One of the great thing about blogging at RedState for nearly eleven years is that it is environmentally sensitive. By that, I mean eventually you see the same articles (by different authors) appear and you can recycle your blog posts. One of those appeared today in the LA Times: US Military And Civilians Are Increasingly Divided.
While the U.S. waged a war in Vietnam 50 years ago with 2.7 million men conscripted from every segment of society, less than one-half of 1% of the U.S. population is in the armed services today — the lowest rate since World War II. America’s recent wars are authorized by a U.S. Congress whose members have the lowest rate of military service in history, led by three successive commanders in chief who never served on active duty.
The U.S. military today is gradually becoming a separate warrior class, many analysts say, that is becoming increasingly distinct from the public it is charged with protecting.
As the size of the military shrinks, the connections between military personnel and the broad civilian population appear to be growing more distant, the Pew Research Center concluded after a broad 2012 study of both service members and civilians.
I read this and I think I must have slid into a parallel universe where history does not exist. Because not that long ago, I blogged on the same issues based on a TIME Magazine story titled An Army Apart: The Widening Military-Civilian Gap. Before I was blogging there was this in The Atlantic nearly 20 years ago: The Widening Gap Between Military and Society.
The first point to be made in this discussion is that the US has never had conscription. Never. Even during the height of World War II there were numerous exemptions made for anyone with sufficient energy to seek them out. The Vietnam era Selective Service apparatus was so rife with loopholes and exemptions that it became a laughingstock. If you were married, or enrolled in a university full-time, or had asthma or any of a hundred other situations you weren’t going to be drafted. The idea that the draft resulted in sons of doctors sharing a barracks with sons of coal miners is, quite simply, hokum. If it happened it did so because the son of the doctor essentially volunteered to make himself eligible for the draft. The military wasn’t eager to create headlines about draftees getting killed and, as a result, rather less than 25% of the men in Vietnam at any one time were draftees. Most draftees served out their tours in the US or in Europe while enlistees went to Vietnam. As an aside, 88% of the men who served in Vietnam were white which, to any but the left, is a good indication that blacks and Hispanics were not used as cannon fodder.
The United States has a unhappy history with its Armed Forces. It is only when we have large scale wars, like the Civil War, like World War II, that the average American actually has a member of the Armed Forces in their extended family. This is not a bad thing. I would argue that it is a manifestly good thing. Republics and large standing militaries don’t go well together. The Founders, in their wisdom, incorporated much of the British Mutiny Acts into our legal structure to ensure that the military would forever be the servant of the people, not their master.
Outside those crusades, if you will, the United States has treated its military shabbily. Revolutionary war pension claims were still outstanding even as the Civil War was on the horizon. You can read these applications on behalf of long dead veterans by their widows and children in the National Archives. The second wife of an ancestor of mine finally received his pension for service in the War of Independence in 1855. The march of the Bonus Army on Washington, DC., in 1932 had their heads broken by troops under command of Douglas MacArthur.
The treatment of veterans after World War II represented a sea change in the way the US did business. It was only possible because the World War II military numbered 12 million in 1945, or just under 10% of the population. A group of veterans that size was a potent political force. They got a lot of attention.
Throughout our history the military, in particular the Army, lived away from centers of population and was concentrated in frontier forts. On the eve of World War I, the largest concentrations of US troops were along the Mexican border. So the idea that the military has been spread among the population is silly. Even at the height of World War II, US military presence was concentrated in large training centers. Now the military, for sake of efficiency, is lodged on a handful of large installations, The effect is the same. The odds of you meeting an Active Duty military member approaches zero in most of the nation.
What seems to grate most on the people decrying this phenomenon is summed up in this paragraph:
Jerstin Crosby, a former graduate student at the University of North Carolina who now works as a computer artist, said the only direct encounter with the military he can remember was when he taught a Middle Eastern art course to airmen at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, N.C.
He respected the airmen’s knowledge of Iraq — some seemed to know it better than he did, for all his education — but was also sometimes baffled by them. Why, he wondered, did everyone on base stop their cars at 5 p.m. and stand at attention? Only later did he learn it was a daily show of respect as the nation’s flag was lowered.
“I thought it was some kind of prank they were playing on me,” he said.
He is not the first to feel this way.
Though it is under a full-bore assault by the Obama administration (does anyone think women on submarines is a good idea? Or that women in Ranger School are going to have to meet the same standards as men? Didn’t think so.) the military is a culturally conservative organization. It is an organization where, more or less, performance counts because in combat not performing gets immediate and unpleasant feedback without a “trigger warning.”
I served a couple of decades in uniform. I didn’t hold civilians in high regard, I didn’t know anyone who did (as we said, “I’m ashamed my mother was a f***ing civilian). I don’t suspect we were much different than the men at Fort Detroit in 1812 or Fort Kearney in 1850. If you want men who are willing to get killed on your behalf, not necessarily because you are in imminent danger but because the men and women you elect tell them to, then you are going to have men set apart, and men who don’t take you all that seriously. That will be unsettling to some. If that rejection of your seriousness comes hand-in-glove with a rejection of your view of society then you are going to hate the institution that rejects you and do your damnedest to change it. That is what’s behind this incessant caterwauling over the civil-military divide.
The military is open to anyone who wants to enlist… assuming they can meet the standards which, sadly, about 70% of American kids can’t… if they want to become more familiar with the military and increase its attachment to the civilian population. If not, then they should spend more time combing the quinoa out of their hipster beards and let the declining number of men in this nation get on with business.