Tilting at Windmills

May/June 2012 Missing in action

By Charles Peters

In all the coverage of the shooting rampage by the soldier in Afghanistan, and the role that his repeated deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan may have played in it, I did not see anyone mention a crucial fact that has been noted before in this column: at any one time, there are fewer than 100,000 combat troops in the U.S. military. So when you read that we have 500,000 soldiers, you get a false impression that the combat deployments are spread among them. In fact, it’s the same 100,000 who go back again and again.

It is also a painful comment on the lack of military experience among journalists that I think this column is the only place where the following fact could be found: draftees had to serve just one year in Vietnam, including time in combat. When they got on that plane for home, they knew they were safe. In the last decade, whenever soldiers have gotten on that plane, it has been with the haunting awareness that they almost certainly will be back.

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly and the author of a new book on Lyndon B. Johnson published by Times Books.