24 April 2008

Megan McArdle's Snide Take on the Military

There are different roles in this complex web of society. Some people are destined to be sipping on lattes while tapping out blog posts that influence the political world in some swanky NYC neighborhood. While others are fighting tooth and nail in Sadr City to prevent chaos erupting in the rest of Baghdad (and preventing me from getting dead). Certainly we can respect each other and our various lot in this world. Megan McArdle is one of those smart types, whom I respect. But when she equates the military with some creepy all-boys club that is hellbent on abusing power, I must take offense (h/t Counter Column):

But as the Milgram experiments show, most people given unlimited power over other human beings tend to abuse that power unless there are adequate institutional safeguards against us. We are natural bullies. And in mobs, we quite often make each other worse. Military culture fights this natural tendency with a pretty rigorous code of conduct--but in the end you've got a bunch of boys out on a corner with big guns. There's only so much that a code of conduct can do.

It is disturbing that snooty Ivy-league types find it so necessary to denigrate the military. The logic of her argument must be "over my head", and what did we ever do to you? In a time of recession and increasing costs for veterans health care, I predict there will be competition amongst various special groups to deny veterans benefits so that taxpayer dollars can be spent in a fashion that will benefit other portions of the population who have a larger voting capacitance (e.g. The Free Burgers for Fatsos Fund). This is what you get with a government with zero principles that only cares about winning votes.

Damn, I've been beating up on the left, and I don't want to offend my lefty readership! Time to throw out a blog-bone. Here's one... that "Bring it on!" shit Condi said in Baghdad about Sadr was completely devoid of any diplomatic foresight and reckless. More here.


Jane said...

I didn't denigrate the military! I was defending the military from a rather idiotic charge that everyone who joins it is an authoritarian sadist.

People in positions of power sometimes abuse that power. Young boys in a group with big guns are not an exception to this rule. You know as well as I do that some of the soldiers in Iraq (and every other theater of operations, ever) do vicious things they shouldn't, because they can. It's an inevitable byproduct of giving people a certain kind of power, just like abusive bosses are an inevitable byproduct of having bosses. Others don't do those things. It's not a criticism of the military, which as far as I know works pretty hard to control that sort of thing. But human nature is imperfectly controllable.

LT Nixon said...

Wow! Ms. McArdle on my ridiculous blog. Thanks for stopping by! Anyhoo, here is where we disagree:

First off, people not in the military are frequently surprised at some of the responsibilities that these "Young boys" (and "young girls" too) possess (from knowing the difference between friendly local and insurgent in a complex battle space, to navigating the perils of the Army supply system). A sense of responsibility and awareness of others that is instilled and drilled into your skull from day one into every military member prevents such egregious misuse of authority.

Second, the charges against military abuse are well portrayed (e.g. Abu Ghraib), but quite rare. I honestly can't name one single incident while I've been in country since last June of serious military misconduct in Iraq (Blackwater doesn't count).

Third, I understand your concern with the military, as your tax dollars do pay for our livelihood, but please understand that we have extremely rigorous protocol to prevent these sorts of things.

Again, thank you, Ms. McArdle for dropping by.

Anonymous said...

How nice of her to speak up in person -- but I take offense to "young boys in a group with big guns". The whole image that conjurs up is wrong.

She says she's not denigrating the military, but yet that's exactly what it sounds like she IS doing.

BrianFH said...

Yes, Kath, that's what happens when you let memes and pictures run your head.
If there's one thing common in the reactions of officers in Iraq from Petraeus to the captains, it's astonishment at the intelligence, flexibility, and desire to help civilians of the privates and "strategic corporals". And what some of the Sgts. and Lts. have achieve when loaded with huge responsibilities (out of sheer operational necessity) has been epic.
Here's a 3rd party snapshot:

I am an Australian and my son is an Australian - as far as we are concerned there is not place on God's earth better than Australia , and there are no people better than Australians.
That was until the past week or so.
My son is in the Australian Army and he is currently on deployment in Iraq . I can not go into his duties in great depth, but shall we say that he and his fellow army buddies are on a glorified guard duty looking after the Australian Embassy. They don't go out looking for "action", though it is a different story in Afghanistan , there the Aussie troops chase the baddies over the hills and into the valleys..
My son and I just ended a long 'phone conversation and here are some of his comments, believe me this is what he said. We have all seen the bullshit emails written by some clown in his lounge room pretending to be at the coal face, but this is what was said.:

"Before I came over here I thought we (the Australian Army) were pretty shit hot..... was I ever wrong!....The Yanks (I hope you don't mind me using that word) are so professional from the top to the bottom that it is almost embarrassing to be in their company, and to call yourself a soldier....don't get me wrong, we are good at what we do but the Yanks are so much better.....they are complete at what they do, how they do it and their attitude is awesome....they don't complain they just get on with the job and they do it right.....I carry a Minimi (SAW) so I am not real worried about a confrontation but I tell you I feel safer just knowing that the US Army is close by....If we got into trouble I know that our boys would come running and we could deal with it but they would probably be passed by a load of Hummers. No questions asked, no glory sought, the Americans would just fight with us and for us because that is their nature, to protect those in need of protection.....We use the American Mess so you could say that we are fed by the Americans.....they have every right to be pissed at that but they don't bitch about that they just make us feel as welcome as possible....what gets to me is that the Yanks don't walk around with a "we are better than you attitude" and they could because they are, they treat us as equals and as brothers in arms. If nothing else, coming here has taught me that the Americans are a truly great Nation and a truly great bunch of people.....Let's face it they don't HAVE to be here, they could stay in America and beat the shit out of anyone who threatened them, BUT THEY ARE HERE because they believe they should be here, and the Iraqis would be screwed if they weren't here.....When I come home, you and I we are going to the US, we will buy some bikes and we are going riding...."

The reason why I am sharing this with you is because I realize that you (as a nation) must get pretty pissed with all the criticism you receive by the so-called "know it alls" who are sitting at home - safe. The reality is that they are safe, just as I am, because of America . If the world went arse up tomorrow there is f**k all we ( Australia ) could do about it, but I know that the Americans would be there putting themselves on the line for others. That to me is the sign of greatness.
The most precious thing in my life is my son, I look at him and I thank God that I am fortunate enough to be able to spend time in his company. We laugh, we discuss, we argue, we dummy spit, we have the same blood. I am not happy that he is where he is but that is his duty. He joined the Army to protect and to defend, not to play games. I mightn't like it but I accept it. My reasons for not liking it are selfish and self centered. I felt assured that he would be safe because he is in a well trained army with an excellent record, BUT NOW, I feel a whole lot better knowing that he is with your sons, daughters, brothers and sisters.
Whilst he was growing up. I was always there to look after him, I would not let harm befall him and I would always put myself before him to protect him. I can't do that now. When it comes to looking after him now he and his mates will do the job, but also THANK GOD FOR AMERICA.
Gentlemen, I have rambled on for too long. but as I finish I say to you, as a foreigner and outsider, a nation is only a collection of its people and its attitude is the attitude of its people, collectively and as individuals. I am really glad you are here on this Earth and I respect you as a nation and as people.
Stand up and feel proud because you deserve it, there is no one else who will do what America does without question. The next time someone howls you down, take some comfort in the fact that America is defending their right to act like an idiot.
Finally, thank you for looking after my son.
Peter Turner"
HT: Hot Air

Kyle said...

Wow, that last post was awesome. It's great to see what others think about Americans besides the French and Germans.

Anonymous said...

I hope that Ms McArdle returns to read the rest of these comments. This one is directed at her. Sorry to take up so much of your space LT. N, but I felt like this needed to be here with your post and the other comments already received.

Ms. McArdle,

I have several problems with what you wrote. The most prominent being that I don't think you referred to the research you thought you were referring to. In the Milgram experiments there were no "mobs" involved. One individual (the subject) was instructed to give another person an electric shock every time they answered a question from the "teacher" incorrectly. The teacher and the other person were both actually study personnel and no real shocks were administered. The subjects in the study were on the other side of a one-way mirror with a member of the study team. If they chose not administer the shock at any point, the study team member would intervene and try to convince them. This only happened if they had already said they did not want to administer the shock. This does not fit at all with the "mob mentality you argue exists in the military and does not support your personal position as expressed in this writing.

I think you probably meant to refer to the infamous Stanford prison experiments of Philip Zimbardo. In this study undergraduate students were separated into groups of "guards" and "prisoners". The behavior of the "guards" towards the prisoners did become very bad and has even been described as "sadistic". However, I must note something very important. The only "rule" the guards were given is that physical violence toward the prisoners was not allowed.

I think LT. Nixon would be able to give you more than a few examples of rules he has to obey in Iraq. Not only that, you yourself said the military has a "pretty rigorous code of conduct".

So, you appear to have referenced the wrong experiment and make statements where you basically contradict your own assertions. I sure hope you didn't get paid to write this. If you did, let us know. I'd be happy to write crap like what you did and actually be paid for it.

I understand that you referenced Milgram to try and show that there is some "authority" and scientific evidence behind your argument. It didn't work. To anyone with a passing knowledge of psychology you just made yourself look like an idiot. A simple google search will show you where your error was- you don't even have to go read the actual manuscripts published by these researchers.

LT Nixon said...


Yes, I serve with some Aussies out this way and they are great people.


Not everyone in the world is part of the euroweenie conspiracy. haha


Thanks for clearing that up, as I wasn't too familiar with the Milgram experiments.

Anonymous said...

They probably wouldn't be approved by any Institutional Review Board today. The shocks the subjects believed they were administering were progressively stronger. They were able to see the reactions of the "student" who was shocked through the one-way mirror, they escalated with the increase in the shock and included verbalizations of pain and eventually (in some cases) begging for the shocks to stop. I don't remember if this happened in all of the experiments or not, but in some the subjects received a single low-voltage shock themselves before they started administering them to the "students". Supposedly the debriefing worked like it was supposed to and the subjects didn't have horrible reactions to having participated once they knew the truth (e.g. that the other person never really felt the shocks and was actually part of the study team)

Anonymous said...

Seems like McArdle was denigrating humanity (for producing bad behaviors in certain situations) rather than the military (for allowing human beings to serve). Her post basically says the military does a great job avoiding cruel behavior given the material it has to work with: human beings.

When Lt. Nixon says "... the charges against military abuse are well portrayed (e.g. Abu Ghraib), but quite rare," I think he is hitting on two point of agreement with McArdle: (1) cruel acts by soldiers occur; (2) cruel acts by soldiers are pretty damn rare.

A third point implied by McArdle is (3) #1 is not surprising given the situations soldiers are put in (human beings + danger + communication bariers + long deployments = takes incredible discipline not to commit crimes).

And yet almost all soldiers are able not to commit crimes almost all the time! Does this mean we shouldn't criticize the people who do commit crimes? No. Does this mean we should lose perspective on how common this behavior is? No!

It's a tough issue to talk about! Technology is making this awkward: we are trying to have these discussions during an actual war, sometimes talking with the actual soldiers who are there.

But if people aren't allowed to mention points #1 and #3 without being accused of being disrespectful, I guess civilians just can't participate in certain discussions about soldiers at war.


LT Nixon said...


How's it going! Her language is demeaning to the armed forces when she says "Young boys in a group with a big guns", which she does once in her post...and then as a comment on this blog! It's an awfully ridiculous assertion and very narrow viewpoint. It'd be like if I characterized east coast liberals as snooty know-it-alls in a group driving volvos and eating fancy cheese...which I probably have done here on occassion.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, "Young boys in a group with a big guns" sounds like a roving band of irregular child soldiers or something. Not a good choice of words if you're trying to convey respect.

Keep up the good work!