A retired U.S. Army colonel, who grew up in Lake County, believes America’s perpetual wars for an ever elusive peace in the post-Vietnam era are due in part to the nation’s all-volunteer military.
Andrew J. Bacevich, 66, doesn't blame the fiascoes in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere on the country’s warrior-soldiers in his new book, “Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country.”
In fact, he notes U.S. fighters have never been more motivated, talented and better trained.
But Bacevich fires both barrels at an all-volunteer system he contends has disconnected the 1 percent of Americans who fight the nation’s wars from the 99 percent who are happy to let them do it, so long as they don’t have to change their lifestyles or participate themselves.
“In this way, the bravery of the warrior underwrites collective civic cowardice, while fostering a slack, insipid patriotism,” Bacevich writes.
Particularly since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Bacevich finds Americans are always eager to “support the troops,” by cheering or pausing for a moment of silence -- whichever looks better on TV -- at baseball games or football halftimes.
Actual shared sacrifice, on the other hand, is nowhere to be found, he says.
That’s a change from most of U.S. history, which saw the country maintain a small force of professional soldiers and filled the ranks with volunteers or draftees in times of war.
Bacevich points to World War II as the epitome of the citizen-soldier era, where the war “became an indisputably communal undertaking, involving quite literally everyone.”
“The citizen-army’s strengths and limitations as a fighting force reflected – and affirmed – the civil-military contract forged for the duration, the essence of which was a widely shared determination ‘to get the goddamn thing over and get home,’ the sooner the better.”
He says the all-volunteer military has fundamentally altered that bargain by asking nothing of nearly all Americans.
And with no “skin in the game,” Bacevich writes that citizens have essentially ceded control of war to Washington politicians, who act behind closed-doors (think of the increasing use of drones) with little fear they’ll be held responsible for their actions.
He says that’s one reason the military, despite trillions of dollars spent over the years on equipment, training and, more recently, expensive private contractors, has not won any significant clear-cut victories since WWII.
Why fight to win, he asks, when war makes presidents into heroes, earns businesses lots money and the bill can be passed to future generations.
To put America on a new track, Bacevich recommends scrapping the all-volunteer, professional military and establishing a two-year period of national service for all 18-year-olds, either in military or community service.
At the same time, conflicts would have to be paid for as they’re fought and everyone would be asked to contribute during times of war, forcing Americans to at least take notice of the overseas adventures being carried out in their names.
Bacevich expects critics to complain this will make it harder for the country to continue engaging in places like Iraq and Afghanistan for extended periods of time.
“Just so,” he says. “It will be incumbent upon civilian and military leaders to make the case to citizen-soldiers (and their parents) for long, drawn-out, inconclusive wars in far-off places. No doubt this will pose a challenge.”
Without changes, Bacevich promises Americans can look forward to “more needless wars or shadow conflicts sold by a militarized and irresponsible political elite” that have little chance of victory.
The consequences for which will be “quickly swept under the rug even as flags flutter, fighter jets swoop overhead, the band plays the ‘Marines’ Hymn,’ and commercials tout the generosity of beer companies doing good works for ‘the troops,’” he writes.