Air University Review, May-June 1986
Lieutenant Colonel John L. Conway, III
I am uncomfortable with the camouflage around me. Standing in line at the supermarket with my "ten items or less," I am surrounded by counterfeit Green Berets and pseudo-SEALS. The civilian populace, it would seem, has embraced the military once again by literally wearing it on their backs. Why, then, the discomfort? Wasn't it only half a career ago that wearing the uniform outside the gate brought forth the self-righteous wrath of America? Doesn't it feel good to be smiled at rather than scorned when you wear your class A uniform in the Atlanta Airport?
What concerns me is the stark fact that the American public's fascination with things military is formed without substancea popular notion that with just a little tinkeringand a few well-filled, olive-drab undershirtsthe American military, the arsenal of democracy, will be all right. Heck, it's all right now. We could probably do without stealth bombers, but not without steely-eyed pilots with the g-u-t-s to take on whoever's in our way. Add to this notion a statement that I heard from one of those Soviet émigrés who traverse our land criticizing the United States, bemoaning the loss of his Mother Russia to the Soviets, and collecting a nice fee for his efforts: he observed that "the American army in Vietnam was never defeated in the field." Shades of Hindenburg, Ludendorff, and 1918as well as a direct quotation from Colonel Harry G. Summers.
The implications of these little obfuscations are obvious to our camouflaged civilian brethren: If we would but take a look backward into that era, we would see that we did OK. We don't need to fix anything in our military today to stay that way. If it ain't broke, dont fix it. Also implied in that green and brown logic is the notion that you dont have to try to improve on your present preparedness or plan for the future.
Our current military dilemma of not only doing more with less but doing more with a whole lot less makes this kind of retrospective logic appealing. It goes something like this: "Let's take a break from research and development until we get this ol' budget balanced; then we'll throw money and technology in great heaps at whatever threat looms on the horizon and defeat the infidel if he dares attack."
Here's where the camouflage comes in. While the American people appear once again to understand, appreciate, and support the Defense Department's efforts, this public fascination with the military is, in reality, only another method of coping with Vietnam and all that it meant and means. It is not an endorsement or even an understanding of our present or future military challenges and needs. It popularizes the status quo postbellum instead of strapping on tomorrow's needs.
For in every "merc shop" selling authentic "Nam cams" by the truckload to the eager public dwells a soul who also sells the idea that we won that one and that the spirit of "can do" will do, without any help from planners, innovators or, God forbid, the budget makers. It is neither wise nor prudent to listen to this siren's song in anticipating the needs of the U.S. Air Force today or tomorrow. A look at today's threat will show that even if the Soviet Union brought no other new aircraft or missile system on line for the next five years, its current technological level and quantitative advantage would still pose extremely serious problems for us even at the end of that period, despite our best efforts to improve in the interim.
Even a drugstore Rambo can understand the logic of the Little Big Horn: sometimes "can do" just won't do.
Colonel Conway is Chief, Intelligence Division, Hq Air Force Reserve, Robins AFB, Georgia.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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