First of all, the usual thanks to DasWauto for promoting my military essay and response/suppliment to Foxtrot Alpha for the Best of OppoLock today. I was looking over it and the other stories contained therein when I received a phone call from a friend of mine. The conversation reminded me of a paragraph I wrote in that article linked above:

Making "low end" weapon systems less survivable is certainly one possible solution towards making these systems cheaper, but in the current political environment that is simply untenable - and if you ask me, that's a good thing and that's how it should be. Out of all the post-WWII conflicts the U.S. participated in - Korea, Vietnam, the Grenadian and Panamanian interventions, Desert Shield/Storm, the Bosnian intervention, Iraq and Afghanistan and the larger War on Terror - only the Caribbean/Central American and Bosnian interventions and Desert Storm had truly successful, victorious resolutions and anything resembling majority public support (the War on Terror certainly began on a wave of popular support given the 9/11 attacks but is now seen by large sectors of the population as a massive waste of young lives with little to show for it) - and even in those cases, mass protests manage to capture significant media attention. The change of fortunes in the War on Terror especially - and the many young lives lost with little or completely no strategic gain in return - has now mandated an ethical component into initiating military campaigns even when in response to a direct mass attack on a civilian population center, lest all the lessons learned so far be completely lost. Not only has the U.S. had to contend with the direct aftermath of 9/11, but the aftermath of the economic downturn as well. This has meant hundreds if not thousands of men and women, many still teenagers and very, very few over the age of 25 at the time of sign-up, enlisting into U.S. military service solely out of economic or employment desperation. Questions about motivation or the quality of these troops aside, it brings in ethical concerns of exposing these people to the horrors of combat when many of these people are poorly equipped to do so regardless of readiness or training level. Many of these young people feel too much economic pressure to truly think through the consequences of placing themselves in a combat situation, or overestimate their likelihood of getting a "desk job" instead of being in harm's way.

I want to thank the men and women who do serve in the military and put themselves into harm's way, in case there are some things that end up being misconstrued here. But I do think there is something important in that highlighted, bold part - the takeaway is that I do not like it when people are put into harm's way, whether they know what they're doing or not. Actually...that's an incredibly "duh" thing to say. Of course no one likes it. But I think it's lost on my own generation in particular just how much the current conflicts effect them more so than any generation born after Vietnam.

My friend signed up for the Army a few years after 9/11 and when it looked like everything in Iraq was still all roses. He had a number of reasons for it - few of them were actually related to economic or job pressure. Mostly, it was just a wave of patriotism. He even managed to get himself a nice desk job as an intelligence analysis (it wasn't his first choice, he wanted a front-line combat position but in the end the fascination with the tactical intelligence world was just too much of a draw when the opportunity presented itself). He has been deployed overseas, including Kuwait. Anyway, I don't know the exact story, but he came home pretty messed up. I don't know if it's PTSD, I'm far away from being the type of expert to diagnose that. He's had trouble holding down a job since and, well, just being motivated period. And by motivated, I mean, well - on anything. It'd hard to describe seeing him in person - but I can certainly write about the dead, lifeless expression in his eyes, his granite-solid face, and his stoic, cold, slightly hunched nature every time I take him in my Ford Ranger, an unmoving mass with a fixed stare right across the truck's windshield.

Being a (now more or less former) English teacher I hear people all the time scoff at people who say that things are hard to describe. But writing that paragraph finally brings it home - it's hard to describe someone as lifeless, as practically nothing more but a hunk of flesh that just occupies the passenger seat, especially when you know he's far from actually dead.

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Maybe it isn't as bad as Vietnam but the news reports and seeing it in person hits far, far too close to home. Ideally it'd be nice to simply disarm and end conflict period - but in the meantime, I'll continue to advocate for unmanned technologies that put people far out of harm's way, and perhaps the threat of unmanned weapons itself might be enough of a deterrent to stop some wars before they even happen.