NATO has taken flak for the last few years for the numbers of civilian casualties occurring in the Afghanistan campaign. With the war’s military leadership, especially General Stanley McChrystal, emphasizing the need to win the support and confidence of the civilian population, there has been serious pressure on commanders to limit civilian deaths whenever possible. Despite this, civilian deaths have risen in the country since last year.
Now, NATO has come up with a new plan to reduce civilian casualties: The Courageous Restraint Medal:
“British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, the NATO commander of troops in southern Afghanistan, proposed the idea of awarding soldiers for “courageous restraint” during a visit by Hall to Kandahar Airfield in mid April. McChrystal is now reviewing the proposal to determine how it could be implemented, Hall said.” …
“There should be an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the troops who exhibit extraordinary courage and self-control by not using their weapons, but instead taking personal risk to de-escalate tense and potentially disastrous situations,” the statement said.” …
“NATO commanders are not planning to create a new medal or military decoration for “courageous restraint,” but instead are looking at ways of using existing awards to recognize soldiers who go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties, Hall said.”
Okay, so maybe there is not really going to be a medal, but still, recognizing restraint in combat? That is a world away from traditional medals which highlight martial qualities.
Will it work? Not a chance.
I typically avoid discussing internal Armed Services politics for a simple reason: I am not in the military. However, nothing in my experience with servicemen and women leads me to believe they want to celebrate ‘restraint’. There is a poignant Marine Corps saying, attributed to a Korean War veteran: “Never send a Marine where you can send a bullet, and the bigger the bullet the better”. Any act of courageous restraint, by definition, sends Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen in first. And there lies the problem. Winning a medal for courageous restraint would be a scarlet letter, warning that the owner put his subordinates or compatriots at risk when he did not need to, when a bullet would do.
There are ways to reduce civilian casualties, but this is not one of them.