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Ran across a startling set of numbers the other day. According to comment in a George Will column, the introduction to the official U. S. Counterinsurgency Field Manual notes the American Army has more musicians in uniform than the U. S. Foreign Service has members. More bandsmen and -women than diplomats!

The source for that item of information, Sarah Sewall of Harvard, presumably made her comparison based on valid, authoritative information. Upon close inspection, however, it seems likely to have been based on outdated Foreign Service strength figures, numbers dating back when the FSO corps was smaller than it is today. Recent official Department of State Bureau of Human Resources information shows that the Foreign Service has close to 11,500 employees, officers and staff. This possibly adds up to three or four times the number of Army band musicians.

Whether fully supportable or not, the assertion nevertheless cries out for comment. At least it did for this startled reader, who happens to have served, at different times, of course, in an Army band long, long ago and also in the Foreign Service ‘way back when. A disparity in strength of such marked contrast does, we might note, fit in with other aspects of the U. S. Government’s areas of emphasis:

  • One of these is State’s annual budget as a percentage of that of the Department of Defense — 1.8 per cent, not including Defense’s expenditures on Iraq or Afghanistan.
  • Another is the 25,000 American employees in the Pentagon — the building — compared with State’s overseas total at all posts of 58,000.

Far be it for this observer to criticize the role or the worth of army musicians. They render valuable service in raising morale, instilling pride, and providing pomp and circumstance, as well as entertaining troops and civilians alike. In the old days, band members traditionally also served as stretcher-bearers on the battlefield. Military musicians thus have their place in the martial order of things, and this writer looks back with some pride on his days as a private playing trumpet in an army reserve band.

But . . . More personnel in U. S. Army bands than in the U. S. Foreign Service? If anywhere near accurate in a critical age of daunting foreign affairs challenges around the globe? It doesn’t track. There can simply be no question about the relative importance in the national security context of American Army band personnel and American career diplomats. Foreign Service officers have long stood guard as the nation’s first line of defense. Even with — or perhaps especially with — armed conflict raging in Iraq, that grave responsibility far exceeds that of Army musicians anywhere, whether or not more numerous than the nation’s corps of diplomats.

Henry Mattox
Contrib. Ed.

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