SOCOM, “It’s not our fault our operators keep doing evil stuff.”

I wonder if anyone managed to think for just a second something like, “We take a bunch of guys and teach them to play by very strict rules. Then we let them self-separate from everyone that they learned to play by the rules with and tell them that they no longer have to play by all the rules all the time, that there’s now a completely different set of rules which are somewhat cloudy and to, in any case, use good judgement which we don’t teach them how to do. Then we’re surprised when they don’t.”

SpecOps guys start as raw recruits just like everyone else. They’re broken down and built back up the way the military wants them to be through the first couple years of service. At some point they decide they want to put in a package and go through selection. That action, putting in the package, is the soldier himself saying to everyone else in his platoon, “I’m different to all of you.”

Special forces simply cannot be held to the same standards as the rank and file military. They play by very different rules and in very different places. You’ll never see a buck private gate guard with long hair and a fierce beard wearing a pakol hat, sweat stained kameez and OD green dungarees but on a Delta operator in Afghanistan that’s not abnormal. Strict regulations about things like uniform appearance, hair length and hygiene are meant to be 100% adhered to so that every one of the prols in its ranks can know how to behave. It’s called a uniform for a damned reason. Special forces like uniforms too but their uniform could be more accurately referred to as a costume since they wear whatever is most helpful, not necessarily what someone else tells them to.

If people stopped thinking of the special forces as part of the Army/AirForce/Navy/Marine Corp and started to think of them more as part of SOCOM. At the same time stop thinking of SOCOM as being anything like or even part of the regular military. Much like a coral snake mimics, they may be externally a little difficult to tell apart but they’re very little alike in any important way.

So what about special forces guys going out and getting caught up in very highly publicized bits of naughty-no-no’s from rape and murder to drug dealing, robbery, espionage and any of the many possibilities for moral turpitude. You told them they were different. That the old rules didn’t apply to them. You then told them that you’ll keep all of their day to day actions in SOCOM as state secrets. Well, it’s pretty damned hard to charge and convict someone of a crime if the circumstances and even the evidence and the names of then people involved are all classified.

We built the metaphoric room we’re in (our nation, it’s laws and culture, etc…) and we’ve built all kinds of things into the room to make living in it more comfortable like economies and legal systems and policies based on the idea that that which is self-evidently true is true and that if you add 1 to 1 you will have 2. It’s a room that very well describes the needs of the people that are in it. We then took some of the people in the room and promised nobody would know what they did no matter how good it was. Those people would naturally figure, “Well if you won’t tell them about the cool stuff I did, I bet you keep the evil stuff even more secret.” and bang. You’ve now given all of the motivation needed for a morally flexible mind to go ahead and engage in some questionably to flatly immoral behavior.

When I was in 5th grade my school had a problem. Me and 5 other kids who were all in the same grade and the same class in a small rural elementary school were at the time what they called “gifted” and no teacher could keep up with our rates of information consumption while doing a good job at teaching the rest of the students because there were a bunch of us. There’s a difference in dealing with a 100 IQ average kid and a 150 IQ prodigy. Usually a teacher can deal with 1 out of 35 students being gifted and still give everyone the amount of individual attention they need to thrive. Put 6 of those needy little jerks in one classroom and it’s a different story. Up till the 5th grade it hadn’t been much of a practical issue. We had a teacher at the school who had trained specifically to work with gifted students and as we went from 2nd to 3rd and 4th grade so did that teacher so we all stayed in his class. Still, by 5th grade we started into levels of mathematics and literature that were otherwise not available to typical elementary school students and were years ahead. What to do?

My school’s principle came up with a neat idea: Let’s use the money the school just got from the newly started California Lottery and buy a bunch of computers and put those brainy little bastards in front of the computers. See if they can outrun electrons.

So every day we’d all arrive at class and do the morning math race. The math race was a daily set of 25 or more mixed equations and word problems that everyone would solve individually as fast as they could. The 6 of us brainiacs simply TROUNCED the rest of the class at math racing, usually finishing the whole set of problems before most people were done with the first two. We finished so fast partly because as soon as all 6 of us were done we could go to the computer lab and spend the rest of our day there learning at our own pace. None of us wanted to be the last to finish the math race and we got to a point where the difference in finish time from the first of us to the last was only a few seconds on any normal day and it was inconsistent who was the first or last to finish so we must have been hitting a physical limitation of how fast the 10 year old human hand can write legibly.

We started that year running through a whole educational curriculum for the 5th grade and 6th grade. It became quickly apparent that they were going to need more lesson packs if we were going to be kept occupied longer than 2 weeks. In fact all of us finished the math for the 5th and 6th grade before the end of the 2nd day and we were ready to explore algebra, trig, geometry and calculus. The school, particularly the principal, reacted quickly and immediately bought the whole suite which went up to grade level 12.9. I asked what that “grade level 12.9” meant and was told that 12.9 meant that you’d completed enough to have done a normal mainstream education based on the standards of the day to complete high school and go through the first year of community college. I was super excited. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more excited. That was a LOT of knowledge which I had been so far forced to consume in frustratingly tiny fragments and my hungry little mind devoured the new lessons ferociously.  So did the others’. Only 2 of us didn’t finish the entire set of curricula through to the grade 12.9 level before the end of the year. I finished in May. Nathan was the only one to beat me. God he was smart. We started to be treated differently by students and staff. Every student wanted to be part of that group and all the staff let us get away with figurative murder. Peter, Samantha, Jenny, Jenny, Nathan and I simply crushed it, our egos got pretty big and we got cliquey and developed small superiority complexes that as far as I can tell lasted the rest of our lives.

Nowadays I’m a sysadmin by trade. Why? Well, because I don’t like to be forced to play by the rules. I like to be able to suspend those rules. By that I mean, a normal computer user in a company is restricted in what they can do to and with that computer. They don’t get to install packages or tinker with fundamental settings or directly access the hardware. A systems administrator has the ability to simply give themselves a desired privilege if they need one. If I want to read your email, I can. I won’t want to and 25 years of professional nerd-ing later I never have without being directed to by a superior but, I can if I want to. I tried using computers as part of work as a regular user and that’s about as frustrating to me as a thing could be. I don’t know how today’s digital proletariat can deal with it. If I have to ask for what I need… Ha!

I’m a little surprised that the Pentagon doesn’t see this. It’s pretty damned evident and predictable to the rest of us. If you take people who are part of a group and then start calling some subset of them “elite” then you’ve separated them enough that people will look at them differently and start treating them differently and before long you have a group that’s actually really different and can never go back to being part of the proletariat. If you outgroup someone, don’t act all surprised when they don’t respect the rules and culture of your group.

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