Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


SANTA FE – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld may not give as many pep talks to our troops in the future. Or if he does, he’ll want to screen out reporters planting questions.
Past appearances before the troops by the Defense secretary and President Bush have been heavily-engineered love-ins. But when a Tennessee newspaper reporter helped a courageous enlisted man phrase a question that was in the minds of many soldiers, a national uproar ensued.
It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out. Will all convoy vehicles now be equipped with armor at the factory? Will factories be allowed to produce at capacity? Will the patriotism of the press be questioned once more? Will the reporter or soldier suffer retaliation? Or will we learn that the controversy over unarmored vehicles is overblown and everything is really OK?
Rumsfeld obviously was unnerved by the question. His eventual statement that “You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have,” sounded like a slap at the Tennessee National Guard and Reserve soldiers who comprised most of the audience.
The Pentagon has insisted that the Army it has is all it needs and that more troops are not necessary. The White House chose the time it would go to war. It knew what kind of Army it had and what kind of equipment. And it keeps insisting that it isn’t surprised by what is happening. So it must accept responsibility for what is occurring in the field now.
This isn’t the first time the United States has blundered into war unprepared. The current situation bears many resemblances to what was happening 63 years ago when our nation entered World War II.
Those who have been following this column’s series on the New Mexico National Guard in the Pacific Theater in 1941 have read that we entered that war unprepared, despite Hitler having ravaged Europe for over three years and Japan doing the same in the Pacific.
In fact, we were much more unprepared than we are this time. And we were fighting a much bigger enemy then. Our troops face a very unpleasant situation, but conditions have been worse.
In 1941, our soldiers on all fronts were pretty disgusted. Except for airplanes, much of the equipment and ammunition were World War I leftovers as we went into battle around the world.
A word was coined by the troops that year that will forever be in our vocabulary. The acronym SNAFU means situation normal all fouled up, in sanitized language. My 11th Edition Webster’s says the word was first used in 1941 as a noun. By 1942, it also was being used as an adjective and in 1943 it became a transitive verb.
The moral to this story is that we aren’t very good at being prepared for war when we send troops into harm’s way. In World War II, we amazed everyone with the speed of our eventual mobilization. Roosevelt convinced Americans to make sacrifices. They accepted higher taxes, a rising national debt, scarcities and rationing.
In this war, mobilization hasn’t been as fast. And the nation hasn’t been asked to accept sacrifices, except a rising national debt. Otherwise, we’ve had tax cuts and have been urged to buy, buy, buy, thereby increasing personal debt, also.
Both wars dipped heavily into the National Guard and Reserves. When countries go into war unprepared, that’s usually what happens. National Guard units already are organized and have some degree of readiness. And reserves often have had previous experience.
One problem with sending National Guard troops into foreign wars is that the National Guard is intended to guard the nation. Sending them to another nation to fight a war requires some sort of declaration of a special circumstance. Presidents usually just go ahead and do it and Congress goes along with whatever is asked. But the legal grounds are probably a little shaky.


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