Streetwise Professor

December 23, 2010

They Need Shooters More Than Tooters

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 10:00 am

Daniel Harvey Hill was an acerbic, cantankerous general in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.  (And, interestingly a former college professor and future university president.)  When a member of a North Carolina regiment in Hill’s command applied for transfer to the regimental band, Hill denied it with the endorsement: “Shooters needed more than tooters.”*

Apparently D.H. Hill’s spirit has been reincarnated in Russia:

With only two weeks remaining before the new year, the moment of truth on conscription has come. Even now, as police in the major cities are busy trying to prevent clashes between ethnic Russians and people from the North Caucasus, many police officers are being diverted from their primary duties to rounding up conscripts. Recruiters are feeling a lot of pressure because the law requires that the 2010 conscription be completed by Dec. 31, and they are way off on their numbers.

This may explain an early morning raid on a dormitory at the Moscow Conservatory of Music to round up about 40 flutists and clarinetists.

Somehow the thought of an army of conservatory students hardly sends shivers of fear down the spine.  And can you imagine how those gentle souls will be treated in the barracks–so no doubt shivers of fear are definitely going down their spines.

This manifestation of desperation, combined with the too-ing and fro-ing over a contract army, reveals the hollowness of the Russian military.  It also makes Medvedev’s and Putin’s tooting (or would that be tweeting, in the case of the former) over the expenditure of over $600 billion on new weapons over the next ten years look utterly farcical.  Who, pray tell, is going to operate this vast panoply of weaponry?  Somehow, clarinetists in fear for their lives, ignorant (and angry) villagers from the Caucasus, and the left-tail kids not clever enough to avoid the draft, or with such bad prospects outside the army as to make it the best option, is not the stuff out of which a modern military is made.

But just imagine the bribery possibilities that come with spending $600 billion!  And all the propaganda that can be spun around shiny new weapons (never mind the lack of trained, career servicemen to use them properly).  Russia: graft meets the Wizard of Oz (“pay no attention to that little man behind the curtain!”) Look at things that way, and what appears to be quite insane makes perfect sense.

* Hill’s biographers, Bridges and Gallagher titled their book “Lee’s Maverick General.”  They relate another version of the story, in which the band requested a group furlough, which Hill denied with the endorsement “Shooters before tooters.”

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  1. dude, we know what happens when people underestimate russia’s strength. don’t fall down that road. ask questions. don’t buy all that you read in the western press.

    Comment by jennifer — December 23, 2010 @ 10:27 am

  2. I daresay quite a few of the defenders of the Alamo were not soldiers – perhaps Santa Ana also thought that an army of bakers and watchmakers should hardly send shivers down the spine. The implication that conservatory musicians are all gentle fairies is just the sort of stereotype I’d expect from a conservative. I imagine there are one or two who could pull your arm off and beat you with the wet end, although the majority likely would not choose the army if it were up to them.

    You’d likely think the U.S. military, which is now all-volunteer (even though the USA once used a conscription policy) would have a slogan like “shooters before shooting up”, or something to that effect, but apparently that’s not a barrier. At least it wasn’t when the Bush government was trying to make up the numbers for Iraq.

    Needs must, when the devil drives, they say. Perhaps Russia’s problem has more to do with trying to keep up a military that can protect the interests of such a huge country from a population of only 142 million, rather than the comparatively easy job of doing so from a population of 311 million in a considerably smaller country such as the USA. The Russian government regularly says it would like to phase out conscription in favour of an all-volunteer military, but that’s not likely to happen unless they get their numbers up, or accept a much smaller military. As long as they have as many apparent enemies as they have, the latter isn’t likely.

    Comment by Mark — December 23, 2010 @ 11:30 am

  3. @Mark–Alamo defenders were self-selected frontiersmen in a rough place in a rough era.

    I have no idea what you mean about “shooters before shooting up.” As a matter of fact, although drug problems in the US military were rather acute in the early days of the volunteer military (as I can attest from personal observation) that is definitely not the case now. There is extensive drug testing. During the 2005-2007 period the military did take in a higher proportion of recruits that would have been rejected earlier for drug or behavioral problems, or lower test scores, than was the case before or after. Even then, the proportion of such exceptions was small.

    And you’re the one who immediately reached for the “fairy” stereotype, not me. You can imagine all you want.

    A point that I’ve made repeatedly is that Russia’s military ambitions far outstrip its resources, and that it needs to adjust its ambitions to its resources. So accepting a much smaller, more professional military would be a rational thing to do. But a hidebound military refuses to let go of the old Soviet mindset. Yes, the Russian government says that it wants it phase out conscription, then it says it doesn’t, then it says it does, doesn’t, does . . . . That’s what I meant by “to-ing and fro-ing” about a professional military.

    And insofar as “apparent enemies” is concerned, well that’s exactly the point. The enemies are apparent only to them. Their obsession with NATO is farcical. So who else? Georgia? Estonia? The “apparent enemies” mindset is their biggest problem, and is the root cause of a military policy that creates a yawning gap between ambitions on the one hand, and capabilities and resources on the other.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 23, 2010 @ 8:37 pm

  4. Rounding up recruits. Sounds like a nice tactic for a 3rd-world country. As for conscription being used because of the vast area of the country to defend, blah, blah, blah. The reason why they are not professionalizing the army is because they are too incompetent and corrupt to execute on a plan.

    Comment by Howard Roark — December 23, 2010 @ 8:51 pm

  5. Those flutists will most likely end up serving in an army band, if at all. Conscription has the advantage that you get theoretically the whole bell curve to work with, not just those too stupid to get “a real job”. Case in point, Israel. I’d wager that man for man they are the best army in the world, thanks to total conscription. This of course doesn’t apply to Russia 1910.

    Comment by So? — December 23, 2010 @ 9:08 pm

  6. Except that in Russia corruption ensures that only those without money are drafted.

    Even those with valid exemptions such as those “studying” (ie paying for) their tertiary education in Russian techs and universities.

    So much for “Conscription has the advantage that you get theoretically the whole bell curve to work with”.

    Every country makes all sorts of exemptions from the draft.

    With regards to Israel, their army is hugely successful not because of conscription, but because of things like esprit de corps, proper training and discipline, and patriotism with the knowledge that failure to serve and to serve well will result in an existential threat not only to the state but to it’s people.

    Comment by Andrew — December 24, 2010 @ 1:19 am

  7. @ Mark Perhaps Russia’s problem has more to do with trying to keep up a military that can protect the interests of such a huge country from a population of only 142 million

    Actually your words can be interpreted to mean that the Russian military is there to protect the interests of the country from its own citizens, which is pretty much correct given the history of Russia and its rather (in fact worst in history) brutal empire, be it Tsarist, Soviet, or the current neo-fascist one.

    Comment by Andrew — December 24, 2010 @ 1:22 am

  8. What military? There is enough to occasionally bomb Georgia and protect a billion-dollar dacha:

    Comment by Ivan — December 24, 2010 @ 2:09 am

  9. > trying to keep up a military that can protect the interests of such a huge country from a population of only 142 million

    What a nice Freudean slip

    Comment by Ivan — December 24, 2010 @ 2:12 am

  10. If not for the worst empire in history, there’d be no Andrew to rubbish it today. It’s a paradox I tell ya!

    Comment by So? — December 24, 2010 @ 5:06 am

  11. Well So? it did kill more people than any other empire. Of course it is a pity you are unable to recognise the fact.

    Comment by Andrew — December 24, 2010 @ 5:15 am

  12. How many Georgians were there in 1800, how many are there now?

    Comment by So? — December 24, 2010 @ 6:13 am

  13. “What military? There is enough to occasionally bomb Georgia and protect a billion-dollar dacha”.

    Both Iraq and Afghanistan are quite a bit smaller and sparsely populated than Russia, and the Most Powerful Military In The World has yet to dominate either. Any time you’re ready to bring it: but it’d be a good idea if you checked with your own military leaders first. Unless you are one, which would be even funnier.

    Comment by Mark — December 24, 2010 @ 2:20 pm

  14. Mark, it’s roll-on-the-floor HILARIOUS that you think an American attack on Russia that proved as successful as our attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan would be something tolerable for Russia.

    Do you REALLY believe that America wiping our ALL of Russia’s air and sea power, killing it’s ENTIRE first-tier armed forces and hanging Putin by his neck until he was dead would still leave Russia some room for pride? Would Russians be content with reducing themselves to a cave-dwelling band of terrorists no different from those in Chechnya and throwing the occasional Molotov cocktail at the American tanks as they roll through Red Square??

    Truly dude, your remarks get more rib-tickling by the hour. You don’t think for even one second before you emotionally spew forth your gibberish, no matter how utterly ridiculous it may make you look. In other words, you’re a fully realized neo-Soviet ignoramus.

    Comment by La Russophobe — December 27, 2010 @ 2:26 pm

  15. Mark–you mention “dominance” and cite Iraq and Afghanistan as examples of the failure of America’s vaunted military.

    Technical and operational dominance is a necessary, but not sufficient condition. The most adept military will founder if it is operating under a faulty strategy. In Iraq in both the First and Second Gulf Wars, the US military had a defined strategic objective and the means calibrated to attain it, and achieved dominance by any definition. The performance of the US military in the Gulf War I was, IMO, an underappreciated cause of the collapse of the USSR. The utter destruction at little cost of a military operating under Soviet doctrine with Soviet weapons and Soviet training made it clear that not only was the USSR economically backwards, it was military backwards as well. The performance in 2003 was also amazing in its own way.

    I say that taking full account of what Moshe Dyan ascribed his military success to: “Fighting Arabs.”

    In contrast, in 2003-2006, the US military was adrift without a coherent strategy. Hunkering down in bases, and behaving reactively, ceding initiative to the enemy, was a failure. When Bush and Petraeus changed gears, and implemented a strategy with a well-defined objective; seized the initiative; and utilized operational and tactical methods suited to the strategic objective, it achieved an outcome that was unprecedented and almost universally unpredicted. (Though not by everyone. If you look at my posts on the surge written at the time it was announced, I forecast the outcome with considerable precision. Not bad for a toaster repairman. I did a lot better than most of the so-called experts. I’ll bet I did a damn sight better than you.) What happened in 2006-2007 was a historic achievement in counterinsurgency. Not to say that Iraq is Switzerland, but it is a far different place than it was in 2006, and far different from what most would have considered possible. I would bet that includes you.

    Re Afghanistan, again, what was achieved in 2001-2002 was unexpected and unprecedented. What has happened since is mixed. I have been skeptical about the approach there, as you’ll see from my posts in the past year or so.

    Implicit in your comment seems to be the assumption that the US military has some goal of “dominating” Russia or its military. Hardly. Even at the height of the Cold War, its objective was to deny Soviet domination of Europe. Your comment further suggests that you buy into the anti-US, anti-NATO paranoia that underlies so much of Russia’s delusional military policies, doctrine, and force structure.

    I find it hard to understand how anyone could look at Russia’s military policy with a modicum of objectivity, and conclude that it is anything but a sad–pathetic, really–muddle. On a good day. That’s not Russophobia, by the way. For it is Russians, from flutists to pensioners to auto mechanics, who bear the cost of this abject failure. For “apparent enemies,” it is actually something to savor. (As Napoleon–and others–have said (I’m paraphrasing): never interfere when your enemy is attempting suicide. Or to adapt another aphorism–the only thing that saves its neighbors from Russia is its military inefficiency.)

    You might want to take a look at the chapter on military reform in “Russia: After the Global Economic Crisis” edited by (among others) my friend Sergei Guriev. With respect to the draft in particular, see Lokshin and Yemtsov, “Who Bears the Cost of Russia’s Military Draft,” 16 Economics of Transition (2008): 359-387. In his chapter of “After the Crisis,” Guriev and his co-author Aleh Tsyvinski argue that rationalizing the military would be of benefit to the Russian economy more broadly, due to the extreme drag–not to mention inequity–of Russian manpower policy.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 27, 2010 @ 5:58 pm

  16. Perfesser, I can always tell when you’ve irked the apologists by how quickly they trot out the moral equivalence. From the looks of the comments, they’re a little touchy about conscription and the perceived paper-tigerishness of their army.

    Hey…Rogozin types…clue in. When we find fault with Russia we’re not saying “America rules!”. Nor are we saying that Russia isn’t better than a lot of other countries. What we ARE saying is that Russia should be so much better off than it is. That it isn’t offends us capitalists no end…we hate to see resources being squandered. And it’s hard to think of a resource more carelessly undervalued than that of the Russian citizen by his own government.

    Comment by Swaggler — December 28, 2010 @ 10:12 am

  17. The Kremlin has learned from the Litvinenko lesson – it no longer leaves radioactive traces all over the place while attempting to murder critics:

    Comment by Ivan — December 29, 2010 @ 2:45 am

  18. @Mark: Apparent enemies like those running-dog, encrouching Ukrainian libraries?

    Comment by Gordon — December 30, 2010 @ 12:03 am

  19. Had the Iraqis swapped their mid-70s Soviet arms for late 80s American ones, the outcome would have been the same. Giving an opponent months to sealift and build up his army speaks volumes. The Soviet Army may have decayed by 1990, but it wasn’t quite so inept.

    Comment by So? — January 1, 2011 @ 2:12 am

  20. Actually the Soviet military was that inept, see the first war in Chechnya for details.

    The simple fact is that Russian equipment, including the T-80 and MiG-29 were proven to be junk during the 1st Gulf war. Even when T-80 crews were able to achieve hits on US M1 tanks or British Challengers, they failed to inflict casualties, or even do any damage, meanwhile, the British and US tanks could eliminate Russian made tanks at all ranges over the frontal arc. This was simple a continuation of the slaughter inflicted on Russian made junk by the Israeli’s during the combat with Syrian forces in the Be’eka valley in the early 80’s.

    Russian made = deathtrap.

    Comment by Andrew — January 2, 2011 @ 12:02 pm

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