The Best Defense

American companies and the U.S. military: A comparison of size in the 19th century

I've been reading a terrific short history of The Company, which argues that the corporation -- not the state, religion or political party -- is the basic unit of modern society, and in fact the biggest change in centuries the way society organizes itself.

The first big modern companies were American railroads, which came out of nowhere in the 19th century, they write. Their presence was revolutionary: "In 1891, the army, navy and marines employed a total of 39,492 people. The Pennsylvania Railroad employed over 110,000." Railroads also played a major role in knitting together the nation, they say.

Companies also reflected national characteristics. In part because guilds had a more durable presence in German society, companies preserved the system of apprenticeships -- which, they write, "helps explain the German fascination with training." Factory foremen had more influence on operations. This carried over into the military, they say: "the Germany army gave far more power to non-commissioned officers."

The Best Defense

Arizona National Guard: An expose of abuses, including paintballing homeless

The Arizona Republic turned over the rock at the Arizona National Guard and a bunch of bad things crawled out. Among them are the usual offenses like "sexual abuse, enlistment improprieties, forgery, firearms violations, embezzlement, and assaults."

But this sick stuff really caught my attention:

"Bum hunts" -- Thirty to 35 times in 2007-08, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Amerson, a former "Recruiter of the Year," drove new cadets and prospective enlistees through Phoenix's Sunnyslope community in search of homeless people.

Military investigators were told that Amerson wore his National Guard uniform and drove a government vehicle marked with recruiting insignia as he and other soldiers -- some still minors -- shot transients with paintballs or got them to perform humiliating song-and-dance routines in return for money. During some of these so-called "bum hunts," female recruits said, they were ordered to flash their breasts at transients. Homeless women, conversely, were offered food, money or drinks for showing their breasts.

Amerson, during military interviews, denied paintball assaults but admitted to some wrongdoing. He was demoted to private and given an other-than-honorable discharge. Amerson declined to be interviewed for this story except to say that allegations against him were untrue.