Understatement of the month

A whole unit in Iraq seems to have refused a direct order. What’s up with that?

Someone at the AP has either a very dark and twisted sense of humor, or none at all:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Army is investigating reports that several members of a reservist supply unit in Iraq refused to go on a convoy mission, the military said Friday. Relatives of the soldiers said the troops considered the mission too dangerous.

The reservists are from the 343rd Quartermaster Company, which is based in Rock Hill, South Carolina. The unit delivers food and water in combat zones.

According to The Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Mississippi, a platoon of 17 soldiers refused to go on a fuel supply mission Wednesday because their vehicles were in poor shape and they did not have a capable armed escort.

The paper cited interviews with family members of some of the soldiers, who said the soldiers had been confined after their refusals. The mission was carried out by other soldiers from the 343rd, which has at least 120 soldiers, the military said.

Convoys in Iraq are frequently subject to ambushes and roadside bombings.

A whole unit refusing to go on a mission in a war zone would be a significant breach of military discipline. A statement from the military’s press center in Baghdad called the incident “isolated.”

So a whole unit refusing orders would be “a significant breach of military discipline”? Yes, you could put it that way.

Look, nothing justifies refusing orders in a combat situation. [Wrong. See update.] But that doesn’t mean the unit wasn’t in fact being sent out with bad equipment and not enough escort. Was it?

The other obvious question to ask: How bad is morale among reservists in Iraq?

Update: Seems as if the order the unit refused was really pretty dumb. More here.

Two readers accuse me, correctly, of overstatement. It’s not the case that refusal of orders is never justified; unlawful orders ought to be refused. But that wasn’t the case here.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com