Surveys suggest that as many as 80% of those who serve [in the U.S. military] come from a family in which a parent or sibling is also in the military. They often live in relative isolation -- behind the gates of military installations such as Ft. Bragg or in the deeply military communities like Fayetteville, N.C., that surround them....Some would say that what we need is universal conscription, or at least a universal national service requirement -- but it's hard to imagine such a policy being implemented in contemporary America without the rich and powerful finding a way to evade service, or at least locking up the cushiest positions.
As the size of the military shrinks, the connections between military personnel and the broad civilian population appear to be growing more distant....
Most of the country has experienced little, if any, personal impact from the longest era of war in U.S. history. But those in uniform have seen their lives upended by repeated deployments to war zones, felt the pain of seeing family members and comrades killed and maimed, and endured psychological trauma that many will carry forever, often invisible to their civilian neighbors....
"We've disconnected the consequences of war from the American public. As a result, that young man or woman putting on the uniform is much less likely to be your son or daughter, or even your neighbor or classmate," said Mike Haynie, director of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University in upstate New York. "That is a dangerous place to be."
Meanwhile, I see that two right-wing commentators, both military veterans, want us to know that they basically despise civilians. Here's RedState diarist streiff with a response to the L.A. Times story:
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.So there you have it: According to streiff, everyone who hasn't served in the military is essentially a hipster with ancient grains in his beard who doesn't deserve the service the troops perform for the country.
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.
The Times story suggests that the problem for a country where the military burden isn't widely shared is that civilians don't understand what servicemembers and veterans are going through. I think an equal problem is that servicemembers and veterans become like streiff and develop contempt for civilians -- which means contempt for the very country they're serving, because, after all, we non-warriors are a majority of the citizens.
A FoxNews.com commentator, Steve Yen, an Army veteran, is, if anything, more contemptuous of the civilian population than streiff. According to Yen, he and his generation of servicemembers basically won both of George Bush's wars, but had victory stolen from them by ... well, it's not clear whether it was evil civilian liberals or Bush administration officials. Yen blames liberals (and other assorted soft-bellied civilians), though the timeline would suggest that it was the Bushies who were largely at fault:
In a time where victimhood is celebrated, where discourse is dominated by ineffectual and verbose liberal academics, and society led by inept deceivers -- we alone showed the world for the seven years after 9/11/01 that America was the indisputable world super power and that darkness could never put out the light. To the contrary, the light would come with insurmountable power to punish its enemies. We are the brave few volunteers upon whom the existence of the entire free world relies.(Um, who deprived you of sufficient manpower and resources? It wasn't anyone with a beard full of quinoa. Donald Rumsfeld is clean-shaven.)
We are the lionhearted difference‐makers who -- in the flower of our youth -- cast off the mental shackles of our society’s historic entitlement, weakness, and cowardice to serve and to take the greatest of the world’s challenges head on....
We showed the world that, despite our society’s cowardly quibbling, America’s volunteer military was --incomparably -- the most powerful and professional in the world, and that we would defend our nation fearlessly when attacked. While civilians who risked nothing and sacrificed nothing trembled and called for surrender, we warriors roared undaunted toward imminent danger.
Those few of us who were there know the ferocity we brought to bear upon our enemies’ heads -- day in, day out, 24/7 -- despite being sent to war without the manpower mandated by our own doctrine and with a fundamental lack of the resources needed to employ our own best tactics.
... one of the greatest stories never told was our victory in Iraq. On its heels, however, was the greatest of betrayals: a deliberate surrender of the already won victory in Iraq to serve anti-American political objectives. We still have troops in Germany, Italy, Japan, and Korea -- yet we pull out of Iraq while the ground is still wet with the blood of the best and brightest of our young generation.I guess, to Yen, we pulled out of Iraq because quisling liberals were anti-victory (you remember that great victory we'd clearly won in Iraq right before January 20, 2009, right?) -- but he also seems to think that backing was withdrawn for the war in Afghanistan by the same people for the same reason, in 2002. If there's a civilian/military split here, maybe it's that the troops who actually fought the wars have no understanding of the politics surrounding them.
Afghanistan was won in 2002 and also would have been secured long ago if not for a total lack of national commitment over the entirety of the war’s now nearly 15-year history. Instead, that war has been allowed to persist in an inexcusable state –- ultimately becoming a telling dichotomy as America’s longest war and America’s first war to be forgotten while it was still being fought.
Our country completely and unapologetically failed us, yet we never once quit on our country.
In any case, it's unsettling to realize that people like Yen and streiff believe that they gave us service we didn't deserve. To me, this contempt is reminiscent of the contempt city cops have for the communities where they serve. It's as if the taking up of arms becomes an end in itself, and the purpose -- securing the peace for the civilian population -- becomes secondary, and then not even relevant at all, because the people with the guns don't respect the people they're sworn to serve and don't think those people deserve protection. That's not a healthy state of affairs.
UPDATE: Yen link fixed.