Jan. 19th, 2012

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The Atlantic has a piece up looking at the difference between policing and soldiering. The basic case is that soldiers (and I used that word as shorthand for all military forces) shouldn't be expected to do the kind of work that Counter-Insurgency strategies require. They've been trained to use lethal support in defense of American interests, and so asking them to play the world's policemen is work they're just not prepared for. Arguably, it's the kind of work you can't be parepared for - asking for both regular killing and measured judgment may be too much for the human spirit to bear up under.

So far, I agree with that. I've said it before that if you want nation-building you shouldn't send people that are recruited and trained to do something radically different.

But that's about where Dr. Rizer loses me. He quotes several military proverbs, such as the one that's the subject of this post and also the "One shot, one kill" mantra that drill sergeants yell during training. Soldiers, Dr. Rizer argues, have it literally drilled into them that they must shoot the enemy and shoot them dead. they are therefore unprepared to make the kind of judgments we expect of police officers.

The problem is, "one shoot, one kill" requires a level of certainty that you just don't have in today's conflicts. Maybe when we were fighting in trenches or shooting at lines of soldiers in bright-colored uniforms. But today, when you have either terrorist groups or internal civil wars (like the situations in Egypt, Syria, and Libya), that level of certainty just doesn't exist. How do you know for certain whether someone is Taliban, an Afghani soldier fighting the Taliban, or just some ordinary guy who saw soldiers with guns sweeping through his town and decided to run so he wouldn't be nearby? How do you do it quickly, when the guy is running away and may soon have slipped through your fingers if you don't act, as the story in this article tells us?

The article I linked to above tells the story of a US soldier who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter because he fatally shot an Iraqi man. That was during a sweep of a town where they were trying to find terrorists, and the Iraqi man fled the town. They got the Iraqi man into handcuffs (with no small amount of resistance), and the American soldier who was convicted had been told by his CO to shoot him if he tried anything more. Then the Iraqi man tripped (which apparently was read at the time like jumping at one of the U.S. soldiers), and so they shot him.

I have some sympathy for the U.S. soldier who has to live with killing this man, and who now has a three-year prison term and a dishonorable discharge and all the rest. I have even more pity for a man who - whether he was a terrorist or not, whether he was leaping to kill a soldier or not - had already been detained, was in restraints and (one assumes) had been searched for weapons, and was still shot dead. But I have no sympathy for a military that trained people to shoot first, ask questions later, and that told them to shoot to kill - then put them in a situation where judgment was needed. This isn't my grandfather's war (if any war ever was), and this sort of indiscriminate killing is just too damned risky for the situation.

Dr. Rizer says that disasters happen because you expect kids to play policemen when they've been trained to kill. I agree. But those situations where judgment is necessary aren't going away any time soon. The solution isn't to give the soldier carte blanche to fire away; it's to make sure they actually have the skills they need to deal with the situations they're likely to face.

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Originally posted at LJ; please comment there.
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<i>Twilight</i>-bashing funny )

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Originally posted at LJ; please comment there.

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