When the Washington Post exposed the dreadful conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the military response was to create something called "warrior transition units," intended to quickly and efficiently deliver excellent care to the wounded. The program, understaffed and underfunded, turns out to be yet another example of what veterans of World War II call a "snafu."
The name of the program got me to thinking -- when did soldiers and marines become "warriors?" I'm pretty sure it was a branding decision designed by some advertising firm to bolster enlistments in the all-volunteer army, and I believe use of the term really took off after the invasion of Iraq, when recruiting became more and more difficult.
It makes perfect (advertising) sense, of course. The term "soldier" might lead one to think of Beetle Bailey, Gomer Pyle, or Forest Gump. Soldiers march on parade fields, obey orders, and pull KP duty. It's not an especially romantic image. A "warrior," on the other hand, is more like Conan the Barbarian, or the Mel Gibson character in Braveheart. He's big and bad and scary. No eighteen-year-old boy, raised on movie violence and video games, wants to be Gomer when he can be Conan.
The big problem I see with the "warrior" branding decision, though, is that the military seems to have bought into its own ad campaign. "Warriors" don't get PTSD. When Schwarzenegger is wounded, he cauterizes his own wound with a knife heated in his campfire and fights on until, ten minutes later on, his injury miraculously disappears. Warriors don't suffer permanent disabilities. They may sport a sexy scar or an eye patch, but they always fight to the death. Disabilities, physical or psychological, don't figure into the equation.
The "image" doesn't match the facts, of course. Thanks to better body armor and battlefield medical care, nearly eight American fighters are wounded for every one killed -- as compared to four to one in Vietnam and less than two to one in World War II. Military leaders have these statistics, of course, but still continue to greatly underestimate the numbers who will need treatment -- often protracted treatment -- when they return from overseas.
Will a change in nomenclature make any real difference in the way the military and the VA treat wounded veterans? Probably not -- but I still believe the "warrior" designation should be dropped. Back in 1947, the United States changed the name of the Department of War to the Department of Defense -- a change many considered Orwellian, but which also reflected a real change in public wants and needs following the vicissitudes of World War II. Defense was necessary, but war was something to be avoided.
The role of a "warrior" is to fight wars -- offensive as well as defensive. "Warriors" were necessary to fight Bush's war of choice in Iraq, and the military filled the need with an appeal to the aggressive, anarchic components of the young male psyche. Now that a substantial majority of Americans realize they were conned into fighting a useless, wasteful, self-destructive war of choice by a cabal of greedy, self serving liars, the need for "warriors" is over -- not only in the ranks, but also among the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
If we're going to have an all-volunteer, professional military, the most important criterion for service should be professionalism. No broadsword waving, blood lusting, face painted, testosterone driven refugees from M-rated video games need apply.