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Unit Cohesion and Morale — Why Now?
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Unit Cohesion and Morale

When Truman ordered the desegregation of the military, the opponents yelled “Unit Cohesion and Morale!” When women were given greater opportunities in the military, the opponents yelled “Unit Cohesion and Morale!” Whenever homosexuals are mentioned in relationship to the military, the opponents yell “Unit Cohesion and Morale!”

The reason for the phrase is that it is vital in a military action for all of the members of unit work together as a single entity. When the bullets are flying and you are moving through “the rockets red glare and bombs bursting air” you are dependent on the other members of your unit doing their job – your life hangs suspended from the cord made up of all of the members of the unit. That is what “unit cohesion” means. As Franklin put it: hang together or hang separately.

The US has just suspended the search for a missing member of the American military because the Iraqi government demanded it. I understand the pressures on the Iraqi government and why they demanded it, but I don’t understand why the American military agreed. The Commander in Chief, the Secretary of Defense, the Commander of Central Command, and the commander of American forces in Iraq has just violated the “prime directive” of unit cohesion and the military itself: you don’t leave anyone behind.

Steve Gilliard gives you more feel for the intensity of that directive in his article, Breaking Faith. Jo Fish explains the Code of Conduct in his article Any Questions?, and he gives you the citations for two Congressional Medal of Honor winners to show you how seriously the people view this issue. John Kerry received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for turning around under fire to pick up a man who had fallen off his SWIFT boat.

This is a core issue for the military. The Israelis won’t talk about much with the Palestinians, but they will negotiate for the remains of their soldiers. We are still actively searching for the remains of Americans killed during the Vietnam War. This is a very important issue for the military. Once the guys with the guns no longer believe the guys with the stars care, once the bonds of loyalty are broken, the military starts to come apart.

John Kerry blew the punch line to a dumb joke and the Republicans shrieked for an apology. Well an apology isn’t going to cut it for abandoning one of our own. This is a blood insult. An American soldier wasn’t important enough to create diplomatic problems with the Iraqi government, is that what we are to believe? You would have to be pretty damn stupid to stay in a military that put so little value on your life.


1 ellroon { 11.01.06 at 11:49 pm }

Thanks for explaining this more clearly. Those of us who have had no military experience can’t imagine the bond that takes place when you rely on each other to stay alive. Have commandeered part of your explanation. Thanks.

2 Bryan { 11.02.06 at 12:06 am }

Glad I could help. It is a gut issue for those of us who were on the inside. It can be quite stifling for creative people if they can’t compartmentalize their lives, but it is essential when you must react rather than think.

3 Steve Bates { 11.02.06 at 8:55 am }

Well said, Bryan. Like ellroon, I’ve been confused by the controversy. At one point, I thought the issue was complicated (and said as much to ellroon in a comment). Now I’m coming to see it in simple terms, as I did in the first place.

A command structure that would order American troops to abandon their own at the behest of a foreign government is a command structure that would order those same troops to perpetrate the horrors that happened at Abu Ghraib… and those troops may rightly conclude that it won’t be the last time they receive unconscionable orders.

So much for Bush’s assertion that he leaves such on-the-ground decisions to his generals. I can’t imagine any general made this particular decision of his own volition.

4 Bryan { 11.02.06 at 2:35 pm }

The decision had to come down from the top, no one would personally issue such an order without being able to prove it came down from the top. This is bedrock to the Code of Conduct – the loyalty has to flow both ways.

This is what happens just before the “fragging” starts in units. This is part of Rumsfeld’s disdain for people in uniform. It breaks an army of draftees, and it will be worse in an army of volunteers.