I hate the term “boots on the ground.” I’m not sure when or where it originated, but it’s been used with more frequency lately in discussions about potential deployments to Iraq to battle “Daesh.”
What bothers me about the term is the almost playful way it is tossed around. We don’t discuss with any seriousness the mobilization of hundreds or thousands of troops or the costs involved – both before, during, and after the conflict. All of that is reduced to the childlike physical imagery of “boots on the ground.”
Instead of that throw-away term, it would be better and more useful to talk about how we plan on committing ground forces in a straightforward matter without metaphor or simple imagery. What is usually meant when someone says “no boots on the ground” or that “we need boots on the ground” is the commitment of ground maneuver forces, whether they be infantry, armor, or special forces.
I recognize that “boots on the ground” as a term is easily digestible for a media-saturated public and it gives anchors and editors a great lede or headline. “Boots on the ground” is media-ready in the ilk of “wardrobe malfunction” and “thinspiration.” The commitment of ground forces – or any forces, for that matter – is one deserving a deeper discussion.
Further, there are serious ethical questions worth exploring on why it is palatable to take military action so long as there are no “boots on the ground.” Technology has developed to the point where we can pursue fairly robust military action without significant – if any – “boots on the ground.”
Lastly, whenever I hear the term, I think of this: