The Military has a Quiet Problem

The Military Has a Quiet Problem

My wife and I have had a difficult time training our dog not to bark at people across our fence. We have an e-collar that provides muscle tension (not electric shocks) to help correct our dog’s behavior, but we don’t normally keep it on our dog. We were taught to use it as a corrective aid, putting it on the dog in specific situations and using it to correct specific behaviors. The prongs push into the dog’s neck and if they get wet can cause sores on the dog’s skin, so its best not to keep it on her for long periods of time. It also isn’t helpful if it is always on her and activated in situations where it isn’t very clear what behavior we want to prevent. Since it is somewhat rare that our dog barks at people across the fence (she is fine with about 80-90% of people and dogs that walk by) it is hard to pinpoint the specific times when we want to use the collar to try to correct her behavior.
Our challenge with the e-collar and correcting our dog’s behavior is pretty similar to the problem the military has with promoting the use of hearing protection among soldiers. The military wants to protect its soldiers’ hearing and has spent money equipping soldiers with ear plugs, ear muffs, and other hearing protection, but it is hard to actually get soldiers to use the tools provided to them. A major problem is that the hearing protection limits hearing to a point where soldiers would be disqualified from service if their hearing had naturally diminished to such an extent. In modern war, where most of the time there isn’t actual fighting and explosives, this is a barrier to the use of hearing protection. Mary Roach writes about this in her book Grunt:
“There’s no linear battlefield any more. The front line is everywhere. IEDs go off and things go kinetic with no warning. To protect your hearing using earplugs, you’d have to leave them in for the entire thirteen-hour patrols where, 95 percent of the time, nothing loud is happening. No one does that. That’s why [audiologist Eric] Fallon says the Military doesn’t have a noise problem. It has a quiet problem.”
Most of the time soldiers are not being shot at and IEDs are not exploding around them. But occasionally, those things do happen. Soldiers have to talk to local citizens when the shooting isn’t happening. They need to hear if someone is walking up behind them. They need to communicate in a normal manner among themselves. Ear plugs mean they can’t communicate without shouting, and that they can’t hear if someone is sneaking up on them or trying to be stealthy around the next corner. Most of war is relatively quiet and boring, so ear protection is not used.
With the unpredictable chaos of actual conflict when a firefight breaks out, the use of ear plugs is further confounded. Soldiers may not be in a position to prepare and put on ear protection at the outset of a fight, and they likely can’t pause to get their ear plugs or ear muffs on once things go kinetic. They can’t predict when or where an IED will go off and need to hear what direction fighting or shouting is coming from to best protect themselves. All of this complicates the development of new forms of hearing protection and prevents the uptake and use of existing hearing protection. The quiet problem is what leads to the noise problem and the hearing loss of soldiers. If they knew when it would get loud, where it would get loud, and could put themselves in place with hearing protection at the start of a fight, then ear plugs would work well, but the reality is that things are not so linear, and most of the time things are quite, so ear plugs cannot be used.

The Safety Myth

I have heard people, television show hosts, and family members make the argument that black communities are not over policed or over arrested because black people support the levels of policing that take place in their communities. I have heard the argument that confederate symbols really are not a problem because a famous black celebrity or athlete said they have never been bothered by them. I have heard the argument that black people want police protection and safety, so we should not be critical of our police who arrest black people in our ghettos and low income neighborhoods.

In his book Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coats looks at this argument and is able to break down some of the thinking taking place. He writes, “according to this theory “safety” was a higher value than justice, perhaps the highest value.” Arguments to preserve our policing and arguments that discrimination and inequalities arise because they are what poor and minority communities want misplace the importance justice in our system.

Arguing against safety is difficult. It is hard to say that being safe and protected in your home or neighborhood is not something you want. Everyone would like to have a police force that could be relied upon given the dangers of society, but when  that police force is part of a system that does not provide equal justice, then there are problems in relying on them for protections, crime prevention, and security.

Coats continues and writes about his childhood and walking to school in Baltimore, “What I would not have given, back in Baltimore, for a line of officers, agents of my country and my community, patrolling my route to school! There were no such officers, and whenever I saw the police it meant that something had already gone wrong.” What Coats shows here is that our system was not forward thinking for black communities, but reactive to problems and crimes. Rather than operating in a system meant to reduce and limit dangers, the police reacted to dangerous incidents. Coats says that things had already gone wrong when the police arrived, but I think it is reasonable to say that things had already gone wrong when restrictive housing policies and racial segregation moved wealthier white people to suburbs, created inner city ghettos, and restricted poor minorities to less healthy environmental living spaces. If we valued justice more than our personal safety, we wound not just arrest black people and claim that our unequal justice system was justified by poor communities’ desires for protection from crime.