The Grenade Through the Door
Is this good news or bad news? The AP notices that "'Fragging' Is Rare in Iraq, Afghanistan"
American troops killed their own commanders so often during the Vietnam War that the crime earned its own name - "fragging."
But since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military has charged only one soldier with killing his commanding officer, a dramatic turnabout that most experts attribute to the all-volunteer military. And some argue the case of Staff Sgt. Alberto B. Martinez shouldn't even be considered fragging, since his motive was unclear.
The AP story continues:
Between 1969 and 1971, the Army reported 600 fragging incidents that killed 82 Americans and injured 651. In 1971 alone, there were 1.8 fraggings for every 1,000 American soldiers serving in Vietnam, not including gun and knife assaults.
"These people knew the war was pretty much lost, that they were going to be sacrificed," said Texas A&M University history professor and Vietnam veteran Terry Anderson. "They just wanted to get out of Vietnam." ...
Both Roland and Anderson said today's all-volunteer military, compared with soldiers being forced into duty in Vietnam, is the primary reason why fragging attacks are almost nonexistent in Iraq and Afghanistan. The conditions in Iraq are also much less conducive to the crime, Roland said. ...
"In Iraq, you never know when a helicopter might be going over or a newsman comes along," he said.
But I think Roland and Anderson focus on the wrong causes. World War was fought largely by conscripts. Nor were there many helicopters going over or newsmen coming along. Most World War 2 battlefields were vastly more isolated from the home front than Vietnam's. People moved by slow ship. Letters took weeks to reach their destination. Even Joe Rosenthal's famous picture of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima still had to be flown to Guam and developed before anyone could see whether the photograph had turned out. In other words it had all the factors which Roland and Anderson identify as causes of fragging. If battlefield isolation, the presence of conscripts, the absence of newsmen and heavy casualties were the real factors behind "fragging" then shouldn't the Second War Pacific campaigns have had incident rates to match or exceed Vietnam?
And if they don't maybe it is because low morale plays a greater role in fragging than any of the causes Roland and Anderson cite. While morale is determined by many physical things it is also driven by intangibles such as leadership, the perception of victory and the "justness" of the struggle the combatants are engaged in. Soldiers in Vietnam were materially better off than their fathers in World War 2 but due to factors too complex to discuss here, it was the intangibles which they lacked. Some were eventually convinced their service was futile, unappreciated and even criminal in nature. Wikipedia describes what John Kerry did upon his return from Vietnam.
On April 23, 1971 John Kerry and other veterans threw their medals, ribbons, discharge papers, photographs, citations and articles of their uniforms over a fence at the Capitol building at Washington, D.C. in protest. One disabled veteran even threw his cane. The stated purpose of the demonstration was to show that this protesting group of veterans thought the war was unjust, and that the administration had betrayed them.
That demoralization may have played a role in fragging. And therefore if fraggings are so rare as to be almost nonexistent in Iraq and Afghanistan it maybe due in part to a perception by men serving there that their cause is meaningful, just and ultimately destined to be victorious. It's a possibility at least.