Archive for the ‘Military Follies’ category

Trump Administration Reverses Course; Supports Massive Funding Increase For Performance Art

April 7, 2017

A sidelight on yesterday’s Tomahawk raid on a Syrian airbase.

1:  Fifty-nine Tomahawks fired.

2: Targetting:  “The targets included air defenses, aircraft, hangars and fuel.”  For good reason (IMHO) the strike avoided stored chemical weapons.  Personnel at the base were warned of the impending attack and as of now, no casualties have been reported.

3: Results: some shit got blown up. All of it can be repaired or replaced with out, it seems, significant difficulty.

All of which is to say that this was what most kindly can be called a warning shot, and rather less so, performance art.

Which gets me to my point.  The price tag for fifty nine Tomahawk missiles runs a little bit shy of $90 million.

For scale: that’s roughly 60% of the $148 million the to-be defunded National Endowment of the Arts received in 2016.

I believe Donald Trump’s grant was titled, “Very Expensive Holes In Concrete.”

Image: Adrian Hill, A British Mine Exploding, sometime during World War I.

Advertisements

Annals Of The Military Industrial Complex

February 4, 2014

Via exceptionally sharp young journalist Taylor Dobbs, this story of the efficiency and national security value of military procurement:

The Dayton Daily News reports that the Air Force has spent some $567 million to acquire 21 new Spartans since 2007, but has found that the Air Force does not have missions for many of the aircraft.

The planes had originally been acquired because of their ability to operate from unimproved runways. But sequestration forced the Air Force to re-think the airplane’s mission, and it determined that they were not a necessity, according to an analyst with the Project for Government Oversight.

…An Air Force spokesman said the program was “too near completion” to be able to terminate the program in a way that does not cost the taxpayers more than building the airplanes and sending them immediately to the boneyard.

Jan_van_Kessel_(I)_-_Birds_on_a_Riverbank_-_WGA12131

An alternate headline would  — should, in fact — go something like this: “Legislators Find Alternatives To Food Stamp Cuts”

Yeah…I’m dreaming.

One more thought: the fetishization of (genuinely brave and self-sacrificing) members of the military is cover for sh*t like this.

Image: Jan van Kessel, Birds on a Riverbank,  1655.

David Brooks Is Always Wrong, Part (n)* — Numbers and Horrors Edition

August 30, 2013

Despite its many flaws,The New York Times is an indispensible institution right now, producing more and better actual journalism than any other major American media outlet. Setting aside the low-bar-snark, though, its ongoing willingness to offer David Brooks a platform is a running chancre that infects every hard-won story from the real reporters whose beat has the ill-fortune to attract BoBo’s fancy that day.

That’s true even when he arrives at something of a defensible argument, because to get there, he pays his way in counterfeit intellectual coin.

PFA69874

See, for example, today’s dog’s breakfast of an attempt to go all big-think-wise-man on “the biggest threat to world peace right now.”

That would be his attempt to frame the situation on the ground now in Syria as an example of the great war of Sunni versus Shiite.  As he works his way through to a (to me) surprisingly modest end, Brooks displays several of the tropes that make his work such an embarrassment to anyone who actually cares about either journalism or honorable argument.

Let’s go to the videotape.**

First up, there’s an old Brooks standby:  useful innumeracy in support of a claim intended to raise stakes beyond the facts on the ground:

As the death toll in Syria rises to Rwanda-like proportions…

Bullshit.

What’s going on in Syria is awful. Horrible. Wretched. Vicious.  Supply your own adjectives.

That doesn’t mean it is comparable to what occurred in Rwanda.  In the genocide there, between 500,000 and a million Rwandan civilians  were slaughtered, accounting for up to 10% of the population as a whole. The best current estimates of the toll of the Syrian civil war place the number of dead at a still-horrific 100,000 or so — less than 0.5% of Syria’s approximately 22 million inhabitants.

In raw numbers and — to focus on Brooks own term — as a proportion of the affected population, the two disasters are not equivalent.

God_the_Geometer

I’m not suggesting, of course, that Syria is anything less than an utter humanitarian disaster and tragedy.  But holding on to the problem of Brooks here, look at what his rhetoric is doing:  calling something a genocide or its equivalent raises the moral and international-legal stakes for action by a lot.  Such claims need to be earned, not (as so often with this source) simply and wrongly asserted.

Onwards.  Brooks has a long-standing difficulty untangling cause and correlation, not to mention his long dance with the dread might/must fallacy:

Meanwhile, the strife appears to be spreading. Sunni-Shiite violence in Iraq is spiking upward. Reports in The Times and elsewhere have said that many Iraqis fear their country is sliding back to the worst of the chaos experienced in the last decade. Even Turkey, Pakistan, Bahrain and Kuwait could be infected.

Some of the difficulty here isn’t simply a failure of causal argument.  Brooks is perfectly capable of making sh*t up.  Despite his claim that the current battles in Syria are causing violence in Iraq, Sunni-Shiite conflict is, as most of us with a functioning nervous system may recall, hardly a recent phenomenon. Consider just this cursory timeline, courtesy of the BBC:

2011 April – Army raids camp of Iranian exiles, killing 34. Government says it will shut Camp Ashraf, home to thousands of members of the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran.

2011 August – Violence escalates, with more than 40 apparently co-ordinated nationwide attacks in one day.

US pull out

2011 December – US completes troop pull-out.

Unity government faces disarray. Arrest warrant issued for vice-president Tariq al-Hashemi, a leading Sunni politician. Sunni bloc boycotts parliament and cabinet.

2012 – Bomb and gun attacks target Shia areas throughout the year, sparking fears of a new sectarian conflict. Nearly 200 people are killed in January, more than 160 in June, 113 in a single day in July, more than 70 people in August, about 62 in attacks nationwide in September, and at least 35 before and during the Shia mourning month of Muharram in November.

Nearly 200 people are killed in bombings targeting Shia Muslims in the immediate wake of the US withdrawal….

And so on.  But Brooks isn’t merely wrong as a matter of fact.  Rather, these facts point to the deeper problem, one that has crippled his (and many others’) arguments for American action in far off places.  That is:  the suggestion that Syrian events are driving Iraqi conflict includes a crucial unstated assumption:  that Iraq’s own problems, fractures, circumstances and history are irrelevant.

You get this a lot amongst grand strategy or Great Game thumb-suckers.  Countries, movements, peoples, funny-looking or sounding foreigners are all objects, not agents, mere counters in the game.  Except, of course, as we found out the hard way from 2003 onwards, they’re not. They’ve got their own stories and they stick to them, by gum. Does an increase in conflict, a decrease in stability within a region matter to countries nearby?  Sure.  But other things matter more.  Otherwise, El Paso’s murder rate during the last years of last decade might look a lot more like Ciudad Juarez’s than it does, if you catch my drift. (Happy to report, BTW, that the news there is getting a bit better.)

And there’s more! File this next one in the “fighting the last war” category:

It is pretty clear that the recent American strategy of light-footprint withdrawal and nation-building at home has not helped matters. The United States could have left more troops in Iraq and tamped down violence there. We could have intervened in Syria back when there was still something to be done and some reasonable opposition to mold.

I’m not actually sure what the hell Brooks means in the first sentence above.  We left Iraq under treaty, at the insistence of the Iraqi government.  Is Brooks really saying we should have maintained a force under those circumstances?  If so, he should make that clear, and then suggest some way that could be done…and then tell us how 100,000 or so (post-surge levels) US troops could actually police the kind of violence Iraq has seen in recent months and years.

Or to put it another way: this is pure REMF bullshit; thereoughtabealaw material:  Brooks only gets to say we need more armed Americans in conflict zones if he’s willing to embed with a tooth unit for a full year.

And as for that “nation-building at home” line — WTF?  Really — what does he mean?  Or rather, please, sign me up.  Get us a Nancy Pelosi speakership so that we could actually pass a jobs or infrastructure bill.  Then we’ll talk.

And last:  about that “we could have intervened in Syria back when…” Tell me, Mr. Brooks, what in detail you think we should have done.  “Intervene” is such a usefully vague word.

Hell, don’t.  Let’s read the chicken entrails you’ve left for us in this column.  To me, the most revealing note in the whole piece is that phrase “reasonable opposition to mold.”

That sense of a plastic organization ready for whatever the U.S.’s child-like hands chooses to pinch or fold recalls nothing so much as Chalabi worship, the delusion that actors in a place about which we know little are dolls for us to dress-up and move and pour pretend tea for as we choose.

Brigitte_mit_Puppe_Margret_Hofheinz-Döring,_Öl,_1946_(WV-Nr.20)

Never mind that they actually are the heirs and current proprietors of their ownlong history of faction and party and ideology and interest of which Mr. Brooks (and me, to be sure) have asymptotically close to zero grasp.  Does he think that American blood or just American artillery would have persuaded anyone involved not to fight their own corner?  Didn’t happen in Iraq, where US intervention brought out into the open long-(violently)-suppressed sectional conflict.  Flash forward to the harsh tyranny of now, and still Brooks offers not one shred of evidence or argument to suggest that we had a better grasp of internal Syrian tensions this time around.

Astonishingly (to me) — and in all fairness, to be lodged on the credit side of his ledger — Brooks does land at a more or less reasonable conclusion.  Echoing his colleague Nick Kristof, he endorses a strike against the Syrian government in support of what both columnists call the norm that prohibits the use of chemical weapons.  (More on that later, perhaps.)  But then he suggests something resembling restraint:

[There are] at least three approaches on the table. The first is containment: trying to keep each nation’s civil strife contained within its own borders. The second is reconciliation: looking for diplomatic opportunities to bring the Sunni axis, led by the Saudis, toward some rapprochement with the Shiite axis, led by Iran. So far, there have been few diplomatic opportunities to do this.

Finally, there is neutrality: the nations in the Sunni axis are continually asking the United States to simply throw in with them, to use the C.I.A. and other American capacities to help the Sunnis beat back their rivals. The administration has decided that taking sides so completely is not an effective long-term option.

Brooks even concedes the crucial uncertainty:

…at this point, it’s not clear whether American and other outside interference would help squash hatreds or inflame them.

Given that, he concludes:

Poison gas in Syria is horrendous, but the real inferno is regional. When you look at all the policy options for dealing with the Syria situation, they are all terrible or too late. The job now is to try to wall off the situation to prevent something just as bad but much more sprawling.

I’ll take it anytime an Iraq cheerleader reins in his or her lust for another great adventure for someone else’s kids.  Really.  So I’ll pull back on my own bridle and note only that the claim that we are on the verge of a great Sunni-Shiite apocalypse is a conclusion assumed in advance.

Once again, the idea that the Syrian conflict might be, well, actually and in important ways distinctly Syrian is never actually entertained.  The fact that the strife now in Egypt has nothing to do with sect-based religious rivalry and a great deal to do with very specific and long-standing fissures in Egypt’s society and polity never seems to enter Brooks spotless mind.  And so on.

Which is to say that a glass-half-full kind of person might say well, at least our Bobo is learning.  As for me, I’m no such Pollyanna: even when Brooks, blind pigging and all that, does reach a point that isn’t crazy, the way he gets there remains a problem.  I guess it is the incuriousness that gets me the most.  There’s a lot of sunshine in his spotless mind.

And as for the Times?  They’ve made their bargain:  Brooks’ celebrity is secure now; he gets clicks and he gets tons of exposure, both gold in this transitional media moment.  He’s a smooth — I’d say glib, but YMMV – writer, to be sure, but he’s a genuinely crappy thinker.  And that’s not going away.  Still, even if his work does or ought to bring a flush of shame to those  in the building who do put their minds (and sometimes their bodies too) out into the fray is something the powers that be in Timesland seem willing to worry about another day.  The tricky thing is that places are only indispensable until they’re not, and it’s after the rubble settles that those long-ago first cracks reveal themselves as warnings unheeded.

*Where n is an arbitrarily large number

**obligatory h/t to Warner Wolf.

Images:  Clara Peeters, A Vanitas Portrait of a Lady, c. 1613-1620.

Frontspiece of the Bible Moralisee, God the Geometer, c.1250.

Margret Hofheinz-Döring, Brigitte with Doll, 1946.

Blind Pigs, Acorns

May 2, 2013

I suppose it’s not really a surprise that someone who sprays as much verbiage as Mr. Newt Gingrich must on occasion come up with something which which I can agree:

It would be a major mistake to put American troops in Syria.

No one in the region wants us invading yet another country.

None of our allies want our strength diverted from Iran.

There is no practical mission American forces could accomplish without a very large commitment.

Yup, that’s about right.

But still, I’m not going to give Gingrich any props for this one moment of clarity.  The problem with Newt is not that he is incapable of clear thought at times, but that he chooses to relinquish that capacity when it’s convenient.

Pierre-Auguste_Renoir_-_Le_Clown_(Claude_Renoir)

Which is to say that I’m with Tom Kludt, the author of the bit at TPM from which the quotes above are taken,  when he suggests that the odds of Gingrich saying something more or less sane sensitively depend on whether or not he’s running for something at the time:

At a Republican presidential debate last year in Arizona, the former House speaker mocked President Barack Obama for not doing more in Syria.

“This is an administration which, as long as you’re America’s enemy, you’re safe,” Gingrich said. “You know, the only people you’ve got to worry about is if you’re an American ally.”

And thus the real problem.  It doesn’t actually matter much what Gingrich says when no one (outside of the credulous Village) is listening.  We have a deep problem in our politics that derives directly from the fact that the leaders of that feral beast the Republican party has become give tacit and sometimes overt permission to the crazies that form the hardest core of their supporters. Ted Cruz and the Pauls, Bachmann, Gohmert, and all the rest talk apocalypse.  The allegedly “responsible” leadership — Gingrich himself in this case, domesticates the truly wild-eyed, the folks who accuse Obama of high crimes and misdemeanorsor.  Or recall Romney, dog whistling during the campaign last year:

“Sometimes I think we have a president who doesn’t understand America.” This line was straight out of the “Alien in the White House” playbook, a riff that reinforced the worst impulses of some in the audience, as one woman at a Romney rally named Katheryn Sarka eagerly reaffirmed when I asked her what she thought of the line: “Obama doesn’t understand America. He follows George Soros. Obama is against our Constitution and our democracy.”

After his big Nevada win, this line of Mitt’s scripted victory speech stood out: “President Obama demonizes and denigrates almost every sector of our economy.”

As discussed yesterday, we live in a country where 3 out of ten Americans, and 44% of the GOP expect armed rebellion in the next few years.  This is not a view compatible with democratic process.  The destruction of the American polity is not a both-sides-do-it phenomenon.  It is a hail mary act of intimidation, and perhaps outright violence to come, by a failed political party, one whose hopes of gaining legitimate power shrink with every passing year of demographic change.

Hmmm.  A reckless, failing political movement threatening violence unless its minority hold on power persists.  When before now have we seen that in American history?

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Clown — Claude Renoir, 1909

Marc Ambinder, General McChrystal, My Uncle, and Gays in the Military

June 26, 2010

American policy on gays in the military has been a self inflicted wound for years now.  The loss of Arabic (and Farsi) language specialists at just this moment in our strategic history was an own goal if ever there was one.  But the firing of General Stanley McChrystal has brought into sharp relief another truth about the chicken hawk quality of arguments against an end to the discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell” farce.

Marc Ambinder, continuing in a really sterling transformation of his work from that of being a villager in training to a serious, independent reporter, wrote about the McChrystal connection and the implications of military reality (and or closeness or distance to the sharp end) on assessments of the ability for gays to perform in the armed forces (and for those forces to perform with gays openly in their ranks).

(I’ve harshly criticized Ambinder in the past, and stopped reading him after what was for me one too many retellings of conventional wisdom; picking up on cues from the folks at Balloon Juice who are much more conscientious than I in following folks through their twists and turns, I’ve started up again, and it is as if there is a whole new Marc reporting, rather than retelling what his sources feed him.  To be acknowledged and encouraged.)

The short form of Ambinder’s story is that (a) McChrystal is genuinely a social liberal, untroubled by (among other things) gays in the military, and that (b) the special forces he used to command are much more focused on the job that their fellow soldiers, gay or straight, actually do than on who they happen to sleep with.  Money quote:

As one former member of a special missions unit put it to me recently, “It’s really about competence. If you’re competent, it doesn’t matter who you are.”  And then, switching instantly from an analytical posture to a machismo mode, he said, “If a guy saves my ass, he sure as hell can look at it.”

Exactly so.  The folks who worry most about gays in the military are chickenhawks, those who never get close to the real work of an army:  fighting the enemy, supporting your comrades.*

This struck home in a deep way recently as I helped my family mourn the death of the senior surviving male member of our parent’s generation, my beloved and much missed Uncle David, who, among much else in a life well-lived, served as a career officer in the Royal Artillery, fighting the United Kingdom’s wars from 1943 to the early nineteen sixties, retiring at the rank of Major and having served as a battery commander.

Long ago, in the early eighties, I visited David after I’d finished my college degree, hanging out mostly.  For some reason the issue of gays in the military came up (maybe the Dutch had just opened up their ranks — I don’t really recall).

David surprised me.  He was, after all, an Eton-educated former career officer (and the son of a Colonel) — not obviously the sort of person who would readily dissent from what remained then the British military norm.

What came next was another in a long series of lessons in the risks of assuming individual qualities from group characteristics.  David told me two things, one an observation in principle and the other a specific story, both with the same point.

Principle first:  David told me that his objection to gays in the military had been based on the notion that the potential for relationships to form between different ranks in the same units raised the possibility that a commander would be faced with an impossible command dilemma if he had to assign hazardous or likely fatal tasks to members of the unit.

But, he said, once women were admitted to the military, that objection failed…or rather it seemed that the military had decided it could manage that potential problem, and there was no reason other than bigotry to assert that gay soldiers would be more likely to fall afoul of such a dilemma than straight ones.

The story was more direct, and more on the point that Ambinder made in his story.  One afternoon, relaxing after a day’s work on the farm that was his second career, he told me about an experience he had just after he joined his battery in northern Europe in late 1944.  Then nineteen, and a newly minted junior officer, he commanded a towed gun — a 155mm howitzer, I think, though don’t quote me on that.

One day he sought out the battery adjutant.

What was the problem? the adjutant asked.

Well, said David, it seems that my loader and my driver are sharing the same sleeping bag.  What should I do?

How does the lorry run?

Fine — perfect; starts every time, is maintained and fueled each night (not morning … crucial under the circumstances — ed.); shines as much as can be expected under the conditions.

How is the gun?

No problems, none at all.  The ammunition is in good order, the gun never jams, everything works as it should.

And what was the problem you wished to discuss, Lt. S-M?

Nothing, sir. Nothing at all.

Which is to say exactly what Ambinder’s sources told him:  what matters in combat is what you do in combat.  Wasting time, and worse, depriving yourself of good soldiers, is worse than bigoted.  It is stupid, and it costs the most at the very point where we can afford it least.

Did I mention I revere and hugely miss my uncle?

*It is true, as Ambinder points out that there are plenty of serving military who oppose gays in uniform who are not chickenhawks; I’m referring here to the much larger number of those who never wore the uniform, or did so always at many safe removes from combat who stand shoulder to shoulder to prevent some Americans from serving their country.  For these, the full measure of contempt is not enough.

Image: Dying Achilles at Achilleion, Corfu. Sculptor: Ernst Herter, 1884.

DFH’s are not alone: Some video on the madness of current defense spending

April 6, 2010

Benjamin Friedman is no one’s idea of a wild-eyed hippie naif.

He is, rather, a Ph.D candidate at MIT’s Political Science Department and a research fellow at that well known bastion of tie-dye and patchouli, the Cato Institute.

Money fact: as Friedman totes up current defense spending  including all the bits up to the share of interest on the debt that can be attributed to deficit spending on the military, he finds that we get almost no change out of a trillion dollars each year. (Contrast that with estimates of the cost of health care reform that come in at about 940 billion over ten years, and is projected to reduce the deficit over that period.)

The edited version of Friedman’s is 23 minutes long, and there is no requirement that you agree with the whole analysis.

(I think he dismisses security interests in Asia a bit cavalierly, myself — not in that I disagree that it’s odd we still have major bases and commitments in Japan, but that it seems to me a more difficult process to extract from that north Asian series of commitments than it would be to do so from a Europe that no longer divides along the inner-German border.)

But that said, Friedman makes a coherent and to-me pretty obvious argument that we are spending way too much on the military.  He offers a good story as to why — where the different pressures to maintain that cost trajectory.  (If ever there was a case for “bending the curve” it comes here.)*He also came up with a pithy answer as to why that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. Money quote, from political scientist Ronald Dahl:

“In a dictatorship, a minority rules. In a democracy, minorities rule.”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

*One note:  Friedman points to an increase in the expansion of benefits and the cost of health care for active duty members of the armed services and for retirees as one of the (smaller, I think) drivers of military budget growth over the last decade.  He doesn’t separate out the specific cost of care attributable to the wars.  But the point is, of course, that getting medical care cost under control is as many have noted, a national security issue as well as a moral and social one.

more about “DFH’s are not alone: Some video on t…“, posted with vodpod

DADT is a national security issue: Stonewall Riot anniversary repetition of the obvious

June 30, 2009

Courtesy of the AP (don’t sue me, bro!):

“More than 13,000 homosexuals have been discharged from the military because of their sexual preferences.”

This in the context of reporting on President Obama’s reception commemorating the Stonewall Riot, a social event at which Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach told the President “that I’m being thrown out as we speak, and that there was a sense of urgency for me.”

Given that a significant subset of those discharged were Arabic linguists, the rationale for reversing the policy, whatever the brass may think (the public and the rank-and-file* do not care, broadly speaking) seems obvious.  We are engaged in a long term strategic relationship — good and bad — with a lot of Arabic speaking countries, and it would seem we need all the dedicated service people we can get….not to mention the personnel needs implied by six years and counting of difficult and often unpopular war.

Why this in a (nominally) science/history of science blog?

First and most important:  because it seems to me that this is one of those “I demand that the Torah not be read” issues, hence supervening any mere demand for consistency.

Second:  because DADT is based ultimately on a claim about human nature, human biological nature — and this is unequivocally a place where an intersection of the scientific world view and the public square does indeed occur.

DADT only makes sense if, in some sense, sexual identity is seen as a measure of the degree to which one is fully human, fully a member of a social group.  Straight men and straight women are “full” humans.  Anyone else may participate in the group only if they conform to the outward appearance of that fully human ideal.

And yet we know from all kinds of studies, not to mention the personal experience of those whom we know, love, and/or hate…the full spectrum of emotion being available, always… that the full spectrum of the human capacities for sexual desire and love are deeply embedded in the biological history of our species and many others.  See, for just one amongst an ecosystem of research, the old but still lovely work of UT’s David Crews, discussed on this blog here.  (Few things give me greater pleasure than the opportunity to make reference to sneaky f*ckers in a non-political context.)

So, to sum up:  DADT is a sop to the worst elements in our polity, that, stripped to its bare essentials, requires us to differentiate between the authenticity of the human experience of two groups.  That differentiation is contradicted by the science — a wide range of sexual desire is clearly the outcome of a history of selection that has acted much more subtly than the naive “if it don’t produce kids it can’t be real” nonsense of the biologically illiterate position.  Unless we want to go back to arguing that dividing groups of humans into a hierarchy of evolutionary perfection is a good idea, then DADT violates what we understand from the research point of view.

(Not to mention the fact that the consenting adults rule obtains: if it doesn’t penetrate the public sphere, what one does in the privacy of one’s own bedroom between consenting adults is almost without exception nobody else’s business.**)

And then there is  simply the appeal to the rule of reason:  we live in what our conservative friends (and not only them, to be sure) constantly remind us is a dangerous world.  It is simply stupid to disarm unilaterally in such a world.  And yet, to belabor the obvious, that is exactly what we are doing.

13,000 men and women eager to serve, gone.

More, decorated, experienced, uniquely skilled going.

You know who should be hoping we let homophobia hang on as long as possible?

Osama Bin Laden…Khameni and Ahmedinijad…Kim Il Jong.  You name the nemesis of the month, and they’re happy the longer we allow our military to root out some of our best soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.

In other words…it would be good if Congress walked through the door President Obama has opened for them.  Unless and until they do, though, the Commander in Chief has the duty, in my view, to take those actions within the law that he can to enhance the security of the United States.  The time is coming — really, the time has come — that as a matter of national security President Obama should order that the military suspend DADT hearings pending congressional action.

*Two recent online polls report a much higher level of support for retaining DADT amongst serving military. The problem with them is that they were very poorly constructed and executed measurements.  The broader range of evidence, including explicit statements on the issue like this one, suggest that the military, reflecting the culture at large, is breaking rapidly towards an inclusive view of fitness to serve.)

**The one argument to keep gay men and women out of the military that some people thing has significant weight is that if members of a combat unit can form romantic and sexual connections to one another, unit cohesion will suffer if the suspicion arises that one member or another is protected from a dangerous mission or the like by such a relationship.  However, as my career officer uncle explained to me, his opposition to gays in the army on that grounds had ended pragmatically years before*** and in principle once women began to serve in combat support roles.  If the potential for gay couples threatens unit cohesion, straight relationships do to — and are (a) more common (at least overtly) and (b) are subject to a combination of military rules and norms that seem to work.

***My uncle as a very young and green officer commanded a towed gun that fought its way across northern Europe in 1944-1945.  He discovered that his driver and his loader were sharing both a tent and a sleeping bag.  He reported this terribly shocking news (he’d had if not a sheltered, then a blinkered youth) to the battery adjutant, who asked him, “is your vehicle in good order?”

“Perfect,” my uncle replied.

“Is the ammunition properly cared for?  Has your gun ever malfunctioned.”

“Never.”

“And what was it you wanted to report to me?”

My Uncle, never a stupid man, answered directly:

“Nothing.”

Image:  Maurycy Gottlieb “Jews Praying in Synagogue on Yom Kippur,” 1878.