Reader Aaron from Australia has posed a few questions in response to this, and they were such good questions, I thought they deserved their own post.
Questions sure i can think of a few.
1) If a soldier is ordered to perform a duty which is unlawful how does the soldier deal with it ideally and in reality?
Ideally, the soldier will inform the chain of command and refuse to comply. There aren’t a heck of a lot of orders that are unlawful. Basically, it would take a direct order to kill or torture prisoners or civilians to meet this standard. As a practical matter, I just don’t know, since I never came remotely close to such a situation. It calls for a special type of courage. Armies have had little trouble finding physical courage on the battlefield, but finding moral courage is much harder. The Army tries hard to instill that moral courage in its soldiers, but ultimately I think it is more a matter of culture and upbringing.
2) Why does the military make it difficult for gays to serve the country?
That is actually a matter of law, passed by Congress signed into effect by the President. The military’s policies merely reflect the law of the land. It is mostly a cultural matter. America is still a predominantly Christian nation and many people find homosexual conduct to be sinful or repugnant. The military implication of that is the potential damage to unit cohesion. My personal opinion is that the current Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is about the best we can hope right now. I think in another 10-20 years, though, that public opinion will change enough that the transition to gays to serving openly will be made and it will be relatively painless.
3) How difficult is is really for those that exit the military (in it’s various forms and ways) to obtain gainful employment and a comfortable life? In my father’s case in Aus the military was no real gain or loss to his blue collar living, he just returned to his previous field of work. The only other cases I know of for sure was a very screwed up guy here who was incapable of work and John who seems to have leveraged it into fairly decent contractor work.
One of the big lies from the Vietnam war was the portrayal of veterans in TV and movies as a nutjob homeless loser. As a whole, veterans of the war actually tend to earn more than their peers. The veterans of WWII leveraged their GI Bill into a massive explosion of post-secondary education that fundamentally changed the college experience in America and led to a huge increase in the number of professionals that in turn enabled much of America’s awesome growth in the post-war era while much of the rest of the world suffered from financial difficulty or ruin.
My own experience has been a generally positive one. I got my first civilian job precisely because I was a veteran, even though I had no experience at all in the industry. While there isn’t a huge market for old, broken infantrymen, there are lots of employers who love to hire folks that they know will show up to work on time and who aren’t afraid of a little sweat. Many Fortune 500 companies have programs designed to recruit veterans.
4) How much defence value would civilians (some of whom might be ex military) with small arms or other commonly distributed weapons be in the case of a real invasion given the attitudes and behaviours of those people.
As we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, an armed populace can be quite troublesome. I can’t really see how a country as large as America could be invaded, so your question would be pretty much entirely hypothetical. Besides, one of the main reasons the Founding Fathers gave us the Second Amendment wasn’t to repel invaders, but to serve as a check on the power of our own government. We’ve been such an amazingly stable nation that the prospect of our having to use those weapons has been mostly remote. The Civil War is not quite an example of “the militia” in action as it was really two “nation-states” fighting, but it is interesting that the South, with its greater heritage of shooting and military service, was able to fight far longer than would be expected by the correlation of forces.
5) Why are women not permitted to serve as combatants (apart from law).
Part of it is cultural, part of it is physical. Technically, any soldier on the battlefield with the exception of medical personnel and chaplains are combatants. But our law prohibits women from serving in ground units with a direct ground combat role, such as infantry, armor, cavalry and artillery. Our culture still doesn’t really see women as warriors, but prefers to think of women as nurturers. Secondly, look at the exclusions I listed. Each one of these roles requires a great deal of upper body strength that few women possess. Yes, you could find a few women that could do it, but it just isn’t worth the hassle, and those women are few and far between.
6) Is the perception of say a supplies person lesser than that of a combatant? ie are the roles all respected equally?
It was true in my case. Any person behind you is a pouge. My dismounts thought the crews were REMFs, I though the company HQ was a bunch of REMFs and the guys way the heck back at the Brigade trains spent all their time complaining about the feather merchants back at division.
Having said that, most of the time, when you complain about someone else having a cushy job, it is in good humor and not a judgment on them as people. I’ve met a lot of folks who served in jobs that held no interest for me, but I sure understood that the job needed to be done.
7) I see a great deal of snarking between military fields ie navy, army, air, marine etc. How much real respect exists between them? Do they really see their own branch as superior or is this some kind of competitive game which is overall positive?
Mostly, it is just snark. I really do see the Army as superior to all others, and will tease the “also rans” but usually, it is just a goof.
8) Why does the military allow soldiers to be used as guinea pigs for experiments against their will?
Like what? The anthrax vaccine? It was a risk/reward assesment that showed the potential downside of the vaccine was much smaller than the potential of massive casualties from a bio attack.
The most visible case I can think of for using soldiers as guinea pigs wasn’t the nukes or any of that. It was a radical drug back in the 40s that the civilian government deplored as untested and with little prospect of being tested. The methods of production and storage hadn’t been investigated by the civilians and clinical trials hadn’t even been started when the Army placed it in full production and began administering it to soldiers without consent of any sort, much less informed consent. The drug? Pennicillin.
9) Why is the pay level so low?
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It isn’t. You won’t get rich serving your country, but you can make a decent living. The basic pay tables shown only tell half the story. Remember, single soldiers are provided with housing, meals, medical care, dental care and other benefits free of charge. For married soldiers, either quarters for their families, or an allowance for housing are provided, plus an allowance for food. They too receive medical and dental and care for their dependents. Most of the benefits are not taxed. Plus, while serving in a combat zone, soldiers receive combat pay, and their basic pay is not taxed. Add in bonuses and other incentive pays and you can get by pretty nicely. It is not at all uncommon for fairly junior soldiers to own their own house and two cars. It is blue collar and lower middle class, but if you are careful with your money, you can do just fine.
10) Does the soldier serve their country or their chain of command?
Members of armed forces of the United States serve the Constitution. See the Oath of Enlistment:
“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” (Title 10, US Code; Act of 5 May 1960 replacing the wording first adopted in 1789, with amendment effective 5 October 1962).
A couple of notes on the Oath: While the oath references the President and officers appointed, note that the obeyance of orders is qualified by the regulations and the UCMJ. This goes back to your question about unlawful orders. A soldiers only sworn allegiance is to the Constitution, not to any man or office. And while the oath ends with the line “So help me God”, persons who for religious or other reasons cannot or will not swear may affirm and their oath is valid as well.