failure of the IDF's incursion into Lebanon this past summer as a case in point.

Dan Halutz is the first IDF chief of staff who is not a soldier. He is a military aviator. I had missed that, but a statement attributed to a "senior officer" of the IDF in a New York Times story today caused me to look at IDF leadership. The "scales" have fallen from my eyes. "I believe in AIR POWER," the officer told the Times and Halutz is likely to be the officer who was interviewed

He has no ground forces experience at all. He reminds me a bit of Rumsfeld, the one time naval aviator and opponent of the use of sizable ground forces. Like Rumsfeld he is a proponent of "modern" warfare, gee-whiz techno- equipment and disdainful of big, heavy armored forces. He has re-organized the armed forces so that the ground forces no longer report directly to him...

 

The above link explains why putting an air force officer in charge of a ground campaign (or any war) isn't a good idea. Col. Lang explains why Israel lost all around:
The Israelis lost in Lebanon
 

Just to make it clear:

[from the letter]: (2) During Vietnam, the Air Force had more officer deaths than the Navy and Marines COMBINED (1,676 officers lost). Many of these deaths are the result of combat missions. Keep in mind that many of the Vietnam POWs were downed Navy and Air Force pilots.

A bit misleading, as most (if not all) combat pilots -- the ones getting on the "front lines", getting shot at -- are officers.

Not to disparage the reality of the dangers of combat missions, of course. WWII certainly was quite deadly to the air corps, with many units literally decimated.

But....:

It should also be pointed out that losses of combat pilots in Iraq have been minuscule (outside of helicopter pilots), in part because of the complete air superiority and the lack of any AA weapons of any sophistication or enemy aircraft in Iraq.

In Serbia/Yugoslavia, a campaign almost entirely from the air, no pilots were lost, even with a substantial Yugoslavian air defence capacity. For better or for worse, air campaigns have become the method of choice for those seeking to limit any fallout (so to speak) from casualties. Sadly, this may affect the future course with Iran as well....

Cheers,
 

I'm afraid I have to agree with JT. If there was anything wrong with your original post's point, it was that it wasn't explicit enough.

If your point was merely to remark that airmen are in less danger than soldiers on the ground, then the criticism is warranted (insofar as technological developments haven't eradicated the risk).

If, however, your point was that someone who has experienced war first-hand on the ground has a better awareness of the difficulties and ugliness involved (especially in a war of occupation), then I think you were spot on. Getting shot at while flying in a tin can may indeed be terrifying and psychologically horrible, but it doesn't give you the same opportunity to dwell with your enemy, learn the way he acts and thinks, and deal face-to-face with the hearts and minds that you're supposedly winning over to some great -ism or -acy.
 

I served in the Army infantry, my brother serves as and Air Force pilot and several uncles and cousins filled the ranks of the Navy and Marines. Consequently, I generally do not like getting into these "my job is more dangerous than yours" pissing contests with other services.

(Although, I am not above ribbing my Air Force brother about the comparative lack of physical standards in the Air Force. What do you call an Air Force physical training test? Special Olympics.)

Ahem.

Even so, the letter writer's facts are highly misleading and need to be corrected.

(1) In World War II, the Army Air Corp had 54,700 deaths. While this pure number pales in comparison to the over 250,000 Army deaths, it is nearly double the deaths the Marine Corps faced. Furthermore, the Army Air Corp lost 16% of its force during the war, among the highest casualty rates of the war. This hardly suggests their role (thousands of miles above Germany) was safe.

In every single war, of all the military skills, the infantry (Army or Marine) has the highest chance of being wounded or killed.

In WWII, the U.S. Army Air Corps bomber command got close because we sent them into a meat grinder of enemy fighters without their own fighter cover for much of the war. However, the Air Force has never faced such unfavorable odds since WWII.

The comparison of total Marine and Army Air Corps casualty rates is misleading because the Marine Corps was smaller and its combat component smaller yet. The Marines' island hopping mission against a foe which did not take prisoners was one of the toughest of the war.

(2) During Vietnam, the Air Force had more officer deaths than the Navy and Marines COMBINED (1,676 officers lost). Many of these deaths are the result of combat missions. Keep in mind that many of the Vietnam POWs were downed Navy and Air Force pilots.

The comparison of officer deaths is also very misleading. In the air components, all the pilots in every service are officers, but the Air Force was much larger than the Navy and Marines. The Marines also had land units in Vietnam, but there was generally one officer per 25-35 man platoon.

Despite the misleading stats, I agree with Professor Levinson's response to this letter writer giving props to those who serve no matter what their branch or job.

I would note, however, the good professor could not resist departing from this sentiment and taking the gratuitous shot at Mr. Bush's NG pilot service in comparison to Mr. Gore's Stars and Stripes service. If we are going to again get into the business of comparing relative danger, Mr. Bush in fact had a far higher chance of suffering injury or death during any time he flew the air craft than did Mr. Gore at any time during his service as a scribe. However, the bottom line is that both of these sons of privilege were tucked far away from the fighting and are hardly heroes.
 

Yet Gore served in a combat zone while Bush didn't, despite the fact that Gore opposed the Vietnam war while Bush supported it.
 

"If there are aspersions to be cast ... it should be with regard to those who dodged military service."

No aspersions should be cast against them. They did not engage in the selfless, or, in some cases, heroic, acts of draft resisters. But one has no obligation to engage in such acts, and, therefore, there is no ground to cast aspersions. Draft resistance was supererogatory.
 

If we are going to again get into the business of comparing relative danger, Mr. Bush in fact had a far higher chance of suffering injury or death during any time he flew the air craft than did Mr. Gore at any time during his service as a scribe. However, the bottom line is that both of these sons of privilege were tucked far away from the fighting and are hardly heroes.

Well, yes, if I am not a particularly competent pilot, it is more dangerous for me to be flying a plane even within the U.S. than it is for me to be a journalist in a hostile land. However, I don't think the danger of one's own incompetence is a better measure of courage than the danger of getting shot or blown up by the enemy. Nor do I think a person who is opposed to a war has any business doing actual fighting; if s/he feels compelled to "serve the country," service as a medic, journalist, or other support staff is appropriate. If one does support the war to the extent of supporting a draft, and is capable of being useful in combat, one has an obligation to volunteer for such.

Those who keep saying (almost certainly correctly) that there won't be a draft for the war in Iraq always refuse to answer the question of whether they think the Iraq war is worthy of a draft. Is it like WWII, when we faced a threat to our existence that obliged every person unwilling to live under fascist rule to support the war, or is it like (to use a fairer example than Vietnam) Korea, when we projected power unnecessarily for high-flown aims of advancing democracy, retarding the influence of hostile powers, etc.?

Never an answer except, "There won't be a draft."
 

Henry,

In a draft, when many are forced into military service because of their lack of socioeconomic power, those with greater "pull" have an obligation not to use it when doing so obscures the real cost of the war. Had every person who gratefully took his educational deferral instead become a resister, the war in Vietnam likely would have ended sooner, with fewer dead on both sides, because it would have forced the political issue to a head sooner within the U.S. Consider how many Senators' sons would have been either in jail or Vietnam.
 

PG, I agree with you about the benefits that might have resulted from more widespread draft resistance, and admire those who did resist. (I dodged the draft by joining the Army Reserves.) But I disagree that one has an "obligation" to make sacrifices to help bring about those benefits. It's like the principle of tort law that, unless one has caused a danger to others, or agreed beforehand to avert it, one is free to ignore it. That's not an admirable position, but it's not to be condemned either. I was not responsible for Johnson's and Nixon's sending the less educated members of my generation to their deaths.
 

e52Arne... It should also be pointed out that losses of combat pilots in Iraq have been minuscule (outside of helicopter pilots), in part because of the complete air superiority and the lack of any AA weapons of any sophistication or enemy aircraft in Iraq.

Just one minor "picky picky," Arne. Air supremacy is what we have in Iraq and had in the Balkans.

Air superiority is what we hope to achieve going up against any major power with an air force and layers of sophisticated air defense systems. Even after taking out all command and control infrastructure, the radar guided SAM sites and AAA, flying over Baghdad at night in an F-117 with all that AAA flying at you, before Bush's infamous "Mission Accomplished" moment, had to be a bit disconcerting, even if they were just firing blind. But it was an entirely different matter conducting daylight bombing missions over Nazi Germany.
 

If we are going to again get into the business of comparing relative danger, Mr. Bush in fact had a far higher chance of suffering injury or death during any time he flew the air craft than did Mr. Gore at any time during his service as a scribe....

Now if Dubya'd only laid of the all-night benders and blowing all that coke, that might have been a different case....

Cheers,
 

If we are going to again get into the business of comparing relative danger, Mr. Bush in fact had a far higher chance of suffering injury or death during any time he flew the air craft than did Mr. Gore at any time during his service as a scribe. However, the bottom line is that both of these sons of privilege were tucked far away from the fighting and are hardly heroes.

Let's be clear about something. Outside of actual combat, training for combat is probably the next most dangerous thing you can do in the military and even "scribes" have to train for combat, and their jobs do take them to combat zones from time to time. Air travel is statistically the safest form of travel and I think I'd feel safest in a USAF maintained and operated aircraft. To try and compare Bush's tooling around the U.S. air delivering potted plants with Gore's service in Vietnam is risible on it's face. Gore served in a war zone and could have been killed at any time by an IED or VC sapper even if he was in the "ear with the gear". Modern insurgencies as a result of foolish occupations in foreign lands are like that.
 

JT Davis said...

Air travel is statistically the safest form of travel and I think I'd feel safest in a USAF maintained and operated aircraft. To try and compare Bush's tooling around the U.S. air delivering potted plants with Gore's service in Vietnam is risible on it's face. Gore served in a war zone and could have been killed at any time by an IED or VC sapper even if he was in the "ear with the gear".

Nonsense.

Mr. Bush was not flying as a passenger on United Airlines. He was learning how to fly fighter aircraft. Go check out the accident stats for this kind of training.

Mr. Gore was never under fire nor likely to be under fire. The military kept the Senator's son tucked away on a base, which I think he claimed to have left once to visit an engineer unit. Most commuters on a US highway had a higher chance of dying.

Essentially, you are comparing a miniscule danger with a nearly non existent one. As I posted above, both of these sons of privilege were tucked far away from the fighting and are hardly heroes.

The only thing worse than comparing the relative danger to front line infantry and pilots is to compare the relative "danger" posed to a REMF pilot and a REMF reporter.
 

Okay, so both Bush and Gore were great non-heroes in the war. For real fun, explain how either of them--based on what is known of their military service--would be better than MacArthur or Eisenhower at running a post-war occupation. :)myibwi
 

Mr. DePalma doesn't know where Gore spent 100% of his time in Vietnam. He shouldn't pretend that he does.
 

Nonsense.

Mr. Bush was not flying as a passenger on United Airlines. He was learning how to fly fighter aircraft. Go check out the accident stats for this kind of training.


The statistics are very low for fixed wing aircraft training accidents. If you want to talk about dangerous flight training, let's talk helos. It makes no sense to spend all that time and money (AF or Naval Academy) on a pilot before he gets to flight school just to lose him in a training accident. It just isn't done. If Bush was doing carrier landings that would be another matter. And don't tell me that clown landed on that flat top. He was just along for the ride, kind of like now. What with deregulation and corner cutting, I'd rather fly military than civilian.

You are in no position to talk, Bart. Your only combat experience was a few weeks in a real cake walk, GWI. The Iraqi forces and capabilities were greatly exaggerated, including the RG, and even retreated before the French coalition forces. That was some nonsense for you. They passed medals out like lollipops to kids at the dentist. You can puff it up all you like. I think we lost more troops to friendly fire than enemy fire. Call me when you spent a full tour in Vietnam or when you get to Baghdad.
 

You are in no position to talk, Bart. Your only combat experience was a few weeks in a real cake walk, GWI. The Iraqi forces and capabilities were greatly exaggerated, including the RG, and even retreated before the French coalition forces. That was some nonsense for you. They passed medals out like lollipops to kids at the dentist. You can puff it up all you like. I think we lost more troops to friendly fire than enemy fire. Call me when you spent a full tour in Vietnam or when you get to Baghdad.

I'm not sure who would find this particular comment more offensive: Bart, any other Gulf War vet, the French, or the Iraqis.

Do me a favor, JT, and call me after you've taken a few weeks off and helped slaughter 100,000 defenseless people. Tell me then how much of a "cake walk" it was for you.
 

Here is an infamous air buckaneer's escapade that figured in the transition from one US president to the next. I wonder if the neoNonGeneva rights of captures would protect the pilot in this nearSciFi tale in our modern times.
 

I'm not sure who would find this particular comment more offensive: Bart, any other Gulf War vet, the French, or the Iraqis.

Do me a favor, JT, and call me after you've taken a few weeks off and helped slaughter 100,000 defenseless people. Tell me then how much of a "cake walk" it was for you.

# posted by PMS_Chicago


Kind of you to make my point, it was a slaughter, not a fight and leads back nicely to the original point and the critique air power. Your enemy is rarely so kind as to line up to be knocked down in shooting gallery fashion from the air.

As a friend of mine, a retired marine Major used to say, all one needs to do to be a good American is be a good citizen. Military service isn't for everyone and shouldn't be. It's a job like anything else and there are some real clowns in the military. It doesn't attract saints. Bart and his ilk opened a door they may wish they hadn't and they will have to live with it. They like to make fun of the French, it works both ways. Don't tell me you are a "great warrior" when your enemies have been driven back by the same army that Jed Babbin says this about:

"Going to war without France is like going deer hunting without an accordion. You just leave a lot of useless, noisy baggage behind."

I don't say that. They do. Let them own it. GWI vets are almost a cross section of the society. I expect there are a small percentage like Timothy McVeigh, a few more like Bart, and then there are the majority who don't try to fetishize the military. Bart wasn't flying missions over the Kuwaiti-Basra road (which brings us back to the basis of the original post) and he wasn't in the 3rd Armor Division, but he certainly thinks "slaughtering 100,000 Iraqis" is a good day's work. Bart and his "friends" also think that Max Cleland is a screw up who got his arms and legs blown off reaching for a beer. I'm not going to dig through the archives at Greenwald's old blog, but those comments are there before he was banned and after under another name. Not to mention the Swift Boating of Kerry. If those people don't like the purple bandaids they should have left them in the box. It's no accident that Chickenhawk and wannabes come from the same sector on the military fetishist right. Nobody ever spat on vets like the people on the right so please don't lecture me. I'm not amused or impressed. Criticism is healthy and the military isn't off limits. Wait till you have your own children in the service then come and talk to me. FTA.
 

Here ya go, Chicago. You want to support some troops? Support these guys and this one and more like them. Support them just short of rolling up on the White House lawn to evict those incompetent and criminal SOBs because this is probably already happening in Iraq alot more than we know.
 

I agree...

But in my opinion one shouldn't need to have had military service to be considered for president.
 

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