What War?

Every so often I think about why America doesn’t feel like a country at war. Richard Cohen, in his WaPo column today, reminds us why:

The all-volunteer military has enabled America to fight two wars while many of its citizens do not know of a single fatality or even of anyone who has fought overseas. This is a military conscripted by culture and class – induced, not coerced, indoctrinated in all the proper cliches about serving one’s country, honored and romanticized by those of us who would not, for a moment, think of doing the same. You get the picture.

Oh, I do. And what is wrong with it, he asks rhetorically?

A couple of things. First, this distant Army enables us to fight wars about which the general public is largely indifferent. Had there been a draft, the war in Iraq might never have been fought – or would have produced the civil protests of the Vietnam War era. The Iraq debacle was made possible by a professional military and by going into debt. George W. Bush didn’t need your body or, in the short run, your money. Southerners would fight, and foreigners would buy the bonds. For understandable reasons, no great songs have come out of the war in Iraq.

You know what my most searing memory of war is? I was in 9th grade and my English teacher came to school all broken up one day, because she had seen The Deer Hunter the night before, which had recently come out. The movie had hit too close to home, she said, and she was all torn up over it. Her anguish and pain was palpable. At one point, the poor woman, who I recall being in her early 30s, seemed like she might crawl into a fetus position right in front of the class. If memory serves, I think she had to leave the room at least once to compose herself.

Today, the traumas of war are borne as much by the children of American soldiers, as this recent heart-wrenching NYT story makes clear. But their pain and sacrifice is theirs alone, while most of American society remains unconcerned and untouched by the two wars fought in its name.

4 Responses to “What War?”

  1. isaacschumann says:

    A great post, Keith, wars should not be fought without declaring war and instituting a draft. I was raised quaker, so maybe I’m a little biased.

  2. Tom Fuller says:

    This is actually about technology, believe it or not. American theater superiority has actually turned these conflicts into pretty low level conflicts in terms of U.S. casualties. I belive that in both conflicts American deaths are at around 6,000, and total military deaths from all causes were actually lower during the Bush administration than the Clinton era, which was lower than Bush pere which was lower than Reagan, etc. The military is a safer place to be than it used to be, even when we are at war.

    The flip side is total casualties–a lot who would have died now survive, and many with permanent injuries. But a lot make complete recoveries, too.

    It’s not just the civilian population that now ignores the perils of war. It is also the military and civilian leadership that can comfortably discount it, and even those in the battlefield now feel much less threatened.

    Kevlar and better medical attention in the field. It has been a true game changer.

  3. Neven says:

    The military is a safer place to be than it used to be, even when we are at war.
    So, that’s a good thing, right? Maybe they will let all those Iraqi and Afghan civilians, women, children, old people join the glorious US Army?

  4. Tom Fuller says:

    Neven, your comment is truly amazing. Did I say anything about the goodness or badness of all wars or these wars in particular? Did I evince any bloodlust for civilians caught in the crossfire?

    I think it’s a great thing that fewer people die in uniform. I make no apology for that. I note that the problem of ignoring the conflicts we are engaged in is not limited to the civilian population. And you come up with this?

    There are times I read your comments and seriously wonder if you need help.

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