Sep 20, 2013

An Argument for Universal Service

I don’t usually do book reports, but I have just finished Breach of Trust (How Americans Have Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country) by Andrew Bacevich and I am surprised that I agree with his very credible and well made argument for universal service.  I have been a fan of his since I read Washington Rules (America’s Permanent Path to War) wherein he argued that it doesn’t matter who is in office — Democrat or Republican — America is/will be at war.

I am among those who have wondered why there isn’t more citizen-involvement in war making and if citizen involvement would make a difference.  Bacevich’s answer is “yes.”  From the time Nixon initiated a volunteer/”professional” army the military and society have moved further and further apart.  Our current “support” of the troops is a shallow orchestration of what it should be.   Bacevich’s opening chapter is a visceral recounting of a Fourth of July celebration at Fenway Park.  I don’t need to tell you what went on — it has been like that at every major sports event since 9/11.

Bacevich lays out the argument in lock-step fashion, making it clear that Washington can wage war any time it wants;  they don’t need our vote and they don’t need our money.  Far too many of us have no skin in the game.

The famously-fired Stan McChrystal evidently made the argument for a draft at an Aspen conference after he had been fired for dumping on the President in the pages of Rolling Stone magazine.  It makes absolute sense.

We have met Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex full force and we are the enemy.  All of us know that big corporations have too much at stake in this game to see that it isn’t working, or to deliberately ignore its failure.

( An aside:  We have just learned the contractor who executed the security clearance for Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis was the same firm that cleared Edward Snowden for duty.  They may or may not be fired, but whatever happens it will be a blip on the screen.)

Many, many families have paid far too dearly for a volunteer army, losing loved ones to long and unnecessary wars.  The nation as a whole has literally paid too much for out-of-control military spending.  Consider just these few failures cited by Bacevich:

  • the radar-evading helicopter called “the quarterback of the digital battlefield” was cancelled after $6.9 billion was spent, yielding “two aircraft suitable for museum display.”
  • the Crusader artillery program, intended to “produce high volume, precise cannon fire” consumed $2 billion before it was cancelled  
  • the Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) program, intended to develop a “family of weapons, drones, robots, sensors and hybrid electric combat vehicles connected by a wireless net work” died 11 years after conception, failing, but having spend $18 billion.

During these failures and others like them, and during the killing and maiming of volunteer soldiers, we watched while the House of Representatives cast 40 “symbolic” votes to defunded Obamacare.  The recent concern over a possible strike in Syria by both the congress and the country is a first in a long, long time.

Among many other great points, Bacevich argues for a draft of a citizen-soldier military –asking what it would be like if Malia Obama at age 18 [had] “the same chance of being drafted as the manicurist’s son or the Walmart clerk’s daughter?”

In his final chapter, there is this damning paragraph:  ”Is the past prologue?  If so, here is what Americans can look forward to:  more needless wars or shadow conflicts sold by a militarized and irresponsible political elite; more wars mismanaged by an intellectually sclerotic and unimaginative senior officer corps; more wars that exact huge penalties without yielding promised outcomes, with consequences 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’.”

Bacevich calls all of us to account:  liberals and neocons, republicans and democrats alike.  And he makes a sound argument:  we have failed our soldiers and our country.

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Gloria. Circa 1955.

Gloria. Circa 2012.

Other than working for the American Red Cross in Korea for two years, Gloria Garvey has lived in Hawai`i since 1971. Her opinion and other writing has appeared in: The American Philatelist. Honolulu Weekly, The Honolulu Advertiser, The Honolulu Star Bulletin, The Star Advertiser, Hawai`i Reporter, Pacific Business News, Island Scene, The Design Management Journal.

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