Avoiding War

Today is September 17, 2013.  So, we had the horror in Washington DC at the Navy Shipyard–tragic and sad for the 13 people who needlessly died. That could have been, but wasn’t avoided.  I wonder whose heads will roll once the investigation is done? Speaking of avoiding violence, it seems the U.S. has avoided war with Syria–although a military option is still ‘on the table’, as they say, should Syria renege in any way on its Russian-pushed agreements. Reality is, it doesn’t look like the US will be bombing Damascus any time soon.

It seems the U.S. has been in a constant state of war since the advent of our ‘professional military.’  Some 30 years now the U.S. has been involved in one regional war or another–mostly in the Middle East. Why is that? I can’t help but think it has something to do with our professional military and the new ‘military class’ of U.S. citizen along with the growing political influence of the Pentagon.

When I was in the military (1968-1972), there were draftees and we had a serious ‘Selective Service’ that, in all truth, was very unpopular because of its inequities in ‘selection’ and because of the very unpopular Vietnam War. The War’s unpopularity can be attributed in large part to the fact so many people’s sons were drafted and sent to Vietnam. The impact of the war hit every part of American society. We watched daily body counts every evening on the nightly news, which didn’t help Johnson’s and Nixon’s war efforts, either. The point is, though, that because of the draft, almost all of America was emotionally ripped apart and the war lost social and political support within three years of its launch.

After Vietnam, the country went into a ‘malaise’, as President Carter identified it, and there was a strong anti-military sentiment that led to the elimination of the draft and the reconfiguration of the military into an all voluntary, ‘professional’ organization. Even then, though, I personally thought that was a mistake. An all-volunteer, professional military doesn’t seem compatible with democracy. The very thing I feared, I believe, has come to pass. Namely, we now have a special ‘military class’ in this country that has too much political influence.  We now feel this compulsion to ‘thank a Vet for his/her service.’ Now every veteran is a hero. Well, why? If they had been drafted, OK, I’d say thank you. To walk away from your civilian life to help the country is an amazing sacrifice.  But to volunteer knowing exactly what is expected and it’s your job for which you not only get paid, but you get incredible benefits long after your service, I’m not so sure a cultural requirement to ‘thank them’ is appropriate. It’s not heroic to do your job. We all can’t be heroes just because we wear a military uniform.

It isn’t that service people don’t make sacrifices to protect the country–of course, they do. But there is a fundamental difference between fulfilling a national, universal obligation to serve the country and an individual volunteering to participate in a professional military culture. I am still in favor of a universal draft for either civil or military service and the dismantling of this professional military and a return of the Pentagon to be completely subordinate to the civilian government.

We saw already in 1993 when Bill Clinton tried to integrate the military with gay people how much political power the Joint Chiefs had. They literally refused Clinton’s order, forcing him to back down and compromise with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. I remember when Truman integrated the military for African Americans with the stroke of a pen on an Executive Order. He simply told the Pentagon, live with it or quit.  Truman was forced shortly thereafter to fire General MacArthur for insubordination and criticizing the President in public over his policies. By 1993, some fourteen years after the advent of the ‘professional military’, Clinton had no such power.

I also think the regional wars over the last 30 years happened because there had to be a ‘raison d’etre’ for the Pentagon. When you have a professional military with political influence, they have to justify the amount of money spent on them and their new role in society. I can’t help but see a connection between these wars and the reality of a professional military class of citizen.  So, I’m advocating the re-institution of a universal draft that includes both civil and military service for those between 18-20  years old. If EVERYONE, no matter how rich or how poor, MUST serve the country, I believe you would see less sword-rattling and drum-beating, fewer wars, and more judicious thinking before attacking another country.

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