Magic 43%; Citizens and soldiers.

View 717 Tuesday, March 13, 2012


The Magic 43%

The New York Times and the Washington Post report that President Obama’s general approval rating is down to 41%,

All political managers know that no incumbent has ever been reelected to a major office with 43% or less approval rating. When an incumbent’s popular approval falls to 43% it is time for his managers to panic. We see signs of that panic now. We will see many more.

Some of it is odd, such as the renewed attacks on Sarah Palin, who is not a candidate. Some of it is misjudgment of opportunity, as with the Sandra Fluke affair, which set off a reaction that the political pros who planned this had not expected. One effect of the Fluke affair has been to draw attention to just how onerous Obamacare is even in its early phases. It is becoming clear that the government is expecting the general population to pay for more and more services through their taxes, and it is slowly becoming obvious that putting the cost onto insurance companies and employers merely masks the fact that nothing is free: the companies required to give entitled services must pay for them somehow. They raise rates, or they ask for subsidies, or, probably both. I remember from before I was five years old my father telling me that There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. (I know it was before I was five, because I said it to Sister Mary Elizabeth in first grade, and was informed that ain’t ain’t a word we use.

Expect more panic from Democrats. Also note that Republican campaign professionals also know that 43% is the magic number, and Obama is below it: the Republican nominee now presumably will win, unless of course the Republicans continue their record of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

And expect the desperate to come up with desperate tactics.



The President is apparently more upset about the murders in Afghanistan by a career soldier on his fourth deployment in eleven years than he was about the shootings at Fort Hood by the Muslim psychiatrist. He has said that the massacre is “outrageous and unacceptable,” and we take this as seriously as we would a massacre of our own citizens. His reaction to the Fort Hood “shooting” – the word massacre was never applied to it so far as I can see – was that it was “a horrific act of violence”. Given the international implications, the President is tasked with considerably more in the Afghani case than in the Fort Hood murders, and he has a lot less control over the situation. He is making much of his demand for a full investigation, although it is difficult to see what an investigation can reveal. A professional citizen soldier was deployed four times in his eleven years of service. I doubt they will find any warning signs – particularly in comparison to the warning signs displayed by the Muslim psychiatrist.

Incidentally, the official Pentagon description of the Fort Hood murders is “a workplace act of violence.” The word massacre is used in the Kandahar murders. Again, the international implications are considerable here. but one wonders if the top layers of the military understand just what is happening here.

The typical tour of duty in Viet Nam was 12 months, with various incentives given to those who would voluntarily extend their tour. Many of the extensions were taken by personnel in positions that put them in heavily fortified enclaves where they were relatively safe. Of course no place in country was completely safe, but after the end of the Tet offensive campaign of 1968 the native Viet Cong effectively ceased to exist, and the rear areas and much of the countryside in the south was statistically not particularly dangerous and nearly all casualties outside those actual combat areas were due to the same factors that affect people of military age anywhere including in the US. Indeed, accident fatalities were lower in Viet Nam than in many parts of the US due to the superior medical capabilities there. That has not been the case in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Through history there have been many kinds of armies. There are armies of citizens in arms, literally armed men, often peasant farmers, who turn out to fight at need. That was the army of the Roman Republic for most of its history. The Legions were raised by conscription and served for the duration; but they were not paid except for rations and the like, and they expected to go home when the war was over. This lasted until the Gallic invasions caused Marius to raise armies of non-citizens and slaves, who became long term professionals who, if they survived, might hope to be given a patch of land and a chance to become a peasant and citizen, and whose children might be citizen soldiers. In fact, though, the era of the citizen soldier was just about over, and after Marius came the civil wars, the Cataline conspiracy, Caesar, and then Caesar Augustus. The citizen army was lone gone by then; the Legions of the Principate were paid professionals.

Over time the differences between citizen soldiers and long term professional soldiers has been closer or looser depending largely on wars and deployments. Some professional soldiers became palace guards, citizens in all but name and sometimes in reality, even though their units had begun as imported mercenaries. Sometimes the professionals were kept in barracks when not actually deployed, in part to keep the citizens safe from them, but also to protect them from the citizens. There were the periods in the late middle ages and renaissance when mercenary soldiers dominated. Machiavelli argued in favor of citizen soldiers with conscription. Professional armies, he argued, could ruin you by losing a battle, or by looting the paymaster. France developed a three tier system, with the Foreign Legion that would never set foot in European France, a professional army of long term service, and conscripts. Switzerland kept the professional component of its army small by rigidly enforcing universal male conscription and requiring a very long term of compulsory reserve service after conscription. Sweden employs much the same system to this day (as does Switzerland with some modification). Between the World Wars the United States had regular forces, but the troops were generally kept in barracks and not expected to mix in with the general population; and of course the regular army was small. In World War II the entire nation took arms for the duration of the war, and quickly disbanded when it was over. Conscription continued until after Viet Nam.

When the United States went to an all volunteer service there were diverse opinions about its makeup. The old British regular army consisted essentially of long term volunteers – at one point two four year terms ending with an invitation to a further 12 year hitch. Britain had an empire to govern, and it needed all kinds of soldiers.

Students of military history have always understood that Republics, which typically had short and intensive wars interspersed with long periods of relative peace, need a different kind of army than does an Empire, which needs Legions, but most of the fighting is left to Auxiliaries. The US had such need during its imperial periods following the Civil War and particularly during the Philippine pacification.

It takes a different kind of soldier to withstand long periods of war and danger in hostile places, as opposed to the long term citizen soldier who lives among the population and is often indistinguishable from the citizen. Machiavelli was generally correct, citizens make the best soldiers for a Republic, but he also knew that the professional condottieri and their troops – such as the English Sir John Hawkwood who saved Florence in exchange for a memorial stature – could be very effective. Some like the Sforza became the leaders of the state and made the office hereditary. Hawkwood was unusual in that he was a man of his word. (Florence determined that while it was grateful for Sir John’s service, it could not afford a bronze or granite statue, and Sir John had to settle for a painting of his statue on the wall of the local cathedral. It’s still there.)

The Kandahar massacre will and should be punished; but it was predictable. Of course the Afghani will ask for the head of this soldier.

The ability to endure long term service in a hostile environment under constant danger is not often coupled with the temperament of the citizen soldier, long term husband and father and expected to take part in civic life. Professional soldiers may in theory know they may be deployed four times in eleven years in hostile and unpleasant environments, restricted in action by rules of engagement imposed by bureaucrats over the objections of their officers – they may in theory know that when they volunteer, but few think it can or will happen. When it does, some of the best will crack. It is inevitable.

This kind of war is not the kind of war that can be fought by a long term professional citizen army. Conscripts won’t do it well, but conscripts in a Republic have political means of protesting the situation. The Constitution of the United States never really contemplated the kind of service that we have been demanding of the troops since we ended conscription. We had no business sending a large army into Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, just as we had no real mission in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The United States was fortunate to have good results following World War II, in which our occupation armies were citizen soldiers, most of them volunteers but not long term professionals; but the circumstances were very different. We have forgotten the horrors of our Korean occupation in the period after the Japanese surrender and before the invasion of the Inman Gun in 1950, and few Americans will remember that period. For the most part the occupations elsewhere went well because the occupied countries had been thoroughly defeated, we had trained companies of military government specialists, and the Cold War soon threatened occupiers and occupied alike with something a lot less pleasant than a US constabulary. Much of the hostility toward America in Korea ended after June, 1950, and did not reemerge until much later.

We were not prepared for the kind of war that we undertook in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we never did prepare for it. Our citizen soldiers did wonders considering the enormity of the task. It is a wonder that we have not had many more instances of horror.

We have lost a citizen soldier. The Afghans have lost women and children. There are no winners here.


What You Lose When You Sign That Donor Card

"Organ transplantation—from procurement of organs to transplant to the first year of postoperative care—is a $20 billion per year business. Average recipients are charged $750,000 for a transplant, and at an average 3.3 organs, that is more than $2 million per body. Neither donors nor their families can be paid for organs."

Just follow the money. Of course they mean well, unless you getting chopped up.


There is far more here than meets the eye. I await comments; I’ll have my own shortly.






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