"WAR IS the great auditor of institutions," the British historian Corelli Barnett has observed. In Iraq, the United States has undergone such an audit and been found wanting. The defects of basic US national security institutions stand exposed. Failure to correct those defects will only invite more Iraqs -- unnecessary wars that once begun prove unwinnable...
...For the vast majority of Americans, Desert Storm affirmed the wisdom of contracting out nation al security. Cheering the troops on did not imply any interest in joining their ranks. Especially among the affluent and well-educated, the notion took hold that national defense was something "they" did, just as "they" bus ed tables, collected trash, and mowed lawns. The stalemated war in Iraq has revealed two problems with this arrangement.
The first is that "we" have forfeited any say in where "they" get sent to fight. When it came to invading Iraq, President Bush paid little attention to what voters of the First District of Massachusetts or the 50th District of California thought. The people had long since forfeited any ownership of the army. Even today, although a clear majority of Americans want the Iraq war shut down, their opposition counts for next to nothing: the will of the commander-in-chief prevails.
The second problem stems from the first. If "they" -- the soldiers we contract to defend us -- get in trouble, "we" feel little or no obligation to bail them out. All Americans support the troops, yet support does not imply sacrifice. Yellow-ribbon decals displayed on the back of gas-guzzlers will suffice, thank you.
Ties in to The Progressive Case for Military Service, in the first issue of Democracy Journal last summer. It seems to me there has been a general downturn in civic responsibility - half of Americans don't vote, most Americans don't bother to educate themselves about the rest of the world, people drive giant gas-guzzling SUVs as a status symbol... sometimes I think it is because life is too easy - middle-class Americans are not really forced to struggle for what they want. The military advertises that you sho9uld join up not because you should, but because you can get lots of money, or get trained for jobs after the military, or because it will be exciting, or you can be manly. This isn't specific to the U.S. - the new Canadian Forces advertisement is "Fight Fear" (go be masculine and tough! Go do cool stuff!).
I can see why it would be difficult to gain recruitment by saying "Join the Army, because you should." Especially when there are a lot easier ways to give back to the community, like working at soup kitchens and stuff. And I think there is a fine line between a society saying "it is a civic responsibility to defend your community" and glorifying war. The ancient Greeks who we supposedly emulate with our "citizen-soldier" ideal were so far beyond that line it's shocking to me that we even give them lip-service.
Nothing really to say, just thought Bacevich's article was good.