Trickle Down Defense - Why Gas Masks in Korea Should
Not Be a Metaphor for the American Art of War

April 15, 1999

Comment: #259

Discussion Thread:  #s - 169, 182, 243

Last September, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition said the Defense Department was in a "Death Spiral" and that hard decisions were necessary. I pointed out in Comment #182 that (1) his statement came immediately after a summer program review that made NO hard decisions and (2) that the death spiral is a natural consequence of a modernization program that can not modernize the force, the rising cost of low readiness, and a corrupt accounting system that makes it impossible to sort out the details needed to fix these problems [Comment #169]. I also pointed out that there was no reason to be surprised about the death spiral, and, in fact, information concerning its inevitability had been readily available since at least 1993.

Of course, speeches about "Death Spirals" are the part of the rhetoric of Versailles on the Potomac. It is more aimed at winning budget battles than real battles in real wars. The end result is that we spend billions for high-cost weapons that don't work as advertised (over $100 billion since 1950 on tactical all-weather bombing systems to bomb in cloud covered Europe, for example), which can not be bought in sufficient quantities, which siphon money away form readiness, and which are often justified by threats that don't even exist (e.g., national missile defense against the North Korean Taipodong 2 missile). At the same time, we ignore the near-term mundane requirements of the mud soldiers who face threats that do exist like a North Korea's artillery-delivered chemical threat to South Korea.

The email below, from an NCO in Korea, is a microscopic vignette of how the consequences of this kind of decision making trickle down to real people facing real threats at the pointy end of spear. The subject is our old friend gas masks [see Comment #243].

[Begin NCO's email]

The shortage of protective masks in 1/6th Cav is continuing. According to one of their NCO's, during the last Non-Combatant Evacuation Order Exercise soldiers had to loan their protective masks to dependents.

The masks were taken away from the soldiers, sanitized, loaned to the evacuee's, sanitized, and returned to the soldiers.

If we train as we fight, then in case of a chemical attack by the NK's, those soldiers will have a choice. Give their masks to someone who will be leaving the country, thus committing suicide; or keep their own masks and watch women and children die a horrific death.

What also irks me is that no one at this end seems to be doing anything about it.

[End email]

Chuck Spinney

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