Memorial Day warning: Americans too distant from those they send to war (+video)
The number of Americans who serve in the US military – especially those sent to combat – has gone down dramatically in recent years. Critics say civilians need to assume more responsibility for the moral burden of war as well as for the other costs of fighting.
(Page 2 of 2)
“Their country doesn’t. Liberals often say that it’s not their problem because they opposed the war. Conservatives tend to call soldiers ‘heroes’ and pat them on the back. Neither response is honest or helpful.”Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures True Grit: The US Marines
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
That may be a harsh judgment on the vast majority of Americans who never served in Iraq or Afghanistan – or in the armed forces at all, for that matter.
But it’s essentially the same point made this weekend in the New York Times by retired Army lieutenant general Karl Eikenberry, US commander in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007 and the ambassador there from 2009 to 2011, and Stanford University historian David Kennedy.
“The greatest challenge to our military is not from a foreign enemy – it’s the widening gap between the American people and their armed forces,” they write. Less than 0.5 percent of Americans serve in the military today, and “even fewer of the privileged and powerful shoulder arms.”
In addition, Eikenberry and Kennedy write, “technology has helped insulate civilians from the military,” and “the military’s role has expanded far beyond the traditional battlefield.”
“Together, these developments present a disturbingly novel spectacle: a maximally powerful force operating with a minimum of citizen engagement and comprehension,” they warn.
The decorated general and the Pulitzer Prize-winning professor make several controversial recommendations:
• Instituting a draft lottery, “activated when volunteer recruitments fell short, and weighted to select the best-educated and most highly skilled Americans, providing an incentive for the most privileged among us to pay greater heed to military matters.”
• Mandating that Congress take a greater role in war-making, including a requirement that the president consult with lawmakers before going to war (and not afterwards, as is the case under the 1973 War Powers Act).
• “Congress should also insist that wars be paid for in real time,” they write. “Levying special taxes, rather than borrowing, to finance ‘special appropriations’ would compel the body politic to bear the fiscal burden – and encourage citizens to consider war-making a political choice they were involved in, not a fait accompli they must accept.”
• Eikenberry and Kennedy would also reduce reliance on civilian contractors “so that the true size of the force would be more transparent,” integrate military and civilian hospitals and other facilities, and reduce isolated military base housing “so that more service members could pray, play, and educate their children alongside their fellow Americans.”
As the US prepares to disengage from Afghanistan, this may be too much to ask of a war-weary body politic. But it’s an argument certainly worth making.