Is America Breaking Up With Our Military?

Last week, the New York Times ran a piece by LTG (ret) Karl W. Eikenberry, (the US Commander in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007 and the ambassador there from 2009 to 2011) titled “Americans and Their Military, Drifting Apart“.

I found the piece particularly interesting, because I share the same views that there is a growing disconnect between the real and perceived impact 10+ years of war on our military and our country. There is no Jewish slant to this, but it affects all of us as both citizens and servicemembers.

LTG Eikenberry, and his co-writer David Kennedy, propose that there are three main factors contributing to this rift between the country and its armed forces:

  • The end of the “citizen-soldier” concept due to the end of any form of a obligated military service.
  • The “insulation” of the American economy and daily life from war, thanks to military technology that allows for a much lighter and less costly (in terms of manufacturing and resources) military.
  • The expansion of conflicts beyond the traditional battlefield, in effect blurring the line between combat and non-combat operations.

Together, these developments present a disturbingly novel spectacle: a maximally powerful force operating with a minimum of citizen engagement and comprehension… While Vietnam brought home the wrenching realities of war via television, today’s wars make extensive use of computers and robots, giving some civilians the decidedly false impression that the grind and horror of combat are things of the past. The media offer us images of drone pilots, thousands of miles from the fray, coolly and safely dispatching enemies in their electronic cross hairs.

LTG Eikenberry offers a number of suggested fixes to this, some probably more palatable to the general public than others. The two I particularly like are:

  • Paying for wars in real time (i.e. tax instead of borrow) so the public feels the pain.
  • Reduce reliance on contractors so that it’s far easier to see what our actual involvement in theater is. So, statements like “no more troops in Iraq” actually mean something.

Another interesting point is the more lasting effect of a societal split between those who have served and those who haven’t.

In 1975, 70 percent of members of Congress had some military service; today, just 20 percent do, and only a handful of their children are in uniform. In sharp contrast, so many officers have sons and daughters serving that they speak, with pride and anxiety, about war as a “family business.” Here are the makings of a self-perpetuating military caste, sharply segregated from the larger society.

Ever since reading Starship Troopers, I have admired the idea of a separate citizen class for those who serve in the military. However, what we are talking about here is something completely different. In this case those making decisions, in both our government and the corporate world (read: lobbying), that have had a personal experience with military service is diminishing.The separate citizen class being described here is a marginalized segment of veterans that are the ones not participating in the government and public discussion. I would argue that this is something not only dangerous for those of us in the military, but for our nation as a whole.

The one ray of hope I see here is that we now have a reasonably large cadre of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans that will continue to penetrate these parts of our society. While it won’t come near to the level we saw after WWII or Vietnam, it’s far more than we’ve seen in the decades leading up to 2001.

This is something I’ve felt passionate about for some time and I’m glad to see the topic in the headlines of a major newspaper. When 100% of the sacrifice comes from those in uniform and the population barely knows there’s any sacrificing going on at all, there is a fundamental problem with our society.

Read the full article over at the NY Times.