wombat_socho (wombat_socho) wrote,

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Useful but not really news

For the first time in (possibly) years, I stuck a coin in a paper machine today. Predictably, it ate my quarter, but it didn't matter since I went online later and hunted down this article, which was what got my attention in the first place. Julian Barnes does a good job summarizing all the Regular Army arguments in favor of leaving the Guard home to quell riots, put out forest fires, and hand out MREs to disaster victims while a larger force of Regular Army troops goes out and lays the smackdown on unfriendly foreigners.

What he doesn't do is give you any kind of background, which is an omission I'm going to rectify here. This is the same kind of argument the Army's been having with Congress since the Spanish-American War, when the many and varied deficiencies of the militia and volunteer units became an issue that could be discussed in public without somebody starting to holler about the Civil War. A lot of those deficiencies in training and equipment got fixed (with federal money) but the Guard and Reserve (abbreviated RC for Reserve Components hereafter) continued to suffer from the fact that while the regulars spend roughly 230 days a year training, the RC only have 36 days to train in, and not all of those RC soldiers have prior experience in the Regulars. Now, to a certain extent this is offset by the fact that some military specialties do have civilian counterparts, which is why RC engineer, Military Police and similar specialty units don't often come in for the same criticisms as te RC combat arms units. Unfortunately, trying to practice combat arms skills in civilian life will usually land you in jail.

A big part of the reason the Army hasn't gotten its way with respect to the RC is political - while Guard officers do have to meet the same standards as Regular Army officers, appointments to jobs like Adjutant General (the senior Guard officer for each state) and brigade/division commands are basically political. So any attempt to cut brigades and divisions out of the RC force structure gets opposed by Congress, as do attempts to close down units that aren't performing well or that can't keep their strength up. Less true now is the lurking suspicion that the Regulars can't be trusted and a large RC made up of citizen-soldiers with local ties is the best counterweight to a possibly treasonous Regular Army.

This argument was especially powerful in the wake of the Civil War, when most of West Point's graduates went South to join the rebellion. Political generals like John Logan and their followers bitterly opposed suggestions that the Army should be reorganized along Prussian or French lines, saying that the citizen-soldier was the country's best defense and politically reliable besides. Nowadays that argument isn't much made except in the fever swamps of the loony left (or among their right-wing brothers in the Black Helicopter crowd) but it had a tremendous impact on the military reform debates after the Spanish-American War.
Tags: culture w/o politics
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