Friday, January 13, 2012

Do Our Troops Lack Leadership?

  CAUSE: US troops at their worst    

RESULT: War Crimes

In the US, we like to think that our troops represent the ideal American.  Honest, trustworthy, decent, fun-loving, and heroic.

We are quick to jump to the defense of our troops when they are caught doing stupid things, as in this situation where they display themselves desecrating corpses.  Suddenly, it's hard to rationalize their behavior; or worse, to imagine the consequences of their behavior -- as the second photo reprises the image of the burned corpses of US military contractors strung up on a bridge in Fallujah in 2004.

We admire and praise our troops for their Service as they put themselves in harm's way to protect our freedom.  And then, we have to deal with this type of publicity, which demonstrates that some of our troops seem to be determined to soil the image of the American troops.

The consequence of course is that our enemies are quick to display this, and similar videos and photos to demonstrate that ALL US troops are war criminals, and these depictions then serve as recruiting posters for young and old alike who can be easily persuaded to attack and kill US troops -- and non-combatants as well.

What we've seen repeatedly in Afghanistan and Iraq are examples of out-of-control military troops conducting personal vendettas against local civilians -- or even on each other.  These incidents, though hardly the norm, reflect an absence of leadership or control by the Chain-of-Command.

Where are the NCOs or officers?  Have we lost the meaning of the Ten Military Leadership Principles?  

The First is
Accomplish the Mission, followed by
Set the Example! and,
Look Out for the Welfare of Your Troops!
In a situation where defining the mission has become increasingly difficult, leadership becomes strained, but Setting the Example isn't that hard.

And, Looking Out for the Welfare of Your Troops follows that when you lead by example, and have the respect of your troops, these atrocities likely won't happen.  Sometimes there are bad apples that will do bad things no matter what -- but they should be identified and weeded out early on.  

One basic problem is that rather than discouraging this type of conduct, our Military sometimes not only encourages it, but goes so far as to promote and reward it.

Many years ago, I asked a North Vietnamese officer I was interrogating why the NVA insisted on torturing US PWs or desecrating their bodies.  He looked bewildered and said,

"We follow your lead.  Your officers direct their troops to cut off the heads of the NVA troops they kill and desecrate bodies of dead and live NVA soldiers by cutting off their ears.  What do you expect?"

Not long after, I picked up a copy of the Stars and Stripes, showing a picture of Hatchet Hank Emerson, a West Point grad and field commander who handed out hatchets to his troops to desecrate the bodies of NVA soldiers.  Rather than court martial him, he was promoted, and eventually was awarded three stars and the command of the 18th Airborne Corps.

So what we are seeing now is not new, and these incidents will continue to happen in the absence of responsible leadership and accountability.