Letters to the editor

Peace Is Hell

My only disappointment with William Langewiesche's otherwise excellent article "Peace Is Hell" (October Atlantic) is that he did not discuss the disastrous ripple effect that our open-ended peacekeeping missions have had on the rest of the military. As a former U.S. Army officer, I have experienced those problems firsthand.

Throughout the 1990s deployments for operations other than war increased significantly even as the defense budget was cut and personnel were eliminated. Even units that did not deploy suffered from critical cuts in their operations and training budgets to pay for the operations of those that did. The result was a marked decrease in training and spare parts which left many of us unfit to perform wartime missions if necessary.

When I arrived in Germany, in early 1991, for my first assignment, I joined a unit that could count on going to the field for gunnery and maneuvers no fewer than four times a year, not including smaller training deployments. In my first year I spent nearly five months on various gunnery and maneuver training deployments. By the time I left the Army and my unit, in 1995, it had been more than two years since our last field deployment and we had dozens of vehicles sitting unused in our motor pool because we lacked the necessary parts to fix them. Peace was hell for all of us.

By the way, in the photograph on page 57 the vehicles parked in the motor pool are Bradley Fighting Vehicles, not tanks.

Alan Smith
Converse, Texas

William Langewiesche is surprised that sending 4,000 soldiers to Bosnia and sustaining them there could overburden the U.S. military. Indeed, in relation to total Army size the numbers are fairly insignificant—but the numbers do not tell the whole story. Consider just the following two points.

First, since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent end of the Cold War, the U.S. military has consistently sought to maintain and even to expand its Cold War influence by volunteering armed forces for any role in the "new world order." As a result, the military has persuaded too many Americans with too little combat experience that the U.S. military is the only organization suited for any role remotely related to violence or the application of force. Yet that military is organized, educated, trained, and equipped to wage only the high-intensity wars of attrition that it was specifically designed to fight.

Second, peace operations are troubling to military professionals because they upend basic military principles. By their very nature peacekeeping operations demand operational, organizational, and even philosophical changes that are both difficult and disturbing for combat troops. Military professionals are taught that keeping the initiative is an essential operational principle. Peace operations not only foreclose the unfettered use of force but also expect the soldier to surrender the initiative at the outset. When peacekeepers interpose themselves between armed factions, they necessarily become reactive instead of proactive.

David Isenberg
Arlington, Va.

Perhaps the most striking fact reported by William Langewiesche is that the Department of Defense, with 1.4 million active-duty soldiers plus some two million reservists and civilians, "serves 41 million meals a year." Even if all those meals go to active-duty personnel, that works out to about thirty meals per soldier per year, suggesting that the department has gone a long way toward resolving some of the logistical problems Langewiesche elsewhere describes. Here, at last, is an army that doesn't march on its stomach.

Lyman G. Sandy
Albuquerque, N.M.

William Langewiesche asserts that the U.S. Army in Bosnia has serious morale problems. Grumbling has been a soldier's right since there have been armies, and the truth of the matter is that unhappy soldiers vote with their feet. Simply put, they leave the Army when their term is up. This is clearly not the case in Bosnia. Army units there routinely post the highest re-enlistment rates in the entire U.S. Department of Defense.

Thomas W. Collins
Major, U.S. Army
Washington, D.C.

The Editors' reply:

The error in the photo caption pointed out by Alan Smith was ours, not William Langewiesche's; apologies all around.

According to the Department of Defense, 41 million is indeed the number of meals served annually; the vast majority of service members use their "basic allowance for subsistence" to buy food elsewhere.

JFK's First-Strike Plan

Fred Kaplan's account of John F. Kennedy's first-strike plan (October Atlantic) makes a valuable addition to public understanding of the quandaries of nuclear weaponry. Kaplan's piece was based largely on a recently declassified top-secret memorandum I wrote to General Maxwell Taylor, then the military adviser to the President, on September 5, 1961, a copy of which Kaplan was kind enough to send me. The article is in the main accurate, but it may leave your readers with the impression that I was recommending a nuclear strike in the Soviet Union. The document makes plain that I made no such recommendation; I asserted that we should prepare to execute such a strike by doing the appropriate planning. The point of the paper was to call to the attention of the President and of the top military commanders what could happen under then existing military plans should the President decide he was forced to the nuclear choice as the alternative to abandoning West Berlin. The consequence of such a choice would have been horrible beyond contemplation. Even with the kind of alternative plan that Harry Rowen and I had sketched (which was presented in the document), the result would have been horrible, though less so by several orders of magnitude. But it is clear that it was vital for the President to know that an alternative strike plan was possible.

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