Nobody Asked Me, But...Let's Arm the Forces

By Barrett Tillman

However, the Fort Hood massacre was unique only in the body count. Remaining in a state of denial for years, the military apparently ignores lethal assaults by Soldiers and civilians sympathetic to our enemies:

  • In Kuwait in 2003, a Muslim army sergeant "fragged" 16 Soldiers, killing two.
  • Federal agents in New Jersey in 2007 arrested six Muslim immigrants who were convicted of planning an attack on Fort Dix, based on knowledge gained from pizza deliveries.
  • In June 2009, a Muslim convert shot two soldiers at a Little Rock, Arkansas, recruiting office, killing one.

With so clear an internal threat, how can the U.S. military deny its personnel the fundamental right of defending themselves? A partial answer followed the Texas massacre.

Responding to a question about Soldiers being armed, Fort Hood's commander, Lieutenant General Robert Cone, said, "This is our home." He noted that additional military and civilian police patrols would be deployed.

Here's what the general's policy means in visceral terms:

A Fort Hood officer was quoted in an Internet circular: "I've been trained how to respond to gunfire, but with my own weapon. To have no weapon, I don't know how to explain what that felt like."

In a truly professional army, he wouldn't have to know how it felt.

The problem is administrative, not tactical. Any military is a controlling institution, often with a profound mistrust of the troops. Therefore, careerists seek to control circumstances that could affect their retirement and impose bureaucratic limits on potential solutions. The unimaginative among them-the huge majority-default to school solutions. At Fort Hood, the school solution is additional civilian contractor and military police patrols.

Apparently nobody at Fort Hood has broken out of the school solution box by allowing professional soldiers to carry weapons. Says a retired Army NCO, "They'll start strip-searching troops arriving on base before any of them can carry guns."

The Army needn't arm everybody, as many troops lack the training and/or disposition for it. But others are fully capable of carrying rifles and pistols with routine safety. After all, nearly everyone in the Israeli Army carries unloaded weapons off duty. Totally safe, ready to respond.

Obviously, if the Israelis can do it, so can we. The difference is that Israel lives 24-7 with a combat mindset. America does not.

The obvious solution is allowing competent personnel to carry weapons on base, unloaded with a full magazine available. Yes, mishaps are probably inevitable. But we lose nearly 2,000 people in DOD every year: over one-quarter through accidents. How many negligent discharges are needed to offset 43 casualties when one well-placed round can avert a massacre?

Since service politicians may be trusted to place their personal interest ahead of the troops (witness the nine-year Tailhook witch hunt), we cannot expect many star-wearers to do the right thing. Therefore, what's needed is a DOD directive permitting qualified individuals in uniform to carry weapons. Without that, we'll see more of the same.

Consider the military maxim: "A commander may be forgiven for being defeated but not for being surprised."

On 5 November, the U.S. Army was unnecessarily surprised. Forgiveness of those responsible for the policy allowing such a massacre depends on the faith of the bereaved. But whatever the final policy, one thing is obvious: the suits and star wearers can no longer declare that they care for the troops while denying them the ability to defend themselves against the next assassins in their midst.

Mr. Tillman is a naval historian and the author of several books. A frequent contributor to Naval Institute publications, his latest article in Proceedings was the June 2009 "Fear and Loathing in the Post-Naval Era."

Mr. Tillman is the author of numerous books and articles on military aviation topics, including Clash of the Carriers: The True Story of the Marianas Turkey Shoot of World War II

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