Sunday, October 06, 2013

The government shutdown hits the U.S. military

Photo by Victoria Pickering, Flickr

The invaluable Thomas Ricks blogging at the hydra-headed site Foreign Policy has invited his correspondents in and around the military to share what a government shut down means to them.

Bruce Fleming wrote from Annapolis:

The halls of the English department at the U.S. Naval Academy, where I am in my 27th year as a civilian professor, were almost free of midshipmen students on Tuesday, Oct. l, when I had to go in to sign my official furlough letter, the one informing me that I was out of work until and unless the government shutdown ends. The students weren't there because most of their classes had been cancelled for the foreseeable future. …

In my plebe Rhetoric and Introduction to Literature class, we'd reached Act II of Othello. It's a play I find essential for a military academy, about Othello's inability to switch from his "guy" world of the military, where he has served "in the tented field" since the age of seven(!), to the new world of Venice, city manners, and women that, hired by the Venetian senators as a mercenary admiral, he is suddenly thrust into. Now he's gone and married Desdemona, but his trusted warrior subordinate Iago tells him she's unfaithful. Othello is insecure (he's old and dark-skinned) and he believes in the band of brothers rather than his wife. The result is tragedy for all. Females and too great a reliance on the bros -- what can be more timely for USNA, racked by sexual assault scandals and toxic SAPR training?

Go read the rest. It's a fascinating peak inside a military academy in our dysfunctional empire.

Then there's Capt. Brad Hardy, U.S. Army, who is angry about what he sees happening -- and worse, seriously disquieted about its implications:

The desk next to me is vacant, the end result of the current government shutdown. My counterpart, a government civilian, is furloughed until further notice. This is the second time this year he has been sent home without pay.

I wonder why him and not me. I am an active-duty servicemember. Congress and the president have made a special allowance in the absence of a continuing resolution so that I may be paid regularly. ... But again, what makes me special while my civilian colleague draws the short stick? Where do we draw the line and force the military, as a piece of the federal government team, to shoulder at least some of the shutdown burden?

The reason may be that the military, for a number of theories, is a beatified, protected sect among American society. As such, not funding military pay checks is bad politics. Few in Washington want to be considered as anti-military, non-flag waving, unpatriotic, or overly inquisitive of how the military conducts its business. In general terms, supporting the military, at least financially, is the undeniable solution even if one finds the policy objectives murky or the actual conduct of war unnecessary or ham-fisted.

And again, I'm not complaining about my continued compensation. Money is good. So are groceries. But by holding our place in society to a higher order than those who serve with commensurate dedication and vigor we may damage the very nature of what American uniformed service means. Furlough equity should be considered a part of professional military service. ...

Now there's a bold suggestion. I doubt Capt. Hardy could make it if he really believed that most of what the bloated institution in which he is a loyal professional cog is doing was truly essential to the well-being of the nation. That recognition is what scares me about our military. What if many of them got sick of incompetent civilians placing them in fruitless, sometimes even idiotic, missions? If their labor and dedication seemed to be serving no purpose? Could they obediently continue to "serve"? Perhaps the regular branches might put up with this, but what about the ever-growing spook sectors, not to mention their profiteering suppliers? All this seems worth worrying about.

Update: It seems Secretary of War (Defense) Hagel is trying to recall civilian employees of the military despite the continuing government shutdown. It will be worth watching how this develops. Could an administration so inclined militarize the entire federal government, thereby rendering Congressional assent irrelevant? Unlikely, but expedients invented as work-arounds for extreme cases sometimes leak into everyday practice.

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