For those having served and currently employed in the military, Memorial Day is a solemn day of remembrance. For the rest, it serves as a reminder of those very people who have come before us, laying the patchwork ground of our nation’s founding and continued existence with their shed blood and lives lost and shattered. The utilization of force should carry with it the fullest attempt at matching projected action with internal value. If the action ceases to reflect or even begins to tarnish the value it seeks to support, then force and violence become less a tool of last resort and more a hammer seeking nails wherever they may be found. This connection is why it is incumbent upon the population and their representatives to do the utmost diligence in deciding when to use force. We have tasked our soldiers not merely with the protection of our national interests, but to do so at the cost of their lives and pieces of their humanity.
There was a time when a volunteer army was a ludicrous notion and for the vast majority of the American populace, it still is.
“Less than 0.5 percent of the population serves in the armed forces, compared with more than 12 percent during World War II. Even fewer of the privileged and powerful shoulder arms. In 1975, 70 percent of members of Congress had some military service; today, just 20 percent do, and only a handful of their children are in uniform.” (N.Y. Times)
This lack of a real public participation lends itself to a distance between the populace and the military, between those who order the use of force and those who actually do it. As Andrew J. Bacevich points out, war has become “exclusively the province of the state rather than the country as a whole. Invited to indulge in cheap grace, Americans willingly complied.” (Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country (American Empire Project) (p. 32). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.) To engage in the simplistic “support the troops” often requires little sacrifice and achieves a great perceptual reward, that of emotionally identifying with a struggle that one is not actually a part of. Having jettisoned our collective service and placed it onto an elite few, it is little wonder that the decisions to utilize force get taken up by fewer and fewer.
“The crux of the problem lay with two symmetrical one-percents: the 1 percent whose members get sent to fight seemingly endless wars and that other 1 percent whose members demonstrate such a knack for enriching themselves in “wartime.” Needless to say, the two one-percents neither intersect nor overlap.” (Bacevich)
We are a country run by a self-reported elite putting into harm’s way another elite, but of a wholly different sort. Rather than a group designed and trained to deal with the most dire of national difficulties, the decision-makers have decided to utilize the military in an increasing array of policy enforcements.
Increasingly using force lends itself to a reduction in analysis and assessment. When there’s always an available hammer, every problem not only starts looking like a nail, those in power start wanting them to all look like nails. Foreign policy is a complex and multifaceted engagement, so much easier to use a Presidential kill-list or offer repeated reminders to all nations that “ all options remain on the table”— derives its potency from the implied threat of military power, like some avenging angel, instantly available to back up Washington’s demands” (Bacevich). Again the populace, under the guise of being supportive, fall into line with the need to believe we have the greatest military in the world. That a democracy concerned with freedom of the individual holds up as a penultimate virtue it’s military might is an irony completely missed.
“Put bluntly, heavy-duty thinkers keen to put American power to work putting the world right can’t be bothered to consider whether the nation’s existing military system comports with the very values they are insistent upon propagating.”
When we consider those fallen and continuing to put themselves in harm’s way, values do not inevitably lead to valid actions. Supporting even the greatest of values does not mean that any and every action committed is the best way to put said values into practice. Values are not synonymous with behavior, they provide a grid through which behavior develops. The fundamental failure of our government and our populace is to believe that since we uphold certain values, then any means we seek to defend them with must be good and pure. Such thinking is not that of a deliberative body dedicated to the best practices, it is instead a nation falling backwards into the unethical standard of “might makes right.”
Such shifting in governing principles is not without severe consequences, as the continued military engagements we are in go on without an end in sight. Consider there are teenagers alive today who have not seen their country in a state other than war.
“The irony is that American history is a concrete example of solid foundations; the constitution for one. It is all the more surprising then that policy engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq, rather than being grounded in an objective reality, have at times been predicated on congressional budgets, political re-elections, and arbitrary presumptions. The U.S. Congress is in an inextricable part of the solution. But congressional pressure is a dual-edged and dangerous tool in policymaking. It can lead to actions taken for the sake of perceptions instead of pursuing less popular, but correct measures. (Foreign Policy)
Had our government deliberated with due diligence on properly assessing the capability of Afghanistan for democracy, or of the Iraqi army for taking over their country’s defense, these are foreign engagements our military never would have been cast into. Those who have volunteered have largely given up their voice, therefore it is incumbent upon our government and the populace to be that voice. Such should be one of reason and care, not of lining political pockets or fighting an unclear enemy.
On this day of remembrance, we should be reminded of our collective responsibility. We owe it to those who defend us.
© David Teachout
Bacevich, Andrew J. (2013-09-10). Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country (American Empire Project) (p. 32). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.