Monday Military Musings

W.J. Astore

1. Recently I came across a reference to the U.S. military complaining that it never fights with a “home field” advantage. That the fight is always “away,” in sports speak, on the other guy’s field. And the gist of the comment was that the U.S. military must always be prepared to fight at a disadvantage. It seemingly never occurs to the decisionmakers that maybe, just maybe, the U.S. doesn’t have to fight on the other guy’s field. Maybe, just maybe, Vietnam was a bad idea. Iraq was a bad idea. Afghanistan was and remains a bad idea. China in the future would be a very, very, bad idea. And so on.

Or maybe, just maybe, the Pentagon and America’s generals are just too vainglorious in identifying the entire world as their home court?

2. Surprise! Joe Biden’s Pentagon budget is basically the same as Trump’s with a few extra billion thrown in for good measure. So much for reforming “defense” spending in any meaningful way.

3. The U.S.. military continues to define exertion (and merit) mainly in physical terms. Consider this chart sent along by a friend:

As my friend amusingly put it, “If I read this chart correctly, humans reach their full potential only at the moment of death.”

I wrote back to him: Why is exertion in the military always physical? Maybe we should be thinking harder too? It’s fascinating this devotion to physical strength and fitness when modern weaponry is truly the great equalizer.  If I can sit in an air-conditioned trailer in Nevada and smite evil-doers in Afghanistan via a drone strike, should I be kicked out if I fail to do 50 pushups or run the obstacle course?

Mental fitness is rarely considered in the U.S. military except in the sense of weeding out the mentally ill or those who can’t conform to military discipline.

Even military promotion seems driven more by brawn than brains.  If I run a sub-3 hour marathon, I bet the OPR (officer proficiency report) bullet would be far more favorable than if I wrote an article for Armed Forces Journal.

As another friend of mine, the distinguished military historian Dennis Showalter, said to me: Some flab around the waistline is preferable to flabby thought processes. Just think here of David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, both celebrated in the U.S. media as running and exercise enthusiasts.

5. To come back to the subject of “home field” advantage, it’s precisely because we never have that that U.S. troops have to wear heavy body armor and carry all kinds of gear with them. Whereas the “enemy,” whether in Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq, is at “home” and can wear street/farm clothes and carry a much lighter load, e.g. a rifle, some ammo, some rations.

The result is that U.S. troops often look like the imperial stormtroopers of “Star Wars” who are always bungling and losing to the lighter-armed rebel alliance.

You do need to be in decent physical shape to carry so much armor and so much weaponry and gear into hostile and foreign lands. But, maybe instead of turning every soldier into Rambo, we should find smart ways to advance our policies without having to fight at all?

It certainly is smarter than a bunch of Army Rangers driving themselves to the brink of death in the cause of maximizing their “human potential.”

20 thoughts on “Monday Military Musings

  1. ” That the fight is always “away,” in sports speak, on the other guy’s field.
    I’ve read a lot of mindless if not criminally callous military complaints, but this one beats them all. If the moron who wrote that prefers to have it on his own field so that he can wear lighter equipment, he’s welcome to it. It might teach him a lesson on what it means to have foreign armies playing war games on ones home field.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “Home field advantage” means what … between the Rockies and the Appalachians, or just everywhere outside The Beltway? When some sand-table military genius says something like that, does it ever strike anyone how insane that mindset is? That’s not even at Buck Turgidsen level.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The “home field advantage” complaint is too asinine and thoughtless to even warrant a response.

    As for brains vs. brawn, I only know about what I read. I thought that the special forces types—Rangers, SEALS, et. al.—were trained in mental toughness above everything else. It was my impression that no one advances to those levels without undergoing rigorous mental challenges (e.g., SERE training involves more than just brute physicality). Of course, as has been the case for millennia, the grunts don’t have to be smart, as long as they’re willing to fight upon command.


    1. Mental toughness — for sure. But mental agility and creativity — not as easy to “test,” so to speak.

      Still, cleverness, creativity, clarity of vision: these are qualities that are needed at all levels but especially in the highest command spots. But we have a system that promotes based on physical toughness and mental endurance/conformity, and those qualities alone are not necessarily conducive to victory.

      But maybe that’s the point.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Time I guess for my morning brainclearing scribblings, I reckon. Here’s a good place to start.

    I never have been too impressed with the intellectual insights–better put that last word in quotation marks–by a lot of , maybe most of, the military writers I’ve come across. This ‘Home-field Advantage’ nonsense is a prime example of why.

    Nawww, my take on this ‘insight’ is different. Anyone in combat arms who is complaining about having to fight in distant lands abroad rather than at home is beyond absolutely clueless about what they are doing for a living. They haven’t been paying a lick of attention, not the slightest bit, about what their job is costing the locals in the regions we war in, what that war is costing them in tens of thousands of lives prematurely ended, even more tens of thousands of permanent crippling injuries inflicted, staggering amounts of pointless beyond wasteful squandering destruction of property and structures and all the handiworks of man militarily and carelessly and wantonly destroyed from our war and our rather careless application of firepower. And most all of these injuries, and almost every bit of the destruction, is to noncombattants who just were just unlucky to cross our military’s paths in their own countries. Any military officer who isn’t aware of this after a tour abroad in war who isn’t grateful that our wars are being fought in distant lands rather than in our own borders really needs drumming out of the officer corps for stupid.

    And there’s another part to this ‘insight’ that needs mention. Wars abroad in foreign lands–well, we don’t have to listen to the locals complain. They don’t speak English. They aren’t the type of people we grew up with. They are different than us and they mostly don’t none of them matter any. When we leave their country we leave them behind and never have to see or talk or argue with them again ever, because we’ll be back home. We fight a war here Stateside, that’s all different. We’d have to think about all that killing and maiming and destruction differently than we do about it now, if we were doing that sort of horribleness in a land we are familiar with amongst people we know and understand. And we’d also fight the war knowing that we’d have to answer for what we did here to our own people in the years afterwards, at any time, as long as we live. I think subconsciously that is the real meaning/message/unstated fear of this bozo’s ‘homefield advantage’ complaint. At least I hope, for his sake and for any likeminded like him, that it is.



    p.s. See about getting a copy of this to whatever bozo said it and whatever publication ran it, if you would, please. Thanks.. ________________________________


    1. Hey Dan: the article was at CNN, which framed it this way:

      Eric Edelman, a former defense undersecretary for policy and expert on military planning, told CNN that both China and Russia are expanding their ability to operate in wider areas in Europe and Asia meaning the Pentagon could be forced to send US forces thousands of miles away. “Russia and China are playing a home game, we are playing an away game,” Edelman said.

      Notice that construction: that the Pentagon “could be forced” to send U.S. forces thousands of miles away. As if we don’t voluntarily do that already! Has CNN never heard of America’s global reach/global power/full spectrum dominance mantra?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think it’s fair to say CNN’s popularity goes back to its non-stop, round-the-clock coverage/promotion of the first Gulf War.
        As Fox became the voice of the GOP a more “liberal” voice was needed to maintain the illusion of balance, and CNN happily stepped up to the plate. Yes, there are other outlets – for both “sides” – but can I find them 24/7 on my TV? Do they have pride of place in the program package of every TV/cable/satellite provider?
        Like The Beach Boys, “I’ve been all around this great big world” and no matter what country you’re in (excepting Russia & China, I would imagine), if you have a TV, your knowledge and opinion of the USA comes from Fox or CNN.
        In “Thank You, Masked Man” one of Lenny Bruce’s characters explains to The Lone Ranger that like himself , “Jonas Salk, Lenny Bruce, and J. Edgar Hoover” all profess a need for purity, but in truth they feed on the lack of same. But now The Messiah has returned, “all is pure” and there’s no longer any need for such people. In a conversion that would seem sudden on the road to Damascus, The Masked Man responds with, “Then I’ll make trouble.”
        If there’s ever a swing to “the Left” at Fox, I feel confident that in their role as “the noble opposition,” CNN would swing to “the Right” in the spirit of “fair & balanced journalism.” Anderson Cooper would likely disappear, but after a few weeks – if that long – who’d care?
        You have to be on the team to get preferred access. CNN has not only heard of America’s global reach/global power/full spectrum dominance mantra, it’s been promoting it for 30 years.


  5. With respect to Biden increasing the defense budget instead of decreasing it, Caitlin Johnstone had this to say:

    “When Bernie Sanders promoted the idea of shrinking the insanely bloated US military budget by a paltry ten percent, he was met with a solid steel wall of opposition. When presidents want to increase that budget, they are told “Yes sir, anything you say sir, we’ve got the papers all drawn up already.”

    A political establishment which thinks it’s crazy and extremist to reduce a massive military budget by ten percent, and that it’s sane and moderate to increase it, is a crazy and extremist political establishment.”


  6. Regarding home vs away, the tradition is away as in the halls of Montezuma and the shores of Tripoli, to which can now be added the palaces of Saddam.

    Regarding qualities beyond the physical, would any officer want the men under him thinking for themselves and suggesting alternatives to what he wants to do? Isn’t the military imperative to obey when given a command? Isn’t it a standing complaint with grunts that stupidity from above is rampant but can’t be questioned? Isn’t that part of what is behind SNAFU and FUBAR.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As I reside in The Netherlands these days, I live from 6 to 9 hours in the future from my colleagues and comrades back in The Home of Bob Seger, Bacon Cheeseburgers & Midnight Madness Sales. Normally, I sleep no more than 5 hours per night. Even so, things sometimes happen during that brief span in the arms of Morpheus, Big Changes that catch me by surprise. So, I’m wondering …
    Did the US lose, sell off or destroy its arsenal of ICBMs? Did the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, or the Hell’s Angels steal them? Or maybe The Canvasback Duck Club or The Mystic Knights of the Sea?
    These are things we have to have and constantly upgrade for Big Bucks though (supposedly) we have no intention of ever using them. And yet doesn’t having them – if properly applied – negate the “home field advantage” anytime, anywhere?
    (Stay with me, here.)
    I don’t know anything about missiles, but is it safe to assume they can be re-targeted (to whatever hot spot pops up)?
    Is it possible to refit them with non-nuclear warheads? Not all of them, one or two out of every 6 payloads (MIRVs, right?) could be left as-is. See if Boris and Xi like playing Russian Roulette for real. “Sorry, guys. But we lost track of which ones are which.”
    And to show we were serious about it, we could fire one off to wherever Ivan or the Yellow Peril were flexing their muscles. No point in making threats if the opposition doesn’t believe you’re willing to back them up. If I don’t think you’re prepared to walk the talk, I don’t care how many carrier task forces you send. (Of course, we could alert them both – “Just a heads up, but there’s been an accidental launching.” And when it’s over, we’d come clean. “Plenty more where that came from, fellas.”)
    Yes, this sounds insane but only if you think wanting a “home field advantage” isn’t. Who puts clowns like that in place?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I wonder if the Vietnamese think having “home field advantage” back in the ‘60’s was such a blessing once the victory cup was raised to their lips for a toast?

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