Saturday, November 05, 2011

With Their Shields or On Them

I'm sitting in front of the computer whilst the kiddos indulge in some truly reprehensible Saturday morning TV - a ritual as old as MY childhood, at least - and came across this Krugman column that ends with a comment that I thought went right to the heart of the discussions we had around here about what I considered the unfortunate narrowing of the social arc of military service in the U.S. circa 2011:
"If people can’t comprehend what it means to work for larger goals than their own interest, if they actually consider any deviation from self-service somehow a sign of phoniness, we, as a nation, are lost."
The Krugman essay is in reference to the apparent difference between "conservatives" - who seem willing to shove any sort of public-figure misbehavior down the memory hole so long as the offending politician continues to vote for their regressive policies - and liberals, who immediately defenestrate their own "leaders" if the personal lives of those leaders vary from the public positions.But in the course of his post Krugman brings up someone I had forgotten; Ed Luttwak, who wrote back in 1995 that any hope the U.S. (and other Western societies) had of returning to a widespread national service was doomed by the replacement-level birth rates of their peoples. Luttwak's "post-heroic" societies had developed such an attachment to their children "...(b)ecause most couples have only one or two children, the loss of any in warfare becomes intolerable, and conscription becomes unthinkable..."(and)"...child-centered Americans (and Europeans and Japanese) will be forced to rely in the future on allies, mercenaries, and maybe robots to fight on their behalf."So; here I am, looking at my own precious offspring (one inert on the couch, the other somewhere in the back of the house - I can hear her chatting to herself there, anyway...) and wondering - would I give them up if my country demanded it not for existential defense, but for some abtruse foreign policy objective? Would I be "convincible" that burying my son or daughter for some transient geopolitical advantage in part of my country's imperial corona was worth the end of my own personal immortality?And I honestly don't know the answer.

But it certainly raises some difficult questions for me.


pdxpharris said...

Coming from a family that's participated in every war this country's ever had (and a couple before it was a country), and not to mention who-knows-how-many over in the old countries, I was asked this question about 5 years ago by one of my wife's family. I think I surprised her by saying that I would discourage my son (& only child) from joining the military.

I did 8 years in the AF, peacetime, and I have no regrets and no small amount of pride for doing so. I would have volunteered as readily if we'd been at war at the time I enlisted. But my younger uncles (Korea), older brothers-in-law (Vietnam), nephews (Gulf 1&2) younger brother-in-law (Iraq & Afghanistan) -- were (are) they defending the United States or are they pawns for something that has nothing to do with defense?

Smedley Butler was right. I would, today, volunteer to whatever branch of service was desperate enough to take a worn-out old fart -- IF my country was invaded or attacked. I'd be proud to see my son do the same in those circumstances 10 years from now when he's of age. But I swear to God I'll break his kneecaps to keep him from going halfway around the world to fight somebody who is no danger to our country.

Not long ago I was in Brownsville, TX for about a month for a job. On average about twice a week while I was there, local news stations had a short announcement on another area kid that had been killed overseas, and it made me sick to hear them say "Pvt/Sgt/LT _____ died defending his country in Iraq/Afghanistan". I can speculate on dozens of reasons why we're over there, but defending our country isn't one of them. And as far as I'm concerned that's the only reason to ask any American to put his life on the line.

FDChief said...

But the problem is you don't get to choose, and I still believe that a republic should have a "nation in arms" as its mainstay of military power.

The disconnect here is that we are a republic at home but an empire abroad. I'm not sure if this has ever been done successfully. Britain was a VERY limited democracy until after WW2 and that has been linked almost perfectly with the devolution of empire. France tried to keep its professional army (the "troupes de marin") separate from the "troupes des interieur" and had it blow up on them in Algeria.

I don't want to discourage my kiddos from serving; I do believe very strongly that it is a citizen's duty. But I also think that it's a citizen's duty (in a democracy, at least) to resist the impulse towards foreign meddling we seem to be obsessed with. And I'm not sure how I can square those two.

rangeragainstwar said...

if u can square the two concepts then you've squared the circle.