To the editors:
No doubt, David Evans (Hot Type, November 23, 1990) has done us a genuine public service in writing his columns about flaws with the Army’s high-tech weaponry. Criticizing the government during a military crisis can be beneficial and necessary, if one has the evidence to back up the critique. Some of his comments in Michael Miner’s column have such evidence; others, it seems, do not, and lack even the suggestion of good intentions to justify them.
Mr. Evans is quoted as saying that the Army’s shortages of supplies “are so severe that the Army may not be able to sustain an operation into Kuwait for more than two weeks.” Yet in the same paragraph, Mr. Miner writes that Mr. Evans has not written about the “sustainability” problem because “too much of his evidence is impressionistic.” What does that mean? If Mr. Evans has evidence, let him present it; if not, let him hold his peace. There are enough legitimate worries about the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia without voicing vague impressions of disaster. Journalists are supposed to be discreet, not coy.
Even more irresponsible are his comments about the economic and racial makeup of the armed forces. His opinion is not entirely clear, but, apparently, he believes that there is nothing wrong with the current volunteer system. He mentions Eisenhower as an example of the upward mobility that service in the armed forces can provide.
There is nothing wrong with this opinion, by itself. It may well be true. But Mr. Evans still feels the need to take crack shots at those who do not join: “. . . what kind of a company commander do we think Dan Quayle would have made, anyway? And do we really want the sons of the buy-out artists and the junk-bond salesmen now trying to lead our forces in battle? I don’t want those guys anywhere around.”
Does Mr. Evans really think that Dan Quayle is synonymous with an entire social group? Does he believe that everyone in “the elite of America” (his phrase, not mine) is a buy-out artist or a junk-bond salesman or the son of one? Suggesting that an army containing “the elite of America” would be “riddled with incompetents” may seem like a sort of negative compliment to those who have enlisted (“Hey, Bud, bet ya those lily-livered desk jockeys couldn’t cut out those Ay-rab guts!), but even this hint of social value is belied by the statement (the article doesn’t explain whether it is Mr. Evans’s thought or Mr. Miner’s) that “The other way of looking at an all-volunteer Army is that its social origins are one of its strengths. What good’s an Army that it’s impolitic to send into battle?” Such off-the-cuff sarcasm illuminates nothing and only serves to confuse an already murky and important issue.
James B. Salla
Michael Miner replies:
The off-the-cuff sarcasm is my own, and I don’t think there’s anything confusing about it. David Evans’s views, if I may try to render them accurately, are these: the current volunteer system has given the U.S. a military capable of waging war (deficiencies of equipment aside) on a highly competent level. A soldier in the field values this competence more than he would being part of a squad that in the best Hollywood tradition is an ethnic and social cross section of America. So why fix what isn’t broken? The idea that an army doesn’t go to war, a nation does, and that the army should reflect the nation, is sentimental–the nation goes to war by sending its army to fight, and an army larded with soldiers who didn’t want to be there won’t fight as well, at some cost to the nation and great cost to the abler soldiers.