Jim Webb: Let Troops Drink
Senator Jim Webb says it’s time to drop General Order No. 1, which bans alcohol consumption, gambling, and pornography in hostile fire zones.
In part, the order is out of sensitivity to “host-nation” culture. But it’s also a major safety issue. Alcohol, firearms and heavy machinery don’t mix, and the Department of Defense doesn’t want to have to explain a rise in negligent weapons discharges to angry members of Congress.
But as Rick Maze of Army Times notes, one senator is questioning the draconian restrictions on alcohol consumption in theater. In a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this week, Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia suggested that U.S. military commanders should consider loosening the ban to allow “alcohol for stress relief.”
It’s important not to take this out of context: Webb was responding to reports of increased use — and abuse of — of prescription drugs by deployed troops. As we’ve reported here, before troops are popping pills to fight everything from fatigue to depression. The Pentagon is even investigating using pills as a preventive treatment for post-traumatic stress.
Would the military consider lifting its ban on booze? I highly doubt it. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, banned alcohol at NATO’s International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Kabul, after he noticed coalition officers dozing off at a picnic table (European troops are allowed beer and wine).
Webb is my senator. I didn’t vote for him and frequently disagree with him. But I applaud his instincts here: American Soldiers were allowed to drink in past wars. And our troops are, after all, grown-ups.
But Nathan Hodge is right: No way the brass goes along.
The ban is an artifact of the first Gulf War, in which we were hyper-sensitive to Saudi concerns. But it quickly became the norm for subsequent operations, whether in an Islamic country or not, because it’s easier to maintain discipline without the distractions of gambling and drinking. (Not to mention the strong religious bent of much of the senior leadership of the services.) If athletic teams could get away with it, they’d do the same.
Moreover, in Iraq and Afghanistan we’re both operating in the Muslim world and making common cause with Muslim allies, not to mention trying to win the proverbial hearts and minds of Muslim populations.
Photo credit: NZETC