We’re in an election year now, and the Presidential candidates are talking, as leaders should, about what they would do as Commander-in-Chief if elected. Some of them advocate carpet bombing. Others advocate “enhanced interrogation techniques” (something I have a personal insight into), such as waterboarding.
Iraq War veteran Matt Gallagher got my attention in this CBS Sunday Morning commentary, because it struck several nerves with me. He talks about the great divide between our military and the public. He says, “For too many Americans in 2016, war isn’t a dire act turned to once all other options have been exhausted. It’s a narcotic, a quick fix, something that happens in strange, faraway lands, where other people’s sons and daughters do violent things for country.”
I’ve long thought that the Pentagon learned their lesson about building (and losing) public support for war all too well during the Vietnam War (of which I am a veteran). They thought they would build that support by allowing the media almost unlimited access to the battlefields. The reporters did their jobs well. They brought the war into the living rooms of the American public every night in living, bleeding color. But, the coverage had just the opposite effect of what they had hoped; it helped destroy support for the war, rather than building it.
In the next wars (Desert Storm, Iraq, Afghanistan) the Pentagon restricted the media much more. By then they had become masterful at romanticizing and sanitizing war, showing us aircraft gunsight footage of buildings and vehicles exploding. They made war seem more akin to video games than blood, guts, and horror.
At the same time, they did away with the draft that brought the Vietnam War home to so many American families (including mine), and replaced it with the all-volunteer military. There is much good about the all-volunteer force. Our senior military leaders tell us that it’s the best military that we’ve ever had. I’m sure they’re right. It’s only common sense that any organization is going to be most effective if the people who make it up want to be there.
However, given these two factors, it’s too easy then to think of military intervention as “a narcotic, a quick fix, something that happens in strange, faraway lands, where other people’s sons and daughters do violent things for country.”
A quick fix? The 13-year Afghanistan War shoots down that notion.
Leaving war to other people’s sons and daughters
Sure; we do that. War is then out of sight, and out of mind. When they think about members of our military, most Americans probably think subconsciously, “Thank God you’re willing to serve so I (or my kids or grandkids) don’t have to”.
How many people do you know who are currently serving in our military? I know two. Many people know none. After all, fewer than 1% of our current population have served in uniform on active duty.
After starting the Iraq War, George W. Bush sent “other people’s sons and daughters to do violent things for country” in Iraq, while his two military-age daughters didn’t serve a day in uniform.
So, let’s listen carefully to our prospective leaders (none of whom have themselves served, by the way; that should be a job requirement) as they talk about carpet-bombing and torture. As Iraq War veteran Matt Gallagher said “everything the military does abroad is done in our name”. All of us. Would you send your son or daughter to carry out those missions?