(To read the entire "Our Communist Military" series, please click here.
And as we now have to clarify in each one of these posts, we don’t actually think that the military is “communist”. That’s a rhetorical stand-in for socialist, liberal, progressive, what have you.)
Yesterday, I told three different stories about bosses--coaches or military commanders--implementing group punishment. (The comments section added even more examples.) In each case, group punishment utterly failed to change behavior.
For “Our Communist Military”, should this be any surprise? Free market advocates absolutely understand why group punishment doesn’t work: it abdicates individual responsibility.
Take the most accountable/responsible system in our economy: sales. Virtually no sales forces uses group bonuses. Sales people are rewarded individually. Know why? ‘Cause it wouldn’t work. Eric C--who supervises a sales floor--has a theory: a great salesperson could show up to work in a bathrobe. If he’s an earner, no one will say nada.
Individual accountability works. For a football team at any level, the one thing every player cares about above all else is playing time, the currency of amateur sports. If a player who committed a personal foul lost his starting spot the next game, he would stop committing personal fouls. So would everyone else on the team.
In my brigade’s case, individual accountability would mean chaptering (expelling/firing) soldiers who got DUIs. In fact, while our brigade commander was implementing harsher and harsher group punishments, he refused to boot any soldiers. His reasoning--we assumed--was because he didn’t want to deploy short-handed. Getting rid of troublesome soldiers--and legitimately discouraging bad behavior--clashes with the need to field a full brigade before deployment.
So how does this relate to violence, foreign affairs and counter-insurgency? Because despite clinging to the value of individual accountability in economics and criminal justice, many military theorists suddenly embrace group punishment when it comes to warfare or military science.
1. Discipline in units. Group punishment wasn’t created in my brigade. Actually, the Army instills the value/vice of group punishment at the very beginning of every soldier’s career. Enlisted soldiers (who become NCOs) meet it head on during boot camp. Plebes, first year students at West Point, learn the “value” of group punishment during their first summer. It therefore becomes the de facto method of punishment for most leaders in the Army.
And since it doesn’t work, that makes the Army (and Marine Corps, which I assume uses group punishment plenty) less effective.
2. Fighting counter-insurgencies. Many commanders deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq wanted to punish villages, cities, and regions which allowed insurgencies in their midsts. This often led to the idea that, “Hey, if we withhold reconstruction money from Sunni villages, maybe they will expel the Al Qaeda insurgents on their own.” When they don’t, commanders safely lump all the people of that region as “terrorists”.
This attitude has been extended to larger international spheres too...
3. Because some countries let terrorists live around them. The most prevalent example of this is The Sovereignty Solution. I haven’t written about this book yet because I have way more thoughts than will fit into one blog post (or several). In fact, I could write an entire paper on it.
To boil its thesis down into an overly simplified sentence, The Sovereignty Solution recommends holding an entire nation’s population responsible for the actions of individuals living within it. If they or their government refuse to punish terrorists, the U.S. will do it for them. While the U.S. government wouldn’t specifically target civilians in their effort to pursue terrorists, according to the “Sovereignty Solution”, it wouldn’t avoid them either. By allowing terrorists in their midst, civilians are just as culpable. This would motivate populations to suddenly expel all the terrorists.
I hate the concept of group punishment, because it doesn’t work. But I really hate when it is used to support or allow the killing of innocents, as if that would change their behavior. According to The Sovereignty Solution, lack of knowledge or malice is trumped by knowing or living by a bad guy. Imagine if America applied that to Bernie Madoff. Or politicians who are corrupt. Or some of our allies around the world.
This last reason is what really worries me about group punishment. It just won’t work on the international stage the way economic sanctions--another form of group punishment--rarely work. And it won’t stop terrorism.