Tuesday, January 11, 2011
There has been a growing chorus that the divide between the U.S. military and the American people is widening and this is bad for our nation. Yesterday, Admiral Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added his voice to this cause as the keynote speaker for the National Defense University's Conference on Military Professionalism. The transcript is somewhat hard to follow - being quite literal - and it seems his remarks were driven by bullet points, not a script. But there is no mistaking his main point: there is a divide between the people their military, that divide is growing, and that is a bad and dangerous situation.
I would agree with the Chairman that there is a divide of sorts between the people and the military. The population of our all-volunteer force is a relatively tiny percentage of the nation's populations, a case made by ADM Mullen. This is exacerbated by the military's recent and intensive experience in combat in South and Southwest Asia. So yes, less than 1% of the population is bearing the brunt of these wars, often with extreme physical and mental damage to the participants. But the reality is that we couldn't afford to send more troops to these war zones, so what does it matter that only 1% experience them? This is the type of statistic where I nod my head and say, "Noted. So what?" There doesn't seem to be much of a solution there to rope in the rest of the populous into the effort, save a draft (which you know I'm against) and increasing taxes (a solution that rests with the Congress and is a hot political topic).
Is the divide growing? That is debatable, because it unmeasurable. Military posts are usually somewhat secluded from main populations centers (other than all the places in and around DC) - mainly because the land was cheap to purchase and not for security reasons. You can't physically move the military further from the population and in fact with overseas base closures, more will be brought back to the U.S. If the divide is measured by the percentage of the population in the military, in the course of force resizing, then the divide would grow. On the other hand, we'll begin to withdrawal from wars that have been the primary fissure between those under arms and those not, so that may stem any growth in the divide. I don't think that a growing divide has been or can be proven.
Which gets to my main point. If there is a divide and it is growing (or not), what makes that so dangerous to either the military or the nation? There are plenty of discrete populations of Americans who are essential to the maintenance of the nation who by the same standards of ADM Mullen would be considered divided from the nation they support. The first that come to mind are police (roughly the same percentage of the population as the uniformed services and charged with maintaining the law and order of a 300 million-person country) and the Congress. With a small share of the population and important and unique functions (often dangerous for the latter and apparently also for the former), why is no one talking about the divide with the police and Congress and how dangerous that is?
To me, there is a divide. It exists and it may or may not be growing. But I do not believe that it is dangerous for our nation or its survival. The military will always maintain its appropriate subordination to the government which is formed by the people. I do not see, nor have seen legitimate arguments, how a small professional military that does its job separate from the public at large will upset that arrangement. What other dangers could there be? I, for one, cannot identify any others. The military has always borne the brunt of wars - it is their job after all - and I've yet to see how that is dangerous for our society. It seems to me that it is as it should be.
UPDATE: While I've been thinking that isn't much recourse or point to connect the general population with military more than there already is, I left out the most important part of the discussion: the Guard and Reserves. True civil soldiers (and Marines/Airmen/Sailors/etc). And they're in just about every community in the country. For those of you that suggest that people need to be in touch with their military in order to be better informed on the conflicts in which the U.S. engages (the utility of which I do question for the most part), I come back to a comment I made yesterday. If you don't want to deploy the Guard and Reserve to a conflict, you shouldn't be in that conflict. To my mind, that's where the connection is: in the Guard, Reserve, and their communities - and I don't see how or much need to expand beyond that.
This is my current line of thinking. I need we to have a serious debate about this beyond the normal vacuous statements usually made and really think about what the problem really is (or if there is one), what can be done about it, what the aims of those actions would be, and if the costs are worth it. Otherwise, to be perfectly frank, I'm just hearing platitudes.