Foreign Policy Blogs

Recruitment standards and the Army

MSNBC cites a report from a research group “that nearly 71 percent of Army recruits graduated from high school in the 2007 budget year.” MSN goes on to state that “the Army's goal is 90 percent high school graduates, which it hasn't met since 2004. Each year since, the number of recruits with at least a high school diploma has steadily declined.”

In a conventional war, soldiers don't need to be critical thinkers, strength and guts is usually enough to win through to victory. However, counter-insurgency is a thinking man's war. The enemy has to be outthought as much as outfought. Often, knowing when not to shoot is as important as engaging, which takes discipline born from intelligence, maturity and selflessness. Also, fighting an insurgency is more ambigious than fighting an interstate war between uniformed armies. The soldiers involved do not have clear military objectives that can be attained by applying the right amount of force at the right place. There will be no liberation and joyous people thanking the soldiers. Instead, there will be indifference at best and resistance at worst. This also will prey on those without the mental agility to deal with this aspect of their role as occupiers.

Now, because of its losses, the Army has to lower its standards in order to put more soldiers in the field. The same situation existed in Vietnam during the last few years of US involvment. The officer corps lowered its standards and allowed its cadets to go through a quick leadership program, which came to be derisively called “shake and bake.” Lieutenant Calley of My Lai infamy became an officer through this program.

I’m not saying anything so heinous will occur in Iraq because of relaxed standards, but there will be a slow, grinding price to pay. The new soldiers will have less discipline, which will lead to more casualties and more deadly errors. In turn, this will lead to greater resistance among the Iraqi population, which translates into more US casualties and an even more urgent need to replace them. The longer the occupation goes on, the lower the recruitment standards will fall. The Army is caught in a vicious circle.



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