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January 14, 2003

Try to imagine the media shitstorm if a Clinton cabinet officer had remarked, as Bush administration defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld just did, that Vietnam-era draftees offered “no value, no advantage, really, to the United States armed services.”

A letter-writer in the Washington Post remarks:

“Thousands of Vietnam-era draftees came home for burial in wooden boxes, and many more still suffer the effects of napalm exposure or were otherwise disabled in combat. It is comforting, I’m sure, to their families that they were of ‘no value, no advantage, really.’”
I agree, and have recently argued, that for most modern purposes volunteer armies are liable to be more effective than conscripts. But for a Secretary of Defense to fliply dismiss the value of 1,800,000 Americans’ service is stunningly crass. I know teenagers with more thoughtfulness and discretion than Rumsfeld displays. And less vanity. [03:30 PM]
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Comments on Try to imagine:

Tom Strong ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2003, 04:45 PM:

What Jan. 8th news story? Link please!

If Rumsfield really said that, he should be tarred and feathered. Despicable!

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2003, 04:50 PM:

Here's the original story.

Hey, Tom! How's life in Millennium City?

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2003, 05:44 PM:

This is *slightly* less shocking when you read the next bit:

". . . because the churning that took place, it took an enormous amount of effort in terms of training, and then they were gone."

Of course, *that* suggests that service in 'Nam was a week-long cakewalk for all those draftees.

The original quote, taken out of context, is political dynamite -- rhetorical burn 'em twice chili. And I'm cynical enough and desperate enough to hope it gets lots and lots of circulation.

Michael Nutt ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2003, 08:10 PM:

The original quote bothered me enough that I went looking for the transcript of the press conference, and found it here. The quote is pulled from the following paragraph:

The disadvantages to the individuals so brought in are notable. If you think back to when we had the draft, people were brought in; they were paid some fraction of what they could make in the civilian manpower market because they were without choices. Big categories were exempted -- people that were in college, people that were teaching, people that were married. It varied from time to time, but there were all kinds of exemptions. And what was left was sucked into the intake, trained for a period of months, and then went out, adding no value, no advantage, really, to the United States armed services over any sustained period of time, because the churning that took place, it took enormous amount of effort in terms of training, and then they were gone.

I'll grant the point that there would have been a media shitstorm, but I also insist that it would have been because someone was taking the remarks totally out of the context of the question and the reply given. Hopefully, we as a nation can start moving past that sort of thing now.

Fred Boness ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2003, 08:26 PM:

I was in that Army 1970 - 1973. Rummy is right, read in context.

That army had soldiers with an IQ of 90 being given new weapons like the TOW, a wire guided anti-tank missile, which required an operator with an IQ of 100.

This is a much better Army today. I know a number of these next generation soldiers and I have great respect for them and their abilities. One of these guys is a staff sergeant who can set up a satellite communications system for an entire country in a week. Is that cool or what?

Tom Strong ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2003, 09:44 PM:


1) Wotchumean, Millenium city?

2) So this time, let's draft only those with college degrees.

3) So Fred, were you a volunteer?

Army E8 ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2003, 10:26 PM:

Another attempt by the liberals to blow up an honest statement into another resignation.

Teddy Bare had hanky panky with a chick who wound up dead, Biden plagarized, Clinton got head from a ditzy Jew broad and lied to the people, KKK bigwig Byrd bandied the white N*gger around, Condit got caught hanky panky with a ditzy jew chick who wound up dead. None of them resigned!

Hatchet job for Republicans, snow job for Democrats.

IssuesGuy ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2003, 10:39 PM:

Please leave that last comment up there. In fact, maybe make a post out of it so everyone can see it and understand just what kind of crowd is running the country now.

Fred Boness ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2003, 11:32 PM:

Yes Tom, I was Regular Army as was most of my family (except that cousin who was a Marine colonel). My family has sent men to every war in the 20th century except Desert Storm. Don't know how we missed that one.

So Tom, are you always this snarky?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2003, 12:10 AM:

I guess Tom Strong doesn't read Tom Strong.

IssuesGuy: Oh yeah.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2003, 12:32 AM:

By the way. I am not particularly calling for Rumsfeld's resignation over this. I am pointing out two things:

(1) If a Clinton Administration cabinet member had dissed the value of Vietnam-era draftees this casually, they would have been hung out to dry.

(2) Even though there are strong arguments to be made for volunteer armies over conscripted ones, if you are Secretary of Defense, you do not allow yourself to be quoted dismissing the value of 1,800,000 Americans' service. This is an elementary principle of leadership. Rumsfeld's inability to understand this says everything anyone needs to know about the shallowness, egotism, vanity, and sheer bootlessness of the current regime.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2003, 12:34 AM:

For the record, Army E8's cretinous post has been let stand only because Patrick asked me not to zap it. Otherwise I would have deleted it the moment I saw it.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2003, 12:37 AM:

IssuesGuy: if "Army E8" was running the country, he wouldn't be "Army E8", he'd be "Texas Air National Guard O2". I think that, in most respects, if the Army's NCO corps were running the country, they'd be doing a better job.

"Army E8" himself excepted, of course.

Atrios ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2003, 02:02 AM:

Hey, where you all been? I hand-transcribed this damn thing days ago:

But, this will be one of those rare moments when I defend the right. It is true that Madeline Albright was initially piled on when she made a comment about the "best and brightest" not serving in Vietnam, but it was also a rare moment when she called them on it and most of them backed off.

However, I do agree that yes there would have been a shitstorm if this had been a xlint00n administration official, and yes it's a horribly insensitive stupid thing for Rumsfeld to say. I didn't try and push it more because I know what he meant, and I don't think it's totally evil, but it was pretty insensitive.

Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2003, 04:31 AM:

Actually, in a way. this makes me think better of Rumsfeld. Understanding what was wrong with the Vietnam army is surely one of the most important qualifications a man in his job can have. He shouldn't have said it: that's true, for the same reason that one should not stand up on November 11th and point out that the soldiers at the Somme gained no benefit from their training.
And I would rather have someone too tactless than too much afraid of public opinion.

(signed) a whinging european.

Cowboy Kahlil ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2003, 05:46 AM:

If Rumsfeld wishes to spit on Vietnam vets, I suppose that's his prerogative, but I don't think it deserves a 'pass'. Even in context, he could have made the point that volunteer soldiers are likely to fulfill their mission better than draftees , without putting it into a context that belittles those who've served.

I don't think politicians should be hounded out for every verbal gaffe, but calling them on it is a necessity, as they deserve to be criticized.

And before Patrick's main point gets lost, yes, had the words emanated from Clinton's defense sec'y, Fox News would be discussing likely successors by now.

OTOH, Army E8 represents no-one, certainly not most of the non-coms I've met, and his 'ditzy Jew broad' remarks should be reported to his superiors for appropriate disciplinary action. Obviously, we don't know who's hiding behind that moniker, which makes the task difficult, but AOL might be a good starting point.

This ain't about some standard of PC speech; it's about a guy purportedly in a supervisorial role in our military, using derogatory terms that border on hate speech. He's a disgrace to the service and oughta lose a stripe or two to obtain a badly needed lesson.

Jamie Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2003, 08:39 AM:

Rumsfeld will one day toast his toes in hell, but this sort of thinking is a step forward for humanity, I believe.
If nations can stop thinking of their young men as cannon fodder, their young women as baby factories and troop consorts, their consumers as cattle to be led with a carrot or stick, then civilation will truly start to advance.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2003, 08:59 AM:

I don't think "Army E8" deserves that much energy. I certainly don't think the fact that a troll calls himself "Army E8" reflects badly on serving military personnel. I am a big admirer of serving military personnel.

I'm much more interested in Rumsfeld. My "main point", contra Kahlil, wasn't my remark about a hypothetical Clinton Administration official. My main point was really about leadership style. We're constantly told by the Howard Finemans of the world that this Administration, in contrast to others, is composed of grownups seasoned in the arts of leadership. Well, one of the challenges periodically faced by grownups seasoned in the arts of leadership is this: talking about past policies that didn't work very well without making the foot soldiers who loyally carried out those policies (in this case, literally foot soldiers) feel like they've been crapped on from a great height. Rumsfeld's jejune remarks are pretty much a textbook example of how not to meet this challenge.

I realize that in saying this, I am trying to make a point about tone, and if I've learned anything in fifteen years on the Internet, it's that some people get tone and some people (even some very smart people) don't get it at all. The latter people will continue to say "I don't get it. Conscription is bad, so why was Rumsfeld's remark bad? I don't get it." Can't be helped.

Finally, I refer Atrios to Ted Barlow's koan:

Q. How many liberal bloggers does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: One to do it, and one to point out that Atrios did it first.

Tom Strong ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2003, 10:09 AM:

Actually, my real name is Tom Terrific, but no one who has actually met me believes it.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2003, 10:25 AM:

Naturally I believe you. After all, I work for an outfit that once published a science fiction novel by someone actually named--not a pseudonym!--Tom Cool.

Myke ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2003, 10:40 AM:

I doubt Army E8 is actually an Army E8. Working at the Pentagon as long as I did, I got to know a lot of senior NCOs. While there are always exceptions, you tend not to get that many stripes and rockers if you run your mouth like that.

Patrick's point about tone is a good one, irrespective of Rumsfeld's remarks. I've often seen disagreements explode over relatively banal language on internet bulletin boards. This is largely due to the fact that gesticulation and tone-of-voice can't be expressed here, so the reader is left up to their own interpretation of words in a vacuum. This is why smilies ;-) while annoying, are so essential. They let a reader know "hey, I'm being sarcastic here".

Nancy C. Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2003, 12:33 PM:

Not only did Tom Cool go on to write for a different publishing company, which I work for (damn, those authors get around), but was (if I recall correctly) in the military at the time I handled his book.

(Just to bring this thread back 'round to its origins.)

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2003, 12:46 PM:

Now that it's become a separate post, does Army E8's comment above really need vowels?

Just a thought.

Michael Rawdon ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2003, 12:57 PM:

This whole deal reminds me of Al Gore's misinterpreted "I created the Internet" comment, where (1) he didn't say any such thing; (2) he wasn't trying to claim any such thing, but (3) it was easy to misinterpret what he did say as such a thing.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2003, 01:53 PM:

Let's address the idea that Rumsfeld is being done a disservice by being read out of context. Here's more of what he said. (Via a UPI story quoted by Jeralyn Merritt; the original UPI link seems to have succumbed to rot.) Rumsfeld alluded to the large number of young men who were entitled to draft exclusions in the Vietnam years. Then he said:

What was left was sucked into the intake, trained for a period of months, and then went out, adding no value, no advantage, really, to the United States armed services over any sustained period of time, because the churning that took place, it took enormous amount of effort in terms of training, and then they were gone.

Read every line. "What was left was sucked into the intake," etc. He might as well have been talking about processed cheese food. What kind of military leader talks in public about his soldiers like this? This is the language of "systems analysis," not of real military leaders. Indeed, we haven't had someone with such a tin ear for the human aspects of leading soldiers since back when Bob McNamara was going to use his hot-shot auto-industry "systems" techniques to make everything clean and efficient and good. Vietnam ensued.

It's no wonder so much of the actual military rank and file dislikes Rumsfeld. The spin, of course, is that Rumsfeld is a visionary who knocks heads together and takes on the entrenched establishment. The fact is that he's a vain showboater with very little time for, or grasp of, the needs of the people he's supposed to be leading. Longtime military people are familiar with the type.

Damien Neil ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2003, 02:08 PM:

While I agree that Rumsfeld's comments were less than tactful, I don't find them particularly objectionable in context. I read them as describing the attitudes towards draftees in the Vietnam era. "Sucked into the intake" sounds like it's talking about processed cheese food because that's how draftees were (in Rumsfeld's opinion) treated.

I see his statement as an argument against treating soldiers with such a lack of dignity.

Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2003, 03:10 PM:

There is also in Rumsfeld's quote an element of the classic conservative disdain for the lump, the people who let themselves get drafted, processed, whatever. When this treatment is given to PLU (people like us), it is an outrage, Stalinism ... (which is true, of course). When the proles get it, that's just the way the world is. But when the proles get processed, and it does no one any good -- why, that's when we need reform.

Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2003, 07:28 PM:

I believe the technical term for Mr. Rumsfeld is REMF.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2003, 07:35 PM:

The thing that strikes me about the sentance you quote, Patrick, is the last clause, "and then they were gone." Not all of them were gone due to "churning." We had good people die there. Were their deaths of no value? Depends on how you count it. Vietnam was a bad idea in so many ways, and there's certainly an argument that they died for nothing. However, it's not something the Secretary of Defense should ever, ever say. Moreover, speaking of dead soldiers as having no added value for the military is rude as hell.

Alantex ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2003, 02:43 AM:

It should be noted that Rumsfield could have been bemoaning the short (2 years) term of service for Vietnam-era draftees. As a businessman, he surely would regret spending all that money and effort training employees who are highly unlikely to re-enlist. During WW II, (and maybe the Korean Conflict?), draftees were conscripted "for the duration". Training troops who couldn't wave goodbye (middle finger waves mostly) after two years must have seemed a lot more efficient.

Kent Roller ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2003, 03:41 AM:

Damien nailed Rumsfield's meaning by saying, "I see his statement as an argument against treating soldiers with such a lack of dignity."

But some of you have passed your magnifying glass over his tone, causing little puffs of smoke.

Is the goal to start a fire by dismissing Rumsfield's point and focus a burning dot of language reengineering on an issue he wasn't even discussing? He was talking about the military, not military personnel.

Words were put in Rumsfield's mouth when Cowboy said he "wishes to spit on Vietnam vets."

But that's not all folks! If you order the Blogco Tone Reader within the next 17 minutes, you'll also get the the Pocket Mind Reader! Just use the multilingual dial to set your agenda, point it at any conservative, and you'll have instant proof of their Right Wing Elitist Disdain for the working class and PHDs. It even works on the web! Instantly spot cretins and trollers who mess up your board with ham handed observations of those annoying little facts.

: )

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2003, 07:18 AM:

Could be, Kent. We all have our preferences and predispositions. This is why humility is considered a virtue.

Nonetheless, I stand by my original observations, and my subsequent glosses on them.

Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2003, 12:26 PM:

And I agree with you. Rumsfield wasn't making an argument against treating conscripts like disposable diapers, he was making an argument against the draft, arguing that the draftees themselves were useless because they were draftees. He is not saying, "If we reinstate the draft, we shouldn't do it the way we did during Vietnam." He's saying we should not have a draft, because draftees in 'Nam were useless.

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2003, 01:30 PM:

I'd like to be clear on this: is Avedon saying that Donald Rumsfeld (not, as some say, "Rumsfield," and also, btw to those, it's not "Leiberman,") is correct in opposing a military draft?

I'm still trying to work out whether I should change my name to "Tom Terrific," "Tom Cool," or "Tom Strong." I suppose "Tom All" might work, or, perhaps, the single name solution of "Tom" might be best.

No, I needs must be the only "Gary," clearly.

John Costello ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2003, 10:16 PM:

Well, Rummy was right. No, I am not a Vietnam vet -- I used every means available to avoid the draft until my number came up, and it was 303. Since the 70s I've known quite a few, and they all describe the same very unwilling American army turned into an army of drug addicts, incompetent officers --remember 'fragging?' -- higher echelons treating Vietnam like a great country club, and everyone just trying to time serive until their tour of duty was up. The fact that Eisenhower, Kennedy, LBJ, and Nixon threw away fifty thousand lives over there, and maimed many thousands more, is quite irrelevant. If you wish to take exception to anyone, try the idiots who have been proposing the reinstitution of the draft for political reasons, because they want to degrade the military's ability to fight wars a president of a party other than their own might want them to fight.

James Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2003, 11:06 AM:

Rumsfeld has apologized: