U.S. Army combat brigades are now being deployed with lawyers in the command post. A recent Huffington Post profile details the role of Major Megan Wakefield, paratrooper and legal advisor in the 82nd Airborne. As the report suggests, it is now common procedure for operations to be run by these legal eagles for preemptive approval:
Maj. Wakefield’s outfit, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne, recently held 12 days of high-intensity war-fighting exercises at Fort Polk against 800 soldiers playing enemy forces resembling the Islamic State militants. The fighting at times was desperate. Crises tumbled atop crises as staff officers scrambled to manage dozens of firefights, coordinate air strikes and long-range artillery, and protect local civilians.
In the midst was Maj. Wakefield. In a sweltering corner of the tent that houses the brigade’s Tactical Operations Center (TOC) she would listen intently to operations officers outlining planned missions: an enemy force with trucks and tanks to be destroyed with 155mm artillery fire; an enemy anti-aircraft missile position and dug-in heavy artillery to be destroyed; a cache of enemy weapons to be destroyed with one precision-guided bomb and four rounds of artillery.
When Maj. Wakefield clears her throat, heads swivel. She too has questions: are the human targets positively identified as enemies? Are they demonstrating hostile intent? Because if not, you can’t engage, she reminds them. And if you can engage, should you?
David Woods, the HuffPo’s military correspondent, cites it as a “good-faith effort” to uphold “American values.” But nobody is suggesting that this is necessary because American troops routinely violate the norms of civilized warfare. Instead, this seems to be an effort to sanitize something that is inherently messy (“War is heck”). This is a classic peacenik proposition: the whole world can be tamed, and not only that, so too can the means by which it is tamed.
The overlawyering of our armed forces is not new—it has been growing steadily since the post-Vietnam era. It’s part of a general trend to officialize and bureaucratize American life. Ask any doctor how much time she spends filling out paperwork.
The proliferation of legalese and formalism in American institutions generally is one of the forces undermining our national spirit and slowing our economic growth. But it’s particularly nasty and dangerous when it comes to the business of war. Our politicians keep heaping new burdens on the armed forces, sending them on muddled missions with impossible orders, forcing them to jump through various hoops for the sake of political correctness, and hampering them at every turn with threats of prosecution by bloodless bureaucrats who’ve never known or seen war.
Accountability is important, but increasingly in our society accountability is for the little people. The powerful and the well connected hire lawyers; the ordinary person gets monitored by them. We don’t have policy malpractice lawyers investigating the geniuses who invaded Libya and abandoned Iraq, but the poor kids trying to carry out the crazy orders that come down from on high will get dinged if they put a foot wrong. No doubt there are some lawyers checking to see that those 3,000 Americans sent into the Ebola hot zone don’t break any rules—but there aren’t any lawyers and there isn’t any law to make sure that the people who sent them there knew or really even cared what they were doing.