Saturday, December 14, 2019

Book Review: 'The Cost of Loyalty: Dishonesty, Hubris, and Failure in the U.S. Military' by Tim Bakken

The Cost of Loyalty: Dishonesty, Hubris, and Failure in the U.S. Military by [Bakken, Tim]

I'm from the military and I'm here to help

The US military has an unassailable reputation it does not deserve. From the inability to win a war to the worst schools and rampant criminal activity (drugs, rapes, bribes, massacres), the military sets the worst example in every sphere. In The Cost of Loyalty, Tim Bakken, a civilian law professor at West Point, has dug up and assembled a litany of failure, and failing with arrogance and pride. It reads like an Auditor General’s Report – endless examples of incompetence, bias, total disregard for the constitution, wasted money and unindicted criminal activity. Its actions lead to deaths in the millions. Its extravagance costs taxpayers trillions.

Lest you think I exaggerate, here’s what Bakken says right in the preface: “The conditions for individual and organizational failure are pervasive inside the military: loyalty over truth; isolation; censorship; control over everyone; manipulation of the media; narcissism; retaliation; and callousness.” And he hasn’t even started.

West Point, the army crown jewel since 1802, is far less than it appears. Bakken shows it fraudulently pumps up its stats to show how exclusive it is. It says only 9% get accepted. However, they include as applicants any kid who just asks for an information packet. The truth is West Point accepts well over 50% of actual applicants, because it has to.

Their quality continues to plunge. For one thig, the forbiddingly high rejection rate scares off many potential (decent) students. For another, they take on athletes with zero academic qualifications to help boost constantly failing sports teams. Third, they take large numbers of sub-marginal high schoolers and put them in prep, where they get paid $1000 a month, and still do not become academic bloomers, just more poor students when they become cadets. Fourth, more than a quarter of cadets have SAT scores in the 400s and 500s, putting them in the bottom 40% nationally. (SAT scores alone put the military academies outside the top 100, despite their self-promotion as top schools.) Fifth, when they graduate (debt-free) to guaranteed lifetime careers in the army, 50% have lower health/fitness scores in than when they were accepted. (In civilian society, this is called destroying value.) Bakken says many can’t even read. But they will spend billions, plan wars, lead others and make decisions affecting civilians’ lives and deaths as generals.

What they can do is go wild. Women face five times the rate of sexual assault in military academies (one woman in four) as they do in civilian schools. Getting caught committing a crime results in a wrist slap, if anything. The real punishment is saved for whistleblowers, who are fired, not renewed, reassigned, transferred out or hounded out as needed. There is no room for truth in military academies. Retaliation is endemic at all levels.

Military personnel cannot sue the military. Military academies are exempted from constitutional constraints. Academies are not even covered by Title IX regulations. “The system is specifically designed so that the victim, whether cadet, soldier, or officer, has no recourse,” Bakken says.

To get in, future-cadets’ parents bribe congressmen to nominate them. This was the top news story for months in the civilian sector, but it has gone on for years with zero controversy in the military. Instead, it’s a requirement.

The result, says Bakken, is that the military is run by C+ students. But that is only the beginning. They are taught by military professors without doctorates. Many don’t even have experience in their subject; it’s just an assignment for them. They are rotated through with no commitment to their subject, research or publishing. The curriculum is heavily weighted towards engineering. Not managing situations or people, not other cultures or even the history of war. Foreign languages are taught by non-speakers. Graduates are essentially completely unprepared for the military career ahead. And yet, soldiers maintain military experience is interchangeable with any level of other expertise, according to findings by Joan Johnson-Freese, US Naval War College, Annapolis.

Among the many needless ironies in the book, the basic one is that the military, charged with defending freedom of expression, prohibits it among its members and civilian instructors. This extends up to the highest ranks, where not disagreeing with the Defense Secretary on troop levels or the President on an invasion has led to endless unwinnable wars, thousands of American deaths, hundreds of thousands of locals’ deaths, and endless guilty consciences for not having spoken up at the time. It’s all about protecting your own career, at the expense of everyone else – millions worldwide. Say little to your peers and never disagree with a superior. That’s the military path to the top, Bakken says.

The result has long been insane strategies promulgated by incompetent generals who have no realistic vision of the game before them. Bakken says they have prepared the military for a war with Transformers, not with guerillas, religious radicals, local insurgents or millions affected by the ruthless, bloody and cruel US soldiers. The ultimate gaffe is to hand all decision-making to the military itself. The founders were so fearful of the military they made it subservient to the civilian administration on purpose. Ultimate decisions must come from civilians. But Donald Trump handed Defense Secretary General James Mattis carte blanche to do whatever he wanted in Afghanistan, with the predictable outcome of total failure at the cost of hundreds of thousands of civilian lives. Not only is Afghanistan still majority-held by the Taliban, but the military has turned the whole country against the USA for its hatred, brutality and ignorance. Meanwhile, back in Washington, the military lies all day long about its victories, achievements and successes in subduing the enemy and implanting democratic freedoms throughout Afghanistan. Where there were hundreds of terrorists before, today there are hundreds of thousands, anxious to take revenge. The US military makes the world far more unsafe with every campaign it mounts.

Bakken says American soldiers consider themselves warrior kings, able and free to destroy others at will. And the military will protect them and hide their deeds as best it can, by lying and avoiding. If word does get out, the military relies on the tiresome, inexcusable excuse that it was not intentional, and therefore not a war crime. Bakken show the US all but completely ignores international treaties and human rights agreements, including, if not especially, the US constitution. It sets up multiple future conflicts for each one it wages, worst of all on US soil. For which Americans continually express eternal gratitude.

All this might be okay if the military was competent at its main job – winning wars. But it isn’t. The most damning charge in The Cost of Loyalty is that the generals are incompetent grandees with giant private planes and unlimited privileges. They rely on their own gut instinct without consultation, and they fail, every time. The last general to win a war graduated West Point in 1915. That was Dwight Eisenhower. The rest seem to have learned nothing.

Even in their own war games, the opposition crushes the USA, nailing its planes on the ground, overcoming control centers, and causing leaders to end the games early because there’s nothing left of the US team to overrun. The Taliban are more nimble, al-Qaeda more resourceful. Everywhere, natives hate the Americans supposedly defending them, because the Americans slaughter the natives at will and en masse. Meanwhile at West Point, they teach cadets marching songs about torturing and wiping out hadjis - the military slang for arabs.

Worse perhaps, the military continues to usurp power from the government. In both Korea and Vietnam, generals (McArthur, Westmoreland) secretly moved to use nuclear bombs to wipe out the enemy, but were caught and prevented from doing so. Today, the military simply disregards the civilian world and operates separately, under its own system, totally incompatible with American values and laws. This is precisely what the founders feared and why they refused to have a standing army at all.

As for Tim Bakken, the only reason he can write such a book and not be fired is because he continues to work at West Point under court order. The military already tried to harass him out as a whistleblower, and it resulted in an order to keep its hands off him. This book could not have been written otherwise.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of David Wineberg. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.