RANGER AGAINST WAR: Asymmetrical Awards <

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Asymmetrical Awards


The military loves buzzwords like asymmetrical warfare, but often fails to examine the words beyond their simplest, most useful meaning.

If our wars are asymmetrical, then are our soldier's heroism and awards also become asymmetrical?
Can asymmetrical warfare produce symmetrical valor and asymmetrical awards for this valor (i.e., medals)? Unlike Napoleon, the U.S. Army does not travel on its stomach but rather upon its awards and decorations. While we do not win many wars lately, but the awards sure do look good.

The Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) is so insubstantial, unquantifiable and insignificant that the suffering and valor of the fights -- though real -- seem diminutive and illusory compared to symmetrical war standards. While our soldiers are exemplary, the so-called wars and battles are devoid of any meaning beyond the violence.

The awarding of medals for valor rests upon the assumption that the violence has a legitimate purpose. Medals try to reassure us that combat is not the same as a drive-by shooting or a barroom brawl. Our medals add dignity to an undignified endeavor, but one which it is presumably undertaken in order to reestablish some more positive order to society. All combat soldiers understand the undignified part of the equation; the only possible salvation is the idea that there is a larger purpose to the brutality.

A brief trip through past award winners gives an idea of what is being suggested:

Lew Millet led a company-sized bayonet assault against a dug-in and fortified Chinese main line of resistance. Contrast this against Staff Sergeant Robert Miller's death struggle; the substance is lacking (with no disrespect to Miller.)

Contrast Lt. Murray's Medal of Honor (MOH) to Gene Ashley's at the Battle of Lang Vei, or Franklin Miller's in Studies and Observations Group (SOG). Think of Crandall's MOH at LZ X-Ray, or Commando Kelley at Anzio. Think of Sergeant York. Think of the magnitude of these past battles.

Assuredly Lt. Murray met the standard for the award, but the scenario lacked military logic. One must ask: Why are we expending valor for no recognizable purpose?

Compare recent MOH winner SSG Salvatore Giunta to Captain Donlon's award, the first of the U.S. Vietnam War. Think of SSG Basilone on Guadalcanal. If Basilone had caved, the perimeter of a Regiment would have been fractured. One man prevented the collapse of a front, while SSG Guinta saved two men. Again, SSG Giunta acted with courage and valor, but it is a flavorless meal leaving no sense of fulfillment.

Perhaps that is why SSG Giunta was angry upon being interviewed after receiving his award. Perhaps he understood the essential insignificance of the losses his unit incurred, for it is there where he put his emphasis -- on the loss, rather than the gain.

The award is real, but the circumstances are like wisps of pipe smoke in nature.

{SFC Smith's MOH is not mentioned because this was a force-on-force battle on a conventional battlefield, and was not asymmetrical warfare.}

The actions of all of the Medals of Honor from Iraq and Afghanistan pale to insignificance when viewed historically. This is not a criticism of our soldiers but rather of our political leadership which puts brave men in untenable circumstances. It should be noted: All of the awards in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan did not add up (will not add up) to victory.

Valor is too precious to expend frivolously. It is apparent that our soldiers are now pawns and targets in incomprehensible and unjustifiable conflicts, and all the sound bytes and awards cannot justify the non-military complexion of the violence.

[RAW will occasionally re-post relevant entries which received no play during their original postings.
Asymmetrical Awards
is a re-post of 12.7.10 entry.]

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Anonymous PFK said...


Your post about asymmetrical awards has been on my mind for a bit now. Not sure that I can say that I really agree or disagree, but awards have been something that's perplexed and frustrated me while I was in.

Valor is such a tricky thing to me, and I would evaluate it as coming in a moment when you're not relying on your training but reacting in a profoundly self-sacrificing way in spite of complete knowledge that what you are going to do is going to kill you. Its more than the reflexive response that training provides. But once you get there, does it really matter if its 10 soldiers or 10,000 soldiers? I think I get what you're going for in your statement that we're wasting this bravery on triviality, but is it any more of a waste than Sgt York? That guy did something amazing, but was the 'cause' any better?

Ultimately, valor is conditional on the settings you occupy. If you're dropping rounds in a mortar tube under constant and direct enemy fire is that more or less valorous than firing a rocket or a rifle? What does your rank have to do with how valorous an act you can/should commit? Ultimately, the most valorous moments I witnessed were almost always the result of poor planning or execution. Someone messed up and someone had to step up big to compensate. What's the value in planning properly versus valor and how do you deal with those guys who WANT a chance to get some 'valor'?

I've had a hard time even discussing the subject with civilians because they don't understand how to judge 'danger' or proximity to death in a more granular way, and I think that's necessary when discussing valor. I guess that you've seen valor overlooked a bunch of times when you were in Vietnam, but it was frustrating for me to see guys get overlooked in one sense because they were 'just doing their job' while other guys got it for doing essentially the same thing but with a different MOS.

Awards are always political. By the time I was done, I was using awards as a way to build prestige for my group of FISTers and mortarmen over actually rewarding the most deserving soldiers, so I can't claim to be above it all, but I feel that the process itself is broken. The awards process is certainly less stringent in the sense that no one is taking out companies of infantry solo, but is that guy in any more danger than the guy whose got an Iraqi sniper (and I mean honest to God trained individual with skills not, news reporter, "OMG the bullet was 10 feet over my head, it must be a sniper) shooting at him? Is valor a product of overwhelming odds or danger or both? Obviously you cannot be valorous in all settings (no valor on the average day in the mall) but should the nation's highest honor be reserved for only the most extreme of settings? Determining the right mix of 'crazy man' with 'crazy scenario' is hard, but I suppose my mix is a bit less strict than yours.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012 at 9:17:00 PM GMT-5  

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