Talk is cheap

By Sgt. Maj.George S. Kulas (Ret.)
web posted September 11, 2000

The rhetoric handed down recently at the National Veterans Of Foreign Wars (VFW) Convention in Milwaukee by both presidential candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore concerning the strengthening of our military was interesting. Unfortunately, it's only talk and talk is cheap until actions replace it.

A recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies predicts, "If trends continue, the United States will remain on the present path of de facto demobilization and possess a diminished capacity to shape and influence world events and safeguard and protect U.S. national interests in the future."

That's scary! Not because we will not try to support and defend our allies but because we will attempt to do it with less. Less manpower, less equipment and less training. That adds up to more—more hardships and more casualties for our skeleton crew of a military.

Today the military is half the size it was in 1990. During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm the U.S. Army used eight divisions in the Persian Gulf. Now the Army, with only ten active duty divisions, is supposed to be capable of fighting two major theater wars simultaneously. That's a tough order to carry out made even tougher because vital forces could very well be unavailable. The number of overseas deployments and reactionary operations are more than ever—four times more than they were just prior to the Gulf War.

Peacekeeping missions to put out fires in hot spots like Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo have worn our forces down and worn them thin. In testimony before the House of Representatives Committee on National Security, retired General Gordon R. Sullivan the former Army Chief of Staff of the Army said the total Army is "Fragile". At the same hearing retired General Richard I. Neal the former Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps said, "If history tells us anything, it is not a question of whether there will be a future requirement to put the Nation's forces on the battlefield but when."

Budgetary constraints for funding a "peacetime" force have again, in effect, placed dollar values on the lives of our military personnel. We should have learned by now that cost cutting today will cost lives tomorrow. It cost lives when we were forced to commit to battle poorly trained and equipped soldiers in places like the Western Front in World War I, at Bataan in the Philippines, and Fa'id Pass in North Africa during World War II and in the Pusan perimeter during the Korean War.

Indeed it can happen again. Pakistan and India have tested nuclear weapons and opened the door to more proliferation. Communist China is replacing the former Soviet Union as a superpower while Russia is unpredictable. The rogue nations of Iran and North Korea are developing missile weapons systems rapidly. Many other new powers are emerging armed with highly technical conventional weapons.

The sinking of the Kursk, the Russian submarine that lies on the ocean floor and is a coffin to the 118 sailors aboard, was a tragic event. But even more tragic was the attitude taken by the Russian government that immediate foreign humanitarian assistance was militarily unacceptable and the lives of its sailors were of least importance. The men on the Kursk were sacrificed by a government who thought more of its national pride than it did of its warriors.

The United States military establishment has tried to convince its civilian leadership that it needs many more well trained and well equipped fighting men and women to accomplish its multitude of missions. Only the commander-in-chief and congress can provide that. They, along with the presidential candidates, proudly say they will. But until it happens the talk is cheap and our military, like the Kursk, is sunk.

George S. Kulas is a Vietnam veteran and retired in 1990 as a Sergeant Major from the U.S. Army. He is currently a freelance writer and poet living in Wisconsin.

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