Monday, February 16, 2009

OF SOLDIERS AND SALONS

In the preceding Post I had mentioned the report by the’ Washington Post’ about troops in Iraq – the article refers to Mosul – going to salons for manicures, pedicures, and … whatever.

Just a couple of further thoughts.

The photo accompanying the article is artfully staged. Almost too much so. It is taken from behind the soldier sitting in a big salon chair, looking over the shoulder and toward the salonista who is giving a pedicure. Although the soldier is named, it is not possible to see the face, although the combat camouflage top is neatly folded over the back of the chair so as to display a gritty American flag patch. Clearly this is no accidental photo.

That might help since he is … a he. This is too clever by half. Apparently it was decided that a photo of a female in military camouflage getting … whatever … done in a styling salon – that would have ‘sent the wrong message’, which is to say it would have been a photo version of what the Beltway tries always to avoid in words or pictures: telling a truth that isn’t supposed to be told or shown.

Instead it’s a male. We are to infer that Hey, the guys are doing it, so it’s … you know, OK and whatever.

Funny but I can’t recall – in all the newsreels of all the wars for which newsreels exist – ‘salons’ in the combat area. So-called ‘combat barbers’, giving their buddies a quick buzz outside a tent and not far from a slit trench, to take off all the hair that gets in the way of combat … there’s that. But hair-and-manicure salons … no, can’t say I’ve ever seen that. Pershing, Patton, even that primping primadonna MacArthur … nope, not on their watches. (Although if you were to tell me that MacArthur brought along his own favorite personal barber, I’d believe it.)

Perhaps before photography … Grant? Sherman? Bobby Lee? Although Lincoln clearly didn’t think it was so very important to get styled, from the looks of some of the photographs that he sat for. (Although if you were to tell me that Custer brought along his own favorite personal barber, I’d believe it.)

A major, replete with her double-last name, but apparently not an ‘official’ spokesperson, opines torturously that “If not a need, there’s certainly a demand”. Indeed? So the military is going through all of this … to fill a customer demand? I mean – it’s not even providing adequate medical care for casualties, but it’s going to expend money and resources, and run the several risks in regard to security and the image of its fighting-forces … just to be customer-friendly?

The troops are demanding styling salons? The males?

Has the Pentagoon Imperium come to this at last?

There are various possibilities. Perhaps ‘the troops’ – male and female – really are demanding styling salons. But if that’s true, why would the Army simply yield to such a … non-combat-related demand?

Or perhaps: the Pentagon wants Us all to think that ‘war’ ain’t so bad or so tough, and maybe also that We are ‘winning’ so much over there that – wait for it – We can afford to set up styling salons for the troops.

So then, too, maybe it’s a recruitment thing: if potential recruits see that they won’t have to give up styling and manicures and pedicures, then they won’t hesitate to sign up for combat. Hmmm … but something about that doesn’t quite make sense – help me out here.

So the military is reduced to being ‘consumer-friendly’, treating the troops like ‘customers’? There have been so many horror stories you hear about recruit-training in all the Services over the past two decades – ‘time out cards’ and restrictions as to how much ‘pressure’ or ‘stress’ or even ‘noise’ drill instructors can make, lest they frighten the recruits. One presumed that the Pentagon was planning to distribute the same instructions to any potential enemies, although back in the ‘90s the list wasn’t really imagined to be very long.

This isn’t good. Just as the world is regressing back to the Great Power frakfest of a century and more ago, and just as war is regressing back to the in-your-face frakfesting of 40 and more years ago … the Pentagon is unveiling its style-friendly designer combat forces. Strike Force Valley Girl ... oh my.

Why would the Pentagon risk this? In a part of the world where toughness is valued, and in the military setting where part of an enemy’s calculation as to whether to attack you is the toughness and resilience of your troops themselves … the Pentagon unveils styling salons for the troops, and allows a male to be photographed getting his tootsies polished? From a purely military point of view: say it ain’t so.

Perhaps strategy and military thinking has changed for … some reason … since the last time We won a war … or at least got through one, showing that We could take it.

The military has changed, it’s clear. Nor do I use that phrase in the Sixties’ sense that anything that has ‘changed’ must be better. The chances are that few vets who finished up before the end of the Gulf War realize exactly what’s happened. It was bad enough that the generals weren’t always up to their job – as Vietnam certainly demonstrated. But that goes with the territory in any military.

Since the end of the Gulf War the military has been given over as a playground for two lethal and corrosive forces. The Right gave it over to the war-happy Fundamentalists, who themselves were pawns in the hands of their neocon handlers, and they were convinced that the military could re-shape the world according to the Fundamentalist-neocon image. The Left gave it over to the cadres of the Second Wave and their queasy but grand plan to reshape the military and then the world according to their vision.

Neither the Fundamentalists nor the Feminists had the military’s best interests at heart – both were pursuing their own addled visions. And they’ve had the run of the place for more than 15 years.

The Fundamentalists figured God would make everything work out; the Feminists figured that the inevitability and rightness of their vision would make everything work out. The military was subjected simultaneously to the forces of religious fanaticism and revolutionary fanaticism; the inevitability of the triumph of God’s will and the inevitability of the triumph of the ‘revolution’. Neither vision was securely anchored in a mature appreciation of reality, neither was primarily interested in the well-being of the military.

After all, the Fundies and neocons figured that there was now only the one hyperpower and so there would be no opposition; and the Feminists figured that war would soon be like ‘Star Trek’ and so the ‘old’, ‘masculine’ military could be allowed to wither away as their ‘new’ military was put together in the service of the world-women’s revolution.

Somewhere in there, America ceased to be a ‘serious’ military nation. The need to pander to domestic political constituencies, and radical ones at that, reduced America’s conception of its military to the level of the excited damp-dreams of each Party’s ‘base’.

Nor have Events worked out according to either group’s plans.

But History, always dynamic, has moved on, producing a return to Great Power politics and gambits, in a world increasingly short of resources. That will demand strenuous and bloody exertion even to achieve modest objectives. And as America’s reputation as a ‘serious’ nation is joined in decline by America’s financial clout, then it will take diplomatic chops on a par with Talleyrand to effect any substantive American goals without recourse to arms. That’s going to be dicey, given the condition of American diplomacy and the bad mood that most of the world is in.

Or maybe it’s a PR thing – not really intended to connect with military operational concerns but rather something nice for the folks back home. If the Pentagon thinks that folks back here are going to feel good just because there are styling salons in the middle of a war zone … then the Pentagon does not have a high opinion of public opinion here.

But then maybe a lot of folks here would feel better over such a flimsy feel-good scam. And if that is the case – if a large fraction of the American public will figure everything’s OK with the war because they’ve seen some ‘troops’ in a styling salon … then We are in a heap of trouble. Trouble that’s deeper than the failing war and the prospects for the current military’s successful operations.

Another, darker thought obtrudes: perhaps the female troops are demanding styling because they actually do need it - as a ‘stress reliever’, one without which they cannot perform their duties. Is that possible? Are styling salons now to be required for successful military operations?

Perhaps, back in the days when certain politically correct ‘experts’ assured eager pols that in the near future war was indeed going to resemble Season One of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ so whatever the Second Wave and its sensible-shoe war-gamers wanted for Christmas could be freely granted … perhaps back then the concept of styling salons at the front could have been imagined. But now? Over there?

Is this is the result of a feminist game-plan unfolding according to its own schedule – regardless of the situation that the military now finds itself in? Is this an unpleasant reality stemming from allowing females in combat areas … a reality that Political Correctness had chosen not to imagine – or allow to be discussed until things got sooo bad that something had to be done?

Nor does it help that an awful lot of voters are too young to remember what real combat in a shooting war is like and might well imagine that Yeah, sure, styling salons are part of war and combat. And maybe they’ve seen ‘Star Trek’ re-runs.

We have a ‘hollowed out’ military again. This time it’s not because the government has allowed the forces and the equipment to go to seed. Instead it’s because the competence of the forces has officially been degraded by the imposition of Politically Correct policies that are allowed to override the military realities of a rapidly changing, increasingly dangerous, increasingly ‘old fashioned’ world.

That hoary Political Correctness is a Bubble as old as the economic Bubble that has been spun around Us all since the early 1980s.

The economy has not been the only Bubble that the American nation has been playing with. And the economy probably won’t be the only one to burst.

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