msnbc | September 08, 2012
>>> a new book questions whether the modern u.s. army is fit for service . it is called "irregular army," the premise has the military struggled to attract new soldiers? america's armed forces became populated with an increasing numbers of neo- nazis with criminals even those physically and mentally unfit. joining me is the author of the book matt ken ard, retired colonel jack jacobs , msnbc analyst. gentlemen, glad to have you here. an absolutely fascinating discussion we'll have about this book. matt, how pervasive of a problem are you alleging this is?
>> well, the figure that's often used is 1,500. that sounds low in a military of over 2 million, but some of those people are some of the most violent and criminal-minded people in america. so if you think of it like that, all it takes is one of them to lose it on one occasion like we saw with the oak creek massacre, which was carried out by a veteran of the u.s. army from the 1990s . tragedies like that, i mean, are rare, but the threat they pose has increased marketedly over the past decade.
>> you've kind of preempted something here i was going to pick up. but, look, 1,500 you're suggesting here, are you somewhat managing to pluck needles from a haystack? because the u.s. military is massive. is there an argument to be made that this book may be a very efbtive book-selling narrative but it's somewhat of a distortion, given these numbers?
>> it's not a distortion because the fact is that the u.s. military does have regulations to govern the recruitment of neo- nazis and white supremacists and they were completely torn up during the war on terror because the army was failing to recruit sufficient troops. i can understand how it looks like a sensationalist narrative but it's definitely not. it's a narrative which should shock most americans because the threat now with the war in iraq finished, well ostensibly finished and the war in afghanistan winding down in 2014 , that the wars now and the threat to the population of the united states is now increasing. and it's not just white supremacies and neo- nazis . that's one of the specific investigations i did. what's more widely known are the soldiers with mentally unhealthy disorders.
>> that is perhaps an entirely separate conversation. when you talk about the suicides and all those kind of things, deplorable numbers there. that said, colonel, regarding the first part of our conversation with matt, any validity to this? do you or any of your current military colleagues recognize this as a problem?
>> well, there had been some problem in the past. don't forget we decided that we were going to go to war and we required a large number of troops without having the political will to have a draft and, therefore, widespread service . and anytime a society does that, you're going to have to relax the standards. and for a period of time we did have either mlax standards or standards not followed. the people who recruit soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines into the service don't have to deal with them once they're in. having said all that, at the end of the day , it's good leadership inside the service that solves that problem. there was some laxity in that, too. but now the requirement is for a far smaller number of people in the service , that problem has largely disappeared.
>> matt, what types of soldiers did you meet while you researched this book?
>> i mean, i met and spoke to on the phone a lot of extremist veterans and leaders of the far right movement who are basically saying they were using the military to train their members for a racial holy war back in the united states . so they didn't see the u.s. military as a way to spread democracy to iraq and afghanistan. they didn't believe in the fairy tale narrative of the war on terror . what they saw the u.s. military as was a means to acquire the training in weapons, in tactical skills in order to fight their war back in the united states .
>> but, matt --
>> you mention the small number .
>> matt, my question is, you also talk about convicted felons. really? you're going to stand by that, convicted felon ss?
>> colonel, how do convicted felons get in the military and do you believe that?
>> there's a requirement that people not have a criminal record , but, from time to time, there have been waivers that have been issued that permit people who have certain kinds convictions to get into the service . i'll tell you an anecdote briefly. when i first came into the army we needed large numbers of people for the war in vietnam , and the urban legend is really true there are circumstances, situations in which people who were before judges got the option of either 30 days in jail or two years in the army and they selected the latter. that doesn't happen anymore. however, it's definitely true that a large proportion of the american public is not fit for military service and from time to time they sneak through.
>> is this --
>> can i just add something to that?
>> you said, do you stand by this? this santa ana a secret. it was covered quite extensively in the u.s. media at the time. henry waxman a congressman from california was the lawmaker that basically prized this information from the pentagon. they were hiding it. he found upwards of 50,000 people recruited on what jack refers to moral waivers which are waivers given to persistent criminals or felons who want to serve. now --
>> whoa, whoa. it's very important that we don't exaggerate this. there is a significant number of waivers that are issued, but a very small number of them are for persistent criminals. the large proportion of them are for waivers for minor offenses. having said all that, i'd like to see everybody in my service have a clean record. but, of course, that's not going to be the case.
>> colonel, is this sort of a necessary evil because it is a volunteer military . in other words, you have to take what you can get?
>> well, there's a certain truth to that. any society that wants to defend itself with an extremely small number of people or a larger number of people but is not willing to serve itself is looking for trouble. and we look for trouble for the past decade as we're trying to fight wars in southwest asia but without a draft, without universal service . if you're going to do that, if you're going to fight wars without widespread service you're going to have problems like this from time to time.
>> matt, quickly the last word.
>> can i give you just another example of why it became such a chronic issue, also because donald rumsfeld had this idea of transforming the pentagon whereby wars would be short and fought with special forces who would overthrow the regime and let the u.s. military getting out within a couple of years. that didn't happen as we know in iraq and afghanistan. basically the pentagon was not prepared in any way for the kind of extended deployment of huge numbers of troops. in the absence of enacting subscripti subscription, they turned back on changing regulations. some of those regulations were public, like they raised the enlistment age from 35 to 40, then to 42. but some of them they did by the back door and it took investigative journalists, courageous lawmakers to uncover what was happening in the u.s. military .
>> that's all the time we have. "irregular army," author matt kennard and colonel jack jacobs .