Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Impertinent questions re our Rules of Engagement

(Prepared for my talk next week for a conference on legal issues involving battlespace civilian contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan at St Mary's Law School, San Antonio.)


Success in the asymmetric 21st century battlespace in which uniformed soldiers assisted by civilian contractors performing quasi military functions requires minimizing the incidence and severity of the most common wartime injury, psychiatric disturbances. The psychiatric symptom rate for uniformed military deployed to Iraq is about 17%.#
In contrast to physical injuries which are usually easy to recognize and triage for appropriate treatment, emotional injuries often go undetected resulting in impairment of the person's ability to function to an extent the mission fails and lives are lost or placed at unnecessary risks.
Leaving aside the operational problems, the long term costs of such injuries create staggering direct and indirect financial costs and social damage to others, e.g. divorce, child neglect, substance abuse, antisocial behavior, and poor work performance.
The incidence of psychological injury amongst battlespace civilian contractors is likely to be much higher than the military's. The only peer reviewed study I found on civilians working in the Iraq battlespace reported about twice the military’s psychological injury rate amongst embedded, and non-embedded journalists.# I postulate a much higher rate amongst contractors generally because journalists as a group are better educated, and more psychologically sophisticated.
Excluding organic psychiatric disorders caused by brain injuries and physical illness, the traditional view of the causes of battlespace emotional disturbances are the effects of combat experience itself, unremitting anxiety and fear, loneliness, chronic fatigue, etc.
I postulate the Rules of Engagement may emerge as one of the major causative factors in the appearance of emotional impairments in the 21st century battlespace. I wish to make very clear at this point these are speculations because the issue hasn’t been studied.
The question isn’t whether there should be Rules of Engagement but whether they advance or detract from soldiers ability to achieve victory.
To understand the potential psycho-toxicity of our Rules of Engagement we need to briefly address the underlying psychology of war itself.
In 5th century China Sun Tzu wrote the first fundamental law of war is the “…Moral Law which causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger….(the top consideration in predicting victory or defeat is) “(w)ich of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral Law?”#,#
There's probably no better example of the inherent lasting power of the Moral Law concept in action than God's orders to Moses in Exodus XXIII 32-33. "Thou shalt make no covenant with (the Canaanites), nor with their gods. They shall not dwell in thy land--lest they make thee sin against Me, for thou will serve their gods--for they will be snare unto thee." Such is the power of Sun Tzu’s Moral Law it sustained the Jewish people in exile following their defeat by the Romans in 70 A.D. Imbued the Moral Law Zionists began trickling into Palestine in the late 19th century to resettle the Jewish homeland, and after WWI launched a relentless political and underground military struggle against the British and the Arabs until they reconquered Palestine in 1948, subsequently won three major conventional wars, and defeated tenacious terrorist enemies in the face of truly daunting adverse military odds.#
I postulate our Rules of Engagement are psycho-toxic because they exist in the absence of Sun Tzu’s Moral Law. For us the Ruler--the administration, congress and the senior command staff--have not created a unified, consistent political and military strategic accord, particularly on the Iraq War, for soldiers to follow and to inspire for the people left at the home front to act in the best interests of deployed forces.# An example of the home front problem is the very high divorce rate for deployed officers and senior NCOs today in contrast to WWII when there was a national consensus to “keeping the home fires burning“. The power of that ideal was skillfully portrayed in the 1946 Academy Award movie “The Best Years of our Lives”.
The Moral Law principal may explain the higher rate of psychiatric casualties in Iraq versus Afghanistan where there is a national and international political consensus supporting intervention.
Without the Moral Law our forces are at a profound strategic and tactical disadvantage vis-à-vis an enemy so devoted to his Moral Law he launches suicide attacks, and likely when available. will use WMDs to attack our troops, and the homeland.
Absent the Moral Law our Rules of Engagement are little more than an easily revised public relations playbook designed to deal with the pressures of today’s 24 hour news cycle, and to mollify domestic and international critics sometimes at the expense of compromising effective strategy, and placing troops at greater risk. In contrast, imbued with the Moral Rule, the ultimate goal of our 21st century enemies is our destruction no matter how long it takes.
. All this gets translated in today’s battlespace as the fear of being "hung out to dry" by commanders for errors implementing the Rules of Engagement. This is very realistic fear because officers and senior NCOs are held to strict account for violations.
The symptoms of Rules of War emotional disturbances resemble children's reactions to parents going through a contentious divorce. Loyalties are split and ego adaptive capacities are contaminated by conflicting messages. Many psychological observers of children in divorce are basically writing about post traumatic stress disorders commonly seen in military personnel. Like with children the break of fundamental trust in the soldier with the military commander parent surrogate creates lifelong emotional injuries. Symptomatic amelioration is possible but ego adaptive capacities are often permanently damaged.
For soldiers not imbued with the Moral Law, many lose the capacity to handle the common stressors of ordinary life. That's probably an element is the persistent rise of military family divorce.
An additional psycho-toxic factor for battlespace civilian contractors is their legal status is ambiguous leaving them vulnerable to face criminal and civil charges in foreign courts, and conceivably in international war crimes courts.
It’s very unlikely our forces anytime in the foreseeable future will have Moral Rule war leaders like Washington, Lincoln or an FDR.
My role today is to help you with here and now cost effective, practical solutions to reduce common psycho-toxic risks.
Other speakers have addressed training issues so I’ll spend my remaining few minutes on approaches which should significantly reduce the incidence of psychological problems.
Since the risk of family breakdown while deployed is very high, I recommend employers provide at company expense, or via insurance, a lawyer to represent the deployed employee in a new divorce action, and child support and custody matters from a previous divorce, until he returns home. Doing that will reduce expensive premature contract cancellations, job performance slippage, and the appearance of manifest psychological illness.
Effective early legal representation in BOTH situations increase of the odds of avoiding the two main causes of mental illness arising in divorce, namely, loss of contact with children, and financial ruin. With regard to child custody and visitation matters original court determinations are very hard to overturn, or modify significantly. Companies employing battlespace civilians should become thoroughly conversant on federal law’s impact on the enforcement of state divorce decrees. Title 42, Chap 7, Subchapter 4, part D, sec. 666
The below excerpt from a fathers-4-justice chat board posting ( by this agitated, depressed , financially ruined father speaks to the potential psychiatric consequences of divorce.
“I was deployed in January, 2003 in support of Iraqi Freedom…In October, 2003, my then wife filed for divorce..I was unable to (appear in court) due to being deployed. She was granted the divorce and $1300/month based off of my pay…I found out my ex was cheating on me the whole time I was deployed not only with another guy but also the guy’s wife…Since the divorce, I not only was discharged, but I lost everything in the divorce due to my inability to appear and have since file Chapter 7 bankruptcy…(I face a civil action) requesting that I be incarcerated until all (arrearages are) paid up…I did not consent (to the divorce action) and the soldier sailors relief act has been raised. I hired an attorney to take it back to court and reopen the divorce and it took him four months to get a court date and the date we had, my ex-wife's attorney had to cancel due to a family emergency…Is there any advice from personal experience anyone can give me?”

Financial ruin is a very real risk because of the so-called federal “Bradley Amendment” which bars state courts from reducing or eliminating unpaid child support. 42 Sec 666 sub sec(a), para (9) part c (Bradley Amendment) Once arrearages reach $5,000, they are subject to imprisonment, loss of driver's and professional licenses, and denied passports. Another serviceman’s f4j posting:
“I am just inquiring about so help. Where would I go to get help. my child support payments are currently set up for a $7,000 a month salary and I am an E-4 in the united states army. I have tried many a ways to get this fixed or adjusted and nothing has happened I have hired numerous lawyers to get it adjusted and all of them have told me the same thing Missouri is refusing to work with them and send them the paperwork required so that it may be reevaluated and lowered so I can aculy pay it and still be able to live on what is left. with the child support set so high ($1,500 an month) I have not been able to afford the ful amount so they take most of my check and what I cant afford goes back to child support which is almost 30,000 behind. i am lost and have no clue on what I can do I have tried every thing I could think of. I thank you for any help you can provide.”

Since an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure, I also recommend companies develop outreach programs for the spouses and children of deployed battlespace civilians. In addition to counseling, providing periodic temporary housekeeper services would allow a lonely, overworked stateside spouse a brief respite from the burdens of running the home alone. The happier the stateside spouse the less likely children missing the absent parent would become ill, misbehave at home, do poorly in school, become depressed, abuse drugs and alcohol, act out sexually, or runaway. Outreach services back up by legal counsel might have prevented this very sad situation posted on
“I am …currently deployed to Afghanistan ..(my ex-wife) feels …I have no rights to talk to my child… The 5th of April was her birthday and I tried to call her on that day but was unsuccessful. I really miss her; nothing would make me happy than just being able to talk to her on the phone. I've been trying to call her at home and at her daycare for about a month and a half but her mother blocked my number and doesn't answer the phone. She uses the caller ID to avoid my calls…I (want to) hear my daughter's voice and tell her I love her…I am stuck because of my service for my country. Any assistant you can provide will be greatly appreciated. I don't know where else to turn.” (emphasis added)

The same problems exist for uniformed personnel but the psycho-toxic effects are less than for civilian battlespace personnel because
(1) their legal status is less ambiguous
(2) they enjoy the benefits of membership in the military family which when operating properly “looks after its own”.
(3) better and quicker access to medical care in a sophisticated health system very attuned to look out for psychiatric problems
(4) better job and financial security
I close with a caution. Rich and militarily powerful nations can suddenly fail and vanish into the mists of history because they fall prey to pervasive politically correct thinking. We saw that in our lifetime with the sudden implosion of the Soviet Union.
I came today to raise impertinent questions about the fattest of our military sacred cows--the Rules of Engagement. The impertinent question is the glory and the engine of human enquiry. Nations have always advanced in the shimmering wake of its discontents and fell when, for example, when leaders didn’t pay attention to an impertinent question about Greeks bearing gifts.


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