Saturday, October 16, 2004

Mutiny on the front page
Looks like the mutiny of the 343rd Quartermaster Company has made the mainstream media. Bloggers and small-town Southern papers were on this two days ago. Today, the AP has a well-distributed story and it's on the front page of The New York Times.

For those of you who missed the story, the gist of it is this: The 343rd Quartermaster Company is a reservist unit out of Rock Hill, South Carolina. They are essentially truck drivers. They were called up and are now in Baghdad. Wednesday (Tuesday night over here) they took a load of jet fuel to Tallil, an outlying base. The fuel was found to be contaminated, so they returned to their home base with their trucks still full. They were then told to deliver the same fuel to Taji, a different outlying base. At this point the unit refused to go. Citing the facts that the fuel was unusable, they were being given no escort, and the trucks were overdue for maintenance, they called the delivery a suicide mission. Before they were arrested, several of the reservists got off phone calls to relatives back in the states who notified local papers.

Right now it appears that the soldiers are no longer under arrest and the Army is playing down the incident while investigating it. The whole incident should bring on an almost blinding deja vu experience for anyone who remembers Viet Nam. The incompetence of the orders and the impossible situation in which these reservists were placed need to be publicized. Someone higher up needs to held responsible for creating a situation where these soldiers felt that mutiny was their only reasonable recourse. I also wonder what would have happened to those reservists if they had not been able to get the word out. Would they have quietly vanished into our system of military "justice."

There are are, of course, important object lessons here about the importance of a free press, openness in government, and how cool blogs are. I'll let others go into all that. I found one annoying element in how the military mind frames an issue like this. The New York Times coverage went beyond the AP story to get some expert commentary:
Phillip Carter, a former Army captain and expert on legal and military affairs, said the kind of insubordination the unit showed had been more common during World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, when the draft was still in place and the average conscript's goal was survival. The formation of an all-volunteer Army was supposed to address these problems, Mr. Carter said.

To Carter, the problem is not the fact that incompetent orders were given sending troops on a potentially fatal, yet pointless, mission. The problem is that the troops refused the order. A more professional, all-volunteer army should be better indoctrinated into the military culture of unthinking obedience. Reservists and National Guard units are contaminated with civilian thought patterns, including self-preservation.

The Army is in a difficult position here. Normally I would expect them to react the way any employer would in such a situation. That is, they would slime the reservists as bad seed, troublemakers from day one. Unfortunately for the Army, the reservists side of the story has already been well publicized in the South. The Army and the Bush administration need the good will of the South. You can bet that this issue will be handled very gently until after the election and possibly beyond.

No comments: