The all-volunteer military has enabled America to fight two wars while many of its citizens do not know of a single fatality or even of anyone who has fought overseas. This is a military conscripted by culture and class - induced, not coerced, indoctrinated in all the proper cliches about serving one's country, honored and romanticized by those of us who would not, for a moment, think of doing the same. You get the picture.
Talking about the picture, what exactly is wrong with it? A couple of things. First, this distant Army enables us to fight wars about which the general public is largely indifferent. Had there been a draft, the war in Iraq might never have been fought - or would have produced the civil protests of the Vietnam War era. The Iraq debacle was made possible by a professional military and by going into debt. George W. Bush didn't need your body or, in the short run, your money. Southerners would fight, and foreigners would buy the bonds. For understandable reasons, no great songs have come out of the war in Iraq.
The other problem is that the military has become something of a priesthood. It is virtually worshipped for its admirable qualities while its less admirable ones are hardly mentioned or known. It has such standing that it is awfully hard for mere civilians - including the commander in chief - to question it. Dwight Eisenhower could because he had stars on his shoulders, and when he warned of the military-industrial complex, people paid some attention. Harry Truman had fought in one World War and John Kennedy and Gerald Ford in another, but now the political cupboard of combat vets is bare and there are few civilian leaders who have the experience, the standing, to question the military. This is yet another reason to mourn the death of Richard Holbrooke. He learned in Vietnam that stars don't make for infallibility, sometimes just for arrogance.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
The American Priesthood
Richard Cohen has a good column on the American military today, saying things you don't generally hear from the Washington Establishment or the MSM.