The previous Washington Post article about a Pentagon database of students is certainly disturbing. But, it does highlight a couple of things that I have pointed out before. One, criticism of the military does not go unheard, so be careful what you wish for. Two, the technologies and tactics which are driving transformation and the creation of an "Information Age" military do not necessarily have to do with tanks, airplanes, and missiles. (Note the Rumsfeld quote above.)
First, remember that the drive for recruitment is in part the result of larger historical factors. In this case, we must remember that the all-volunteer force was a result of criticism over Vietnam-era draft policies which were said to be both unfair and ineffective in terms of creating the best soldiers. Additionally, with the expectation of bloodless, near instantaneous victories among the public and policy makers which was the result of the first Gulf War, the U.S. withdrawl from Somalia after televised images of a dead U.S. soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, the unwillingness to use ground forces in the Kosovo conflict, and the current erosion of patience at home for the War on Terror abroad, the military has increasingly sought to substitute advanced technologies for manpower and time. The goal is to achieve near-instantaneous, bloodless victories, with as few troops as possible.
It is a vicious circle. High-school dop-outs and drafted soldiers do not have the education to operate the hi-tech systems that have been built to replace them. The all-volunteer force is a highly educated, professionalized force. And although the number of soldiers may have diminished, their quality has gone up, meaning that the pool from which to draw new recruits has gone down. In an effort to deal with this dilemma, it appears that the military is applying the same technologies and tactics to recruiting that have begun to transform its other operations.
Second, those technologies and tactics are often not as dramatic, as big ticket, or as visible as we might imagine. In the postmodern military, the changes are happening in the "in-between." So, computers, networks, massive databases, and sensors of all types (from humans to UAVs) collect and store information. But, as we all learned in kindergarten, sharing is the key. So in the networked, information-age force, "horizontal data sharing" is all the rage. Ubiquitous, massive databases, fiber optic cables, etc., along with a committment to sharing, may not be flashy–they are often downright boring!–but they are the drivers of change.
Advance computer and information technologies seem to offer the ability to deliver to the American people what they have called for: a smaller military, quicker victories, fewer casualties. The Pentagon’s new effort should be seen in that light. We should be careful what we wish for and more thoughtful in our critiques. As I often say, "It can always be worse." The worries and cries of "Big Brother" that this new proposal inspires proves that to be true.