Inside the machine

Retired Army major knows how it works—and doesn’t

Army veteran John Crosby teaches political science at Chico State.

Army veteran John Crosby teaches political science at Chico State.

PHOTO by john domogma

Veteran speaker:
The Veteran Voices lecture series kicks off with John Crosby on Feb. 4 at 7:30 p.m. in Chico State’s Performing Arts Center, Room 134. Free.

In his 20 years of active duty in the U.S. Army, Maj. John Crosby grew to understand the military in ways no outsider can. Now retired from the service and teaching at Chico State, he can offer valuable insights to students in his political science classes.

During a recent interview in his campus office, he said he tells students who are thinking of joining the military: “It’s a crapshoot; it all depends on your commanding officer.” Some brigade commanders are terrific people, but “others are just assholes.”

His point is that “these are real people. They join the military for different reasons. We do a disservice when we see the military as monolithic,” either all bad or all good.

On Thursday (Feb. 4), Crosby, who is 55, will be the first speaker in a new lecture series, Veteran Voices, co-sponsored by the Chico Peace & Justice Center and Chico State’s Peace Institute. The series is “aimed at educating people about what the military is actually like from veterans who lived through it,” according to the CPJC website.

Crosby doesn’t fit it the image of the typical soldier. For one thing, he’d already graduated from UCLA and gotten married when, in 1984, at the relatively advanced age of 24, he enlisted as a private, seeing it as “an opportunity to serve my country and see the world.” Luckily, his wife was willing to see the world with him, because they had 14 different postings—and four kids—along the way.

As an enlisted man, he became an expert in platoon radio communication, battalion legal issues and anti-Soviet armored-vehicle actions. After completing Officer Candidate School and becoming a lieutenant, he participated in Operation Just Cause (the invasion of Panama), and then, in 1993, ended up stationed in Germany with the rank of captain and working in military intelligence, briefing higher-ups in the chain of command with a focus on the Middle East.

And so he has an interesting perspective on the invasion of Iraq. In 1998, he helped develop a contingency war plan that called for invading American forces, 500,000 strong, to move northward slowly, capturing territory incrementally while leaving a functioning and democratic infrastructure behind them. The plan anticipated taking 260 days to reach Baghdad.

Instead, when the U.S. actually invaded in early 2003, President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld decided to attack quickly, with far fewer soldiers—just 100,000—and no plan for putting a working government in place.

Iraq is a good example of politicians’ misuse of the military, Crosby said. Top military officials all knew that Iraq posed no threat to the U.S., and yet Bush and Rumsfeld insisted on going in. The result is the unsettled, dangerous state of affairs we see today in the Middle East.

There are also times, Crosby said, when the U.S. has failed to use its military when doing so could have saved lives. As President Bill Clinton has acknowledged, failing to stop the massacre in Rwanda by sending in U.S. troops is his greatest regret as commander-in-chief.

Fortunately for his students, Crosby has had a ringside seat at many of the significant conflicts of the modern era, from Kuwait and Iraq to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Now, as he put it, “instead of briefing colonels, I’m briefing students.”