Ever since my country decided that the drawbacks of having a substantial portion of its citizenry with skin in the armed-foreign-policy game exceeded the value of cheap military manpower I've watched the average U.S. citizen become about as familiar with the realities of soldiers and soldiering as a milk cow with the details of the deliberations of the Council of Trent.
But in what I have always considered a perfect slice of savage irony as those people have become less and less cognisant of what their now-professional troops are doing in their name they have developed an absurdly exaggerated veneration and adulation of those troops. And I recently ran across one of these on my "Facebook" page which pitchforked me into the question of what my country has become since it no longer requires random lots of its young people to serve in its military.
Here's a perfect example, something titled the "anxiety of a military mom" written by someone who presents herself as a military wife (I'm not saying she isn't - just that I have no way of knowing one way or the other).Her money graf sums up her attitude towards her husband's service in Afghanistan in particular and soldiers and soldiering in general;
"I for one cannot think of a better ambassador for the United States than my husband...I love knowing he’s the face of my nation on the other side of the planet. He has honor. He has valor. He’s brave. He’s an officer and a gentleman. He’s always in a freakishly good mood. Having him in Afghanistan is my small way of saying, See, world? Not all Americans are over-medicated, McDonalds-eating channel surfers with entitlement issues! We still make a few like we used to! So to this mom..."(the article is in reference to another woman who is frantic that her son wishes to join as a Marine officer) "...I say, be proud. Be ecstatic. Be blown away by your son’s determination and character. The fact is, we need more men and women like that. A lot more. A nation full. But without the buzz cuts."I have a hard time with all the illusions summed up here, but perhaps the most perplexing to me is the notion that this woman has about how the majority of the nation feels about her husband and his comrades.
"There is a lingering perception in our society..."she writes,
"...that the military is for those who seek a way out of a dead end life, that the only people crazy enough to enlist are those who have nowhere else to go and nothing else to do, and want to beat their chest in the process. That combined with the very real threat of death is why so many parents cringe at the idea of a child enlisting. They seek a “better life” for their sons and daughters."Lingering perception of... In the "thank you for your service " America of 2011? Has this gal been out in public lately..?
What I would tend to agree with is that for anyone who has economic alternatives (which is to say anyone making more than $50,000 or so a year) the notion of giving a child to an expeditionary army fighting neo-colonial wars in the global hustings - which is the reality of military service circa 2011 - is not an appetizing one. The downsides of woundings, death, psychological damage and emotional distress far outweigh any possible return, given that the visible lack of an Afghan Taliban Navy or Air Force make the ridiculous canard that the enemy we're fighting in central Asia is a genuine threat to the nation.
So for a rational parent, diverting a child from a life of semi-permanent low-grade expeditionary warfare for fairly murky geopolitical objectives isn't a bug, it's a feature.Troops are dying in central Asia, true (though not many and not often) but what they are dying for is as far removed from "their country" as a Frenchman killed at Salamanca was dying for the principles of the Revolution of 1789. National interest? Geopolitical advantage? Perhaps, sure; the same reason that professional soldiers fight and die and have fought and died since Rome. But getting blown away chasing muj outside Kandahar is a very different proposition than getting shot down storming the beaches of Normandy or defending the barricades on Long Island or the ramparts of Fort McHenry. And the choice for a parent, or a spouse - to give a loved one for geopolitical advantage - is to me a hell of a lot more fraught than if the choice was one of death in defense of their home and family.
And the troops themselves understand this. They also understand that the bulk of the American public - like the poor woman quoted above - do NOT understand; "A vast majority..."(of the U.S. public) "...expressed pride in the troops and three-quarters say they thanked someone in the military. But a 45 percent plurality say neither of the post-9/11 wars has been worth the cost and only a quarter say they are following news of the wars closely. Half of the public said the wars have made little difference in their lives."
I understand that neither the military nor the U.S. government wishes to return to a draftee military. I understand the military difficulties with that concept. But when I look around me and see the vast disconnection between the public and the military forces...when I watch the public make foolish and uninformed choices based on fantasy and propaganda rather than painfully-won experience...I really wonder if we're sacrificing the public good for military expedience. I wonder if we're placing the wants of the military service over the needs of an involved and informed public.
And mind you, I'm not saying that the public needs to have a wider experience with war. I'm saying it needs to get to know what happens in armies.
Because without that we have become a nation in awe of our own military. Poll after poll reaffirms that the U.S. armed services are the best respected institution in the nation - ahead of the Presidency, ahead of the Congress, ahead of agencies great and small. Not having any real experience or understanding we loves us some GIs and tend to credit them with intelligence, diligence, and moral standing above any of the civilian institutions in our country.
Which, as any GI could tell you, is nonsense.
Soldiers are generally fitter than most people, somewhat better organized, and with a less-complicated world to understand. But no private who has spent hours standing around some worthless patch of dirt doing fuck-all only to be told that the original point of the clusterfuck was mistaken will continue in the mistaken belief that soldiers know better than civilians what should be done and how to do it. No one better than an enlisted troop - especially a draftee troop, who has no vested interest in making the Army look good - knows the meaning of the terms "SNAFU", "SUSFU", and "TARFU". No one can spend more than a couple of days in the service without experiencing some appalling clusterfuck and then hearing it described in the post paper as a brilliant success.The draftees of the French Army in Napoleon's day had a saying: "Pour se trouver comme un Bulletin"...meaning that there was fibbing and untruth and then there was the Big Lie as expressed in the official Army Bulletins. When you lied "like a Bulletin" you were really bringing the bullshit.
A democracy needs a middle course; neither adulation nor contempt for its military forces. Right now we're all in on the former. That's not sensible and it's not healthy; it encourages a militaristic way of thinking, and, if pursued to its logical endpoint, will eventually encourage both people and soldiers to contemplate praetorian treason.
And behind the larger, public, difficulties are the small individual tragedies typified by the sort of person who will read the "military mom's" account and really believe that patriotism, love, and hope will overcome the brutal effect of sending young men to fight in foreign rebellions and civil wars.Thirty years ago she would probably have seen three generations of young men go off to fight in straighter wars in simpler times and return different men with wounds both external and internal that would often twist them for the remainder of their lives.
Today she writes only what she knows. And while I understand it is her truth, as a soldier I also understand that behind that truth lies another, sterner, iron-shod truth, the truth of the heart of war. And that for many another woman - and perhaps even the writer herself, as the effects of her husband's deployments work their way inward over the years - the collision between her truth and the Truth of War is likely to become fragments that will tear into their lives like mortar shrapnel.
I wish that my country could gain the wisdom to understand this without having to bind itself into forced soldiering, the stupefyingly blunt instrument of a military draft. But it does not appear to and does not seem to wish to.
I do not love the idea of a draft, of forcing citizens to serve the state. I do not wish to give my son or daughter to one. But I do not love what I see as the lack of a draft having done to my nation, and my people. I do not like what I see of my nation when a woman whose husband is overseas enforcing the national will on an unwilling foreign land can say that her nation should be proud and ecstatic to be a nation full of soldiers.A democracy should go to war sternly, reluctantly. It should be proud and ecstatic to see its sons and daughters inventors, steelwrights, poets, and athletes. It should see its soldiers as it does its weaponry; necessary instruments of policy, good for destruction that is valuable only in that it preserves or returns the peace needed for those peaceful professions to thrive.
It should glory in its power for creation and should give its young people over to soldiering with reluctance and regret, with the stern resolve not to "support the troops" but to return them to the benefits of peace as quickly as it can.
And if a draft is needed for us to find that resolve within ourselves then by all means let us return there, and soon.